The Stunning Transformation Of Sally Field

The following article contains mentions of child abuse.

Few stars in Hollywood can say they've had a career for as long as Sally Field. The star of iconic films like "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Soapdish" has done a bit of everything, racking up awards for her work in both television shows and movies. Her career has been one of constant transformation, which Field told NPR she sees as a natural part of the human experience. "Our task in life is to constantly transition from one stage into another, whether it's toddlerhood into childhood into adolescence, and then young adulthood and then middle age. It's just constant movement," Field reflected.

"Constant movement" is the perfect way to describe her career. Field burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced teenager, experienced relationships in the spotlight, found her way behind the camera, and cemented her status as a Hollywood legend, all thanks to her need to find new ways to challenge herself and her art. "As I head into this big part of my life, you say, 'How do I embrace my 70s?'" she told NPR. "What is there of me that I haven't experienced yet?"

As Sally Field continues to find new aspects of life to experience, we're exploring her illustrious career and stunning transformation.

Sally Field had a troubled childhood

Sally Field was born in California in 1946, and for the first few years of her life, she struggled with intense anxiety. In her 2018 memoir "In Pieces," Field recalled spending many days at the school nurse's office, waiting for her mother to come pick her up. "Nothing and no one could distract or engage me enough to lessen the dread I felt," Field wrote, unsure whether she was afraid of school or afraid all the time. After all, her home life was troubled, too.

In her book, Field revealed that she was abused by her stepfather throughout her teenage years, just one of the tragic details about Sally Field's life. Jacques "Jocko" O'Mahoney was a stuntman who worked with stars like Errol Flynn, but at home, he molested his stepdaughter. "It would have been so much easier if I'd only felt one thing, if Jocko had been nothing but cruel and frightening," Field wrote. "But he wasn't. He could be magical." The actor wouldn't tell her mother about the abuse until many decades later.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

She went from Gidget to The Flying Nun

In 1965, Sally Field won the role that launched her into stardom. For 32 episodes between 1965 and '66, she played the titular character on "Gidget," the television adaptation of the iconic movie series. However, Field doesn't look at the series as her big "break." Instead, she felt it was only a continuation of the work she was doing in her high school drama department. "You call that a turn in the road," she told Yahoo! "That's a fork in the road that changes your existence. That's not a break."

The series was canceled after only one season, but Field quickly landed yet another iconic part that would keep her working for several more years. In "The Flying Nun," Field played Sister Bertrille, a nun whose winged habit gives her the ability to soar in the wind. However, Field didn't love that role, either. "It was during the sixties when my whole generation was running around naked and eating granola and God knows what," she recalled, wanting to be out there going to college and protesting the war in Vietnam with other people her age. Instead, she viewed her time on "The Flying Nun" as an education. "I learned survival techniques," she said. "I learned little exercises to keep myself from tearing my hair out because it was so boring."

Sybil proved Sally Field's talent

Unfortunately, because her first two major roles were projects as silly as "Gidget" and "The Flying Nun," Sally Field found it difficult to convince Hollywood to take her talent seriously. When the opportunity arose to start in a miniseries called "Sybil," in which she would play a woman with multiple personality disorder, Field struggled to even get an audition. "I was a joke," she later recalled to Bustle. Instead, she began studying her craft, and her time at The Actors Studio paid off. "I knew I had to be so good that they couldn't turn away," she said.

Field told O, The Oprah Magazine that she went to her eventual audition in character, and the gamble paid off. She got the part, and she was, indeed, so good in "Sybil" that Hollywood took notice. She won an Emmy for her performance, and the miniseries wound up transforming her career trajectory as a result. "The challenge for me was that people saw 'Sybil' and said, 'Boy, she can act — but man, is she ugly!'" Field explained.

Her relationship with Burt Reynolds made headlines

Looking to once again shake up her image after starring in "Sybil," Sally Field found the perfect co-star to help shed her cutesy reputation and her ugly one. "I thought if I did a movie with Burt [Reynolds] and he thought I was cute, then somebody else might think I was cute and I could continue acting," she told O, The Oprah Magazine.

However, Sally Field admitted she hated locking lips with Burt Reynolds on the big screen. Field and Reynolds acted together in four movies in the '70s, including "The End" and "Hooper" in addition to the "Smokey and the Bandit" films. In an appearance on "Watch What Happens Live" in 2022, Field said Reynolds was her worst on-screen kiss. "It just was not something he really did very well," she laughed.

However, Reynolds' lackluster kissing skills didn't stop Field from striking up an off-screen relationship with the hunky actor. They dated on and off for years, and in a 1979 interview with People, Field described their relationship as a fun one despite all the pressure. "We just forget everything and giggle a lot," she said. Nevertheless, when Reynolds later called her the love of his life, Field demurred. "He had somehow invented in his rethinking of everything that I was more important to him than he had thought, but I wasn't," she told Variety.

She's a two-time Oscar winner

Thanks to her role in "Sybil" and her relationship with Burt Reynolds, Sally Field became popular in Hollywood and successfully made the transition from television to movies — which was almost unheard of at the time. "In those days, if you were in situation comedy, you died in situation comedy," Field told Bustle.

In 1980, Sally Field won her first Oscar for "Norma Rae" in which she starred as a labor organizer who whips a small town into shape. By this point, Field was the mother of two young children whom she shouted out in her acceptance speech. "No matter how many awards I win, if it weren't for them, I wouldn't be worth a damn," she said (via Oscars).

A few years later, Field won again, this time for "Places in the Heart." Her acceptance speech for that award is one of the most iconic, oft-quoted award show speeches of all time. Explaining that this award meant more than the first one, Field exclaimed, "This time I feel it. And I can't deny the fact that you like me! Right now, you like me!" (via Oscars).

The 1990s made her a family-friendly icon

After fighting so hard through the early part of her career to be taken seriously as an actor, Sally Field made the transition in the early 1990s into acting in family-friendly films. She voiced a cat named Sassy in the "Homeward Bound" films and played Forrest Gump's mother with Tom Hanks in 1994. And even though there are things only adults notice about "Mrs. Doubtfire" with Robin Williams, Sally Field became a favorite actor among millennials everywhere when she played Miranda Hillard.

As she told Yahoo!, the latter role was especially fun to film because she got along with Williams so well. "There was this thing with Robin that he always tried to make me laugh. Everybody was always breaking up in the scene, falling apart in the scene because Robin was always improvising," she said, claiming that she resisted his attempts to break her. "He [was a] spectacular human, even more than his humor to me was Robin himself."

In her memoir, "In Pieces," Field admitted that her marriage to Alan Greisman fell apart around the time of "Mrs. Doubtfire" citing restlessness as the reason. "Even as I tried to evolve into each phase of my career ... this whispering voice kept repeating that before long I'd be facing the same mountain that I had just climbed, but without the strength to move anymore," she wrote.

She turned to directing in 1996

In 1996, Sally Field entered yet another new phase of her career. That year, she directed "The Christmas Tree," a made-for-television holiday movie about a nun who befriends the head gardener at Rockefeller Center. Field told the Los Angeles Times that she didn't initially set out to direct, but couldn't turn down the opportunity. She also co-wrote the script, and in order to get the movie filmed to air by the holidays, she had to direct it. "If I was going to get the piece done, I either had to jump on it and dive in and do it myself or I was probably going to miss the window of opportunity," she explained.

Field said at the time that she wasn't sure whether she planned to direct again, but did, however, go on to direct several other projects since. Two years later, in 1998, she was behind the camera for an episode of a miniseries called "From The Earth To The Moon." Two years after that, in 2000, she helmed a feature film called "Beautiful." "The reason why I wanted to be an actor was because I wanted to be a storyteller," Field told Charlie Rose. "And I can't tell enough stories with just me."

She was diagnosed with osteoporosis in her fifties

By 2005, Sally Field had to contend with something new: aging. That year, she received an osteoporosis diagnosis, which wasn't necessarily a surprise. "I was over 50, Caucasian, thin, small-framed, and I have it in my genetic history," she told HealthDay. "It was almost a slam-dunk."

Using her profile for good, Field became an advocate for people with the bone condition. Speaking with WebMD, Field explained that a bone scan had revealed she had the disease. "My bones appeared to be getting steadily thinner without any signs or symptoms I could see or feel," she said. 

As a result, Field appeared in a series of ads for Boniva, an osteoporosis medication. She told WebMD that she was initially hesitant, but the medication genuinely seemed to have helped slow the effects of osteoporosis in her case. "Aging successfully isn't just about looking good, it's about having a good solid feeling about your health and yourself as a healthy person," she said. The ad campaign was so widely aired that it was eventually parodied on "Saturday Night Live" in 2013.

Brothers and Sisters brought Sally Field back to television

Sally Field began her career in television and worked hard to make the switch to movies, but those distinctions became less important as her career soared. She put in several appearances on "E.R." in the early 2000s, a role that earned her a second Emmy Award.

Beginning in 2006, Field appeared full-time on the ABC family drama "Brothers and Sisters," playing Nora, the matriarch of the Walker family. She told Entertainment Weekly that being back on television felt right because that's where the most interesting stories were happening. "I think television right now is exploring more relationships and people things than film is," she said. "I don't really have a desire to stand there and not be acting."

The role brought Field even more praise, including yet another Emmy. Field caused controversy during her acceptance speech when she said, "If mothers ruled the world, there would be no goddamn wars in the first place" (via ThinkProgress). Fox, which aired the ceremony, censored the last half of the sentence, leading to condemnations in editorials from outlets like the Los Angeles Times.

She earned the Ally For Equality Award

Bone health isn't the only thing Sally Field advocates for. She's also a staunch supporter of gay rights, thanks in part to her son Sam Greisman, who is openly gay. In 2012, Greisman introduced his mother during an awards ceremony put on by the Human Rights Campaign. Field received the Ally For Equality Award, and Greisman explained that she's always stood by his side no matter what. "When I came out, she didn't even bat an eye. In fact, she was overjoyed."

In her acceptance speech, Field questioned why her support of her son would even be a question. She thanked the Human Rights Campaign for their work on behalf of equality, and on behalf of her son. "You all have fought for him as surely as if you were one of his parents," she said. "You've changed and are changing the lives of little boys and girls who realize somewhere along the way they're just different from their other brothers and sisters. And so the f*** what?"

On an Entertainment Weekly radio show several years later, Field reiterated her love for her son and offered some advice to parents who may be struggling to accept their child's sexuality. "Don't put your own prejudices or fears about sexuality ... on your children," she cautioned. "Sexuality is a human, glorious part of existence."

Steven Spielberg gave Sally Field another iconic role

Sally Field has steadfastly refused to be categorized according to anyone else's idea of what a working actor should be. She's done television and films, written a book, and been a model for women aging in the entertainment business. While some might have counted her out of the game as she got older, Field was determined to prove everyone wrong, and in 2012, she played one of the most iconic roles of her career in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln."

In an interview on "Oprah's Next Chapter" that same year, Field revealed that she'd always wanted to play Mary Todd Lincoln. She said Spielberg approached her all the way back in 2005, and she agreed to it back then. It took many years for the film to actually be made, and she had to advocate for herself along the way because Spielberg was hesitant about the age difference between Field and her co-star Daniel Day-Lewis. As she wrote in her memoir, "In Pieces," Field was self-conscious about this too. "I was back to being a television actor, whereas Daniel was considered to be the finest actor in the world," she reflected.

After she screen-tested for the role, Spielberg told her he would go with someone else. "The good news is, I didn't kill myself that day," she joked to Oprah Winfrey, because the director ultimately changed his mind, and Field picked up a third Oscar nomination for her work.

Sally Field was arrested in 2019

Sally Field has always been outspoken about the things she believes in. Speaking with Variety in 2022, Field claimed that she was mostly just following the lead of her friend, Jane Fonda. "I mean I'm not Jane at all, even though I go where she tells me to go," Field said.

In 2019, Fonda told Field to go to Washington, D.C. to protest as part of Fonda's Fire Drill Fridays, an event series urging lawmakers to take action to head off the oncoming climate crisis. Field spoke at one such protest that December, telling the crowd at the Capitol Building, "We cannot sit back in our comfort zones and on our couches and wonder, 'What can we do?' We can get out. We can do something, in the rain, whatever it takes" (via The Daily Beast).

For her trouble, Field was arrested. Photographers captured the "Steel Magnolias" star being led away by a U.S. Capitol police officer, raising her zip-tied wrists triumphantly to the crowd. The actor, who once fretted that being on "The Flying Nun" would exclude her from the revolutionary activities of her generation, has still got it.

She received a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild

In her Oscars acceptance speech for "Places in the Heart," Sally Field famously said, "Right now, you like me!" Decades later, Hollywood very much still likes Sally Field. In 2023, she was given the Life Achievement Award by the Screen Actors Guild, capping off an incredible career full of frequent transformation. "Sally, you show us how to live a life devoted to art, love, and service," said Andrew Garfield, introducing the iconic star (via YouTube). "We love you."

While accepting the award, the actor rocked a short haircut highlighting her silver strands. People praised her for sporting her natural hair at the SAG Awards, while Sally Field's timeless beauty at the Oscars was also a hot topic the following year in 2024.

At the SAG Awards in 2023, though, she recapped her career but insisted she didn't do it for the recognition, or as an escape. "It has never been about a need to hide myself behind the characters of other people," Field said, raising her fist in celebration. "Acting to me has always been about finding those few, precious moments when I feel totally, utterly, sometimes dangerously alive."