Love Always: Jessica Lange

Presenting “Love Always,” a recurring feature in which we pay tribute to the women who helped shape our views on pop culture.

For 40 years, Jessica Lange has been one of our greatest leading ladies, and as we celebrate her 66th birthday today, let’s take a look back at some highlights.

Here are just a few reasons why I will Love Always Jessica Lange.

King Kong

“You Goddam chauvinist pig ape!” Jessica’s film career got off to a … memorable … start with the unfairly maligned 1976 remake of King Kong, which was campy and fun and very much a relic of its time (especially with Jessica’s “Dwan” character, a 70’s starlet pretending to be an airhead). The movie was a hit, but received negative reviews, especially for Jessica, who didn’t work again in films for three years. Trivia: It could have been Meryl.

She and Mikhail Baryshnikov Made a Fabulous Hollywood Couple.


(Pics – Getty)

How To Beat The High Cost Of Living

Jessica came back to films with a well-received turn in 1979’s All That Jazz, (as the Angel Of Décolletage Death), and then starred with a pre-Kate & Allie Jane Curtin and Susan Saint James in one of the most underrated comedies of the 80’s, How To Beat The High Cost Of Living. Jessica proved herself an able comic actress (even if she had to compete with Jane’s striptease.)

Tootsie

The greatest moments at the Academy Awards are always the reaction shots when the winners are announced. No, not of the actual winner, but of the losers. That’s when true acting happens. When Jessica’s name is announced for her warm and luminous performance in 1982’s Tootsie, the reactions range from immediate acceptance (Lesley Ann Warren, who truth be told, would have been my pick), to indifference (co-star Teri Garr) to “Oh well, I’ll win one eventually” (Glenn Close … if she only knew).

Frances

1982 would turn out to be a turning point in Jessica’s career. Not only did she deliver her Oscar-winning performance in Tootsie, she became the first actress in 40 years to also receive a second nomination in the same year, for what is still her greatest film performance, in Frances. As the ill-fated Frances Farmer, Jessica bares her soul, and if not for Meryl in Sophie’s Choice, there’s no doubt she would have been a double winner that year.

Crimes Of The Heart

Jessica had a tremendous mid-80’s. She followed up her nominations for Frances and Tootsie with back-to-back Oscar nods for Country and Sweet Dreams in 1984 and 1985, and in 1986 was part of the too-good-for-words ensemble of Crimes Of The Heart. Playing the Blanche to Sissy Spacek’s Rose and Diane Keaton’s Dorothy, Jessica was able to cut loose and played her sexy free spirit to the hilt.

She and Sam Shepard Also Made A Fabulous Hollywood Couple.


(Pics – Getty)

They met on the set of Frances, and were together almost 30 years.

Men Don’t Leave

Jessica received her fifth Oscar nomination for 1989’s Music Box, but I prefer her performance in the underrated Men Don’t Leave, which was released just a couple of months later. She played a widowed mother who has to pick up the pieces and move on with her two sons (including a baby-faced Chris O’Donnell in one of his first roles). Add in the scene-stealing Joan Cusack and a pre-Misery Kathy Bates as Jessica’s new bitch boss, and you’ve got a sadly overlooked gem.

Blue Sky

Jessica received her sixth and last (to date) Oscar nomination (and 2nd win) for 1994’s Blue Sky, directed by the late Tony Richardson. It was completed in 1991, but because Orion Studios went bankrupt, it was kept on the shelf for three years. The other ladies in her category were obviously resigned to losing. Strangely, even though she won her only Lead Actress Oscar for this, it may be one of her least-seen films.

Hush

Jessica received her one and only Razzie nomination for 1998’s unintentionally hilarious Hush, but I firmly believe she knew exactly what she was doing with her sly ode to the over-the-top gothic potboilers of the past. She chewed the scenery in glorious fashion, and let’s be honest … haven’t we all wanted to torment Gwyneth Paltrow?

Grey Gardens

Jessica had enormous success during her occasional forays on TV, including 80’s adaptations of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar named Desire, and the 2003 HBO film Normal, in which she played the wife of a man transitioning. But it was 2009’s Grey Gardens that brought her to a new level of TV stardom, and won her the first Emmy Award of her career. But it wouldn’t be her last …

American Horror Story

Through four seasons of Ryan Murphy’s erratically entertaining anthology, Jessica has taken us on a rollercoaster ride, winning two more Emmy awards and showing a new generation her combination of intensity, earthiness, and cool perfection.

Bonus

She has no patience for bullshit

“Can Gaga convince you to stay for another season?”

80's Pop Culture Expert, Shooting At The Walls Of Heartache.
@therealsnicks