Childhood & Early Life
Barbara Lynn Herzstein was born on February 5, 1948, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. Her father Arnold Nathan Herzstein worked as a columnist and was quite wealthy. Barbara’s paternal grandparents had immigrated to the USA from Russia and Hungary.
Barbara, the youngest among three children in the family, was raised in a bungalow near the Hollywood Hills. As a kid, Barbara was influenced by the glitz and glamor of the American film industry. Barbara had made up her mind to become an actress at a very young age.
However, Barbara was a shy kid who lacked self-confidence. She would keep her thoughts to herself so much so that many of her classmates in school thought she was deaf.
But she overcame her shortcomings due to her desire to become an actress. She took drama classes while she was in high school. She was also an ‘A’ grade student but was largely uninterested in doing anything other than acting.
She turned out to be an excellent actor and entered the good books of her drama teacher in high school. When she was 17 years old, her teacher introduced her to an agent. Barbara then landed a role in the television series ‘Gidget.’ With that, Barbara’s acting career took off.
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In 1965, Barbara appeared in three episodes of the series ‘Gidget,’ which marked her acting debut. Her role in the series was appreciated and it eventually landed her another role in the series ‘The Monroes’ in 1966. Created by Milt Rosen, ‘The Monroes’ was a short-lived series. Although Barbara admitted that her role in ‘The Monroes’ helped her career, she also expressed her frustration with the way her character was designed. By now, ‘Barbara Hershey’ was adopted as her stage name.
In the next few years, she went on to appear in more series, such as ‘Daniel Boone’ and ‘Run for Your Life.’ She made her film debut in 1968 with the role of Stacey Iverson in the romantic comedy film ‘With Six You Get Eggroll.’
In 1969, she earned one of the leading roles in the American western film ‘Heaven with a Gun.’ In the same year, she appeared in the controversial film ‘Last Summer.’ In the film, she played Sandy, a young girl who persuades two men to rape another girl. The film was a critical success and Barbara received critical acclaim for the first time in her career.
In 1970, she appeared in another controversial film titled ‘The Baby Maker,’ a film that dealt with the concept of surrogacy. Although the film was severely criticized by the critics and the audience, Barbara’s performance was appreciated. It was said that Barbara was much more than just a ‘pretty face.’
She came up with another praiseworthy performance in the 1972 film ‘Boxcar Bertha.’ The film marked the Hollywood debut of director Martin Scorsese, who went on to become a legendary director. The film was talked about for displaying excessive violence, which later became a signature element in Martin Scorsese’s films.
For the next few years, Barbara achieved significant success in Hollywood. She appeared in many successful films, such as ‘The Last Hard Men,’ ‘The Stunt Man,’ ‘The Entity,’ and ‘Diamonds.’ In the 1970s, she was cast in some big-budget Hollywood films. Despite delivering praiseworthy performances, she was still unable to get her hands on major film awards.
In 1986, Barbara’s acting skills were finally recognized by prominent critics with the release of the film ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ which was directed by Woody Allen. The comedy drama film narrates the story of a family as its members go through troubles in their respective lives before meeting for a Thanksgiving dinner. For her supporting role in the film as Lee, Barbara earned two nominations. She was first nominated at ‘BAFTA Awards’ and then at ‘National Society of Film Critics Award.’
In 1987, she achieved another critical success for playing Ruth in the film ‘Shy People.’ The family drama film was a major success at the ‘Cannes Film Festival’ and earned Barbara the ‘Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress.’
The following year, she carried on with her success at the ‘Cannes Film Festival’ as she won the second ‘Best Actress Award’ in a row. This time around, she received the honor for a film titled ‘A World Apart.’
In the same year, she joined hands with director Martin Scorsese again when she played a major role in the film ‘The Last Temptation of Christ.’ In the film, she played Mary Magdalene and earned a ‘Golden Globe Award’ nomination for ‘Best Supporting Actress.’
In the early 1990s, she appeared in films, such as ‘Falling Down’ and ‘A Dangerous Woman.’ She then delivered another praiseworthy performance in the film ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ in 1996. Based on the novel of the same name, the film was a huge commercial and critical success and Barbara earned an ‘Academy Award’ nomination for ‘Best Supporting Actress.’
Over the next decade, Barbara became choosy with her film roles. In 2010, she appeared in a film titled ‘Black Swan’ and received appreciation from critics all over the world. For her role, she was nominated for a ‘BAFTA Award’ for ‘Best Actress in a Supporting Role.’
She then went on to appear in films, such as ‘Insidious’ and ‘The 9th Life of Louis Drax.’ Apart from her film roles, she has also been quite active in television. She has delivered critically acclaimed performances in TV films, such as ‘The Staircase’ and ‘A Killing in a Small Town.’
She has also acted in television series from time to time. Some of her major appearances came in series, such as ‘Chicago Hope,’ ‘The Mountain,’ and ‘Once Upon a Time.’