skip navigation
Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres

| VIEW ALL

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (0)

Also Known As: Died:
Born: January 26, 1958 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA Profession: comedian, actor, screenwriter, comedy writer, bartender, vacuum salesman, house painter, oyster shucker

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Comedian and actress Ellen DeGeneres was best known for her groundbreaking sitcom "Ellen" (ABC, 1994-98) and her lively daytime talk show "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" (syndicated, 2003- ), which earned multiple Daytime Emmy Awards for Best Talk Show and Best Talk Show Host. DeGeneres started her career as a stand-up comedian, eventually parlaying her deadpan, observational style into a sitcom which made TV history for the coming out of its main character - a gay Ellen both on and off screen. The controversial, groundbreaking move effectively spelled the end of DeGeneres' sitcom career in 1998, but the down-to-earth - if not a little neurotic - talent rebounded a few years later as the move-busting host of a talk show bursting with A-list celebrities and a boisterous audience full of soccer moms. The sparkling blue-eyed blonde was also well-liked as the host of both Emmy and Academy Awards telecasts. It was, in fact, hard to find anyone who did not like DeGeneres, such was her good-hearted nature both on and off screen, as well as her pride in her sexual orientation, but her refusal to force it in people's faces. She was the harmless, funny best friend everyone wished they could have and no amount of...

Comedian and actress Ellen DeGeneres was best known for her groundbreaking sitcom "Ellen" (ABC, 1994-98) and her lively daytime talk show "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" (syndicated, 2003- ), which earned multiple Daytime Emmy Awards for Best Talk Show and Best Talk Show Host. DeGeneres started her career as a stand-up comedian, eventually parlaying her deadpan, observational style into a sitcom which made TV history for the coming out of its main character - a gay Ellen both on and off screen. The controversial, groundbreaking move effectively spelled the end of DeGeneres' sitcom career in 1998, but the down-to-earth - if not a little neurotic - talent rebounded a few years later as the move-busting host of a talk show bursting with A-list celebrities and a boisterous audience full of soccer moms. The sparkling blue-eyed blonde was also well-liked as the host of both Emmy and Academy Awards telecasts. It was, in fact, hard to find anyone who did not like DeGeneres, such was her good-hearted nature both on and off screen, as well as her pride in her sexual orientation, but her refusal to force it in people's faces. She was the harmless, funny best friend everyone wished they could have and no amount of scandals - including a WGA strike picket-line crossing and the dramatic break-up of her often-chronicled relationship with actress Anne Heche - could tarnish the love fans held for the classy comic.

Ellen DeGeneres was born on Jan. 26, 1958, and grew up in New Orleans, LA. DeGeneres first realized her gift for comedy following the break-up of her parents Betty and Elliott in 1974, when her sense of humor proved helpful in consoling her mother. Betty remarried a short time later, with DeGeneres moving with the new couple to the northeast Texas town of Atlanta. Sadly, DeGeneres' older brother Vance, whom she idolized, stayed behind. In Atlanta, DeGeneres had to endure not only being a new kid in town at the age of 16, but her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a mastectomy. As DeGeneres would later disclose, during that time her stepfather made inappropriate sexual advances towards her, which she kept secret for years. On the surface, things might have looked rosy for a teenager who was a member of the varsity tennis team and had several boyfriends, but Ellen desperately wanted to quit school and get away from her stepfather. She hung in long enough to get her diploma in 1976, after which she packed up and headed straight back to New Orleans. Back safely in her hometown, DeGeneres completed less than a semester at the University of New Orleans before dropping out and embarking on several years of odd jobs at restaurants, stores and offices. It was not until older brother Vance began getting attention on the local music scene and as the co-creator of the "Mr. Bill" shorts on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) that DeGeneres decided she wanted a piece of the comedy spotlight. She began hitting local stages, developing her offbeat g-rated comedy style - her maiden stand-up voyage consisting of consuming a Whopper, fries and a shake onstage in front of an audience.

Moving forward, Degeneres made a name for herself with quirky, observational humor grounded in soaring understatements and punctuated with uncomfortable pregnant pauses. Before long she was hired to emcee at the local club, Clyde's Corner. Around the same time, DeGeneres found a kindred spirit in a similarly young, creative writer and found herself in love with this woman. The pair's romance was cut short when the woman was killed in a car accident. A grieving DeGeneres channeled her loss into a monologue where she pretended to call God on the telephone and ask him to explain the seemingly illogical workings of the world. A video of DeGeneres performing the funny and poignant "phone call to God" act was sent in to a nationwide search by the cable network Showtime, and suddenly the daytime law firm assistant had earned the title of "Funniest Person in America." The newfound recognition gave her credentials enough to begin touring comedy clubs across the country, honing her act, and learning the ropes of show business. She next made her home in San Francisco, which was then a hotbed of stand-up comedy clubs. In 1986, DeGeneres hit the big time when she was invited to appear on "The Tonight Show" (NBC, 1954- ) and Johnny Carson gave the young comic his stamp of approval with one of his infamous invitations to join him at the couch. It was apparently the first time he had ever extended such praise to a first-time female performer on the show. Following DeGeneres' appearance on Carson, she began showing up frequently on the small screen in several HBO comedy specials and playing the regular role of the wisecracking, man-hungry receptionist in the Fox sitcom "Duet" (1988-89) and its spin-off "Open House" (1989-90).

She returned to series TV for another try, playing a flaky nurse on the short-lived sitcom "Laurie Hill" (ABC, 1992) but DeGeneres finally found prime time success when she received an offer from ABC to helm her own sitcom, which premiered as "These Friends of Mine" (ABC, 1994). Though readily embraced by viewers - it ranked third for the week after its first airing - many critics dismissed it as a "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1989-1998) clone, due to its structural similarities and comparable ensemble feel. After the first season the show was retooled to incorporate more of DeGeneres' stage persona and it returned the next fall as the less clunky "Ellen" (ABC, 1994-98). DeGeneres starred as an independent bookshop owner prone to insecurity and bouts of aimless babbling, surrounding herself with a strong cast including J ly Fisher as her ambitious, man-chasing best friend, Arye Gross as her sad sack roommate and old college buddy, David Anthony Higgins as her sarcastic employee, and eventually Jeremy Piven as her high-octane cousin.

This second incarnation of the series clicked, earning DeGeneres four Emmy nominations for Best Comic Actress, while capturing her the statue in 1997 for her scripting contributions to the infamous "coming out" show entitled, "The Puppy Episode." There had long been speculation about the character's sexuality which reached a fever pitch that season when TV Guide leaked the story that producers intended to have the lead disclose her lesbianism. DeGeneres fueled this speculation by appearing on several talk shows and coyly deflecting the question. In April 1997, she herself came out in a Time magazine cover story and in a two-part interview with Diane Sawyer. Not long after, the infamous "Puppy Episode" aired April 30, 1997, attracting more than 36 million viewers anxious to see TV history made when Ellen Morgan disclosed her homosexuality, thereby becoming the first openly gay lead in primetime TV. The fact that DeGeneres was also essentially outing herself added to the interest.

Unfortunately, her "coming out" spelled the end of the sitcom. The executives at ABC saddled the show with warnings - i.e., "This program contains adult content. Parental discretion is advised" - and Chrysler and J.C. Penney temporarily withdrew their sponsorship over prudish objections from the conservative portion of the public. There was truth to DeGeneres' claims that the network caved to pressure from the Christian Right - with Jerry Falwell even referring to her as "Ellen DeGenerate" - and quit supporting the series, but even enthusiastic fans noted that the light touch which had made her a perfect crusader in the first place disappeared when the show became more politicized and gay issue-oriented. Fellow homosexual Elton John may have said it best - "We know you're a lesbian. Shut up! Just be funny!" A year after the historic episode and in the wake of diminishing ratings (averaging just over 12 million viewers), ABC pulled the plug on "Ellen." DeGeneres and her then-lover Anne Heche, having promoted themselves as standard-bearers for homosexual equality, felt the backlash of conservatism circling the wagons in defense of the bottom line. But there was no denying the comic's bravery and for being a torchbearer for helping mainstream audience acceptance of gay characters on primetime television.

After her unceremonious departure from primetime in 1998, DeGeneres managed to land some big screen roles despite the fact that many doors remained closed to her because of her outspoken activism. Her first attempt to transfer her TV persona to the big screen in 1996's "Mr. Wrong" had failed to excite audiences - and now seemed laughable to many, as she played a straight woman looking for the right man. She did not fare much better with Roland Joffe's "Goodbye Lover" (1999), turning in an unappealing portrayal as a wisecracking detective. She did score points for her humorous role as the TV producer who comes up with the idea of televising Matthew McConaughey's life in "EDtv" (1999), with her line to boss Rob Reiner about their network's position apropos the Gardening Channel ("People would rather watch soil") perfect for her classic deadpan delivery. She also got to reveal a girlishly romantic streak beneath her cynical facade for that year's "The Love Letter." She went on to be directed by her then-girlfriend Anne Heche in "Miss Conception," a segment of HBO's "If These Walls Could Talk 2" (2000) featuring DeGeneres and Sharon Stone as a lesbian couple attempting to have a child.

Returning to her sturdy stand-up roots, DeGeneres next embarked on a national comedy tour that included the Emmy-nominated HBO special "Ellen DeGeneres: The Beginning" (2000). CBS stepped forward to invite the comedian back to series TV, and she returned as executive producer and star of the critically admired but ratings-impaired "The Ellen Show" (CBS, 2001-02), playing a lesbian who returns to live in her hometown. While her career seemed to be back on an upswing, DeGeneres' personal life again became tabloid fodder when she and Heche ended their three-plus year relationship in August 2000. Not long afterwards Heche was found wandering in a rural area of California's Central Valley in her underwear, claiming to be looking for a gateway to outer space. She was institutionalized for a period and subsequently released a biography claiming that she had suffered with multiple personalities and delusions for most of her life. DeGeneres wisely took the high road and refused to comment on their private life together, though it was leaked by those closest the couple that Heche had broken DeGeneres heart severely.

In 2001, DeGeneres stepped into one of the most notoriously tough gigs for a comic - hosting the Emmy Awards, and received a standing ovation for delicately handling a gala event clouded by the loss and anxiety from the recent terrorist events of September 11th. After "The Ellen Show" was cancelled in 2002, the unstoppable DeGeneres rose again with a much-praised HBO special "Ellen DeGeneres: Here and Now" (2003). On an obvious upswing, she also voiced the lovable, forgetful fish Dory in the biggest - and best-reviewed - hit of that summer, Disney/Pixar's endearing "Finding Nemo" (2003).

That fall, she entered the syndicated daytime talk arena with "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," which set itself apart from the competition with its contemporary feel, live DJ, and the host's notorious and oftentimes embarrassing grooving through the audience. The show also struck a unique balance by featuring A-list celebrity guests, as well as distinctive comedy pieces and interviews celebrating everyday people, making audience members feel like part of the action. The show's format and the host's down-to-earth appeal were an instant hit, suggesting that in the end, audiences were unconcerned with the sex life of an enjoyable entertainer. And unlike in years past, the comic did not mention it very often, which led to further acceptance with red state viewers. DeGeneres won Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Talk Show Host in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In 2005 DeGeneres was tapped to host yet another post-National disaster Awards show, helming the 57th annual Emmy Awards following the deadly flooding in her hometown of New Orleans. Again, the actress earned praise for injecting the evening with comforting humor while acknowledging the impact of the tragedy.

After receiving rave reviews for hosting the 79th Annual Academy Awards in early 2007, The Queen of Daytime TV was beset by personal criticism, following a pair of high-profile incidents later in the year. News outlets pounced on DeGeneres and live-in girlfriend, actress Portia De Rossi, when they ran afoul of a pet rescue agency after their adopted puppy did not fare well with their cats and they found it another home. The adoption agency repossessed the dog, citing that DeGeneres had violated the adoption contract. DeGeneres made headlines when she replayed the events of the incident and tearfully pleaded for the return of the dog during her show. As the media saturation over that event was beginning to quiet, DeGeneres ignited a firestorm of controversy for crossing the picket line of the striking Writers Guild to continue producing her daytime chat show. The host, a member of both the Writer's Guild and the actor's guild AFTRA, was allegedly bound by her AFTRA membership to continue reporting to work. DeGeneres ceased production for one day, but returned the following day stating that she supported her writers but that she had a duty to her audience. Strike supporters questioned DeGeneres' loyalty, pointing to the fact that she had taken two days off during the puppy scandal, but only deemed support of the Writer's Guild worthy of one lost day of production.

In the summer of 2008, during a brief window of time when California legalized same-sex marriage, DeGeneres and De Rossi were wed in a small ceremony at their Beverly Hills home. That year, the showbiz survivor became a spokesmodel for Cover Girl cosmetics and earned another Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host. DeGeneres began to dip her t back into primetime TV in 2009 with a guest appearance as a judge on "So You Think You Can Dance?" (Fox, 2005- ). Her ongoing enthusiasm as a pop music fan and her friendly on-camera demeanor made her an excellent candidate to become an "American Idol" (Fox, 2002- ) judge, a position DeGeneres accepted in the wake of Paula Abdul's unexpected departure from the top-rated reality series near the start of its ninth season. Despite bringing some much needed humor and a softer sensibility to the show, DeGeneres publicly announced in July 2010 that she would not be returning to "Idol," citing her schedule and her conscience, stating "while I loved discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent, it was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings."

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Finding Dory (2016)
2.
 Pauly Shore is Dead (2004) Herself--Cameo
3.
 Finding Nemo (2003) Dory
4.
 If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000) Kal ("2000")
5.
 Love Letter, The (1999) Janet
6.
 Ed TV (1999) Cynthia
7.
 Goodbye Lover (1998) Rita Pompano
8.
 Mr. Wrong (1996) Martha
9.
 Coneheads (1993) Coach
10.
 Wisecracks (1991) Herself
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in New Orleans and Texas
1980:
First stand-up appearance in a New Orleans comedy club consisted of eating a Whopper, fries and a shake
1982:
Named "Funniest Person in America" by Showtime after a nationwide search
:
Toured the country performing stand-up act
1986:
TV debut on HBO's "The Young Comedians All-Star Reunion"
1986:
Made first appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (NBC); allegedly the first female comic asked to the couch on her first show
1988:
TV series debut, "Duet" (Fox)
1989:
Cast as a regular in the "Duet" spin-off series "Open House" (Fox)
1990:
Starred in her own HBO comedy special
1991:
Feature debut, "Wise Cracks"
1992:
Cast on the short-lived series "Laurie Hill" (ABC)
1993:
Feature acting debut, "Coneheads"
1994:
Starred on the ensemble sitcom "These Friends of Mine" (ABC)
1994:
Starred on the ABC sitcom "Ellen," a retooled version of "These Friends of Mine"; earned four consecutive Emmy nominations as lead actress in a comedy series
1996:
First leading role in films, "Mr. Wrong"
1996:
Hosted the annual telecast of the Grammy Awards; received Emmy nomination
1997:
Publicly revealed that she was a lesbian just prior to having her TV character come out on ABC's "Ellen"
1997:
Earned Emmy nomination for playing herself on an episode of the HBO comedy series "The Larry Sanders Show"
1998:
Acted in Roland Joffe's "Goodbye, Lover"; co-starring Don Johnson, Dermot Mulroney and Mary-Louise Parker
1999:
Had featured role as a TV programmer in "Edtv"; garnered unintentional laughs when her character proclaimed, "I know what women want"
1999:
Co-starred as Kate Capshaw's best friend in "The Love Letter"
2000:
Co-starred (also produced) with Sharon Stone as a lesbian couple trying to have a child in the Anne Heche-directed segment of "If These Walls Could Talk 2" (HBO); as producer was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Made for TV-Movie
2000:
Headlined the HBO comedy special "Ellen DeGeneres: The Beginning"; also served as executive producer and writer; garnered Emmy nominations for Outstanding Individual Performance in Variety and for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special
2001:
Hosted the annual telecast of the Emmy Awards; received Emmy nomination
2001:
Made long-awaited return to sitcoms as star and executive producer of "The Ellen Show" (CBS)
2003:
Voiced the absent-minded fish Dory in the animated hit feature "Finding Nemo"
2003:
Hosted own TV show, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show"
2004:
Guest role on the HBO series "Six Feet Under"
2004:
Received a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album for "The Funny Thing is..."
2005:
Hosted the 2005 Primetime Emmy Awards
2007:
Hosted the 79th Annual Academy Awards ceremony (aired in February); earned an Emmy nomination for Best Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program
2007:
"The Ellen DeGeneres Show" earned 12 Daytime Emmy nominations
2009:
Joined the ninth season of Fox's "American Idol" as the fourth judge, replacing Paula Abdul; resigned after one season
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Atlanta High School: Atlanta , Texas -

Notes

Named Best Female Comedy Club Stand-up at the 1991 American Comedy Awards

"I was serving coffee and Xeroxing at a law firm in New Orleans, and all of sudden, I was the Funniest Person in America. It was nice to win, but imagine having to wear that title around your neck for a year." --Ellen DeGeneres, to Jefferson Graham of USA Today, March 29, 1994

"I was thinking what's the thing anyone could ask me now or say about me? And it's like nothing, really. I mean, not even Howard Stern can hurt me now." --DeGeneres to Time, April 14, 1997

"Right now, the jury is still out on my career. Let's see if I can accomplish what I want to accomplish, which is getting over sterotypes. I still think in 30 years we'll be dealing with homophobia, and it would be nice to have 'Ellen' on Nick at Nite along with Mary Tyler Moore, someone that [gay] kids could identify with. I have a tendency to diminish what I do for a living, but I also know I'm going to leave here, and I won't be somebody who just had a sitcom but someone who helped change people's minds." --DeGeneres quoted in TV Guide, October 11, 1997

"My show wasn't appreciated, and my talent isn't appreciated, and I wish people could get beyond the fact that I'm gay. I'm sure even talking like this brings it up again--'If she would just shut up for two years, then we'd hire her.' That's what people say: Has it been enough time, has it died down? But we're just trying to be truthful, and what we've learned is that it is a hard town to be truthful in." --DeGeneres in Los Angeles Times Magazine, November 29, 1998

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Kathy Perkoff. Poet. Possibly DeGeneres' first serious lover; died in tragic car accident in 1980.
companion:
Anne Heche. Actor. Met at the <i>Vanity Fair</i> party on Oscar night in March 1997; separated in August 2000; Heche later married a cameraman who worked on a documentary she was making about DeGeneres' comedy tour.
companion:
Alexandra Hedison. Actor. Began dating in fall 2000; had an on-again, off-again relationship.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Elliott DeGeneres. Insurance salesman. Divorced from DeGeneres' mother.
mother:
Betty DeGeneres. Real estate broker, activist. Divorced from DeGeneres' father; had a brief marriage after she dropped out of college prior to wedding Elliott; became first non-gay spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign's Coming Out Project, which battles homophobia, in 1997.
brother:
Vance DeGeneres. TV writer, comedian. Born c 1954; first big break came as part of the creative team for "The Mr. Bill Show", originally submitted to "Saturday Night Live" (NBC) by his New Orleans roommate Walter Williams and him as a comic home movie; wrote several episodes for the fantasy kid series "Eerie, Indiana" and the 1994 Emmy Awards; also wrote for "Ellen" during the "coming out" season; later was correspondent on the Jon Stewart hosted "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central).

Bibliography close complete biography

"My Point ... and I Do Have One" Bantam Books
"Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughter Journey" Rob Weisbach Books
"Ellen: The Real Story of Ellen DeGeneres" Birch Lane Press

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute