JILL CLAYBURGH DIES AT 66


It’s very hard to say good bye to someone who has been a major influence on you.

JILL CLAYBURGH was brilliant. It’s incredibly sad that she’s gone. I thought that I would have decades of fabulous performances to look forward to. She surprised and delighted me on a consistent basis.

AN UNMARRIED WOMAN was shown on television often when I was growing up. PAUL MAZURSKY has always been one of my favourite directors. His films are wise, funny and very true to life.

Plus he adores women and always wrote magnificent roles for them.

In AN UNMARRIED WOMAN, Ms. Clayburgh does something quite spectacular. She portrays an upper middle class Manhattan resident who is immersed in a rather commonplace existence: long married, working part time at an art gallery, raising a fifteen year old daughter.

When her husband suddenly and unceremoniously dumps her for someone that he met at a department store, she is forced to question everything that she once considered unshakable.

Portraying average characters who live fairly ordinary lives can be more of a challenge than most people think. These aren’t flamboyant roles where you can tear everything up and light the house on fire.

It takes a subtle mastery to make it compelling. JILL does that – fluidly and believably – every second she’s on screen. It’s quietly courageous, powerful and thoroughly gorgeous work.

She has many memorable moments in that film. An extraordinarily attractive man walks past her in a singles bar where she’s meeting friends. He smiles and says hello. She looks him dead in the eye and growls “Fuck off.”

While she was married, she was receiving intense attention from this dude that was attempting to lure her into an affair. Erica is slightly bemused by all of this.

She’s happy…and completely uninterested.

When her marriage hits the wall and the guy makes it clear that he still wants her, she decides to take a chance. They go to his loft where he gives a big speech about how he doesn’t get involved with his women. He’s really just a short term guy.

But it’s all very predictable…

After they’ve done the deed and their clothes are back on, she stands facing the window – gazing into the dusky New York twilight. He walks up and hugs her from behind.

“That was nice. That was real nice. Why don’t you come back tomorrow?”

“Sorry, Charlie. I don’t get involved with my men. I’m strictly a short term guy.”

He doesn’t take it very well. Causes a big scene later on. But Erica is in transition – free fall. The next man she beds down with (the sublime ALAN BATES) turns out to be one of the great loves of her life.

Ms. Clayburgh’s performance is one of the best of that particular era. But she was absolutely superb in every project she undertook.

She was amazing.

JILL CLAYBURGH, an OSCAR nominated actor known for portraying strong independent women, died on Friday at her home in Lakeville, Connecticut.

She was 66.

The cause was chronic leukemia, with which she had lived for 21 years, her husband, the TONY AWARD winning playwright DAVID RABE, said.

She dealt with the disease courageously, quietly and privately, conducted herself with enormous grace “and made it into an opportunity for her children to grow and be human.”

Ms. Clayburgh, who began her career in films and on Broadway in the late 1960s, was among the first generation of female actors — including JANE FONDA, ELLEN BURSTYN, MARSHA MASON, SHIRLEY MacLAINE and ANNE BANCROFT — who regularly portrayed women sprung from the new feminist ethos: smart, capable and gritty, sometimes neurotic, but no less glamorous for all that.

“I guess people look at me and think I’m a ladylike character,” Ms. Clayburgh told THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1982.

“But it’s not what I do best. I do best with characters who are coming apart at the seams.”

She was known in particular for her starring role in AN UNMARRIED WOMAN (1978), directed by PAUL MAZURSKY. For her performance as Erica, a New Yorker who must find her place in the world after her husband leaves her for someone else, Ms. Clayburgh was nominated for an ACADEMY AWARD.

Reviewing AN UNMARRIED WOMAN in THE NEW YORK TIMES, VINCENT CANBY wrote: “Ms. Clayburgh is nothing less than extraordinary in what is the performance of the year to date. In her we see intelligence battling feeling — reason backed against the wall by pushy needs.”

“There was practically nothing for women to do on the screen in the 1950s and 1960s,” Ms. Clayburgh said in an interview with The Associated Press while promoting AN UNMARRIED WOMAN in 1978.

“Sure, Marilyn Monroe was great. But she had to play a one sided character – a vulnerable sex object. It was a real fantasy.”

She also received an OSCAR nomination for STARTING OVER (1979). She portrayed Marilyn Holmberg, a teacher who embarks on a relationship with Phil, a newly divorced man played by Burt Reynolds.

Reviewing that film in The Times, JANET MASLIN wrote, “Ms. Clayburgh delivers a particularly sharp characterization that’s letter perfect during the first part of the story.”

Ms. Clayburgh’s other films include IT’S MY TURN (1980) with MICHAEL DOUGLAS and FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER (1981), opposite WALTER MATTHAU, in which she played the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court.

JILL CLAYBURGH was born in Manhattan on APRIL 30, 1944.

She came from a privileged New York family. Her father ALBERT was vice president of two large companies and her mother JULIE was an assistant to Broadway producer David Merrick. Her grandmother ALMA CLAYBURGH was an opera singer and New York socialite.

Growing up in such a rich cultural mix, she could easily have been overwhelmed. Instead, as she said in interviews, she asserted herself with willful and destructive behaviour — so much so that her parents took her to a psychiatrist when she was 9.

She escaped into a fantasy world of her own devising. She was entranced by seeing JEAN ARTHUR play PETER PAN on Broadway and she and a school chum concocted their own dramatics every day at home. She became serious minded at Sarah Lawrence College, concentrating on religion, philosophy and literature.

She also took drama classes at Sarah Lawrence. She and her friend ROBERT DE NIRO acted in the film THE WEDDING PARTY directed by another Sarah Lawrence graduate BRIAN DE PALMA.

Ms. Clayburgh made her Broadway debut in 1968 in THE SUDDEN & ACCIDENTAL RE EDUCATION OF HORSE JOHNSON, a play starring Jack Klugman that ran for five performances.

Her other Broadway credits included far more successful shows, among them the Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick musical THE ROTHSCHILDS (1970), opposite HAL LINDEN; the Stephen Schwartz musical PIPPIN (1972) and a 1984 revival of NOEL COWARD’S DESIGN FOR LIVING that also starred FRANK LANGELLA and RAUL JULIA.

Her last Broadway appearance, in 2006, was in a revival of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK at the Cort Theater, with TONY ROBERTS and AMANDA PEET.

Her many television credits include guest appearances on LAW & ORDER and THE PRACTICE. She also had a recurring role on ALLY McBEAL as Ally’s mother Jeannie. Most recently Ms. Clayburgh was a member of the regular cast of DIRTY SEXY MONEY, broadcast from 2007 to 2009 on ABC.

She was nominated for two EMMYS: for BEST ACTRESS in 1975 for portraying a prostitute in the TV film HUSTLING and for her guest turn as a vengeful plastic surgery patient on NIP/TUCK on FX in 2005.

Besides Mr. Rabe, whom she married in 1978, Ms. Clayburgh is survived by a daughter, the actor LILY RABE, who is starring in the Broadway production of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, now in previews at the Broadhurst Theater; a son, MICHAEL RABE; a stepson JASON RABE and a brother JAMES.

Despite her acclaim, Ms. Clayburgh, by all appearances, had a healthy sense of herself.

“People think about me, ‘This wonderful lucky woman, she’s got it all,’ she told The Times in 1982.

“But that’s how I feel about Meryl Streep.”

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