There is an assumption that, when a performer first makes a splash in movies late in life, that it’s because they’ve just gotten started acting. There are two other logical options, neither of which get talked about. One is that they’re someone who’s been doing small roles for decades and has just been cast in something bigger. Then there’s people like June Squibb, who did most of her acting on the stage. Not even Broadway or off-Broadway most of the time, though she did make her Broadway debut as one of the strippers in the original Ethel Merman production of Gypsy. But mostly, she was just a working actress.
Obviously, this makes it hard to research most of her career. I’ve written before about how little documentation there appears to be online even of a lot of Broadway performances, and someone who’s done mostly things like touring companies has even less publicly available information. Still, she appears to have been working steadily at acting for decades, mostly while not being known to the average person. Her first movie appearance was in 1990; she only has one credited TV appearance before then, and it was 1985.
Still, that is itself literally decades before most people became aware of who she was. Because most people who know of her only became aware of her in 2013, when she appeared in Nebraska as the surly old Kate Grant. It’s a delightful performance; I fully agree that she deserved to lose to Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave, but it’s nice that a mostly comedic role got nominated at all. I didn’t realize that the movie was going to be funny when I went to see it, but it is, and she may well be the funniest part.
In a just world, there would be a whole bunch of great roles after that to write about. While Nebraska didn’t win any of its Oscars, Bruce Dern’s nomination was generally considered one of those “we really ought to get to you” nominations, as he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1978 and not since. But Squibb’s was considered to be because she gave a really good performance, from what I can tell, since I doubt most of the Academy had heard of her before that movie, either.
She is still working. Steadily. She’s got three movies listed as being in post-production—and one listed as “filming,” which, yeah, we’ll see. [Shakes fist in general direction of 2020.] She’s a fine actress, and she’s the funniest part of Nebraska. If you aren’t interested in the whole movie, at the very least watch the cemetery scene. She’s the highlight of it, and that isn’t just because she reminds me quite a lot of one of my grandmothers. Even though she’s actually younger than either of my grandmothers were. She’s about the age I remember my grandmothers, though.