Melinda Dillon Profile
Melinda Dillon was born October 13, 1939 in Hope, Arkansas (also the birthplace of President Bill Clinton). She began her career on stage, studying with the Goodman Theatre School and performing with the Second City improv group. Dillon honed her acting skills under method guru Lee Strasberg before making her Broadway debut in 1962 in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. For the role of Honey, she received a Tony nomination as Best Supporting Actress. Dillon also appeared on Broadway in You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running a quartet of one act plays by Robert Anderson. She also found a role in the Tony nominated Paul Sills' Story Theatre, written by the founding director of Second City.
Dillon made her screen debut in the 1969 film The April Fools with some pretty impressive company; her co-stars included Jack Lemmon, Catherine Deneuve, Peter Lawford and Myrna Loy. In her second feature film, Bound for Glory (1976), Dillon played the wife of folk singer Woody Guthrie opposite David Carradine. She earned her first Oscar® nomination for Close Encounters of the Third Kind where she played a single mom who lost her son during an alien encounter. Dillon rounded out the '70s in a pair of high profile films: the Paul Newman hockey movie Slap Shot (1977) and Norman Jewison's labor union drama F.I.S.T. (1978) starring Sylvester Stallone.
She also appeared in a number of made-for-TV movies during the 1970s and '80s. Among Dillon's TV credits are the malpractice drama The Critical List (1978); the Emmy-nominated The Shadow Box (1980) which was directed by Paul Newman; Fallen Angel (1981), a cautionary tale about child pornography that also received an Emmy nomination as best Drama Special.
Dillon received her second Oscar® nomination as Best Supporting Actress for Absence of Malice, the story of a misguided investigative reporter starring Sally Field and Paul Newman as the target of her exposé. The movie that would make her a household name came next - A Christmas Story, based on a memoir by Jean Shepherd. Dillon was cast as Mrs. Parker, the mother of an offbeat family, with Peter Billingsley taking on the iconic role of her son Ralphie and Darren McGavin as her lamp-loving husband. Over the next few years, Dillon would play the mom again in two very different movies: a Bigfoot satire, Harry and the Hendersons (1987), and the southern family drama, Staying Together (1989).
Through the 1990s, Dillon continued to take supporting roles in major releases. She played the fragile sister Savannah in The Prince of Tides (1991) starring Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte. She played Merna in the Patrick Swayze drag queen comedy To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995) and she appeared in the generational women's picture How to Make an American Quilt (1995), as well as in Paul Thomas Anderson's ensemble drama Magnolia (1999).
Most recently Dillon was seen on television in an adaptation of John Grisham's A Painted House (2003) and on the big screen in Reign Over Me (2007), the Adam Sandler-Don Cheadle post-9/11 drama.
by Stephanie Thames