‘acting SET me FREE’
Oscar-winning actress Sally Field on her traumatic childhood, surviving in a male-dominated business, aging with grace and always moving forward.
There are cardboard boxes piled high in Sally Field’s living room. “I’m a terrible pack rat,” says the Oscar-winning actress, laughing, as she settles into a corner sectional couch at her Pacific Palisades, Calif., home.
But while she’s moved so many times in her life that she’s lost count, these aren’t boxes for yet another trek—at least not yet. They’re filled with pages she will hand-sign to be bound into 28,000 copies of her very first memoir, In Pieces, out now. The raw and revealing life story, which includes details of how she overcame her painful, abusive childhood, is yet another triumph for the beloved two-time Academy Award winner, who has three children and five grandchildren from her two marriages.
But she looks—still, somehow—impossibly young. Field, 71, credits “genetics” for the “constantly girlish quality” she’s had her entire life. “I’ve heard people say that I’ve always been the girl next door, the all-American girl,” says Field, taking off her blackrimmed glasses and rubbing her eyes.
“I think in reality, my story—of a female born in the ’40s and raised in the ’50s and growing up in a male-dominated business, in a male-dominated household and a male-dominated society—I think that all that I went through, and some of it not very easy . . .” She pauses. “I am the all-American girl. Because I think that’s what women have gone through.”
She was born in Pasadena, Calif., raised with her older brother, Ricky, by their mother, Margaret, a dabbling actress (whom Field called “Baa”), and father, Dick. Her parents divorced when she was very young, and, when Field was 5, her mother married movie stuntman Jock Mahoney; Field’s younger sister, Princess, was born six months later. From that point on, her life was never the same.
“I had some trauma in my childhood that left me with an inability to look toward the future,” she says. As Field reveals in detail in her memoir, she survived years of emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather. So she turned inward at a young age, conflicted and confused, her survival instincts always
on alert for her stepfather’s abusive behavior.
It wasn’t until she was 12 that she found the first sign of escape and salvation, when she stepped onto a stage in her junior high school drama class. “It transported me,” she says. “I felt the pressure was off—I was free.” Still, pursuing a career in acting never occurred to her, until after she graduated from high school.
Soaring into stardom
By the end of 1964, she was cast to star in a new TV series,
Gidget, about a surfing, boy crazy teenager. Though the show only lasted one season (and gained a cult fan following in reruns after its cancellation), Field was officially on the map, and on her way.
Her next major television role, however, is one of her biggest regrets: when she took the lead role in the 1967–70 sitcom The
Flying Nun, playing a nun so petite that a breeze would lift her and allow her to soar. Field had her doubts about the part and felt she needed to look for something not so corny and campy. For three seasons of the show, “I felt trapped,” she says. “I was sort of a walking gag. Everywhere I went, people were laughing at me. People were thinking that’s who I was, this one-dimensional girl.”
After the first season of filming, Field married Steven Craig, her high school sweetheart. They were married for seven years and had sons Peter (now 48, a novelist and screenwriter) and Eli (46, a screenwriter and director). She then famously dated actor Burt Reynolds, who died Sept. 6 at age 82, for about five years after they co-starred in Smokey
and the Bandit (1977). Their relationship was fun at first, but her memoir reveals how volatile and controlling Reynolds was. In 1984, Field married her second husband (of nine years), movie producer Alan Greisman, and had son Sam (30, a writer and producer).
“They’re really three very different—very, very, very different—men,” says Field of her marriages and her relationship with Reynolds. Single now since 1993, she’s pleasant and polite about why each of them just didn’t work out. “All had spectacular things about them, [but just] didn’t necessarily coincide with me at the time. We just are who we are.” (See “Leading Men,” right, for more on her love life.)
We really like her
After The Flying
Nun, Field won an Emmy for starring in the 1976 TV movie
Sybil, about a young woman with multiple personalities, and a Best Actress Academy Award for
Norma Rae (1979), based on the true story of a female factory worker who fought to unionize her local textile mill. When she won another Oscar, for Places in the Heart
(1984), she gave one of the most memorable Oscar speeches in history— which is almost always misquoted. She didn’t say, “You like me, you really like me.” She did say, “I
From top: Field
stars in Gidget, The Flying Nun, Sybil, Norma Rae, Forrest Gump and Lincoln.
can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me.”
This month, with In Pieces in bookstores, she’s appearing in the Netflix sci-fi dark comedy miniseries Maniac (streaming now), about two strangers (Emma Stone and Jonah Hill) in a mind-bending pharmaceutical drug trial. She says the plot is “completely insane.”
Lately she’s been working out with free weights a couple of times a week and running in the hills around her house. “I try to do it every day, at least six days a week.” It’s her best attempt to push back against the changes age has wrought.
“I feel my body transitioning into a different body,” she says. She’s also “addressing all the things that all 70-year-old women are addressing, having to do with their skin and hair and weight.” Well, to a point—she doesn’t do facials, even manicures and pedicures. “I have an ongoing debate with myself whether to dye my hair or not, because I have a lot of gray. I’m debating what I wanna be. I’m evolving.”
Which is why she doesn’t know what she’ll set her sights on next. She’s been plunking around on a ukulele and toying with the idea of joining her granddaughter in France for a month. “I am gonna learn how to speak French,” she says. “I swear to God, I am!” No matter where she finds herself, she keeps moving. “I just keep having the need to run,” she says, “to escape. To pack up everything and go.”