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Sally Field: Then And Now, From Gidget To Mama Gump

Icons | November 6, 2019

Sally Field circa 1980. (Photo by Aaron Rapoport/Corbis via Getty Images)

From surfer girl to labor leader, from supernatural nun to Mary Todd Lincoln, Sally Field's incredibly wide-ranging career spans many decades of underrated greatness. Whether you remember her as the adorable spunky “Gidget,” the runaway bride in Smokey And The Bandit, or in one of her spectacular Oscar-winning performances like Norma Rae or Places In The Heart, there are many sides to Field to fall in love with.

From a difficult childhood to “You like me, you really like me” (a misquote, by the way) on stage at the Academy Awards, Sally Field ran the entire gambit of life on her way Hollywood success. Perhaps someday soon Sally Field: The Movie will be coming to a theater near you.

A Father Figure Who Helped Her Get Her Start

At 18 Field got her Hollywood start early (defunctgames)

Sally Field was a child of a divorce but that wasn’t the difficult part of her childhood. The difficulties came when her mother married Jock Mahoney, an actor and stuntman. In many places, he’s credited as the man who talked Field into taking the role of The Flying Nun, which became a huge success.

The Downside Of Jock Mahoney

The stages of the beautiful Sally Field (youtube)

However, he also sexually abused Field as a child. In her book In Pieces, Field detailed the highs and lows of Mahoney’s torment, “It would have been so much easier if I’d only felt one thing, if Jocko had been nothing but cruel and frightening. But he wasn’t. He could be magical, the Pied Piper with our family as his entranced followers.”

Thankfully, Field found solace in her eventual craft at an early age, “I landed in the drama department, and it just kind of saved me."

Commercial Success

Marge Redmond and Sally Field in 'The Flying Nun.' Source: IMDB

Despite finding immediate success in Gidget, Field was immersed in the fear that she’d never be taken as a serious actress. Her early roles scored throngs of fans that loved the boy crazy surfer girl, but Field hungered for more. That something more would have to wait as she took her role as the Flying Nun, something she wasn’t happy about.

She told Oprah about the decision, "I didn't want to do it. I was trying to figure out who I was, but I knew who I wasn't: a flying nun. I was almost 19, and my sexuality needed to be explored. So I said no, which I thought was incredibly brave. But my stepfather said, 'Don't get on your high horse. If you don't take this part, you may never work again.'"

An Unhappy Nun

A flying nun wasn't her favorite role (youtube)

For three years, Field played the flying nun morosely. "I was suffering so badly," she recalled. "I was so depressed and I was 19 and I didn't want to be playing something called the Flying Nun, I did not want to be dressed as a nun all day long." At least Field found time to explore her sexuality. By the third year, she was pregnant with her first child, which made an interesting challenge for the show’s producers. "You can only imagine what a pregnant flying nun looked like," said Field. "I was a walking sight gag." The “Flying Nun” did land her on Time’s list of best pregnant performers.

Back To Basics

The iconic beauty then and now (pinterest)

Eventually, Field found her love of the game. She honed her craft at the Actors Studio under the tutelage of the famed Lee Strasberg. The recommitted actress then went against type and played a party girl in Stay Hungry alongside Jeff Bridges and Arnold Schwarzenegger. She also starred as a woman with a multiple-personality disorder, a performance that won her an Emmy, in Sybil.

Fields continued her hot streak of going against the grain with Smokey and the Bandit. During the filming, she and Burt Reynolds became romantically involved. That romance led to a run of romantic comedies. 

The Success Field Thirsted For

Field in Norma Rae a real role for an amazing actress (theatlantic.com)

Field won her first academy award for her role as a resolute mill worker, fighting for unionization in 1979’s Norma Rae. During the filming, she got so into character, she broke the ribs of one of the policemen in the film while resisting arrest. The role fell to Field after a host of leading ladies turned down the role, including Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Marsha Mason, and Jill Clayburgh.

'You Like Me You Really Like Me'

One of the most memorable Oscar speeches ever (thecut.com)

In 1984, Fields cemented her acting greatness by winning a second Academy Award for Best Actress for Places in the Heart. Surrounded by the superlative trio of John Malkovich, Danny Glover, and Ed Harris, Fields headlined that year’s Oscar darling. The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning for Best Original Screenplay and, of course, Best Actress in a Lead Role.

What’s really (incorrectly) remembered is Fields’ “You like me, you really like me.” What she actually said was “I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as well. 

Still Going Strong

Burt Reynolds and Sally Field (pinterest.com)

Field has worked steadily as she ages. Infamously, she took on the role of Aunt May in The Amazing Spider Man (2012) and its sequel. She did the gig as a favor -- and wasn’t a huge fan. "It’s really hard to find a three-dimensional character in it," she said. "You work it as much as you can, but you can't put ten pounds of s**t in a five-pound bag." 

And who can forget her as Tom Hanks’ mother in Forrest Gump? Hilariously, she was only 10 years older than Hanks at the time.

Nevertheless, she has also found some gems. In 2012 she was nominated Best Supporting Actress for her role in Lincoln. She missed out on what would have been her third Academy Award when Anne Hathaway won for Les Misérables.

Field continues to look for meaty roles that fit her age, “I’m an aging actor, and my face and body — I have to be able to play what I am,” she adds. “If I play a character who is attractive, I want to be attractive, but I’m also [getting old], so my face is drooping and falling, and my body isn’t what it was.” If only we could all look so good at her age!

Tags: Gidget | Ladies | Sally Field | The Flying Nun | Then And Now

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!