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Martha Coolidge

Martha Coolidge

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: August 17, 1946 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New Haven, Connecticut, USA Profession: director, editor, screenwriter, producer, singer, actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A proficient director of mainstream Hollywood fare, Martha Coolidge began her career in her native Connecticut as a stage actress appearing with a local theater company. While attending the Rhode Island School of Design, she began to make films and found her true calling, turning out six student films. After further studies at NYC's School of Visual Arts and at Columbia University, she landed her first professional gig as a writer and producer of the Canadian daily children's show "Magic Tom." Returning to the USA, Coolidge enrolled at NYU's Institute of Film and Television and went on to turn out several award-winning documentary portraits, including two of family members, "David: On and Off" (1972), about her brother, and "Old Fashioned Woman" (1974), about her grandmother. These, along with the pseudo-documentary "Not a Pretty Picture" (1976) which reconstructed her high school date rape, helped establish her reputation as a filmmaker. Coolidge first broke into Hollywood studios as a screenwriter receiving credit as one of several writers who contributed the story to the spy comedy "The Omega Connection" (1979). Her directorial debut, "Valley Girl" (1983), proved to be an above average teen comedy...

A proficient director of mainstream Hollywood fare, Martha Coolidge began her career in her native Connecticut as a stage actress appearing with a local theater company. While attending the Rhode Island School of Design, she began to make films and found her true calling, turning out six student films. After further studies at NYC's School of Visual Arts and at Columbia University, she landed her first professional gig as a writer and producer of the Canadian daily children's show "Magic Tom." Returning to the USA, Coolidge enrolled at NYU's Institute of Film and Television and went on to turn out several award-winning documentary portraits, including two of family members, "David: On and Off" (1972), about her brother, and "Old Fashioned Woman" (1974), about her grandmother. These, along with the pseudo-documentary "Not a Pretty Picture" (1976) which reconstructed her high school date rape, helped establish her reputation as a filmmaker.

Coolidge first broke into Hollywood studios as a screenwriter receiving credit as one of several writers who contributed the story to the spy comedy "The Omega Connection" (1979). Her directorial debut, "Valley Girl" (1983), proved to be an above average teen comedy and quickly established her as one to watch. She had elicited a fine comic turn from Nicolas Cage in that film and her sophomore effort, "The City Girl" (1984) was an underrated gem featuring fine work from Laura Harrington as the titular character, a photographer with a penchant for unwise romantic pairings. With her growing reputation as an actor's director and given a "big budget" ($13 million), Coolidge helmed "Real Genius" (1985), a smart satire that featured a star-making turn by Val Kilmer and gave William Atherton a meaty supporting role. If overall the film was somewhat lacking in consistent character development, it did provide solid laughs and boded well for its director. Further adding to her reputation was "Rambling Rose" (1991), a meticulously performed character piece about an eccentric Southern family and their housemaid. The mother and daughter team of Diane Ladd and Laura Dern each received Oscar nominations under Coolidge's assured handling.

An active member of the Directors Guild of America, Coolidge divided her time between TV and features and working within the union. While her film work in the 1990s hasn't exactly yielded a blockbuster, she has done yeoman work, often giving actresses rare chances to shine: consider Mercedes Ruehl in "Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers" (1993), Geena Davis in "Angie" (1994) and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in "Three Wishes" (1995). Even in "Out to Sea" (1997), a film built around the comic pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Elaine Stritch, Rue McClanahan, Dyan Cannon and Gloria DeHaven won critical kudos. Coolidge continued to demonstrate an affinity for pulling strong performances from her leading ladies in her small screen work as well. Her best-known telefilms were "Crazy in Love" (TNT, 1992), which focused on three generations of women (Herta Ware, Gena Rowlands and Holly Hunter) in the Pacific Northwest, and "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" (HBO, 1999), a biopic of the black sex symbol produced by and starring Halle Berry.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

3.
4.
  Prince & Me, The (2004) Director
5.
  Flamingo Rising, The (2001) Director
6.
  If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000) Director ("1972")
7.
8.
  Out to Sea (1997) Director
9.
  Three Wishes (1995) Director
10.
  Angie (1994) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Beverly Hills Cop III (1994) Security Woman
2.
 That's Adequate (1989) Herself
3.
 Calling the Shots (1988) Herself
4.
 50 Years of Action! (1986) Herself
5.
 Not a Pretty Picture (1976) Herself
6.
 Who Is Alan Smithee? (2002) Interviewee
7.
 Without Lying Down (2000) Interviewee
8.
 Nicolas Cage: Wild at Heart (1999) Interviewee
10.
 In Search of Oz (1994)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in New Haven, Connecticut
:
Acted with a local theater company in Connecticut
1968:
Wrote and produced daily children's TV show, "Magic Tom" in Canada
1972:
Wrote, produced, directed and edited the documentary "David: Off and On", about her brother
1973:
Edited, produced, wrote and directed "Old Fashioned Woman", a documentary portrait of her octogenarian grandmother
1975:
Feature film debut, the semi-autobiographical, pseudo-documentary, "Not a Pretty Picture", about date rape; produced, wrote, directed, edited and starred
:
Helped start the Association of Independent/Video and Filmmakers
1976:
As American Film Institute/Academy intern, worked with Robert Wise on his film, "Audrey Rose"
1978:
Worked on rock and roll love story, "Photoplay" for Coppola's Zoetrope Studio (project abandoned when studio began its collapse c. 1980)
:
Returned to work on Canadian television
1983:
Breakthrough feature, "Valley Girl" starring Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman
1985:
First big budget ($13 million) Hollywood film, "Real Genius"
1986:
Helmed the pilot for the ABC sitcom "Sledge Hammer!"
1989:
TV-movie directing debut, "Trenchcoat in Paradise"
1991:
Won acclaim for her direction of "Rambling Rose"; real-life mother and daughter co-stars Laura Dern and Diane Ladd received Oscar nominations for their performances
1992:
Helmed the well-received made-for-cable movie "Crazy in Love" (TNT)
1993:
Steered the uneven film version of "Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers", an semi-autobiographical look at the author's upbringing based on his Pulitzer-winning play
1994:
Appeared as a security guard in "Beverly Hills Cop III"
1995:
Directed the family drama "Three Wishes", starring Al Pacino and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
1997:
Helmed the feature comedy "Out to Sea", starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau
1999:
Directed the HBO biopic "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge", produced by and starring Halle Berry; received Emmy nomination
2000:
Helmed one segment of the tripart "If These Walls Could Talk 2" (HBO), examining the lesbian experience in America
2001:
Helmed "The Ponder Heart" for PBS
2002:
Directed episodes of the hit HBO series, "Sex and the City"
2004:
Directed Julia Stiles in the romatic comedy "The Prince and Me"
2005:
Directed the short-lived series, "Related" (WB)
2006:
Directed sisters Hilary and Haylie Duff in the comedy "Material Girls"
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Education

Columbia University: New York , New York -
Rhode Island School of Design: Providence , Rhode Island -
School of Visual Arts: New York , New York -
Institute of Film and Television, New York University: New York , New York - 1970 - 1971

Notes

She is a distant cousin of former president Calvin Coolidge.

In March 2002, Coolidge became the first female president of the Directors Guild of America when she succeeded Jack Shea who resigned.

Awarded the Crystal Award by Women in Film.

Awarded the Breakthrough Award by Women, Men & Media.

"If a man is demanding and doesn't stand for inefficiency, if he wants things done in a certain way, he will frequently get forceful, Many directors get angry and yell. They may be difficult. And on some level they are worshipped for that.

"If I do that, I run the risk of being 'shrill', 'a screamer' or 'a bitch'. This is a big dilemma for women directors. There are more people questioning what we can do every day. There are more people thinking they can push us around than there are thinking they can push men around. A director must be demanding and tough. When a woman gets that way she can run into criticism which I consider to be gender-based." --Martha Coolidge to DGA Magazine, November 1998.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Michael Backes. Producer, screenwriter. Married in 1984.

Family close complete family listing

grandmother:
Mabel Tilton Coolidge. Subject of "Old Fashioned Woman" (1974).
brother:
David Coolidge. Subject of her 1972 documentary "David: Off and On".
son:
Preston Bradford Backes. Born in December 1988.

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