Debra Winger

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Debra Winger
Winger in a 1984 studio portrait
Debra Lynn Winger [1]

(1955-05-16) May 16, 1955 (age 64)
Alma mater California State University, Northridge
Years active1976–present
Timothy Hutton
(m. 1986;div. 1990)

Arliss Howard
(m. 1996)

Debra Lynn Winger (born May 16, 1955) is an American actress. She starred in the films An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Terms of Endearment (1983), and Shadowlands (1993), each of which earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress for Terms of Endearment, and the Tokyo International Film Festival Award for Best Actress for A Dangerous Woman (1993). Her other film roles include Urban Cowboy (1980), Legal Eagles (1986), Black Widow (1987), Betrayed (1988), Forget Paris (1995), and Rachel Getting Married (2008). In 2012, she made her Broadway debut in the original production of the David Mamet play The Anarchist . In 2014, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Transilvania International Film Festival. [2]

<i>An Officer and a Gentleman</i> 1982 film by Taylor Hackford

An Officer and a Gentleman is a 1982 American romantic drama film starring Richard Gere, Debra Winger, and Louis Gossett Jr., who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film, making him the first African American to do so. It tells the story of Zack Mayo (Gere), a United States Navy Aviation Officer Candidate who is beginning his training at Aviation Officer Candidate School. While Zack meets his first true girlfriend during his training, a young "townie" named Paula (Winger), he also comes into conflict with the hard-driving Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley training his class.

<i>Terms of Endearment</i> 1983 drama film directed by James L. Brooks

Terms of Endearment is a 1983 American comedy-drama film adapted from Larry McMurtry's 1975 novel, directed, written, and produced by James L. Brooks, and starring Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Jeff Daniels, and John Lithgow. The film covers 30 years of the relationship between Aurora Greenway (MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Winger).

<i>Shadowlands</i> (1993 film) 1993 British biographical drama film directed by Richard Attenborough

Shadowlands is a 1993 British biographical drama film about the relationship between Irish academic C. S. Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman, her death from cancer, and how this challenged Lewis's Christian faith. It was directed by Richard Attenborough with a screenplay by William Nicholson based on his 1985 television film and 1989 stage play of the same name. The 1985 script began life as I Call It Joy written for Thames Television by Brian Sibley and Norman Stone. Sibley later wrote the book, Shadowlands: The True Story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman.


Early years

Debra Lynn Winger was born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, into an Orthodox Jewish family, to Robert Winger, a meat packer, and Ruth (née Felder), an office manager. [3] [4] [5] Over the years, she told many interviewers that she volunteered on an Israeli kibbutz, sometimes even saying she had trained with the Israel Defense Forces, [6] but in a 2008 interview she said she was merely on a typical youth tour that visited the kibbutz. [7] At the age of 18, after returning to the United States, she was involved in a car accident and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage; as a result, she was left partially paralyzed and blind for 10 months, having initially been told that she would never see again. With time on her hands to think about her life, she decided that, if she recovered, she would move to California and become an actress. [8]

Cleveland Heights, Ohio City in Ohio, United States

Cleveland Heights is a city in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, United States, and an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland. The city's population was 46,238 at the 2010 census. As of the 2010 census, Cleveland Heights was ranked the 8th largest city by population in the Greater Cleveland metropolitan area and ranked 20th in Ohio. It was founded as a village in 1903 and a city in 1921.

Orthodox Judaism Traditionalist branches of Judaism

Orthodox Judaism is a collective term for the traditionalist branches of contemporary Judaism. Theologically, it is chiefly defined by regarding the Torah, both Written and Oral, as literally revealed by God on Mount Sinai and faithfully transmitted ever since. Orthodox Judaism therefore advocates a strict observance of Jewish Law, or Halakha, which is to be interpreted and determined only according to traditional methods and in adherence to the continuum of received precedent through the ages. It regards the entire halakhic system as ultimately grounded in immutable revelation, essentially beyond external and historical influence. More than any theoretical issue, obeying the dietary, purity, ethical, and other laws of Halakha is the hallmark of Orthodoxy. Other key doctrines include belief in a future resurrection of the dead, divine reward and punishment for the righteous and the sinners, the Election of Israel, and an eventual restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem under the Messiah.

Kibbutz volunteer

Kibbutz volunteers are people who come from all over the world to live and work in a kibbutz in Israel. These volunteers, mostly young people, usually stay at the kibbutz for a short period of time, working in various branches of the kibbutz economy. Most volunteers typically come to Israel for a short period of two to three months under a volunteer visa and participate. Volunteers receive food and board, and sometimes pocket money. Some volunteers combine work with studying Hebrew at a kibbutz ulpan. Some kibbutzim organize trips and cultural events for the volunteers.



Winger's first acting role was as "Debbie" in the 1976 sexploitation film Slumber Party '57 . Her next role was as Diana Prince's younger sister Drusilla (Wonder Girl) in three episodes of ABC's TV series, Wonder Woman . The producers had wanted her to appear more often, but she refused, fearing that the role would hurt her fledgling career. This was followed by a guest role in Season 4 of the TV drama Police Woman in 1978. [9]

Sexploitation film genre of independently produced, low-budget feature films, generally associated with the 1960s, that serve largely as a vehicle for the exhibition of non-explicit sexual situations and gratuitous nudity

A sexploitation film is a class of independently produced, low-budget feature film that is generally associated with the 1960s, and that serves largely as a vehicle for the exhibition of non-explicit sexual situations and gratuitous nudity. The genre is a subgenre of exploitation films. Sexploitation films were generally exhibited in urban grindhouse theatres, the precursor to the adult movie theaters of the 1970s and 1980s that featured hardcore pornography content. The term soft-core is often used to designate non-explicit sexploitation films after the general legalisation of hardcore content. Nudist films are often considered to be subgenres of the sex-exploitation genre as well. "Nudie" films and "Nudie-cuties" are associated genres.

Slumber Party '57 is a 1976 American comedy-drama film directed by William A. Levey and starring Debra Winger in her feature film debut.

Wonder Girl

Wonder Girl is the name of four fictional characters featured in comic books and other media produced by DC Comics. The original was a younger version of Wonder Woman as a teenager. The official second and third are protégées of Wonder Woman, and members of different incarnations of the Teen Titans. The name has also been used by Drusilla, a one-time character who appeared in 1969, and was heavily modified and featured on the Wonder Woman TV series played by Debra Winger.

Her first starring role was in Thank God It's Friday, followed by her performance in Urban Cowboy in 1980 with John Travolta, for which she received a BAFTA nomination and a pair of Golden Globe nominations (for Best Performance by an Actress and Best New Star). In 1982 she co-starred with Nick Nolte in Cannery Row and with Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman , for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress twice more: for Terms of Endearment in 1983 (which was awarded to her co-star, Shirley MacLaine, who played her mother in the film) and for Shadowlands in 1993, for which she also received her second BAFTA nomination. Her performance in A Dangerous Woman earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. [10]

<i>Thank God Its Friday</i> (film) 1978 film by Robert Klane

Thank God It's Friday is a 1978 American musical disco comedy film directed by Robert Klane and produced by Motown Productions and Casablanca FilmWorks for Columbia Pictures. Produced at the height of the disco craze, the film features The Commodores performing "Too Hot ta Trot", and Donna Summer performing "Last Dance", which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1978. The film features an early performance by Jeff Goldblum and the first major screen appearance by Debra Winger. The film also features Terri Nunn, who would go on to fame in the 1980s new wave group Berlin.

<i>Urban Cowboy</i> 1980 film by James Bridges

Urban Cowboy is a 1980 American romantic drama film directed by James Bridges. The plot concerns the love-hate relationship between Buford Uan "Bud" Davis and Sissy. The film captured the late 1970s/early 1980s popularity of country music. Much of the action centers around activities at Gilley's Club, a football-field-sized honky tonk in Pasadena, Texas.

John Travolta American actor, dancer and singer

John Joseph Travolta is an American actor, film producer, dancer, and singer. Travolta rose to fame during the 1970s, appearing on the television series Welcome Back, Kotter (1975–1979) and starring in the box office successes Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1978). His acting career declined through the 1980s, but enjoyed a resurgence in the 1990s with his role in Pulp Fiction (1994), and he has since starred in films such as Get Shorty, Broken Arrow, Face/Off, Swordfish, Be Cool, Wild Hogs, Hairspray, and The Taking of Pelham 123.

Over the years Winger acquired a reputation for being outspoken and sometimes difficult to work with. [11] [12] [13] She has expressed her dislike of An Officer and a Gentleman (and her costar Richard Gere), for which she refused to do any publicity, [13] and several other of her films, and has been dismissive of some of her co-stars and directors. Commenting on her past attitudes, Winger said in 2009, "Most bad behavior comes from insecurity. Even though I loved what I was doing, I didn't always know I could pull it off. (...) I took [my insecurities out] on everybody. But in my defense, I never fought about the size of my trailer or things like that; it was always about the work." [14] When Barbara Walters interviewed Bette Davis in 1986, Davis said "I see a great deal of myself in Debra Winger."

Richard Gere American actor

Richard Tiffany Gere is an American actor. He began in films in the 1970s, playing a supporting role in Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977) and a starring role in Days of Heaven (1978). He came to prominence with his role in the film American Gigolo (1980), which established him as a leading man and a sex symbol. He went on to star in many well-received films, including An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), The Cotton Club (1984), Pretty Woman (1990), Sommersby (1993), Primal Fear (1996), Runaway Bride (1999), I'm Not There (2007), Arbitrage (2012) and Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2016). For portraying Billy Flynn in the Academy Award-winning musical Chicago (2002), he won a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award as part of the cast.

Barbara Walters American broadcast journalist, author, and television personality

Barbara Jill Walters is an American broadcast journalist, author, and television personality. Walters is known for having hosted a variety of television programs, including Today, The View, 20/20, and the ABC Evening News. Since retirement as a full-time host and contributor, she continued to occasionally report for ABC News through 2015.

Bette Davis American film, television and stage actress

Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis was an American actress of film, television, and theater. With a career spanning 60 years, she is regarded as one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history. She was noted for playing unsympathetic, sardonic characters, and was famous for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical and period films, suspense horror, and occasional comedies, although her greatest successes were her roles in romantic dramas.

Winger was going to play Peggy Sue in Peggy Sue Got Married but was forced to back out just before production began when she injured her back in a bicycle accident. The injury affected her ability to work for several months afterward. She was cast in the lead role in A League of their Own but dropped out and was replaced by Geena Davis. It was later reported that the main reason Winger chose to leave the film was her refusal to work with singer/actress Madonna. [15] Other starring roles during this period included Legal Eagles , Made in Heaven , Everybody Wins , The Sheltering Sky , Leap of Faith , Black Widow , Betrayed , Wilder Napalm and A Dangerous Woman .

<i>Peggy Sue Got Married</i> 1986 film by Francis Ford Coppola

Peggy Sue Got Married is a 1986 American comedy-drama film directed by Francis Ford Coppola starring Kathleen Turner as a woman on the verge of a divorce, who finds herself transported back to the days of her senior year in high school in 1960. The film was written by husband-and-wife team Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner.

Geena Davis American actress

Virginia Elizabeth "Geena" Davis is an American actress and activist. One of the most popular actresses of the 1980s and 1990s, she has received numerous accolades for her acting work in both film and television, and is noted for her portrayals of strong and authentic female characters as well as her involvement in advocacy for women in the industry.

Madonna (entertainer) American singer-songwriter and actress

Madonna Louise Ciccone is an American singer, songwriter, actress and businesswoman. Referred to as the "Queen of Pop" since the 1980s, Madonna is known for pushing the boundaries of songwriting in mainstream popular music and for the imagery she uses onstage and in music videos. She has frequently reinvented her music and image while maintaining autonomy within the recording industry. Although having sparked controversy, her works have been praised by music critics. Madonna is often cited as an influence by other artists.

In 1995 Winger decided to take a hiatus from acting. In 2002 she said, "I wanted out for years. I got sick of hearing myself say I wanted to quit. It's like opening an interview with 'I hate interviews!' Well, get out! I stopped reading scripts and stopped caring. People said, 'We miss you so much.' But in the last six years, tell me a film that I should have been in. The few I can think of, the actress was so perfect". [16] After making Forget Paris in 1995 she was absent from the screen for six years before returning in 2001 with Big Bad Love , written and directed by her husband, Arliss Howard, and also marking Winger's debut as a producer. [17]

During her film hiatus, Winger had the female lead in the American Repertory Theater's production of Anton Chekhov's play Ivanov from November 1999 to January 2000. [18]

In 2001 a critically acclaimed documentary film titled Searching for Debra Winger was made by Rosanna Arquette and released in 2002 after Winger returned to film acting. She subsequently starred in the films Radio , Eulogy , Sometimes in April and received positive reviews for portraying Anne Hathaway's estranged mother in Rachel Getting Married . [19]

Debra Winger (right) at Transilvania International Film Festival 2014 Debra Winger at Transilvania International Film Festival.jpg
Debra Winger (right) at Transilvania International Film Festival 2014

She earned an Emmy Award nomination for her title role in the television film Dawn Anna in 2005, directed by Arliss Howard. In 2010 she returned to television, making a guest appearance as a high school principal in an episode of Law & Order . [20] She also joined the cast of HBO's In Treatment as one of the three patients featured in the third season. [21]

In 2013 she starred in three episodes of In the Woods, [22] the first installment of Jennifer Elster's multimedia, experimental film series The Being Experience, also including: Terrence Howard, Dave Matthews, Rufus Wainwright, Karen Black, Will Shortz, Liya Kebede, Questlove, Famke Janssen, Moby, Gale Harold, Paz de la Huerta, Jorgen Leth, Rosie Perez, Aubrey de Grey, and Alan Cumming. [23]

Since 2016, Winger stars opposite Sam Elliott and Ashton Kutcher in the Netflix multi-cam comedy The Ranch as Maggie.

In 2017, she had a cameo as Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in the TV Miniseries When We Rise . [24] The same year, she starred in her first romantic lead after many years in The Lovers . [25] She has continued to acquire roles in other feature films, such as Tiger City, scheduled for release in 2018. [26]

Other pursuits

In 1995 Winger performed in The Wizard of Oz in Concert: Dreams Come True a television musical performance of the popular 1939 MGM film at Lincoln Center to benefit the Children's Defense Fund. Her roles in that television special were the "Cyclone" narrator and the Wicked Witch of the West. It was originally broadcast on both TBS and TNT.

During her hiatus from the film industry, Winger spent a semester as a teaching fellow at Harvard University. [27] In 2008 Winger wrote a book based on her personal recollections titled Undiscovered. [28] She has shown her support for reconciliation between Arabs and Jews in Israel by visiting the bilingual Hand in Hand schools (Galilee Jewish-Arab School, Gesher al HaWadi School) where, in 2008, she stated she would "dedicate the next bit of my life to these schools". [29]

As 2009 president of the Zurich Film Festival jury, Winger joined other members of the Hollywood film community to speak out against the arrest and prosecution of director Roman Polanski who was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl in the 1970s, criticizing Switzerland's government for "philistine collusion" in arresting him so many years later, as he was en route to attend the Zurich festival. [30]

In 2010 Debra Winger was co-executive producer of the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Gasland . [31] She was also the executive producer of the 2012 documentary Bel Borba Aqui about the life and works of Brazilian graphic artist Bel Borba. [32] [33]

Personal life

Winger's three-year relationship with actor Andrew Rubin ended in 1980. [34] From 1983 to 1985 Winger dated Bob Kerrey, at the time the Governor of Nebraska, whom she met while filming Terms of Endearment in Lincoln, Nebraska. [35] Winger has also dated her Cannery Row and Everybody Wins co-star Nick Nolte. [36]

From 1986 to 1990 she was married to actor Timothy Hutton with whom she had a son, Noah Hutton, a documentary filmmaker born in 1987. The marriage ended in divorce. [37] [38]

In 1996 she married actor/director Arliss Howard, whom she met on the set of the film Wilder Napalm . Their son, Gideon Babe Ruth Howard (known as Babe), was born in 1997. She is stepmother to Sam Howard, Arliss's son from his prior marriage. [37] [38]

Winger has had feuds with some of her co-stars, notably Richard Gere of An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) and Shirley MacLaine of Terms of Endearment (1983). [39]



1976 Slumber Party '57 Debbie
1978 Thank God It's Friday Jennifer
1979 French Postcards Melanie
1980 Urban Cowboy SissyNominated—BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress
Nominated—National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Utah Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
1982 Cannery Row Suzy DeSoto
1982 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Halloween Zombie—Nurse with poodle [40] Uncredited
1982 An Officer and a Gentleman Paula PokrifkiNominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Utah Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
1983 Terms of Endearment Emma Horton National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
1984 Mike's Murder Betty Parrish
1986 Legal Eagles Laura J. Kelly
1987 Black Widow Alexandra 'Alex' Barnes
1987 Made in Heaven Emmett Humbird(credited as "Emmett" himself)
1988 Betrayed Catherine Weaver
1990 Everybody Wins Angela CrispiniNominated—National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
1990 The Sheltering Sky Kit Moresby
1992 Leap of Faith Jane Larson
1993 Wilder Napalm Vida Foudroyant
1993 A Dangerous Woman Martha Horgan Tokyo International Film Festival Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
1993 Shadowlands Joy GreshamNominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated—Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
1995 Forget Paris Ellen Andrews Gordon
2001 Big Bad Love Marilyn
2002 Searching for Debra Winger Herself
2003 Radio Linda
2004 Eulogy Alice Collins
2008 Rachel Getting Married AbbyNominated—Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast
Nominated—Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Ensemble Performance
Nominated—Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress (Shared with co-star Rosemarie DeWitt)
2012 Lola Versus Robin
2014 Boychoir Ms. Steel
2017 The Lovers Mary
2019 Untitled Miranda July Project Post-production


1976–77 Wonder Woman Drusilla (Wonder Girl) 3 episodes: "The Feminum Mystique" (Parts 1 & 2), "Wonder Woman in Hollywood"
1977 Szysznyk JennyEpisode: "Run, Jenny, Run"
1978 Special Olympics Sherrie HensleyTV movie
1978 Police Woman Phyllis BaxterEpisode: "Battered Teachers"
1978 James at 16 AliciaEpisode: "Hunter Country"
2005 Dawn Anna Dawn Anna TownsendTV movie
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
2005 Sometimes in April Prudence BushnellTV movie
2010 Law & Order Mrs. WoodsideEpisode: "Boy on Fire"
2010 In Treatment Frances7 episodes
2014 The Red Tent Rebecca2 episodes
2016–present The Ranch Maggie BennettSeries regular; 50 episodes
2018–present Patriot Bernice TavnerSeason 2; 6 episodes

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    • Allen, Henry (December 13, 1983). "Debra Winger, Coming to Terms". The Washington Post . Archived from the original on August 18, 2016. Retrieved June 24, 2016. She tried studying criminology and sociology at Cal State-Northridge, and went to Israel to spend time on a kibbutz, but by 17, she'd moved away from home and she was making it in commercials.
    • Thomas, Bob (December 25, 1983). "Don't Try to 'Type' Debra Winger". The Gainesville Sun . The Associated Press . Retrieved June 24, 2016. After high school, she worked on an Israeli kibbutz, trained with the Israeli army, and then returned to the United States to study sociology at California State University at Northridge.
    • "Debra Winger". People . December 26, 1983. Archived from the original on August 28, 2016. Retrieved June 24, 2016. At 16, she ran off to a kibbutz and did her basic training in the Israeli Army.
    • Klein, Uri (July 14, 2006). "On Her Own Terms". Haaretz . Archived from the original on August 10, 2016. Retrieved June 24, 2016. Exaggerated reports about her also concern her biography. For example, at one of the Internet sites devoted to her it is stated that she spent part of her youth on a kibbutz in Israel and even served for several months in the Israel Defense Forces. Winger laughs. Indeed, when she was 17, she spent four months at Kibbutz Beit Zera, but she never enlisted in the IDF. She took part in Gadna (youth cadet) activities, and apparently once told this to someone who told it to someone and it developed into an urban legend, according to which Debra Winger was once a soldier in the IDF.
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