Academy Award and Emmy Award-winning star of Norma Rae, Sybil and Mrs Doubtfire, Sally Field has had an incredible acting career in television and film over the past half-century.
More than an actor, Field is also known for being a gay rights and enviromental activist, and for directing such productions as the 2000 comedy Beautiful starring Minnie Driver. Here are 20 details of her career that may come as a surprise to you.
20. She used to play a flying nun on TV in the 60s
At the age of 20, Field had already won producers’ hearts while starring as a teenage surfer in the 1965 TV show Gidget.
When this comedy was cancelled, the same producers devised The Flying Nun, a new comedy to keep the young star on the ABC network.
But while Field loved working on Gidget, she was no big fan of The Flying Nun.
In fact, Field thought the script was so silly that she initially wanted to turn down the role of Sister Bertrille.
She was persuaded otherwise by her stepfather Jock Mahoney, who told her she might never have another shot at show business.
Mahoney rose to fame playing Tarzan in two 60s movies. In her 2018 memoir, Field alleged that Mahoney abused her as a child.
19. She struggled so much filming one scene for Norma Rae that she broke an actor’s rib
Field won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in the 1979 drama Norma Rae.
This recognition was well-deserved, given how seriously she took the realism of her acting in the film.
In one scene, as five police officers push Norma into a car, Field is seen fighting back ferociously.
While filming, Field struggled so hard that she broke one actor’s rib and sprained the wrist of another.
Plenty of critics singled out Field’s performance as the film’s greatest strength.
“Norma Rae is a seriously concerned contemporary drama, illuminated by some very good performances and one, Miss Field’s, that is spectacular,” wrote Vincent Canby in the New York Times.
18. She walked away from a plane crash unscathed in 1988
In 1988, Field was in a private jet taking off from Aspen Airport, when the plane suddenly lost power.
Field’s mother, Field’s then-husband Alan Greisman and their 11-month-old baby were seated alongside the actress.
It crashed into two stationary airplanes and the tanks broke, covering the passengers with jet fuel as they sprinted for the emergency exits.
Amazingly, no one was injured, with the airport operations manager telling the Associated Press at the time that Field emerging uninjured was “absolutely a miracle.”
″We’re very, very fortunate that it’s our slow period,″ he noted on the famous family’s narrow escape.
Field’s jet was on loan from talk-show host Merv Griffin, while one of the planes it crashed into belonged to another famous TV personality, Burt Sugarman.
17. She worked in a textiles factory to prepare for Norma Rae
In Norma Rae, a tale based on the life of the real-life union organiser Crystal Lee Sutton, Field plays the titular factory worker.
To get a sense of the arduous hours, Field and her co-star Beau Bridges worked in a real textile factory.
The scenes, too, were filmed in a real factory: the Opelika Manufacturing Corp in Alabama.
Speaking to Howard Stern in 2019, Field recalled that director Martin Ritt was absolutely determined to cast her in Norma Rae.
“It was the one thing that I wanted to do that I didn’t have to fight for,” she said.
Jane Fonda, Jill Clayburgh and Marsha Mason all turned down the role, she noted.
16. She’s played both the mother and love interest of Tom Hanks
Famously, in Forrest Gump, Field plays the beloved and wise mother of Hanks’ Forrest.
She delivers the film’s most iconic line: “Life is a box of chocolates, Forrest, you never know what you’re going to get.”
Yet only six years earlier, Field played Hanks’ love interest in the comedy-drama Punchline.
Field is almost ten years older than Hanks. She was born in November 1946, whereas Hanks was born in July 1956.
In Punchline, Hanks plays Steven, a young stand-up comedian and medical student who crosses paths with the another aspiring comic, the housewife Lilah, played by Field.
Field also served as a producer for Punchline. She noted that her experience was similar to Lilah’s in that she personally had to learn lots about stand-up comedy and write a lot of Lilah’s stage material in a short space of time.
15. She won an award for her gay rights advocacy
Field is a vocal advocate for gay rights, and in recent years she has campaigned for the Equality Act.
This bill would outlaw homophobic and transphobic discrimination in every US state.
Field was presented with a Human Rights Campaign Ally for Equality award by her openly gay son Sam in 2012.
Two years later, Field wrote an open letter about her experiences as a parent of a gay son.
“Why would anyone want to prevent my son – or anyone’s son or daughter – from having basic legal safeguards like family medical leave, Social Security survivor benefits, or health insurance?” she wrote.
“It doesn’t make any sense – but it won’t change until people speak out,” she concluded.
14. She fired her agent for saying she wasn’t pretty enough for movies
When Field was hoping to leave the world of TV and become a Hollywood star, one agent told her she had no chance.
In her speech at the Simmons Leadership Conference in 2015, Field recalled: “I told him, ‘I’m not going do any more TV.'”
The agent cut her down instantly, saying, ‘”Well that’s ridiculous. You can’t do that,'” she remembered.
“‘[He said] you can’t get into film. You’re not pretty enough. You’re not good enough,'” she said.
Field fired that particular agent on the spot, and went on to become a major success in movies.
Among her earliest films were The Way West, Stay Hungry and Smokey and the Bandit.
13. Her 1985 Oscar acceptance speech spawned a lot of parodies
As she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Places in the Heart in 1985, Field was trying to express how satisfying it was to finally win the Academy’s approval.
Field said to the audience, “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect.”
“I can’t deny the fact that you like me,” she said jubilantly. “Right now, you like me!”
Often misquoted as “You really like me”, this line became infamous through a series of parodies.
In the film The Mask, Jim Carrey’s character performs a spoof version of this quote while accepting an award.
The actor Albert Brooks, after missing out on an Oscar nomination for the 2012 film Drive, tweeted: “And to the Academy: ‘You don’t like me. You really don’t like me.”
12. She turned down the role of Loretta in Moonstruck
For what would become the acclaimed romantic comedy Moonstruck, Field was director Norman Jewison’s first choice for the female lead of Loretta.
Unfortunately, Field dropped out of the project, and she instead played the artist Daisy in the comedy film Surrender.
Co-starring with Michael Caine, Field did not find much success through this film, which was panned by critics.
Critic Roger Ebert described Surrender as “an astonishing case of a movie that can do no wrong for its first half and little right thereafter.”
Meanwhile, Cher took the Moonstruck role, and she won the Academy Award for Best Actress upon its release in 1987.
Moonstruck also won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Olympia Dukakis), and was nominated for three more.
11. She turned down the role of Alice Hardy in Friday the 13th
One of the most successful US media franchises of all time, the Friday the 13th series almost kicked off with Field in the starring role of Alice Hardy.
Field, however, turned down the role of the camp counsellor in this 1980 horror classic, and instead re-joined the cast of Smokey and the Bandit for the comedy’s sequel.
Adrienne King was given the role of Alice, recruited after she was talent-spotted in a Burger King commercial.
King went on to star in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Good Son and Titanic.
Friday the 13th was a huge commercial success, grossing $59.8 million worldwide.
Field also came close to playing Katharine Ross’ part in The Graduate, Meryl Streep’s part in Sophie’s Choice, and Geena Davis’ roles in both Thelma and Louise and The Fly.
10. Field co-starred four times with former partner Burt Reynolds
Field dated the actor Burt Reynolds on and off for five years, but she turned down every one of his marriage proposals, and they eventually split in 1980.
The pair first met in 1976 while working on the comedy Smokey and the Bandit, where they star as the bootlegger Bandit and a runaway bride.
In the following year, Field and Reynolds teamed up again for The End, a black comedy.
Their next film together was Hooper, in 1978, with the pair starring as a stunt coordinator and his girlfriend.
They returned to the Smokey crew for the sequel Smokey and the Bandit Ride Again in 1980.
Reynolds still described Field as “the love of [his] life” decades afterwards.
9. Her first film role was in a Disney movie that got into trouble with the FBI
Moon Pilot, the 1962 Technicolor science fiction comedy, is among Disney’s stranger early offerings.
It marked Sally Field’s film debut, with her playing a beatnik girl who appears in a police line-up.
Field’s hair is darkened, and she wears a large sweater and glasses in the role.
This strange film follows the tale of an air force captain who is selected to be the first man to fly around the moon, when he becomes embroiled in extra-terrestrial affairs.
The FBI made a number of complaints about the film, protesting about its depiction of one of their agents guarding an astronaut.
The FBI also criticised the comedy film for presenting the agent in “a most slapstick and uncomplimentary manner.”
8. Her mother was a star of science fiction movies in the 1950s
Field’s mother was Margaret Field, who adopted the stage name Maggie Mahoney after her marriage to the actor Jock Mahoney, Sally’s stepfather.
Sally Field’s own father was a veteran of the Second World War, and her parents divorced when she was four years old.
Maggie Mahoney was known for starring in the science fiction movies The Man from Planet X and Captive Women.
In the former, she plays a professor’s daughter caught up in an alien invasion, while in Captive Women, she plays a young woman living as part of a tribe of nuclear apocalypse survivors.
Sally Field also has a half-sister who works in show business. The daughter of Maggie Mahoney and Jock Mahoney, Princess O’Mahoney is a producer and assistant director.
Princess O’Mahoney is known for her work on ER, Shameless and Dexter.
7. She went to school with actress Cindy Williams and the future president of Disney
Field graduated from Birmingham High School, Van Nuys, California in 1964, where she was a cheerleader.
Formerly a WWII US Army hospital, the site opened as a school in 1953, and has a long list of famous alumni.
Among Field’s classmates was the future talent agent and Disney President Michael Ovitz. She would later become one of his Hollywood clients.
Another fellow student in this future star-studded cohort was the Laverne and Shirley star Cindy Williams.
Field also shared the classroom with future famous felon-turned-philanthropist Michael Milken.
The school site itself has had its share of fame – it’s in the background of the music videos for Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl, Eminem’s No Love and Charlie XCX’s Break the Rules.
6. Her accidental cappuccino moustache on the set of Mrs Doubtfire made it into the movie
In the classic comedy Mrs Doubtfire, Field plays Miranda, the estranged wife of Robin Williams’ Daniel Hillard, who creates his famous alter-ego to reconnect with his old family.
In one scene, Miranda is sipping a cappuccino alongside her boyfriend Stuart, played by Pierce Brosnan.
Miranda gets embarrassed when she accidentally coats her upper lip in foam in front of her new beau. But this moment wasn’t actually written into the scene – it was an accidental improvisation.
When Field left herself with a cappuccino moustache without realising it, the producers thought it was so funny that they decided to add it into the scene.
Field later recalled that, though she had the producers in giggles, she herself would never break into laughter around Robin Williams.
In a 2018 interview with Lisa Wilkinson, Field said, “What drove [Williams] absolutely crazy is that he could never make me laugh. He would never break me up.”
5. Soapdish was written for Field because she was tired of playing ‘noble women with crummy clothes’
Robert Harling first wrote Steel Magnolias as a 1987 stage play, and later he had the opportunity to adapt it for the big screen.
Among the stars of this film about female friendship were Field, Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton.
As filming wrapped each day, the star-studded cast would hang out with Harling, playing charades and Pictionary – and Harling began to ask the actresses what kinds of characters they’d like to play in future.
In an interview with the Huffington Post in 2018, Harling said that Field told him she always played a “’really noble, honest woman with crummy clothes.”’
“’For once, I’d like to play a b**** who wears nice clothes,’” he recollected Field telling him.
This seed grew in Harling’s mind, and he eventually wrote Soapdish, a movie starring Field as a conniving soap opera actress.
4. Three of her films feature in the American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time
Field’s heart-warming characters secured her not one but three spots in this American Film Institute list of the most inspirational movies ever.
Places in the Heart, a film about a Texan family living through the Great Depression, checks in at 95, while Forrest Gump is at 37.
But the film starring Field that they deemed the most motivational is Norma Rae, which took 16th place on the list.
All were beaten to the top spots by It’s a Wonderful Life and Schindler’s List.
Field won the Academy Award for Best Actress in both Norma Rae and Places in the Heart, in 1980 and 1985 respectively.
For its cultural significance, Norma Rae was added to the prestigious National Film Registry in 2011.
3. The casting directors of Sybil thought Field was “unhinged”
When Field rolled up for her audition for Sybil, a TV miniseries about a woman with dissociative identity disorder, she behaved very oddly.
The casting directors had tried and failed to cast stars like Vanessa Redgrave in this part, and the lesser-known Field appeared to have little chance of winning it.
Among the last people to audition for the lead role, Field decided to get into character as she stepped through the doorway.
“When I showed up for the audition, I came as the character,” Field said in an interview with Oprah in 2008.
“Sybil was really reserved and frightened, never looked anyone straight in the face, so I sat in the corner as this person,” she explained. “The casting directors later told me they thought I was unhinged. But I knew this character belonged to me; she was too much like me.”
Sybil received critical acclaim, and Field credits it with cementing her status as a serious actress. “[It] changed everything for me,” she noted.
2. She likes to go protesting with Jane Fonda
Field has been a longstanding advocate for the environment, and in December 2019 she joined one of actress Jane Fonda’s weekly climate protests in Washington, DC.
Field reportedly made an unrehearsed speech about taking drastic action against climate change.
“The time is now,” she announced. “We cannot sit back in our comfort zones, on our couches, and wonder, ‘What can we do?’”
In the rain outside the Capitol, 26 of the protestors were arrested for unlawfully demonstrating, with Field handcuffed and led away by the police.
This wasn’t the first time Field protested alongside Jane Fonda, albeit for a different cause entirely.
In 2004, the pair took part in a demonstration against the Mexican government, demanding a new investigation into the murders of hundreds of women near the Mexico-Texas border.
1. She’s named in the theme song for The Fall Guy
Field is name-checked in the theme song to the TV action series The Fall Guy.
Before each episode, we hear the lyrics, “I’ve been on fire with Sally Field, gone fast with a girl named Bo. But somehow they just don’t end up as mine.”
This TV show theme rattles off a list of famous actresses as a joke about the series’ main characters, who are stunt doubles.
Among the other actresses named in the theme is ‘Farrah’, a reference to Farrah Fawcett, then-wife of The Fall Guy star Lee Majors.
Field herself had a single along with a chorus of children following a performance in The Flying Nun.
Entitled Golden Days / You’re A Grand Old Flag, this patriotic number was released in 1968.