Special Reports

9 Times Sally Field Played a Mom and Melted Our Hearts

The two-time Oscar winner stars in ”The Glass Menagerie” on Broadway, but this isn’t her first time at the mommy rodeo.

Sally Field stars in the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, directed by Sam Gold, at the Belasco Theatre.
Sally Field stars in the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, directed by Sam Gold, at the Belasco Theatre.
(© Tristan Fuge)

Beloved actress Sally Field has been our film and TV mom for decades. No one embodies that magical mixture of vulnerability, tenderness, and ferocity quite like her. Theater fans rejoice: She's now on Broadway playing one of the most famously dramatic mothers of all time: Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. To celebrate, we're looking back at some of Field's best mom roles:

1. Norma Rae (1979)
In this iconic film about workers' rights, Field portrays small-town North Carolinian Norma Rae Webster, a woman who puts in a full shift at the textile plant, organizes a union, and still finds time to raise three kids. This film marks the first time Field played a mom, and it was a career move that paid off: She won her first Academy Award, a sure sign that she had arrived as a serious actress in Hollywood.

2. Places in the Heart (1984)
Field won her second Oscar for her performance as Edna Spalding, a Texas widow struggling to raise her kids and hold on to the family farm in Depression-era Texas. This was the Oscar for which Field delivered her now immortal acceptance speech. How could we not like her?

3. Steel Magnolias (1989)
Based on the popular play by Robert Harling, '"Steel Magnolias'' follows a circle of Louisiana women as they navigate life's triumphs and tragedies. Field played M'Lynn Eatenton, a woman preparing for the wedding of her severely diabetic daughter. As you can see below, Field's M'Lynn is unflappable in an insulin crisis, exhibiting a charming resolve that perfectly embodies the film's title.

4. Not Without My Daughter (1991)
As you might be able to discern from the title, Field is at her most maternal in this box-office flop that has since become a cult classic: She plays Betty Mahmoody, the wife of an Iranian-American doctor portrayed by Alfred Molina. Moody (as Molina's character is absurdly named) tricks his wife into moving to the old country, which leads her to attempt a harrowing escape with her daughter over the mountains of Kurdistan. This is a must-see for Sally Field fans.

5. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
As the following monologue demonstrates, Field perfectly captures the emotional overload of discovering that your beloved nanny is actually your ex-husband in disguise. But really, Field's performance is on point the whole time, the whole time — THE WHOLE TIME in Mrs. Doubtfire. She plays Miranda Hillard, the exasperated ex-wife of a voice actor (a typically manic Robin Williams) and mother to three children, the youngest portrayed by TheaterMania contributor Mara Wilson. Just look at the way she grabs Wilson's hand at the end of that scene, wordlessly signaling, "Not without my daughter."

6. Forrest Gump (1994)
Released at the height of the golden age of Sally Field playing a mom, this Tom Hanks blockbuster naturally features Field as the mother of the title character (just six years after she played Hanks' romantic interest in Punchline). Despite being way too young for her role (she's only 10 years older than Hanks), Field knocked it out of the park with a commanding yet tender performance.

7. ER (2000-06)
Field got her start in television on frothy sitcoms like Gidget and The Flying Nun, but by the turn of the century the two-time Oscar winner demanded meatier TV roles. She got it in the form of Maggie Wyczenski, the bipolar mother of Dr. Abby Lockhart. Her unbridled and unpredictable physical performance was enough to win her a 2001 Emmy Award for the recurring role.

8. Brothers & Sisters (2006-11)
Fields picked up another Emmy for her portrayal of Nora Walker, the matriarch of an extended California family. As you can see, she was regularly called upon to solve her children's problems with one heartfelt and succinct monologue, like some sort of superhero in a little black dress. It was a task for which Field was more than prepared.

9. Lincoln (2012)
As Mary Todd Lincoln, Field plays First Mom in this 2012 biopic starring Daniel Day Lewis (screenplay by Angels in America author Tony Kushner). Oscillating between stubbornness and frenzy, Field portrays a woman increasingly undone by grief — for her children and her husband. At 5'3'', she was perfectly suited to play the pint-size First Lady and did so with gusto, earning another Oscar nomination. Honestly, she should have won just for the graceful manner in which she negotiates that hoop skirt.

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