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Ellen Burstyn


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Ellen Burstyn (born December 7, 1932) is an American actress, who has worked in film, stage and television.

Burstyn's acting career began in theatre during the late 1950s and over the next ten years she appeared in several films and television series before joining the Actors Studio in 1967. She achieved recognition for her supporting role in The Last Picture Show (1971) and the lead role in The Exorcist (1972), receiving Academy Award nominations for both performances. She won the Best Actress Oscar the following year for her work in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1973). In 1975 she won a Tony Award for her work in the Broadway production of Same Time, Next Year, and received a Golden Globe Award and a fourth Academy Award nomination for her performance in the 1978 film version.

She continued to work extensively during the 1980s and 1990s, and was acclaimed for her performance in the film Requiem for a Dream, for which she received several critic's awards.

Early life

Burstyn was born Edna Rae Gillooly in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Correine Marie and John Austin Gillooly, who was a building contractor.She describes herself as "Irish, French, Pennsylvania Dutch, a little Canadian Indian". She was raised Catholic but is now known to practice Sufism. Her parents divorced when she was young. She would later refer to her mother as tough, violent and controlling. She left Detroit's Cass Technical high school without graduating and also left home in 1950.


Burstyn debuted on Broadway in 1957 and joined Lee Strasberg's The Actors Studio in New York City, New York, in 1967. In 1975, she won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her performance in the comedy Same Time, Next Year (a role she would reprise in the film version in 1978). Until 1970, she was credited as Ellen McRae in nearly all her film and television appearances.

Burstyn received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress in 1971 for her role in the drama film The Last Picture Show and for Best Actress in 1973 for the horror film The Exorcist. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1974 for her performance in the drama Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, directed by Martin Scorsese. She also received Best Actress nominations in 1978 for Same Time, Next Year, in 1980 for the fantasy-drama Resurrection, and for the drama Requiem for a Dream in 2000.

In the early to mid 1960s, Burstyn played Dr. Kate Bartok on the NBC television soap opera The Doctors. She worked on several primetime television shows of the 1960s, including guest appearances on Perry Mason, The Virginian, Maverick, Wagon Train, 77 Sunset Strip, The Big Valley and Gunsmoke. She hosted NBC's Saturday Night Live, a late-night sketch comedy and variety show, in 1980.

In 1977, she was a member of the jury at the 27th Berlin International Film Festival.

In 1986, she had her own ABC television situation comedy, The Ellen Burstyn Show costarring Megan Mullally as her daughter and Elaine Stritch as her mother; it was canceled after one season. From 2000 to 2002, Burstyn appeared in the CBS television drama That's Life. In 2006, she starred as a Episcopalian bishop in the controversial NBC comedy-drama series The Book of Daniel; although eight episodes from taped, it was canceled after four episodes.

In 2006, Burstyn appeared in the drama-romance film The Fountain, directed by Darren Aronofsky, with whom she worked in Requiem for a Dream. Since 2007, she has had an occasional recurring role on the HBO television drama series Big Love, playing the mother of polygamist wife Barbara Henrickson.

She provided a supporting role as the mother of two sons in the drama-romance film The Elephant King . The film originally premièred at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival but did not open in U.S. theaters until October 2008. At the time, it was credited as receiving the highest per-screen opening gross as any film in the country

Burstyn returned to the stage from March 18 – May 4, 2008, in an Off-Broadway production of Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Little Flower of East Orange, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in a co-production by LAByrinth Theater Company and The Public Theater; Burstyn played the role of Marie Therese.

In addition to her stage work, Burstyn portrayed former First Lady Barbara Bush in director Oliver Stone's biographical film W in 2008.

In 2009, she won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her portrayal of the bipolar estranged mother of Detective Elliot Stabler on NBC's police procedural Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. With this win, Burstyn became the eighteenth actor to win the "triple crown of acting" — an Academy, Emmy and Tony Award.

In 1990 she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre.

Emmy Awards and Controversy

Burstyn was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, for her role as Jean Harris in the biographical television film The People vs. Jean Harris (1981) and again for another television drama film, Pack of Lies (1987), an adaptation of the 1983 play.

In 2006, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for a role credited as "Former Tarnower Steady" in HBO's biographical television film Mrs. Harris. (She had played Jean Harris in The People vs. Jean Harris).

Soon after the nominations were announced, an outcry ensued from the press and the public regarding the worthiness of the nomination due to her minor role in the film. One explanation for the nomination was that people were honoring Burstyn for her nominated but non-winning performance from the first Harris television film. A more popular accusation was that the nominating committee was either confused in their recollection, or merely "threw in" her name from sheer recognition, assuming a worthy performance without actually seeing it.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the administrator of the Primetime Emmy Awards, initially insisted that "based on the popular vote, this is a legitimate nomination". Meanwhile, HBO deflected the blame for submitting the nomination to the movie-production company. Burstyn's own reaction ranged from initial silence to comments such as, "I thought it was fabulous. My next ambition is to get nominated for seven seconds, and ultimately I want to be nominated for a picture in which I don't even appear," and "This doesn't have anything to do with me. I don't even want to know about this. You people work it out yourself.

Ultimately, Kelly Macdonald, who starred in The Girl in the Cafe, won the award. In March 2007, the Academy officially announced that eligibility for a Primetime Emmy Award in any long-form supporting-actor category required nominees to appear on-screen in at least ten percent of the project (nine minutes in a typical ninety-minute television film).

Many critics still cite this incident to criticize the Emmy Award nomination process, claiming that name recognition has played an increasingly visible role over the years.

Other activities

During the 1970s Burstyn was active in the movement to free convicted boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter from jail.

In 1981, Burstyn recorded "The Ballad of the Nazi Soldier's Wife" (Kurt Weill's musical setting of Bertolt Brecht's text "Und was bekam des Soldaten Weib?") for Ben Bagley's album Kurt Weill Revisited, Vol. 2.

Burstyn served as president of the Actors' Equity Association from 1982 to 1985.

In 1997, Burstyn was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. In 2000, she was named co-president of The Actors Studio, alongside Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel.

Personal life

In 1950, she married Bill Alexander, but they were divorced in 1957. The following year, she married Paul Roberts, with whom she adopted a boy named Jefferson in 1962; the couple was divorced the same year.

In 1964, she married fellow actor Neil Burstyn, but the union was turbulent. Neil Burstyn was schizophrenic; he would have episodes of violence, and eventually left her. He attempted to come back to her, but she rejected him, ultimately divorcing him in 1972. In her autobiography, Lessons in Becoming Myself, Burstyn revealed that he stalked her over a period of six years after she divorced him. He eventually broke into her house and raped her, but no charges were filed, as spousal rape was not yet legally a crime. He committed suicide in 1978, upon which his parents sent Burstyn a telegram stating "Congratulations, you've won another Oscar; Neil killed himself".

During the 1970s Burstyn began to question her Catholic faith. After studying many religions, she converted to Sufism. She affiliates herself to all religious faiths as she explains: "I am a spirit opening to the truth that lives in all of these religions”.









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