It was with some sadness I read last night about the death of Jill Clayburgh at the age of 66. Some actresses seem to suddenly be in the right place at the right time and Clayburgh is a prime example of this.
She had appeared on stage during the 1970s - she was the ingenue in Bob Fosse's musical PIPPIN - as well as appearing on TV and in small roles in big films that did little business.
In 1976 she appeared to have blown her big-screen career playing Carole Lombard in the leaden biopic GABLE AND LOMBARD but she also appeared as Gene Wilder's love interest in the comedy thriller hit SILVER STREAK. Jill also held her own the next year opposite Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson in SEMI-TOUGH.
Then in 1978 Paul Mazursky cast her as the title role in his film AN UNMARRIED WOMAN which was a massive hit in the U.S. Clayburgh's Erica, dumped by her husband for a younger woman and discovering life on her own, hit a chord in the "We've Come A Long Way Baby" phase of American feminism and she won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival (shared with Isabelle Huppert for VIOLETTE NOZIERE) as well as being nominated for the Academy Award.The film has been mostly forgotten these days - Erica's untroubled upper-East Side lifestyle (Clayburgh's home turf in NY) and Mazursky's contention that her new status only lead to a choice between chauvinist artist lover, returning husband or soulful artist lover - has I presume given it a doubtful reputation but it catapulted Clayburgh up the rankings to join Jane Fonda, Marsha Mason, Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek as the late 70s heroines of American film.
She ended the decade in two contrasting films: reuniting with Burt Reynolds in the gentle comedy STARTING OVER which won her a second Academy Award nomination as well as becoming the latest in a long line of American actors to appear in crap English language films directed by European art house directors, the execrable LA LUNA directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.
1980 saw her co-starring with Michael Douglas in the romantic comedy IT'S MY TURN and with Walter Matthau in the political comedy FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER. However her next film I'M DANCING AS FAST AS I CAN - a Valium addiction drama based on a true story - was meant to be a big star vehicle for her but was a box-office flop and her film career fatally stalled.
She had married the playwright David Rabe in 1979 and she gave birth to daughter Lily - now a respected stage actress - in 1982. She returned to the theatre in 1984 in a revival of Coward's DESIGN FOR LIVING with Frank Langella and Raul Julia and settled down to a career of character roles in films and TV - she was ALLY McBEAL's mother and Donald Sutherland's wife in DIRTY SEXY MONEY in 2007 - with occasional appearances on stage such as the 2006 revival of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK.
It appears that she was diagnosed with Leukemia at the end of the 1980s and this illness has now claimed her.