American actress Jill Clayburgh was fortunate enough to find work in her field of endeavor directly after graduation from Sarah Lawrence University. She acted with the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Charles Playhouse in Boston, and, with such future film luminaries as Al Pacino she appeared in several off-Broadway productions A tentative stab at film acting in The Wedding Party, filmed at Sarah Lawrence in 1963 but released in 1969, might have been forgotten save for its roster of celebrities-to-be: Jill Clayburgh, Robert DeNiro and director Brian De Palma. Otherwise, Clayburgh's "official" stepping stones into stardom would include her continuing role on the TV daytime drama Search for Tomorrow and her Broadway appearances in such successes as The Rothschilds and Pippin. The actress' earliest mainstream films-- Portnoy's Complaint (1972) and The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1974)--were not exactly vehicles for her talent. It would take her vivid performance as a battered prostitute on the 1974 TV-movie Hustling to make audiences aware of her extraordinary talents. Unfortunately, her turn as Carole Lombard in the unsuccessful 1976 Gable and Lombard set her back a few steps. It helped to be in the box-office winner Silver Streak (1977), though the actress wasn't served well playing second fiddle to Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor; she was given a better chance to shine opposite Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson in Semi-Tough (1977). In 1978 came the turn-around: An Unmarried Woman, in which Clayburgh's richly textured performance as a thirtyish divorcee trying to make sense of her disoriented life should have won her an Academy Award. It didn't, but Clayburgh was now firmly an "A"-list actress. Bucking the usual trend, she decided not to complacently go the "moneymaking vehicle" route but risked her success to stretch her talent in such films as director Bernardo Bertolucci's Luna (1979) and Costa-Gavras' Hannah K (1983). As expected, these non-blockbuster appearances put her career in the doldrums, compelling her to toil for her paycheck in such indifferent films as the 1986 thriller Where are the Children?. But Clayburgh wass one of those rare American film stars to whom the work itself is more important than the fame.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Grew up in a privileged Manhattan household and attended the prestigious Brearley Finishing School.
- Studied acting with Uta Hagen.
- Married playwright David Rabe in 1979 and scaled back her career in the '80s to raise two children.
- Appeared in several episodes of Ally McBeal as Ally’s mother.
- Returned to the stage after a 20-year absence in the 2005 play A Naked Girl on the Appian Way, opposite Richard Thomas.