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Barbara Hershey Biography


Home > Actresses > H > Hershey, Barbara > Biography


Birth Name: Barbara Hershey
Born: 02/05/1948
Birth Place: Hollywood, California, USA


Born Barbara Lynn Herzstein in Hollywood on Feb. 5, 1948, she was the youngest of three children born to Arnold, a Jewish racing form statistician, and Melrose, a department store clerk of Irish decent. Although painfully shy in school, Barbara was immediately drawn to acting, and would perform constantly for her family at home. When she at last came out of her shell around age 10, Hershey proved to be an exceptional student, and later, a talented performer in several stage productions with the drama department at Hollywood High School. After a supportive drama coach at the school sent her to meet an agent, the budding thespian landed her first professional role with one of several appearances on television's "Gidget" (ABC, 1965-66), starring Sally Field, who Hershey later described as being exceptionally supportive. Following a few more guest turns on other series, Hershey soon wrangled herself a regular cast spot on the short-lived Western drama "The Monroes" (ABC, 1966-67). The following year, she made her feature film acting debut in the Doris Day-Brian Keith family comedy "With Six You Get Eggroll" (1968), as the strong-willed teenage daughter of a widower (Keith) who - much to his Hershey's dismay - is planning to marry a widow (Day) raising three boys of her own.

Seeking to stretch her acting muscles and establish herself as more than just another pretty face, Hershey took on a leading role in the coming-of-age drama "Last Summer" (1969). Cast alongside Bruce Davidson and Richard Thomas, she played the third point of an adolescent triangle into whose midst an idealistic young outsider (Catherine Burns) enters, with grim results. During production of the film - which initially earned an X-rating due to a scene in which Burns' character is raped - Hershey accidently killed a seagull being used in the movie. Later stating that at that moment she "felt her spirit enter me," Hershey changed her stage name to "Seagull" soon afterward, out of a sense of moral obligation. As one might imagine, movie producers and studio executives were far from enthusiastic about her new nom de guerre. That same year, the actress went on to appear in the Glenn Ford Western "Heaven with a Gun" (1969), in which she played a Native-American girl who is raped by a degenerate ranch hand (David Carradine). During filming, she and Carradine began a romantic relationship and shortly afterward began living together. With Carradine's star on the rise, Hershey's work was largely overshadowed, and eventually her association with the eccentric and taciturn actor began to have an adverse affect on her initially blossoming career.

Following a string of supporting roles in less-than-memorable theatrical releases, Hershey starred as the title character in director Martin Scorsese's first feature film, "Boxcar Bertha" (1972). Produced by B-movie king Roger Corman, the film was loosely biographical and meant to take a stark look at class, gender, and race relations through the prism of the American South of the 1930s, however, Corman's influence ensured that it was marketed as the exploitation flick audiences expected from him. Another fortuitous by-product came about during the filming, when Hershey gave Martin Scorsese a copy of her favorite novel, Nikos Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ. She told the young director that she someday hoped to play the part of Mary Magdalene, the prostitute who invoked lust in a resistant Jesus Christ. Sixteen years later, Hershey would do just that when Scorsese made the highly controversial film for Universal Pictures, which evoked an unprecedented storm of protest from the Religious Right.

Hershey and Carradine became poster children for the Hollywood anti-establishment movement of the 1970s during the course of their six-year relationship, even appearing together in a nude 1972 pictorial that recalled their roles in "Boxcar Bertha" for an issue of Playboy magazine. That same year, she and Carradine gave birth to a son who the couple, in keeping with the spirit of the times, named "Free" Carradine. Years later, the boy would request that his name be legally changed to Tom. Hershey also raised eyebrows - and the ire of sensors - when she casually began breast feeding her son while sitting for an interview on "The Dick Cavett Show" (CBS, 1969-1975), an incident that further ostracized her from the Hollywood establishment. Now officially credited as "Barbara Seagull," the actress went on to appear in a string of mostly forgotten, low-budget pictures, including another alongside Carradine, as well as an episode of his hit series "Kung Fu" (ABC, 1972-75). With both her relationship with Carradine and her professional reputation faltering, Hershey attempted to distance herself from her wild child past and dropped the surname of "Seagull" for her next film. That next project would be the Charlton Heston Western requiem "The Last Hard Men" (1976), in which she played the daughter of a retired lawman (Heston) who is kidnapped by a vengeful escaped convict (James Coburn) with an old score to settle. While the film was a respectable effort, it did little to quell Hollywood's uneasiness with Hershey's recent "flower girl" persona.

After a break of two years, preceded by several entirely forgettable projects, Hershey gradually began to make a career comeback with a pair of well-received television performances, beginning with the espionage thriller "A Man Called Intrepid" (NBC, 1979), starring David Niven. She followed by taking over the role originated by Deborah Kerr in "From Here to Eternity" (NBC, 1980), a short-lived series that continued the classic tale of love and infidelity in the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her stock rose considerably with her supporting turn in the reality-twisting action-adventure "The Stunt Man" (1980), starring Peter O'Toole in an Oscar-nominated performance as a megalomaniacal movie director. Never one to shy away from putting herself in uncomfortable onscreen situations, Hershey went on to portray a woman tormented and raped by a sadistic evil spirit in "The Entity" (1982). While the production was not a box-office hit, its controversial subject matter combined with her inarguably brave performance sparked discussion and put Hershey back in the consciousness of the movie-going public, and more importantly, of filmmakers.

Having successfully left her sometimes awkward past behind her and committed to maintaining a low-profile in her personal life, Hershey hit her professional stride at the dawn of 1980s, beginning a winning streak that would continue well into the new millennium. She played the wife of legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) in director Philip Kaufman's thrilling ode to the early heroes of the NASA program, "The Right Stuff" (1983). In the Barry Levinson-directed "The Natural" (1984), Hershey chillingly embodied the psychotic femme fatale who, mantis-like, attempts to kill the titular baseball hero (Robert Redford) after seducing him. Two years later, she had an onscreen affair with Michael Caine as one of the eponymous siblings in Woody Allen's beloved comedy-drama "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986). That same year, she played a conscientious high school faculty member in the film many consider the greatest sports movie of all time, "Hoosiers" (1986), prior to reteaming with director Levinson for "Tin Men" (1987), the second entry in Levinson's series of Baltimore-based films. Hershey then became the first actress to win two back-to-back Best Actress awards at the Cannes Film Festival for her performances in Andre Konchalovsky's "Shy People" (1987) and Chris Menges' "A World Apart" (1988). Things came full circle for her when Scorsese - by now one of cinema's most critically acclaimed directors - granted Hershey's earlier wish and cast her as Mary Magdalene in "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988).

Then in stark contrast to her work with Scorsese, Hershey starred alongside Bette Midler as one of two very different women whose lifelong friendship endures time, distance, and bitter jealousies in the unapologetically sentimental "Beaches" (1988), the soundtrack of which spawned the smash hit song "Wind Beneath My Wings." Around this time, fans noticed the actress sported slightly plumper lips that had radically changed her appearance. She refrained from discussing her obvious lip augmentation, a trend that she was largely regarded as starting in Hollywood. Now at the pinnacle of her game, the actress took leading roles in two of the more celebrated made-for-television movies of the time. First came a riveting turn as a woman accused of a gruesome murder in "A Killing in a Small Town" (CBS, 1990) - a role that earned her an Emmy Award for Best Actress. Next came "Paris Trout" (Showtime, 1991), in which she played the abused wife of a vicious bigot (Dennis Hopper) in the rural south of post-WWII America. Hershey's performance in this latter vaunted telefilm earned her yet another Emmy nomination for Lead Actress. Working steadily in both film and television, she starred with the biggest leading men of the early-1990s in projects that included the courtroom mystery "Defenseless" (1991), which reunited her with Shepard; the Joe Pesci tabloid noir "The Public Eye" (1992); the Michael Douglas potboiler "Falling Down" (1993); and the Western miniseries "Return to Lonesome Dove" (CBS, 1993), which cast Hershey alongside Jon Voight.

Following a short-lived marriage to her former painting instructor, Stephen Douglas, Hershey gave a hilariously naughty performance as the mother of a recently deceased young man who seduces one of his best friends (David Schwimmer) in the dark romantic comedy, "The Pallbearer" (1996). Later that year, she co-starred in Jane Campion's film adaptation of the Henry James novel "Portrait of a Lady" (1996), a portrayal that earned her Best Supporting Actress awards from both the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics. She later co-starred with Naveen Andrews in the little-seen romantic drama "Drowning on Dry Land" (1999). More impactful than the film's poor theatrical showing was the romance that blossomed between Hershey and her co-star, despite an age difference of more than 20 years. The veteran actress gave series television another shot when she took on a recurring role as Dr. Francesca Alberghetti for the final two seasons of the medical drama "Chicago Hope" (CBS, 1994-2000). One of her many film roles of the time included a turn as a grieving mother who suddenly goes missing in the Australian-produced ensemble mystery "Lantana" (2001), co-starring Anthony LaPaglia and Geoffrey Rush.

Hershey later portrayed true-crime writer Ann Rule in the dramatization of her lengthy encounter with notorious serial killer Ted Bundy in the TV movie "Ann Rule Presents: The Stranger Beside Me" (USA, 2003). She joined an ensemble cast that included Hilary Swank, Rachael Leigh Cook and Patrick Swayze for the existential drama "11:14" (2004), then played the chronically ill mother of a son making a perilous trip to be at her side in "Stephen King's Riding the Bullet" (2004). From there it was another roll of the dice with series TV as a regular cast member on the short-lived primetime soap "The Mountain" (The WB, 2004-05). The actress' longest lasting romantic association came to an end in 2010 when, after an earlier brief separation - during which time Andrews fathered a child by another woman - he and Hershey officially ended their 11-year relationship. Professionally, Hershey continued to excel as she earned acclaim for her turn as the overbearing mother of a high-strung ballerina (Natalie Portman) in the lauded psychodrama "Black Swan" (2010). The following year, she appeared in the horror feature "Insidious" as the grandmother of a young boy plagued by demonic spirits.

In 2012, Hershey joined the cast of the popular fantasy show "Once Upon a Time" (ABC, 2011- ) as Cora, the fierce, scheming mother of Regina (Lana Parrilla), the Evil Queen. She subsequently turned up in her first movie sequel with a featured part in "Insidious: Chapter 2" (2013), which, like the initial installment, proved to be both scary and successful.