Ellen Burstyn (born December 7, 1932) is an American actress. Her career began in theatre during the late 1950s, and over the next decade included several films and television series.
Burstyn's performance in the acclaimed 1971 ensemble drama The Last Picture Show brought her first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actressnomination, after which she moved from supporting to leading film and stage roles. Burstyn received a second Academy Award nomination for her lead performance in The Exorcist (1973), and won the Academy Award for Best Actress the following year for her work in Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.
In 1975, she won the Tony Award for her lead performance in the Broadway production of Same Time, Next Year, and received a Golden Globe Awardand a fourth Academy Award nomination for her performance in the 1978 film version of the play.
Burstyn has worked consistently in film, television and theatre since, receiving multiple awards and nominations along the way, including seven additional Golden Globe Award nominations, five Emmy Award nominations (one win), and two more Academy Award for Best Actress nominations for her performances in the films Resurrection (1980) and Requiem for a Dream (2000).
Burstyn is one the few actresses to have won the Triple Crown of Acting.
Burstyn was born Edna Rae Gillooly in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Correine Marie (née Hamel) and John Austin Gillooly. She has described her ancestry as "Irish, French, Pennsylvania Dutch, a little Canadian Indian." Burstyn has an older brother, Jack and a younger brother, Steve. Her parents divorced when she was young and she and her brother lived with her mother and her stepfather.
She attended Cass Technical High School, a university-preparatory school which allowed students to choose a specific field of study. Burstyn majored in fashion illustration. In high school, she was a cheerleader, a member of the student council and was president of her junior class. She dropped out of high school during her senior year failing her classes. After dropping out of school, Burstyn got a job as a model in a Detroit department store. She later relocated to Dallas where she continued modeling before traveling to New York. From 1955 to 1956, she appeared as an "away we go" girl on The Jackie Gleason Show. Burstyn then decided to become an actress and chose the name "Ellen McRae" as her professional name (she would later change her surname after her marriage to Neil Burstyn in 1964).
Burstyn debuted on Broadway in 1957 and joined Lee Strasberg's The Actors Studio in New York City, New York, in 1967. In 1975, she won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her performance in the comedy Same Time, Next Year (a role she would reprise in the film version in 1978).
In the early to mid-1960s, Burstyn played Dr. Kate Bartok on the NBC television soap opera The Doctors. She worked on several primetime television shows of the 1960s, including guest appearances on Perry Mason, The Real McCoys, The Virginian, Maverick (opposite Robert Colbert as Brent Maverick), Wagon Train, 77 Sunset Strip, Going My Way, The Big Valley, andGunsmoke.
In 1971, Burstyn received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the drama film The Last Picture Show and for Best Actress in 1973 for the horror film The Exorcist. During the filming of The Exorcist, she injured her coccyx, which led to permanent injury to her spine. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1974 for her performance in the drama Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, directed by Martin Scorsese. She also received Best Actress nominations in 1978 for Same Time, Next Year, in 1980 for the drama Resurrection, and for the drama Requiem for a Dream in 2000.
Burstyn at the
2007 Toronto International Film Festival, September 2007
In 1977, she was a member of the jury at the 27th Berlin International Film Festival and in 1988, she was a member of the jury for the 38th Berlin International Film Festival. Burstyn hosted NBC's Saturday Night Live, a late-night sketch comedy and variety show, in December 1980.
In 1986, Burstyn starred in her own ABC television situation comedy, The Ellen Burstyn Show costarring Megan Mullally as her daughter and Elaine Stritchas her mother; it was canceled after one season.
In 1990, she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre.
From 2000 to 2002, Burstyn appeared in the CBS television drama That's Life. In January 2006, she starred as an Episcopalian bishop in the NBC comedy-drama series The Book of Daniel. The series, which also starred Aidan Quinn as a drug-addicted Episcopalian priest married to an alcoholic wife, was met with controversy from religious and spiritual leaders due to its unconventional portrayals of religious figures. Conservative groups including American Family Association and Focus on the Family urged supporters to complain to NBC affiliates that carried the show. NBC pulled the series from its lineup after four episodes but did not publicly give a reason for doing so.
In 2006, Burstyn appeared in the drama-romance film The Fountain, directed by Darren Aronofsky, with whom she worked in Requiem for a Dream. Since 2007, she has had an occasional recurring role on the HBO television drama series Big Love, playing the mother of polygamist wife Barbara Henrickson.
She provided a supporting role as the mother of two sons in the drama-romance film The Elephant King. The film originally premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival but did not open in U.S. theaters until October 2008.
Burstyn starred in the Broadway production of Martin Tahse's Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, based upon the novel of the same title by Allan Gurganus. The show opened and closed on November 17, 2003. Burstyn returned to the stage in March 2008, in the Off-Broadway production of Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Little Flower of East Orange, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in a co-production by LAByrinth Theater Company and The Public Theater.
In addition to her stage work, Burstyn portrayed former First Lady Barbara Bush in director Oliver Stone's biographical film W in 2008. In 2009, she won a Primetime Emmy Award forOutstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her portrayal of the bipolar estranged mother of Detective Elliot Stabler on NBC's police procedural Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Emmy Awards and controversy
Burstyn was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, for her role as Jean Harris in the biographical television film The People vs. Jean Harris (1981) and again for another television drama film, Pack of Lies (1987), an adaptation of the 1983 play.
In 2006, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for a role credited as "Former Tarnower Steady" in HBO's biographical television filmMrs. Harris. (She had played Jean Harris in The People vs. Jean Harris).
Soon after the nominations were announced, an outcry ensued from the press and the public regarding the worthiness of the nomination due to her minor role in the film, consisting of 14 seconds of screen time and 38 words of dialogue. One explanation for the nomination was that people were honoring Burstyn for her nominated but non-winning performance from the first Harris television film. A more popular accusation was that the nominating committee was either confused in their recollection, or merely "threw in" her name from sheer recognition, assuming a worthy performance without actually seeing it.
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the administrator of the Primetime Emmy Awards, initially insisted that "based on the popular vote, this is a legitimate nomination." Meanwhile, HBO deflected the blame for submitting the nomination to the movie-production company. Burstyn's own reaction ranged from initial silence to comments such as, "I thought it was fabulous. My next ambition is to get nominated for seven seconds, and ultimately I want to be nominated for a picture in which I don't even appear," and "This doesn't have anything to do with me. I don't even want to know about this. You people work it out yourself."
Ultimately, Kelly Macdonald, who starred in The Girl in the Cafe, won the award. In March 2007, the Academy officially announced that eligibility for a Primetime Emmy Award in any long-form supporting-actor category required nominees to appear on-screen in at least five percent of the project.
Many critics still cite this incident to criticize the Emmy Award nomination process, claiming that name recognition has played an increasingly visible role over the years.
During the 1970s, Burstyn was active in the movement to free convicted boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter from jail.
In 1981, Burstyn recorded "The Ballad of the Nazi Soldier's Wife" (Kurt Weill's musical setting of Bertolt Brecht's text "Und was bekam des Soldaten Weib?") ('And what did the soldier's woman get?') for Ben Bagley's album Kurt Weill Revisited, Vol. 2.
Burstyn served as president of the Actors' Equity Association from 1982 to 1985.
In 1997, Burstyn was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. In 2000, she was named co-president of the Actors Studio, alongside Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel.
She is a longtime supporter of the Democratic Party. In the documentary PoliWood, Burstyn goes to several political events during the 2008 election season as a backer of Barack Obama, and at one point talks sadly about how civil competition between Democrats and Republicans does not exist anymore.
Marriages and children
In 1950, she married Bill Alexander, but they were divorced in 1957. The following year, she married Paul Roberts, with whom she adopted a son named Jefferson in 1961; the couple was divorced the same year.
In 1964, she married fellow actor Neil Burstyn, but the union was turbulent. Neil Burstyn was schizophrenic; he would have episodes of violence, and eventually left her. He attempted to come back to her, but she rejected him, ultimately divorcing him in 1972. In her autobiography, Lessons in Becoming Myself, Burstyn revealed that he stalked her over a period of six years after she divorced him. He eventually broke into her house and raped her, but no charges were filed, as spousal rape was not yet legally a crime. He committed suicide in 1978.
Burstyn was raised Catholic but has converted to Islam, a process which she has written about in detail in her autobiography.
Burstyn affiliates herself to all religious faiths as she explains: "I am a spirit opening to the truth that lives in all of these religions."