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Ellen Burstyn

Ellen BurstynAKA Edna Rae Gillooly

Born: 7-Dec-1932
Birthplace: Detroit, MI

Gender: Female
Religion: See Note [1]
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Actor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

In her high school years she took ballet lessons, worked as a waitress -- whatever would get her out of the house and away from her overbearing, domineering mother and her stepfather, who repeatedly told her she would never be anything but a whore. When she said she wanted to be an actress, her mother told her she would do better as a stenographer. When she tried to reconnect with her biological father, he tried to seduce her. In her autobiography, she wrote of being so poor and hungry in her late teens, she used her sex appeal to feed herself. "I ate when I had a date," she said, "but that was all the food I got. So I felt the least I could do was say 'thank you'." At 17 she found her first work as a model, and on her 18th birthday she left home, pregnant by a married man. She soon married her first long-term boyfriend, who thought of himself as a poet.

She worked as a model in Dallas, a nightclub dancer in Montreal, got divorced and came to New York, where she took acting lessons. She worked as a showgirl on The Jackie Gleason Show, and landed her first professional role, in the play Fair Game on Broadway, and married the play's director. Through the 1960s she was frequently seen on the daytime soap opera The Doctors, and she worked often in other TV shows and small movie roles, but her second marriage crumbled. Her first movie, 1964's For Those Who Think Young with James Darren and Paul Lynde, was a beach farce notable mostly for its clumsy, obvious Pepsi product placements. She was a regular in the last season of the TV western The Iron Horse with Dale Robertson, playing the tough dame who ran the general store, and her first strong reviews came as Henry Miller's errant wife in the film Tropic of Cancer.

Several years after marrying her third husband, struggling actor Neil Burstyn, she took his name and started calling herself Ellen Burstyn in 1970's Alex in Wonderland. Earlier she had used various stage names -- Edna Rae, Keri Flynn, Erica Dean and Ellen McRae. As her career took off and her husband's did not, though, he grew physically abusive, and she left him. He stalked and threatened her after they were separated, thought he was Jesus, and once broke into her apartment and raped her. When she told police the perpetrator was her husband, they told her no crime had been committed. In 1978 he jumped from the window of his ninth-floor Manhattan apartment, killing himself.

One of Burstyn's best performances was as the waitress who wanted to sing in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, with Kris Kristofferson. Although she did not take the credit, Burstyn effectively produced the film, purchasing the script and pitching the project to director Martin Scorsese. The role earned her an Oscar as Best Actress. She was also Oscar-nominated for playing Cybill Shepherd's mother in The Last Picture Show, the mother of demon-possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist, the mistress of Alan Alda in Same Time, Next Year, the woman with a healing touch in Resurrection with Sam Shepard, and the widowed pill-popping mother in Requiem for a Dream with Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly. She won a Tony for her Broadway turn in Same Time, Next Year, opposite Charles Grodin. In the mid-1980s she starred on TV in The Ellen Burstyn Show, an acerbic sitcom with Elaine Stritch as her mother and Megan Mullally as her daughter.

She was the first female President of Actor's Equity, serving from 1982-85, and in 2000 she became co-president of the Actors Studio, along with Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel. In 2006, she became suddenly controversial when she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Emmy for a two-line, 15-second cameo in the TV movie Mrs. Harris, starring Annette Bening and Ben Kingsley.

Burstyn spent decades in psychoanalysis, and by the early 1970s she began questioning her Catholic upbringing. After studying Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam in a search for spirituality, she committed to Sufi, a mystical off-shoot of Islam, and by the mid-1970s she had become the equivalent of a priest or rabbi. She is not only vegetarian, but also eschews alcohol and coffee.

[1] Raised Catholic, in adulthood she adopted a broader spirituality. "[My mother] taught us to lie for her, to conceal her past, her marriages, her age, the chairs in the attic, and many other secrets she felt were too dangerous to disclose. The truth to her was an enemy, something to keep hidden until she was sure of her position and she felt secure it could do her no harm. But she was wrong. Her deceit did so much harm. It created a negative atmosphere of anger, resentment, and hostility that pervaded our home and had abiding repercussions for all of us. I can't help wondering if all this didn't somehow influence my choice of Sufism as a spiritual path. A Sufi is defined as a seeker of truth." Ellen Burstyn, Lessons in Becoming Myself, p. 18.

Father: John Austin Gillooly
Mother: Coriene Marie Hamel Gillooly
Brother: Jack Gillooly
Husband: William C. Alexander (poet, m. 1950, div. 1955)
Husband: Paul Roberts (stage director, m. 1958, sep. 1959, div. 1962)
Husband: Neil Burstyn (actor, m. 1964, sep. 1971, div. 1972, one son, d. 1-Nov-1978 suicide)
Son: Jefferson Burstyn (musician, b. 31-Aug-1961, adopted)
William Friedkin (director, dated 1973)

    High School: Cass Technical High School, Detroit, MI (dropped out 1950)

    Oscar for Best Actress 1975 for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
    Golden Globe 1979 for Same Time, Next Year
    Tony 1975 for Same Time, Next Year
    Actors' Equity Association President (1982-85)
    Jefferson Awards Board of Selectors
    Obama for America
    Abortion (Mar-1950)
    Raped by husband Neil
    Irish Ancestry Maternal
    Risk Factors: Vegetarian, Psilocybin, Marijuana, Yoga, Tuberculosis

    Big Love Nancy Davis Dutton (2007-11)
    The Book of Daniel Dr. Beatrice Congreve (2006)
    That's Life Dolly DeLucca (2000-02)
    The Ellen Burstyn Show Ellen Brewer (1986-87)
    The Iron Horse Julie Parsons (1966-67)

    The Tale (20-Jan-2018)
    The Age of Adaline (8-Apr-2015)
    Interstellar (26-Oct-2014)
    The Calling (5-Aug-2014)
    When Marnie Was There (19-Jul-2014) [VOICE]
    Draft Day (11-Apr-2014)
    Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (2-Nov-2011)
    Another Happy Day (23-Jan-2011)
    Main Street (21-Oct-2010)
    The Mighty Macs (17-Oct-2009)
    According to Greta (13-May-2009) · Katherine
    PoliWood (1-May-2009) · Herself
    The Velveteen Rabbit (27-Feb-2009) · Swan
    W. (16-Oct-2008)
    The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (12-Sep-2008) · Addie
    Lovely, Still (5-Sep-2008) · Mary Malone
    For One More Day (9-Dec-2007)
    The Stone Angel (12-Sep-2007) · Hagar
    The Fountain (4-Sep-2006) · Dr. Lillian Guzetti
    The Wicker Man (31-Aug-2006)
    Mrs. Harris (16-Sep-2005)
    Our Fathers (11-May-2005)
    The Five People You Meet in Heaven (5-Dec-2004)
    Brush with Fate (2-Feb-2003)
    A Decade Under the Influence (19-Jan-2003) · Herself
    Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (18-Jan-2003) · Herself
    Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (3-Jun-2002) · Vivi
    Dodson's Journey (10-Jan-2001)
    Mermaid (21-May-2000)
    Requiem for a Dream (14-May-2000) · Sara Goldfarb
    The Yards (27-Apr-2000) · Val Handler
    Walking Across Egypt (17-Dec-1999)
    You Can Thank Me Later (23-May-1999)
    Night Ride Home (7-Feb-1999)
    Playing by Heart (30-Dec-1998)
    The Patron Saint of Liars (5-Apr-1998)
    Flash (21-Dec-1997)
    Deceiver (31-Aug-1997) · Mook
    A Deadly Vision (21-Apr-1997)
    Timepiece (22-Dec-1996)
    Our Son, the Matchmaker (8-May-1996)
    The Spitfire Grill (24-Jan-1996) · Hannah Ferguson
    How to Make an American Quilt (6-Oct-1995) · Hy
    The Baby-Sitters Club (18-Aug-1995)
    Roommates (3-Mar-1995)
    Getting Gotti (10-May-1994)
    When a Man Loves a Woman (29-Apr-1994) · Emily
    The Color of Evening (1994)
    The Cemetery Club (3-Feb-1993)
    Grand Isle (9-Sep-1991)
    Picture This: The Times of Peter Bogdanovich in Archer City, Texas (7-Sep-1991) · Herself
    Dying Young (21-Jun-1991) · Mrs. O'Neil
    When You Remember Me (7-Oct-1990)
    Hanna's War (11-Nov-1988)
    Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (Oct-1987) [VOICE]
    Act of Vengeance (21-Apr-1986)
    Into Thin Air (29-Oct-1985)
    Twice in a Lifetime (9-Sep-1985)
    Surviving (10-Feb-1985)
    The Ambassador (23-May-1984)
    Silence of the North (23-Oct-1981)
    Resurrection (6-Sep-1980) · Edna
    Same Time, Next Year (22-Nov-1978) · Doris
    A Dream of Passion (Aug-1978)
    Providence (25-Jan-1977)
    Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (9-Dec-1974) · Alice Hyatt
    Harry and Tonto (12-Aug-1974) · Shirley
    Thursday's Game (14-Apr-1974)
    The Exorcist (26-Dec-1973) · Chris MacNeil
    The King of Marvin Gardens (12-Oct-1972) · Sally
    The Last Picture Show (3-Oct-1971) · Lois Farrow
    Alex in Wonderland (17-Dec-1970)
    Pit Stop (14-May-1969)
    Goodbye Charlie (18-Nov-1964)
    For Those Who Think Young (Jun-1964) · Dr. Pauline Thayer

Official Website:

Author of books:
Lessons in Becoming Myself (2007)

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