In her first eight major feature films from 1973 to 1981, Marsha Mason received four Academy Award nominations. The films — Cinderella Liberty, The Goodbye Girl, Chapter Two, and Only When I Laugh — all featured strong lead female characters dealing with real and relatable issues. Mason brought them to life with great nuance and depth, whether they were incarnations close to home or completely foreign to her experiences. That is a gift.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Mason was bitten by the acting bug her freshman year in high school. Upon graduating from Webster University, she moved to New York and was soon cast in commercials, TV soaps (Dark Shadows, Love of Life), an obscure B-movie (Hot Rod Hullabaloo), and several off-Broadway plays including Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park and Kurt Vonnegut’s Happy Birthday Wanda June. She made her Broadway debut as a replacement in Abe Burrow’s Cactus Flower in 1968.
Mason then became a member of the American Conservatory Theatre and starred in the revivals of Private Lives, A Doll’s House, and Cyrano de Bergerac, to name a few.
In 1973, she made her film debut in Paul Mazursky’s Blume in Love opposite George Segal, which led to her being cast in Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor on Broadway, changing the course of her career and life. Simon and Mason were married after a 3-week courtship.
That same year, Mark Rydell cast Mason alongside James Caan in Cinderella Liberty, a role that garnered her a Golden Globe Award, her first Oscar nomination, and the attention of moviegoers and industry alike. Her searing and authentic portrayal of Maggie, prostitute in love with a sailor, is one of the most significant screen performances of the 1970s.
Mason was absent from the cinema screens for four years, per her husband’s wishes.
Her initial return was ill-fated. Bogart Slept Here starred Mason and Robert DeNiro and was about a struggling theatre actor who hits it big. Mike Nichols directed from an original script by Simon. Problems plagued the shoot and after Nichols fired DeNiro, the film was abandoned. Simon, however, decided to rework the screenplay, focusing on the relationship before the actor’s success. That script became The Goodbye Girl, with Mason and Richard Dreyfuss. It was a huge hit and garnered Mason her second Oscar nomination and her second Golden Globe Award.
Two more Simon-scripted project would bring her two more Academy Award nominations. In the autobiographical Chapter Two in 1979, directed by Robert Moore, Mason played an actress in love with a writer (James Caan) still grieving for his late wife. And in Glenn Jordan’s Only When I Laugh, in 1981, Mason portrays an alcoholic actress trying to reconnect with her daughter. It’s a tour de force performance–one of her best.
In 1983, Simon and Mason parted ways. She continued to do amazing work onscreen (Max Dugan Returns, Heartbreak Ridge, Drop Dead Fred), on TV (Surviving, Frasier, The Middle, Grace and Frankie), and on stage — both on Broadway (Night of the Iguana, Steel Magnolias, Impressionism), Off-Broadway (Old Times, Wintertime, A Feminine Ending), and Regionally (All’s Well That Ends Well, I Never Sang for My Father, California Suite)—and, most recently, on Zoom (Dear Liar with Brian Cox, a reprisal of Little Gem, The Letters of Noël Coward with Dreyfuss).
She has also directed several projects including Juno’s Swans at Second Stage in 1985 and the New Normal Rep’s Jericho via Zoom this past year. She also served as Associate Director of the Roundabout Theatre’s revival of All My Sons starring Annette Bening and Tracy Letts in 2019.
In 2000, she released an honest and highly entertaining autobiography titled, Journey: A Personal Odyssey.
It’s time Marsha Mason takes her rightful place among the true cinema icons that blazed a trail in the 1970s. And who continues to do remarkable work both on and off stage and screen (and Zoom)!