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Genteel actress Blythe Danner earned her reputation as one of the more accomplished performers in film and on stage and television over the course of an exceptional career. Early in her career, Danner became a Broadway sensation with her Tony Award-winning performance in "Butterflies Are Free" (1969). Screen work in smaller films like the off-beat comedy "Hearts of the West" (1975) soon led to the actress earning widespread critical acclaim for performances in such television projects as "Too Far to Go" (NBC, 1979). Although consistently cast in the roles of wives and mothers, Danner deftly made each character her own in films as diverse as the adaptation of Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs" (1986) and the Barbara Streisand-helmed drama, "The Prince of Tides" (1991). Some three decades into her career, Danner - now known to young fans as the mother of Oscar-winning daughter Gwyneth Paltrow - scored her biggest movie hit with "Meet the Parents" (2000) and its popular sequels, in which she played Robert De Niro's understanding wife. In 2002, her own life was dealt a devastating blow with the sudden death of producer-director Bruce Paltrow, her husband of more than 30 years. A pillar of strength,...
Genteel actress Blythe Danner earned her reputation as one of the more accomplished performers in film and on stage and television over the course of an exceptional career. Early in her career, Danner became a Broadway sensation with her Tony Award-winning performance in "Butterflies Are Free" (1969). Screen work in smaller films like the off-beat comedy "Hearts of the West" (1975) soon led to the actress earning widespread critical acclaim for performances in such television projects as "Too Far to Go" (NBC, 1979). Although consistently cast in the roles of wives and mothers, Danner deftly made each character her own in films as diverse as the adaptation of Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs" (1986) and the Barbara Streisand-helmed drama, "The Prince of Tides" (1991). Some three decades into her career, Danner - now known to young fans as the mother of Oscar-winning daughter Gwyneth Paltrow - scored her biggest movie hit with "Meet the Parents" (2000) and its popular sequels, in which she played Robert De Niro's understanding wife. In 2002, her own life was dealt a devastating blow with the sudden death of producer-director Bruce Paltrow, her husband of more than 30 years. A pillar of strength, Danner carried on, exhibiting impressive comedic skill with her recurring roles on the series "Will & Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006) and "Huff" (Showtime, 2004-06). While never having the marquee name recognition enjoyed by some of her contemporaries, the elegant Danner nonetheless remained one of the most respected working actresses of her generation.
Born on Feb. 3, 1943 in Philadelphia, PA, Blythe Katherine Danner was the daughter of Katharine Kile and Harry Earl Danner, a bank executive. Raised in an artistically inclined family, her brothers Harry and William grew up to become an opera singer and violinist, respectively, while Danner's sister, Dorothy, went on to excel as an opera director and choreographer. After a childhood spent in the historic and affluent suburban region known as Main Line, Danner spent part of 1961 as a foreign exchange student in Germany and was present during the historic and infamous construction of the Berlin Wall. Upon returning to the U.S., she attended Bard College and spent a summer singing with a jazz group in Vermont. Following her graduation in 1965, Danner landed a job with the Theatre Company of Boston, where she made her professional debut as Laura in Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie." In New York, her off-Broadway debut came with the troupe's revue "The Infantry," staged in 1966, followed by more prominent work in the Lincoln Center production of "Summertree" (1968). The talented young actress was soon seen making her Broadway debut in a production of "Cyrano de Bergerac" before going on to an impressive turn in a revival of Molière's, "The Miser" in 1969.
The following year, Danner won widespread acclaim and a Best Actress Tony for her performance as Jill Tanner, the free-spirited divorcée who beguiles a blind neighbor in the comedy "Butterflies Are Free." During the play's sensational run, Danner married producer Bruce Paltrow, with whom she would have two children - future director Jake Paltrow and Academy Award-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow. Although she had picked up several television roles by the time Hollywood adapted "Butterflies are Free" (1972) to the screen, Danner - not yet enjoying mainstream name recognition - was passed over in favor of Goldie Hawn for the role of Jill. Nonetheless, she began snatching up significant roles in other projects, such as the bizarre Alan Alda thriller, "To Kill a Clown" (1972). That same year, Danner showed off her impressive vocal skills opposite Ken Howard as Martha and Thomas Jefferson in the feature film adaptation of the hit musical, "1776" (1972). So dynamic was her onscreen collaboration with Howard that the actors were immediately paired again on the short-lived sitcom, "Adam's Rib" (ABC, 1973), a reworking of the Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy classic romantic-comedy.
Danner was formidable as a woman torn between two friends (Anthony Perkins and Beau Bridges) in director Sidney Lumet's romantic drama, "Lovin' Molly" (1974), an underappreciated adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel Leaving Cheyenne. On the small screen, the actress was perfectly cast as Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald in the loosely biographical drama "F. Scott Fitzgerald and 'The Last of the Belles'" (ABC, 1974), starring Richard Chamberlain as the revered American novelist. Also that year, Danner began a long-running association with the Williamstown Theatre Festival, starring as Nina in "The Seagull," a production that was filmed and later aired on public television. As a script girl who falls for an unlikely cowboy hero (Jeff Bridges), Danner enlivened the proceedings of the off-beat comedy "Hearts of the West" (1975). And while her work in the B-movie sci-fi sequel "Futureworld" (1976) was less appreciated, Danner was undeniably charming as her former co-star Alan Alda's brief love interest in a 1976 episode of "M.A.S.H." (CBS, 1972-1983).
Danner was convincing as a pair of wives of historical figures; first, as Mrs. Custer in "The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer" (NBC, 1977), followed by a turn as the loving spouse of the doomed baseball hero (Edward Herrmann) in "A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story" (NBC, 1978). Taking on more frequent television work, she played Michael Moriarty's WASPish wife in the superior marriage drama "Too Far to Go" (NBC, 1979), adapted from John Updike's heralded short stories. That same year, she also garnered kudos for her endearing portrayal of Robert Duvall's long-suffering wife in "The Great Santini" (1979), this time helping bring the work of novelist Pat Conroy to the screen. With her children now in school, Danner returned to the theater in the 1980s and went on to earn a Tony nod for her performance as an adulterous wife in Harold Pinter's "Betrayal" before headlining a revival of "The Philadelphia Story."
Maintaining her strong presence on television, she also delivered excellent performances as Annie Sullivan in "Helen Keller - The Miracle Continues" (syndicated, 1984) and as the wife of a lawyer (Anthony Hopkins) targeted for murder in the legal thriller, "Guilty Conscience" (CBS, 1985). The following year, she essayed the strong Jewish matriarch of the Jerome clan in the adaptation of Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical "Brighton Beach Memoirs" (1986), alongside actress Judith Ivey as her widowed sister. She and Ivey reteamed as the two spouses of Richard Chamberlain's writer character in a lauded Broadway revival of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit" in 1987. Danner later picked up another Tony nomination for her embodiment of Blanche Du Bois opposite Aidan Quinn's Stanley in the Broadway revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and was equally compelling as Beatrice to Kevin Kline's Benedick in a Central Park staging of "Much Ado About Nothing," both of which she performed in 1988.
The 1990s saw Danner work frequently with her daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow, including on stage at Williamstown in a 1991 mounting of "Picnic," which was followed by a turn as Paltrow's onscreen mother in the miniseries "Cruel Doubts" (NBC, 1992). The veteran actress continued to deliver performances that skillfully managed to elicit empathy for potentially unlikable characters, such as her turn as Nick Nolte's estranged wife in another adaptation of a Pat Conroy novel, "The Prince of Tides" (1991). Danner played Juliette Lewis' mother in Woody Allen's marital drama "Husbands and Wives" (1992), then transitioned to high camp for the drag queen comedy "To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar" (1995). After appearing alongside Roy Scheider in writer-director Bart Freundlich's affecting family drama "The Myth of the Fingerprints" (1997) and a host of other supporting roles, Danner employed her impressive comic timing for a turn as Robert De Niro's wife in the box office hit, "Meet the Parents" (2000).
Following her role as the mother of Cameron Diaz and Jordana Brewster in the morose family drama "The Invisible Circus" (2001), Danner tackled her first Broadway musical as Phyllis in a revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's "Follies" that same year. In what should have been a standout year, the actress received an Emmy nomination for her work as Corinne Mulvaney in the harrowing family drama, "We Were The Mulvaneys" (Lifetime, 2002), based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates. Tragedy struck later that year, however, when husband Bruce Paltrow died of complications from pneumonia and a recurrence of throat cancer while vacationing in Rome with daughter Gwyneth to celebrate her 30th birthday. After Bruce's death, Danner donated her time and celebrity to raising awareness of the disease and the need for early detection through her work with the Bruce Paltrow Cancer Oral Cancer Fund. Perhaps finding solace in the act of performing together, Danner and her daughter appeared as mother and child in the biopic "Sylvia" (2003), with Paltrow portraying noted American poet Sylvia Plath.
On television, Danner struck a lighter note - and earned more Emmy noms - with a recurring role on the hit sitcom "Will & Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006), playing Marilyn Truman, Will's blueblood mother whose life goes into a hilarious tailspin when her husband (Sydney Pollack) leaves her for his mistress. At the same time, Danner reprised her role as Dina Byrnes in the sequel, "Meet the Fockers" (2004), a broad comedy less glowingly reviewed, but just as commercially successful as its predecessor. After being nominated once again for her lead role in the TV movie "Back When We Were Grownups" (CBS, 2004), Danner at last took home a Supporting Actress Emmy for her delightful turn as Izzy Huffstodt, the off-kilter mother of psychiatrist Craig 'Huff' Huffstodt (Hank Azaria) on the acclaimed cable series "Huff" (Showtime, 2004-06). As short-lived as "Huff" was, it did provide Danner with one more Emmy Award during its second season. Working as steadily as ever in feature films, she lent support as a concerned parent alongside Tom Wilkinson in the romantic drama "The Last Kiss" (2006) then played Blake Lively's estranged grandmother in the sequel "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" (2008).
As the first decade of the new millennium drew to a close, Danner starred opposite Richard Dreyfuss in the little-seen romantic comedy "The Lightkeepers" (2009) prior to reappearing alongside De Niro, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand for the second sequel in the hit franchise, "Little Fockers" (2010). The actress joined an all-star cast for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's sci-fi comedy "Paul" (2011), starring as a woman whose life was irrevocably altered after coming into contact with the eponymous alien (voice by Seth Rogan) in her childhood. In a more grounded project, Danner later played Taylor Schilling's wise grandmother in the romantic drama, "The Lucky One" (2012), starring Zac Efron and based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks.
By Bryce Coleman
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CAST: (feature film)
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Received an honorary DFA degree from Bard Collage in 1981.
"I've never been a very . . . secure actress." --Blythe Danner to Time Out New York, April 9-16. 1998.
On the success of her marriage to writer-producer-director Bruce Paltrow, Danner told Time Out New York (April 9-16, 1998): "Separation! Not the legal kind, of course. We joke about it all the time. The way our careers have gone, we've probably been together for only half of our marriage. Just when you're getting tired of the other person, you've got to go away. And when you come back, you're so thrilled to be together again.
"I don't mean to sound so flip about this, but I don't know if marriage is the most normal of states -- especially with temperamental people."
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