Who Is Jessica Lange?
Initially working as a model, Jessica Lange began her prolific acting career when she was chosen to star in the mega hit film King Kong (1976). In 1982, Lange received a best actress Academy Award nomination for the film Frances and won a best supporting actress Oscar for Tootsie. She later won another Oscar, this time in the best actress category, for her performance in 1994's Blue Sky. Lange has received an array of accolades for additional projects like A Streetcar Named Desire (1995), A Thousand Acres (1997), Normal (2003), Grey Gardens (2009) and American Horror Story (2012), and received the first Tony of her career in 2016 for the Broadway revival of Long Day's Journey Into Night.
Jessica Phyllis Lange was born on April 20, 1949, in Cloquet, Minnesota. The third of four children, Lange was the daughter of Dorothy Florence and Albert John Lange, who was an educator and salesman. As a child, Lange's family moved constantly due to her father's frequently changing jobs. Lange later noted that her family "lived like gypsies." But instead of rebelling against this transient lifestyle, Lange inherited the travel bug. By the time she enrolled as an art student at the University of Minnesota in 1967, she had big dreams of seeing the world.
In the spring of 1968, before she had finished her freshman year, Lange met and fell in love with 24-year-old photography professor Paco Grande. Lange and Grande left school and traveled throughout the United States and Europe. They lived mostly out of Grande's van, and Lange met many of Grande's friends within the film community. They returned to Minnesota briefly in July 1970, where they were married.
The newlyweds moved to New York, eventually settling into the SoHo art community. Grande continued to work on film projects and Lange, inspired by French cinema, made the decision to study mime. In 1971, Lange moved to Paris to study mime with teacher Etienne Decroux. Her two years of education with Decroux sparked an interest in acting, and she returned to New York in 1973 to pursue a film career.
Acting Debut: 'King Kong'
During her time abroad, Lange's marriage to Paco Grande had deteriorated. Grande left Lange in New York, where she started working as a waitress and model with the Wilhelmina Agency in order to make ends meet. In the fall of 1975, film producer Dino De Laurentiis contacted Lange's modeling agency looking for an actress to star in his new King Kong movie. An agent at Wilhelmina recommended Lange for the part. After a Hollywood screen test, she landed the role.
King Kong hit theaters in 1976, and was a box-office hit. Reviews for Lange, however, were largely negative, and focused on the fact that Lange was a former model. Although she had signed a seven-year acting contract with De Laurentiis, Lange did not work for three years following King Kong's release. During this time, Lange met Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, and the two began dating.
In 1979, director and choreographer Bob Fosse (a close friend) gave Lange another shot at acting when he wrote a part especially for her in his autobiographical film, All That Jazz. The movie centered on womanizing dancer Joe Gideon, played by Roy Scheider, who is coming to grips with mortality. Lange played the angel of death in Gideon's fantasy world. The role was panned by critics, but brought the actress back to the attention of Hollywood. The next year, she landed a lead role in the comedy How to Beat the High Cost of Living. But it was her lead role starring across from Jack Nicholson as Cora in the remake of the 1940's classic The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) that got the attention of critics and viewers. Lange's performance earned rave reviews, and audiences loved her. She was finally on her way to stardom. That same year, Lange gave birth to her and Baryshnikov's first and only child together, daughter Alexandra.
Oscar Wins: 'Tootsie' and 'Blue Sky'
The next year proved to be a momentous one for Lange. Her performance in the biopic Frances, in which she portrayed actress Frances Farmer, earned her a best actress Academy Award nomination. It was on the set of Frances that Lange met playwright and actor Sam Shepard. As her relationship with Baryshnikov unraveled, Lange and Shepard fell in love. They moved in together later that year. That same year she also won an Oscar for best supporting actress in the comedy Tootsie (1982), co-starring Dustin Hoffman and Teri Garr. No actress had been nominated twice in one year since Teresa Wright in 1942. Lange was finally coming into her own as an A-list actress.
Lange continued to shine in performances throughout the 1980s and 1990s in films such as Sweet Dreams (1984), Music Box (1989) and Men Don't Leave (1990). In 1994, she won another Academy Award—this time for best actress in the drama Blue Sky (1994), opposite Tommy Lee Jones.
Lange continued to dazzle viewers in 1995 in dramas such as Losing Isaiah, with Halle Berry, and Rob Roy, starring Liam Neeson. That same year, her performance as Blanche DuBois in the television adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire (1995), co-starring Alec Baldwin, earned her a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award nomination. In 1997, critics acknowledged Lange's acting talents again in the film A Thousand Acres, for which she would earn a Golden Globe nod. She ended the decade starring as Tamora, the queen of the Goths, in the 1999 Julie Taymor adaptation of Titus, based on the play by William Shakespeare.
In 2003, Lange's performance as Irma Applewood, the spouse of a transgender woman, in the film Normal earned her nominations for an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Lange then performed alongside actor Bill Murray in the 2005 independent film Broken Flowers. In addition to her acting work, Lange has also developed her craft as a photographer.
'American Horror Story' and Tony Win
In recent years, Lange has given several impressive performances on television. She played Edie Ewing Beale in the 2009 biopic Grey Gardens. Lange co-starred with Drew Barrymore in this television film about a real-life mother and daughter living an eccentric life in a rundown mansion. She won an Emmy Award for her work on the project.
Three years later, Lange netted her latest Golden Globe for her supporting role on American Horror Story. Critics have hailed her scene-stealing turn as Constance, the oddball neighbor to the family living in a house haunted by a dark and brutal past. She won a 2012 Emmy for the role as well, followed by another win in 2014 for playing Fiona Goode. In 2015, Lange was nominated for yet another Emmy for her work on the show. The following year, Lange received the first Tony of her career in a return to the stage for her lead role in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night.
In 2017, Lange played screen legend Joan Crawford, co-starring with Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis, in the television series Feud. The television show, developed by Ryan Murphy, focused on the legendary bitter rivalry between the two Hollywood icons. Lange's efforts were roundly praised, earning her an Emmy win and a Golden Globe nomination.
In 1970, Lange married photographer Francisco "Paco" Grande. They separated in the mid-1970s and divorced in 1981. From 1976 to 1982, Lange was in a relationship with ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov. Lange gave birth to their daughter in Aleksandra "Shura" Baryshnikov in 1981. In 1982, she began a relationship with actor and playwright Sam Shepard. They have two children together Hannah (born in 1985) and Samuel (born in 1987). They separated in 2009, and their split was announced publicly in 2011.
In addition to her award-winning acting career, Lange has published two photography books 50 Photographs and In Mexico. In 2013, she has also released It’s About a Little Bird, a children’s picture book.
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