Childhood & Early Life
Ellen Burstyn was born as Edna Rae Gillooly on December 7, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan to Correine Marie and John Austin Gillooly. She has French, German, Native American and Irish ancestry.
Her parents divorced when she was young and Burstyn and her brothers Jack and Steve went on to live with their mother and her second husband.
She studied at Cass Technical High School where she was the president of her junior class, a member of the student council, and a cheerleader. She dropped out of school after failing in her senior year and soon after got a job as a model in a department store.
From 1955 to 1956, Ellen Burstyn appeared as a dancing girl on ‘The Jackie Gleason Show’. She later decided to start her acting career under the name "Ellen McRae".
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In 1958, Ellen Burstyn appeared in an episode of ‘Kraft Television Theatre.’ In the ensuing years, she had minor roles in a number of television programs. such as ‘The Loretta Young Show,’ ‘Surfside 6,’ ‘77 Sunset Strip,’ ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Ben Casey,’ ‘The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,’ and ‘The Doctors,’ to name a few.
From 1967–68, she played Julie Parsons in ‘The Iron Horse,’ a Western TV series which was later released as the flick ‘Scalplock.’ The actress did the comedy movie ‘Alex in Wonderland’ and the drama film ‘Tropic of Cancer’ in 1970.
She played Lois Farrow in the drama movie ‘The Last Picture Show’ for which she earned the Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1973, Burstyn appeared as Chris MacNeil in ‘The Exorcist,’ a supernatural horror flick adapted from William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel of the same name. The movie, directed by William Friedkin and featuring Linda Blair, Jason Miller and Max von Sydow, brought two award nominations for Burstyn.
In the year 1974, she had the lead role in the comedy-drama film ‘Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore,’ playing the titular character of a widow who travels with her son across the country in search of a better life. The actress’ performance was highly appreciated and she won the Academy Award for Best Actress as well as the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
She was cast for Robert Mulligan’s romantic film ‘Same Time, Next Year’ alongside Alan Alda in 1978. Burstyn ended the decade with her role of Edna Mae McCauley in ‘Resurrection,’ which tells the story of a lady who survives the road accident which kills her husband and eventually discovers that she has the ability to heal other people.
In the year 1981, the actress did the TV movie ‘The People vs. Jean Harris’ as well as the semi-autobiographical film ‘Silence of the North’. Four years later, she featured in ‘Twice in a Lifetime,’ portraying the role of a wife whose husband ditches her for another woman.
In1986-87, Burstyn starred in her own television comedy series ‘The Ellen Burstyn Show’ and also appeared in the made-for-television film ‘Pack of Lies’.
In the following years, she appeared in many small and big screen projects, including‘When You Remember Me,’ ‘Our Son, the Matchmaker,’ ‘The Patron Saint of Liars,’ ‘Dying Young,’ ‘How to Make an American Quilt,’ and ‘Playing by Heart.’
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From 2000 to 2002, she played Dolly DeLucca in the comedy-drama series ‘That's Life’. During this time, she also acted in ‘Mermaid,’ a TV film based on the true story of a woman named Desiree Leanne Gill who learns to accept her father's demise.
Burstyn next featured in the American-British television flick ‘Mrs. Harris’. Her performance in the same earned her a Primetime Emmy Award nomination. She was then cast as Bishop Beatrice Congreve in the Christian drama ‘The Book of Daniel’.
In 2007, she joined the cast of HBO’s drama series ‘Big Love,’ playing the role of the mother of polygamist Barbara Henrickson. That year, the actress also got to act in the TV film ‘For One More Day’.
She starred in the miniseries ‘Political Animals’ for which she earned an Emmy Award in the category ‘Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie’. The talented actress then featured in a theatrical family movie directed by Darnell Martin titled ‘Wish You Well’.
She had roles in the drama series ‘Louie’, the film ‘Interstellar’ and the television film ‘Flowers in the Attic’ in the mid-2010s. Her performance in ‘Flowers in the Attic’ earned her multiple award nominations, including a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination in the category ‘Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie’.
Burstyn then starred in the 2015 movie ‘The Age of Adaline’. The film garnered mixed reviews from the critics and was a modest success, earning $65.7 million worldwide on a total budget of $25 million.
In 2016, she had a role in the political thriller web TV series ‘House of Cards’. Soon after this, she starred in the independent drama flick ‘The House of Tomorrow’ in 2017. In 2018, she was cast in the movies ‘Nostalgia’ and ‘The Tale,’ playing the roles of Helen Greer and Nettie respectively.
Family & Personal Life
In 1950, Ellen Burstyn married Bill Alexander. The couple divorced in 1957. A year later, she got married to Paul Roberts and adopted a son, Jefferson.
After divorcing Roberts, the actress married actor Neil Nephew. He was schizophrenic and tortured Burstyn multiple times during their marriage. He stalked Burstyn even after their divorce in 1972 and raped her once. Nephew eventually committed suicide in 1978.
Although raised Catholic, the American actress now follows various religious philosophies, including Hinduism and Sufism.