Sally Field: From ‘Gidget’ to SAG Life Achievement Award

The Screen Actors Guild presented legendary comic actor Eddie Cantor with the first annual Life Achievement Award back in 1962. Over the past six decades, the award for ‘outstanding achievement in fostering ideals of the acting profession” has been given to such Hollywood icons as Stan Laurel, Bob Hope, Barbara Stanwyck, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart, Frank Sinatra, James Cagney, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. More recently, Mary Tyler Moore, Charles Durning, Debbie Reynolds, Rita Moreno, Carol Burnett, Helen Mirren and Robert De Niro have received the honor.

Two-time Oscar (“Norma Rae,” “Places in the Heart”) and three-time Emmy Award (“Sybil,” “ER,” “Brothers and Sisters”) winning Sally Field is the latest recipient of the Life Achievement Award. The 76-year-old actress, who came to fame as the ultimate teenager “Gidget” in the 1965-66 ABC sitcom, is currently starring with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Rita Moreno in the hit feature comedy “80 for Brady.” She appeared with Jim Parsons last year in the drama “Spoiler Alert” and played Jessie Buss in the acclaimed HBO series, “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.”

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To celebrate Field’s latest accolade, let’s look back at her back at her near six-decade career.

She made her film debut in the 1962 Disney film “Moon Pilot” with Tom Tryon and Brian Keith in the uncredited role of “beatnik girl in lineup.”

Field beat out 75 young actresses to play the role of Gidget, who was based on Frederick Kohner’s 1957 book “Gidget, The Little Girl with Big Ideas,” which was inspired by  the adventures of his own daughter Kathy. Sandra Dee played the part in the 1959 film “Gidget,” with Deborah Walley starring in 1961’s ‘Gidget Goes Hawaiian” and Cindy Carol in 1963’s “Gidget Goes to Rome.” A lot of young actors also appeared on the series including Barbara Hershey, Daniel J. Travanti, Bonnie Franklin and Richard Dreyfuss as Durf the Drag. And Don Porter who played Gidget’s dad Russell Lawrence in the TV series also played the part in “Gidget Goes to Rome.”

She made her credited film debut opposite such heavyweights as Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum and Richard Widmark in the 1967 wagon train melodrama “The Way West.” The New York Times described Field’s character as “a saucy, sexy youngster, who flings herself at the fellows with wanton zest.”

And then she flew back to television that same year with the gimmicky sitcom –“The Flying Nun,” which soared on ABC from 1967-1970.  Field played Sister Bertrille, a young perky novice at a Puerto Rican-convent who, because she was so slight,  could fly when the wind caught her cornette, the type of wimple the nuns wore. Field hated doing the series
In a 2004 interview with the Archive of American Television, she said “I always tried to do my best with it but deeply didn’t want to do it. It went for three years. It was a hugely important time in my life because I learned a lot, because I didn’t want to do it, and because I hated it every day. I hated the garbage.” It was former blacklisted actress Madeleine Sherwood, who played Mother Superior, who changed Field’s life when she introduced her to the Actors Studio. Field recently told Deadline that her time at the Actors Studio “profoundly changed my life because within a short matter of time, I met Lee [Strasberg] and I began work with Lee very seriously for many years. And it was very, very instrumental in who I became ultimately as an actor.”

During the run of the series, Field married and became pregnant. “You can only imagine what a pregnant flying nun look liked,” she would later say. “I was a walking sight gag.” She also recorded an album-“Sally Field -Star of the Flying Nun.”  You can check out the album’s single, “Felicidad” on YouTube.

After “The Flying Nun” ended, Field did numerous TV movies. Though 1976’s “Sybil,”  for which she won her first Emmy,  is considered the turning point in her career, check out 1971’s “Maybe I’ll Be Home in the Spring.”  The ABC film, which also starred Jackie Cooper, Eleanor Parker and David Carradine, presented a new more dramatic Field. A favorite among baby boomers, “Spring” finds Field playing a teenager who returns home after running away the year before.

Not only did she receive the Academy Award for lead actress for 1979’s “Norma Rae” as a textile worker who agrees to help unionize the mill, Field won the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globe, the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

She made her directorial debut with the 1996 ABC holiday movie “The Christmas Tree,” which starred Julie Harris with whom she appeared in the 1972 TV movie, “Home for the Holidays.” Field would go on to direct “The Original Wives Club” episode of HBO’s 1998 “From the Earth to the Moon” and the 2000 feature comedy-drama “Beautiful.”

Field made her Broadway debut in Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” in 2002 and received a Tony nomination as Amanda Wingfield in the 2017 revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” In 2019, Field and Bill Pullman starred in the London revival of Arthur Miller’s 1947 play “All My Sons.”

In my 2016 L.A. Times interview with the actress, Field lamented the “tremendous” ageism toward women in the U.S.  “In Europe, they are so appreciated and revered. With women-especially in this industry-there is always a feeling of, ‘What you been doing with yourself?’ I say, what do you mean, what have I been doing with myself? I’m still here.’”

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