Saturday, November 6, 2010

Jill Clayburgh (1944-2010)

Two time Oscar nominated actress Jill Clayburgh died yesterday after a long long struggle with leukemia. She was 66 years old.

Clayburgh in Starting Over (1979) and  Running With Scissors (2006)
Younger moviegoers may remember her as the rundown matriarch of that chaotic impossibly neurotic brood in Running With Scissors (2006) or the well heeled matriarch in television's Dirty Sexy Money. (2007-2009). Those were both part of a mini Clayburgh revival in the Aughts which was kicked off by two Broadway runs in Naked Girl on the Appalachian Way (2005) and the revival of Barefoot in the Park (2006).

But Clayburgh's heyday was unquestionably in the late 1970s, when she became something like the screen embodiment of Modern Liberated Woman. Clayburgh will always be connected in cultural history to her zeitgeist moment in 1978 when she starred in Paul Mazurky's frisky Best Picture nominee An Unmarried Woman. In the film her husband suddenly leaves her for a younger woman and she starts dating again, becoming a sexually liberated woman as a single mother with the help of randy virile Alan Bates. Clayburgh was a possible winner, too, but Jane Fonda (who she had bested at Cannes tying with Isabelle Huppert for Violette), shared the campaign advantage of headlining a Best Picture nominee with a hot topic (Vietnam); Fonda won.

Clayburgh's second consecutive Oscar nomination can almost be seen a sequel, a bit of afterglow from her first. She's playing two different characters and the second film is more of a comedy but in the first her divorce means she's Starting Over and in the second it's Burt Reynolds's turn. Clayburgh is the new woman in his life.

My favorite moment from An Unmarried Woman

Though Clayburgh will remain An Unmarried Woman in the historical imagination she was actually A Married Woman. She married the playwright and screenwriter David Rabe exactly one year and three days after An Unmarried Woman was released. How about that? (Does anyone know if the newlyweds attended the Oscars in April 1979? Inside Oscar doesn't say.) Our condolences go out to Rabe and their three children this morning.

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