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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Jill Clayburgh 1944 - 2010

We were incredibly saddened to hear of the news of Jill Clayburgh's death yesterday. It's one thing to lose Hollywood icons that came before our time, and who we've only seen on TCM or on DVD's, but it's another thing entirely when an actor who helped to define our generation passes.
Jill Clayburgh was the least likely of movie stars, she wasn't particularly beautiful, nor did she possess a great deal of charisma. Think Charles Grodin in a bra. But she came along just when the women's movement was hitting its apex in the late 1970's, and when she was cast in the movie that defined that movement, "An Unmarried Woman", 1978, she became an overnight movie star. Clayburgh had co-starred in hits previous to 1978, namely "Silver Streak", 1976; and "Semi-Tough", 1977, but it was "An Unmarried Woman" which propelled her from co-star to star. Clayburgh was twice nominated for an Oscar; first for "An Unmarried Woman" and the following year for "Starting Over", our favorite Clayburgh film. Clayburgh was one of that class of actresses, i.e. Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, etc. who was the antipathy of the bimbo; instead her characters were not only equals of men, but proved that they could make successful lives without men. It was a revolutionary idea at the time, and Clayburgh was the perfect representation of that ideal.

One of our favorite Jill Clayburgh memories is when she hosted "Saturday Night Live" in 1976, back when SNL was a funny, well-written, incredibly inventive t.v. show. In a completely unexpected moment in the show, the normally, serious actress who personified studious intelligence, sang a full-on, almost giddy verson of "Sea Cruise", showing a heretofore unseen side of herself, as someone who had a very playful sense of humor, and suddenly, her sex appeal exploded before our eyes. It was like that moment in a movie when a prudish woman takes off her thick, black eyeglasses and undoes her tight bun to let her hair fall to her shoulders, and transforms from a bookish schoolmarm to sex kitten.

Clayburgh's star faded as the women's movement lost its steam in the 1980's, but she never stopped working. Several years back she had a recurring role on "Alley McBeal, and more recently co-starred for a couple of years on "Dirty Sexy Money". Clayburgh's final two films will be out soon, one being the about-to-be-released Jake Gyllanhaal/Anne Hathaway flick, "Love and Other Drugs", which will be followed in 2011 by "Bridesmaids", with Rose Byrne, Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig.

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