Jill Clayburgh

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Jill Clayburgh
Jill Clayburgh.JPG
Jill Clayburgh in Griffin and Phoenix (1976)
Born (1944-04-30)April 30, 1944
Died November 5, 2010(2010-11-05) (aged 66)
Education Sarah Lawrence College
Occupation Actress
Years active 1968–2010
David Rabe
(m. 1979; her death 2010)

Jill Clayburgh (April 30, 1944 – November 5, 2010) was an American actress known for her work in theater, television, and cinema. She won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the 1978 film An Unmarried Woman. She would receive a second Best Actress Academy Award nomination for the 1979 film Starting Over as well as four Golden Globe nominations for her film performances.

Clayburgh made her Broadway debut in 1968 and starred in the original Broadway productions of the musicals The Rothschilds (1970) and Pippin (1972), and returned in 1984 for the revival of the play Design for Living. On television, she appeared in episodes of Medical Center, Maude, and The Rockford Files, before starring in the 1975 TV film Hustling, which earned her the first of two Emmy Award nominations. She received a second Emmy nomination for her 2004 guest role in the drama series Nip/Tuck, and went on to star in the drama series Dirty Sexy Money (2007–09). Her film roles included Gable and Lombard (1976), Silver Streak (1976), Semi-Tough (1977), La Luna (1979), First Monday in October (1981), Shy People (1987), Fools Rush In (1997), Running With Scissors (2006) and Bridesmaids (2011).

Early life

Clayburgh was born in New York City, the daughter of Julia Louise (née Dorr; 1910–1975),[1] an actress and theatrical production secretary for producer David Merrick, and Albert Henry "Bill" Clayburgh, a manufacturing executive.[2][3][4] Her paternal grandmother was concert and opera singer Alma Lachenbruch Clayburgh.[5]

Clayburgh's mother was Protestant[6] and her father was Jewish,[7][8] though reportedly never talked about her religious background and was raised in no faith.[6] She was raised on Manhattan's Upper East Side, where she attended the Brearley School.[7] She then attended Sarah Lawrence College, where she decided that she wanted to be an actress.


Early Career

Clayburgh joined the Charles Street Repertory Theater in Boston.

Clayburgh made her screen debut in The Wedding Party, written and directed by Brian De Palma. It was filmed in 1963 but not released until six years later. Her co stars included Robert de Niro and Jennifer Salt.

She debuted off-Broadway in the double bill of The Indian Wants the Bronx and It's Called the Sugar Plum by Israel Horovitz where she replaced Marsha Mason. The cast included Al Pacino.

Clayburgh appeared on a soap opera, Search for Tomorrow in 1968. That year she also guest starred on an episode of N.Y.P.D. alongside Al Pacino.

Clayburgh made her Broadway debut in 1968 in The Sudden and Accidental Re-Education of Horse Johnson, starring Jack Klugman, which ran for 5 performances.

She starred in a 1969 off-Broadway production of the Henry Bloomstein play Calling in Crazy, at the Andy Warhol owned Fortune theatre.

She was in a TV pilot that did not sell, The Choice (1969) and appeared off Broadway in The Nest (1970).

Broadway Success

Clayburgh appeared in the Broadway musical The Rothschilds (1970-72) which ran for 502 performances.

Clayburgh had a small role in The Telephone Book (1971) and Portnoy's Complaint (1972).

She had another Broadway success with Pippin (1972-75), which ran for 1944 performances.

After guest starring on an episode of The Snoop Sisters, Clayburg played Ryan O'Neal's ex wife in The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973) and starred in a TV pilot that was not picked up, Going Places (1973).

Clayburgh starred in some TV movies, Tiger on a Chain (1973) and Shock-a-bye, Baby (1973) and had a role in The Terminal Man (1974). She guest starred on Medical Centre, Maude, and The Rockford Files.

She returned to Broadway for Tom Stoppard's Jumpers, which ran for 48 performances.

Clayburgh had some good roles in TV movies like Hustling (1975) and The Art of Crime (1975). Her performance in Hustling earned her an Emmy nomination and she says it revitalised her career.[9][10]

Film Stardom

After playing a range of small character parts, Clayburgh first came to prominence when cast as Carole Lombard in the 1976 biopic Gable and Lombard with James Brolin as Clark Gable. Critical reaction was mostly mixed, but Clayburgh recieved some praise for her performance. Variety called it a film with many major assets, not the least of which is the stunning and smashing performance of Jill Clayburgh as Carole Lombard" and Time Out London felt she "[produced] a very modern version of the Lombard larkishness."[11][12] Critic Vincent Canby of the New York Times suggested that Clayburgh's performance "comes off better" than Brolin's Gable, as "she appears to be creating a character whenever the fearfully bad screenplay allows it." Despite this, he felt both actors were miscast as the famous couple, writing further, "Miss Clayburgh could be an interesting actress, but there are always problems when small performers try to portray the kind of giant legends that Gable and Lombard were. Because both Gable and Lombard are still very much alive in their films on television and in repertory theaters, there is difficulty in responding to Mr. Brolin and Miss Clayburgh in any serious way."[13]

She starred in the acclaimed TV movie Griffin and Phoenix (1976) co-starring with Peter Falk. It tells the story of two ill-fated middle-aged characters who both face a terminal cancer diagnosis and have months left to live. Notably, Clayburgh developed the same type of cancer her character had in this film, succumbing to it in 2010. Also in 1976, she had her first big box office success playing the love interest of Gene Wilder's character in the comedy-mystery Silver Streak, co-starring Richard Pryor. Critics felt Clayburgh had little to do in Silver Streak, and The New York Times called her "an actress of too much intelligence to be able to fake identification with a role that is essentially that of a liberated ingenue."[14]

In 1977, she had another hit with Semi-Tough, a comedy set in the world of American professional football, which also starred Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson. Clayburgh played Barbara Jane Bookman, who has a subtle love triangle relationship with both Reynolds's Billy Clyde and Kristofferson's Shake. Vincent Canby liked her performance, writing, "Miss Clayburgh, who's been asked to play zany heroines in Gable and Lombard and The Silver Streak by people who failed to provide her with material, has much better luck this time. She's charming"[15] and The Washington Post enjoyed her chemistry with Reynolds: "Reynolds and Clayburgh look wonderful together. They seem to harmonize in a way that would only be more apparent - and make their eventual recognition of being in love seem more appropriate."[16]

Clayburgh's breakthrough came in 1978 when she received the first of her two nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress for Paul Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman. In what would be her career-defining role, Clayburgh was cast as Erica, the courageous abandoned wife who struggles with her new 'single' identity after her stockbroker husband leaves her for a younger woman. Upon release, An Unmarried Woman drew praise and was popular at the box office, briefly making Clayburgh, at 34, a star.[17] Clayburgh's performance garnered some of the best reviews of her career: Roger Ebert called the film "a journey that Mazursky makes into one of the funniest, truest, sometimes most heartbreaking movies I've ever seen. And so much of what's best is because of Jill Clayburgh, whose performance is, quite simply, luminous. We know that almost from the beginning," and commented further, "Clayburgh takes chances in this movie. She's out on an emotional limb. She's letting us see and experience things that many actresses simply couldn't reveal."[18] The New York Times wrote, "Miss Clayburgh is nothing less than extraordinary in what is the performance of the year to date. In her we see intelligence battling feeling – reason backed against the wall by pushy needs."[19] and Pauline Kael in The New Yorker noted, "Jill Clayburgh has a cracked, warbly voice -- a modern polluted-city huskiness. And her trembling, near-beautiful prettiness suggests a lot of pressure. When Erica's life falls apart and her reactions go out of control, Clayburgh's floating, not-quite-sure, not-quite-here quality is just right. And she knows how to use it: she isn't afraid to get puffy-eyed from crying, or to let her face go slack. No other film has made such a sensitive, empathic case for a modern woman's need to call her soul her own."[20] Clayburgh also earned her first Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama and won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival, which she tied with Isabelle Huppert.

In 1979, Clayburgh had a career peak after starring in two movies that garnered her widespread acclaim. The first was Bernardo Bertolucci's La Luna (1979), which she made in Italy. The film presents an incestuous relationship between a mother and her drug-addicted son, and was poorly received at the time.[9] Clayburgh agreed to star in this film because she felt that "most great roles explore something that is socially taboo.”[21] Despite the film's controversy, Clayburgh's performance as a manipulative opera singer was generally praised: Critic Richard Brody called it "her most extravagant role" and a review in the New York Times felt she was "extraordinary under impossible circumstances."[22][23] Also, in the London Review of Books, Angela Carter wrote, "Jill Clayburgh, seizing by the throat the opportunity of working with a great European director, gives a bravura performance: she is like the life force in person".[24] Her second and last film of 1979 was Alan J. Pakula's Starting Over, a romantic comedy with Burt Reynolds and Candice Bergen. Pakula hired her because, “the extraordinary thing is that she’s so many people. In a Jill Clayburgh movie you don’t know what you’re going to get."[25] As a nursery-school teacher who falls reluctantly in love with Reynold's divorced character, Clayburgh's performance was lauded by The New York Times: "Miss Clayburgh delivers a particularly sharp characterization that's letter-perfect during the first part of the story and unconvincing in the second, through no fault of her own."[26] Starting Over also earned her a second Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a row. Also that year, she later returned to the stage with The Boom Boom Room.[27]

Her back-to-back success with An Unmarried Woman and Starting Over led writer Mel Gussow to suggest that Clayburgh was one of the few "stars for the 80's fresh, natural anti‐ingenues" alongside Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton, adding, "These are stage actresses who have become movie stars on their own terms, free of “glamour,” ready to clown as well as to play heroines."[28] In 1980, she was cast opposite Michael Douglas in a romantic comedy, It's My Turn, in which she teaches the proof of the snake lemma. Novelist Eleanor Bergstein, who had written the screenplay, was delighted with Clayburgh's casting. “To me,” says Bergstein. “Jill is one of the few actresses who looks like she has imagined her life, made her life happen. I think that divides women in a way, women whose intelligence animates their faces. They have willed themselves to be beautiful, to be exactly who they are. Their minds in form their faces. I think Jill is like that. Lots of actresses are just the opposite.” Clayburgh herself was attracted to the part because “Kate is the closest person to myself that I have ever played. People always say, ‘Oh, An Unmarried Woman, that’s you.' But really, of course, it’s not.”[29] The following year, she was a conservative Supreme Court justice in First Monday in October, a comedy with Walter Matthau. Her performance was praised and earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical.

Clayburgh then turned to more dramatic material. She was a valium addict in I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can (1981), written by David Rabe, who became her husband. "I guess people look at me and they think I'm a ladylike character," said Clayburgh, "but it's not what I do best. I do best with characters who are coming apart at the seams."[27] In Hanna K. (1983) she was an Israel defending Palestinians for director Costa Gravas. The film was a box office failure and hurt Clayburgh's career.[30] Clayburgh returned to Broadway for a revival of Design For Living (1984-85) which ran for 245 performances.

TV Movies

Clayburgh starred in some TV movies, Where Are the Children? (1986) and Miles to Go... (1986), and starred in the film Shy People (1987).[31]

There were more TV movies: Who Gets the Friends? (1988), Fear Stalk (1989), Unspeakable Acts (1990), and Reason for Living: The Jill Ireland Story (1991).[32]

She was in Ben Gazzara's Beyond the Ocean (1990), and the unreleased Pretty Hattie's Baby (1991).

Supporting Actor

Gradually Clayburgh shifted into being more of a supporting player: Trial: The Price of Passion (1992), Whispers in the Dark (1992), Rich in Love (1992), Le Grand Pardon II (1992), Lincoln (1992), Firestorm: 72 Hours in Oakland (1993), Naked in New York (1993), Honor Thy Father and Mother: The True Story of the Menendez Murders (1993), For the Love of Nancy (1994), and The Face on the Milk Carton (1995).

Clayburgh could also be seen in Going All the Way (1997), Fools Rush In (1997), When Innocence Is Lost (1997), Sins of the Mind (1997), and Crowned and Dangerous (1997).

She guest starred on episodes of Law & Order and Frasier, and starred in a short lived sitcom, Everything's Relative (1999) and a short lived series Trinity (1999).[33]

Later Career

Clayburgh was in My Little Assassin (1999), and The Only Living Boy in New York (2000).

She had her first lead role in a long while in Never Again (2001).[34]

She was in Falling (2001) and had a semi recurring role on Ally McBeal as Ally's mother and on The Practice, and was a regular in another short lived show, Leap of Faith (2002).

She returned to off-Broadway for a role in The Exonerated (2002-04).

She appeared in Phenomenon II (2003) and received an Emmy nomination for guest appearances in the series Nip/Tuck in 2005.

In 2005 she returned to Broadway in A Naked Girl on the Appian Way which ran for 69 performances. More successful was The Busy World is Hushed (2005-06) on off Broadway.[35]

In 2006, she appeared on Broadway in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park with Patrick Wilson and Amanda Peet; she played Peet's mother, a role originated by Mildred Natwick. It ran for 109 performances.[36]

She returned to the screen as a therapist's eccentric wife in the all-star ensemble dramedy Running With Scissors, an autobiographical tale of teenage angst and dysfunction based on the book by Augusten Burroughs.

She did one last play, The Clean House (2006-07).

During 2007, Clayburgh appeared in the ABC television series Dirty Sexy Money, playing Letitia Darling.[37]

Her last performances were in Love & Other Drugs (2010) and Bridesmaids (2011).


Clayburgh had chronic lymphocytic leukemia for more than 20 years and dealt with it privately before dying from the disease at her home in Lakeville, Connecticut, on November 5, 2010.[38] The movie Love & Other Drugs was dedicated to her memory.[citation needed] The 2011 film Bridesmaids was Clayburgh's final film appearance.

In 2012, friend and fellow actor Frank Langella wrote about their friendship (which spanned more than forty years) in a chapter of his book Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them. Her close friend and playwright Richard Greenberg wrote about her last days in a chapter of his book Rules for Others to Live By: Comments and Self-Contradictions, released in 2016.

Personal life

Clayburgh married screenwriter and playwright David Rabe in 1979. They had one son, Michael Rabe, and one daughter, actress Lily Rabe. Prior to this, she had dated actor Al Pacino for five years (and briefly appeared with him in a November 1968 N.Y.P.D. episode, "Deadly Circle of Violence").


Year Film Role Notes
1968 N.Y.P.D. Woman in park Episode: "Deadly Circle of Violence"
1969 Search for Tomorrow Grace Bolton Portrayed biological mother of child fathered by Len Whiting, adopted by him and his wife Patti
1969 The Wedding Party Josephine
1971 The Telephone Book Bit Part (uncredited)[39]
1972 Portnoy's Complaint Naomi
1972 The Snoop Sisters Mary Nero Episode: "The Female Instinct"
1973 The Thief Who Came to Dinner Jackie
1974 The Terminal Man Angela Black
1974 Medical Center Beverly Episode: "Choice of Evils"
1974 Maude Adele Episode: "Walter's Heart Attack"
1974 The Rockford Files Marilyn Polonski Episode: "The Big Ripoff"
1975 Hustling Wanda Television movie
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1976 Gable and Lombard Carole Lombard
1976 Griffin and Phoenix Sarah Phoenix Television movie
1976 Silver Streak Hilly Burns
1977 Semi-Tough Barbara Jane Bookman
1978 An Unmarried Woman Erica Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1979 La Luna Caterina Silveri Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1979 Starting Over Marilyn Holmberg Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated — American Movie Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1980 It's My Turn Kate Gunzinger
1981 First Monday in October Ruth Loomis Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1982 I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can Barbara Gordon
1983 Hanna K. Hanna Kaufman
1986 Miles To Go Moira Browning Television movie
1986 Where Are the Children? Nancy Holder Eldridge
1987 Shy People Diana Sullivan
1989 Fear Stalk Alexandra Maynard Television movie
1990 Oltre l'oceano Ellen a.k.a. Beyond the Ocean (USA)
1991 Pretty Hattie's Baby Unknown
1991 Reason For Living: The Jill Ireland Story Jill Ireland Television movie
1992 Whispers in the Dark Sarah Green
1992 Le grand pardon II Sally White a.k.a. Day of Atonement
1993 Naked in New York Shirley, Jake's mother
1993 Rich in Love Helen Odom
1994 For the Love of Nancy Sally Walsh Television movie
1995 The Face on the Milk Carton Miranda Jessmon Television movie
1997 Going All the Way Alma Burns
1997 When Innocence Is Lost Susan French
1997 Fools Rush In Nan Whitman
1998 Law & Order Sheila Atkins Episode: "Divorce"
1998 Frasier Marie Episode: "The Perfect Guy"
1998 Trinity Eileen McCallister 3 episodes
1999 Everything's Relative Mickey Gorelick 4 episodes
1999–2001 Ally McBeal Jeannie McBeal 4 episodes
2001 Never Again Grace
2001 Vallen Ruth a.k.a. Falling
2002 Leap of Faith Cricket Wardwell 6 episodes
2004 The Practice Victoria Stewart 3 episodes
2004 Nip/Tuck Bobbi Broderick 2 episodes
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
2006 Running with Scissors Agnes Finch
2007–2009 Dirty Sexy Money Letitia Darling 23 episodes
2010 Love & Other Drugs Mrs. Randall Posthumous release
2011 Bridesmaids Judy Walker Posthumous release
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Acting Ensemble
Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Nominated — Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast
Nominated — Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Cast
Nominated — Central Ohio Film Critics Association for Best Ensemble


  1. ^ https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/JPWD-XX3 accessed 8/19/14
  2. ^ "PAW|Albert H. Clayburgh '31". Webscript.princeton.edu. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  3. ^ "Jill Clayburgh Film Reference biography". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  4. ^ Jill Clayburgh Biography at Yahoo! Movies
  5. ^ "ALMA CLAYBURGH, SOPRANO, 76, DEAD; Concert Singer Was Patroni I of Cultural Activities-Aided Youn Musicians". New York Times. 1958-08-06. Retrieved 2010-11-05.
  6. ^ a b "The Plame game, Jill Clayburgh: a Jew?, Gyllenhaal and Lambert |". j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California. Archived from the original on 2014-04-14. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  7. ^ a b H.W. Wilson Company (1979). Current Biography. University of Michigan: H. W. Wilson Co. p. 76.
  8. ^ White, James Terry (1967). The National cyclopaedia of American biography: being the history of the United States as illustrated in the lives of the founders, builders, and defenders of the republic, and of the men and women who are doing the work and moulding the thought of the present time. University Microfilms. p. 229.
  9. ^ a b Jill Clayburgh Recasts Her Image: Jill Clayburgh By ANDREA STROUT. New York Times 30 Sep 1979: D17.
  10. ^ "Jill Clayburgh Emmy Award Nomination". Emmys.com. 2010-11-05. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  11. ^ Variety review
  12. ^ Time Out London review
  13. ^ New York Times review
  14. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1976/12/09/archives/silver-streak-tarnishes-on-a-tiring-film-trip.html
  15. ^ "'Semi-Tough' Film Winson Field Goals". New York Times. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  16. ^ "'Semi-Tough': A Likely Pleaser". The Washington Post. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  17. ^ Movies: Clayburgh: Box-office appeal for both men and women Jill Clayburgh: After 'Hustling,' box-office appeal began to build Jill Clayburgh Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune 2 Dec 1979: d2.
  18. ^ https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/an-unmarried-woman-1978
  19. ^ Fox, Margalit and Dennis Hevesi contributed reporting, "Jill Clayburgh Dies at 66; Starred in Feminist Roles", The New York Times, November 5, 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-05.
  20. ^ Reprinted in review collection, When the Lights Go Down, Pauline Kael
  21. ^ https://people.com/archive/cover-story-jill-starts-over-vol-12-no-19/
  22. ^ "DVR Alert: Luna". New Yorker. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  23. ^ "New Bertolucci Opens 17th Festival: Mother and Son". New York Times. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  24. ^ "Angela Carter responds to Bertoucci's La Luna'". London Review of Books. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  25. ^ https://people.com/archive/cover-story-jill-starts-over-vol-12-no-19/
  26. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1979/10/05/archives/screen-burt-reynolds-as-unmarried-husbandpostdivorce-blues.html
  27. ^ a b JILL CLAYBURGH-ACTING ON THE EDGE Collins, Glenn. New York Times 7 Mar 1982: A.1.
  28. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1979/02/04/archives/the-rising-star-of-meryl-streep.html
  29. ^ https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-news/michael-douglas-its-my-turn-75057/
  32. ^ Jill Clayburgh: The Passion of Mothers: Truths Abound for the Actress Who Plays Jill Ireland in TV Movie NANCY MILLS SPECIAL TO THE TIMES. Los Angeles Times 18 May 1991: F12.
  33. ^ FAMILY MATTERS FOR JILL CLAYBURGH: By JOANNE WEINTRAUB, Scripps Howard News Service. 13 Apr 1999: y03.
  34. ^ Her Family Grown, Jill Clayburgh Is Starting Over Conant, Jennet. New York Times 7 July 2002: 2.9.
  35. ^ A Dysfunctional Family In Search of a Sitcom: [Review] Brantley, Ben. New York Times7 Oct 2005: E.1.
  36. ^ Starting Over, Again: A Broadway Comeback And a Manhattan Share Hass, Nancy. New York Times 28 Aug 2005: 2.6.
  37. ^ 60 SECONDS WITH . . .; Jill Clayburgh: [HOME EDITION] Los Angeles Times 27 Sep 2007: E.9.
  38. ^ Fox, Margalit (November 5, 2010). "Jill Clayburgh Dies at 66; Starred in Feminist Roles". The New York Times.
  39. ^ IMDB has no mention of her name in this film.

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