It is Oscar month, so it is fitting to highlight at Arkansas’ own Academy Award winning actress, Mary Steenburgen on her birthday. She was born on February 8, 1953, in Newport, Arkansas. After moving to North Little Rock as a schoolgirl, she had her first starring role as Emily in the 1971 Northeast High School production of Our Town, which was the new school’s first play.
Her big break in the movies came when Oscar winner Jack Nicholson picked her to star opposite of him in Goin’ South. This was followed by Time after Time before she appeared in Melvin and Howard. For that film, she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. It also marked the first of three times she starred with Jason Robards (the other two being Parenthood and Philadelphia). Over the years, her films have run the gamut from period piece (Ragtime, Cross Creek) to sophisticated comedy (Romantic Comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy) to fantasy (Back to the Future III) to holiday comedy (Elf). She has been hard to pigeonhole into a specific “type” of actor because she has played so many different types of roles.
Throughout her career, Mary Steenburgen has been a champion of the arts in Central Arkansas. In 1986, she starred in and was executive producer of End of the Line, filmed in Central Arkansas, directed and co-written by Arkansan Jay Russell, and also starring Kevin Bacon, Wilfred Brimley, Levon Helm, Barbara Barrie and Holly Hunter. More recently, Steenburgen has also been an active supporter of the Oxford American magazine as well as South on Main restaurant and performance venue.
She has been an active supporter and a board member of the Arkansas Cinema Society. During the 2018 FILMLAND she appeared in panel discussions on comedy and on her TV show “The Last Man on Earth.”