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Mary Nell Steenburgen (born February 8, 1953) is an Academy Award-winning Americanmarker actress.

Personal life

Steenburgen was born in Newport, Arkansasmarker, the daughter of Nell, a school-board secretary, and Maurice Steenburgen, a freight-train conductor who worked at the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Steenburgen grew up in North Little Rock, Arkansasmarker. Steenburgen married Malcolm McDowell in 1980 and they had two children together: Lily Amanda, born January 31, 1981 and Charles Malcolm born July 10, 1983, before divorcing in 1990, and has been married to actor Ted Danson since 1995.

In September 2005, she and Danson provided a guest lecture for students at the Clinton School of Public Servicemarker where they discussed their roles in public service as well as the foundations and causes in which they are involved. An alumnus of Hendrix Collegemarker, Steenburgen received an honorary doctorate from the institution in 1989. In 2006, Steenburgen received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Lyon College in Batesvillemarker, Arkansasmarker.

She is a close personal friend of former First Lady and Senator, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and supported Clinton's 2008 Presidential campaign along with her husband.

She splits her time living in Ojai, Californiamarker and Martha's Vineyardmarker, in addition to sharing a condominium with Danson in the River Market District of Little Rock.


Mary Steenburgen, September 2008
Steenburgen moved to New York Citymarker in 1972, working at Doubleday's while studying acting at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse under William Esper. Her break came when she was discovered by Jack Nicholson in the reception room of Paramount's New York office and was cast as the lead in his second directorial effort, the 1978 Western Goin' South. In only her third film, she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the 1980 film Melvin and Howard, playing the wife of a man who claims to have befriended reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes.

Steenburgen played Clara Clayton in Back to the Future Part III (1990), a role which her children, fans of the Back to the Future movies, convinced her to play. She reprised the role by providing the character's voice in the Back to the Future: The Animated Series.

She had a leading role in the 1979 film Time After Time as a modern woman who falls in love with author H.G. Wells, played by husband-to-be Malcolm McDowell. In both this film and Back to the Future, she played the love interest of a time traveler. Other notable film appearances came in the well-received 1983 film Cross Creek, her performance as an adulterous wife in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? with Johnny Depp, as Hannah Nixon in the Oliver Stone biopic Nixon, and as a woman who discovers her husband is the father of a North Polemarker elf in the Will Ferrell holiday comedy Elf. She appeared in the 2008 comedy Step Brothers, another movie starring Will Ferrell, playing the mother of Ferrell's character.

In a little-known film, The Butcher's Wife, also starring Demi Moore and Jeff Daniels, Steenburgen plays a lead role in which she also sings. Film critic Charles Taylor, in The New York Times, said Steenburgen's "slow-drip voice comes to your ears like honey arriving on a moonbeam". She also acted in the film Life as a House.

She also has starred in the sitcom Ink and the television miniseries of Gulliver's Travels with husband Ted Danson. She has appeared as herself alongside Danson in the HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm. In 2002 she appeared as "Grace Rinato" in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, in the episode Denial. In 2008 she appeared in the comedy Four Christmases.

According to a written note owned by Garry Marshall, Steenburgen was the first choice to play the lead in the 1990 film Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts.

Steenburgen will appear in a forthcoming film production about the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, to be directed by New Zealander Niki Caro. The actress is slated to play Canadian reporter Linda Mack, who tried to mislead ABC News' Pierre Salinger on the subsequent investigation.


Year Film Role Other notes
1978 Goin' South Julia Tate/Moon Nominated - Golden Globe
1979 Time After Time Amy Robbins
1980 Melvin and Howard Lynda Dummar Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress

Golden Globe
1981 Ragtime Mother Nominated - Golden Globe
1982 A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy Adrian
1983 Faerie Tale Theatre Mary / Little Red Riding Hood Little Red Riding Hood
Cross Creek Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Romantic Comedy Phoebe Craddock
1985 One Magic Christmas Ginny Hanks Grainger
Tender Is the Night Nicole Warren Diver TV mini-series

Nominated - BAFTA Award
1987 The Whales of August Young Sarah
Dead of Winter Julie Rose/Katie McGovern/Evelyn
1988 The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank Miep Gies television movie

Nominated - Emmy Award
End of the Line Rose Pickett
1989 Parenthood Karen Buckman
Miss Firecracker Elain Rutledge
1990 The Long Walk Home Narrator voice
Back to the Future Part III Clara Clayton
1991 The Butcher's Wife Stella Keefover
1993 Philadelphia Belinda Conine
What's Eating Gilbert Grape Betty Carver
1994 Pontiac Moon Katherine Bellamy
The Gift TV
It Runs in the Family Mrs. Parker (Mother)
Clifford Sarah Davis
1995 Nixon Hannah Nixon
Powder Jessie Caldwell
The Grass Harp Sister Ida
My Family Gloria
1996 Gulliver's Travels Mary Gulliver TV
Ink Kate Montgomery TV Series
1998 About Sarah Sarah Elizabeth McCaffrey TV
1999 Noah's Ark Naamah TV
2000 Curb Your Enthusiasm Herself 4 episodes
Picnic Rosemary Sydney TV
2001 I Am Sam Dr. Blake
Life as a House Colleen Beck
The Trumpet of the Swan Mother Voice
Nobody's Baby Estelle
2002 Wish You Were Dead Sally Rider
Sunshine State Francine Pinkney
Living with the Dead Detective Karen Condrin TV
2003-2005 Joan of Arcadia Helen Girardi TV Series - 45 episodes
2003 Elf Emily
Casa de los Babys Gayle
Hope Springs Joanie Fisher
2004 Capital City Elaine Summer TV
It Must Be Love Clem Gazelle TV
2005 Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School Marienne Hotchkiss
2006 The Dead Girl Beverley, Leah's Mother
Inland Empire Visitor #2
2007 Reinventing the Wheelers Claire Wheeler TV
Elvis and Anabelle Geneva
Numb Dr. Cheryl Blaine
Nobel Son Sarah Michaelson
The Brave One Carol
Honeydripper Amanda Winship
2008 Step Brothers Nancy Huff
Four Christmases Marilyn
2009 In the Electric Mist Bootsie Robicheaux
The Open Road Katherine awaiting release
The Proposal Grace Paxton


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