I was astonished to discover that the TV show of Gidget only lasted for one season. Oh, seasons were longer in those days—there are more than thirty episodes—but it feels as though my mother watched it two episodes a day every weekend for simply years during its syndicated run in the ’80s. We never watched The Flying Nun, but man, I have seen all of Gidget, probably many times over. Apparently, Sally Field would prefer it that way; she likes Gidget, but she finds Sister Bertrille something of an embarrassment.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen a ton of Sally Fields movies, and a fair amount of other Sally Field TV shows. But when I remember her, the first thing I think of is not Norma Rae or Mary Todd Lincoln; it’s Frances Elizabeth Laurence, the “girl midget.” And then Celeste Talbert of Soapdish. Not the drama, and certainly not the melodrama—the comedy.
Honestly, one of the reasons I hoped she’d go three-for-three on Oscars was that I wanted us all to move beyond the “you really like me!” thing. I mean, I didn’t much like Places in the Heart, but I also think none of the performances I’ve seen that were nominated for Best Actress in 1984 were all that great. At least her Lincoln loss was in a strong year. But Sally Field has had such an interesting career—in that infamous speech, she herself said it wasn’t “orthodox”—that I wish we could focus on her acting instead of one awkward moment.
Let’s just consider the Oscar nominations for a minute. There’s union firebrand Norma Rae Webster, determined cotton grower Edna Spalding, and tortured First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. They’re all mothers, true. But they’re three very different mothers. Norma Rae is not quite neglectful, but her children are kind of a low priority to her. Edna? One of the reasons she does what she does is to keep her family together. And, you know, by the time Mary Todd Lincoln died, she was no longer on speaking terms with her son Robert. And I think part of that was how much time she’d spent grieving his brothers who died.
This is the thing that I don’t think people think about when it comes to Sally Field—range. I think most people have one or two Sally Field movies that they think of, when they think of her, and they forget that, yes, she did do Mrs. Doubtfire, Steel Magnolias, and (alas) The Amazing Spider-Man. Her characters tend to have a core of steel, but then there’s the delightfully melodramatic Celeste Talbert. They’re usually wholesome, but then there’s the promiscuous Norma Rae. Any trait you pick for Sally Field, there’s at least one major role she’s played who doesn’t have it. Except I guess “female Homo sapiens.”
I wept at her Mary Todd Lincoln, which is why I keep bringing it up, and I still, twenty years later, weep with laughter at Celeste Talbert. Also, that is a movie I saw with my mother, whose seventy-second birthday is tomorrow, so this is a birthday present to my mom. Actually, although I went to high school in Pasadena, California, where Sally Field was born not quite three years after my mom was born in Altadena, Sally Field moved to Van Nuys before she and my mother might have encountered each other. Mom grew up in Arcadia anyway.