Shelley Duvall on her career: you werent paid much they thought women would just marry
Shelley Duvall is making a comeback. Not sure the average age of the person reading this post, but if you are close to my age, that opening line made you smile. I love her. Arguably her best known roles were as Jack Torrance’s wife in The Shining and Olive Oyl in the live-action Popeye with Robin Williams. But she appeared in so many movies I loved, like Roxanne and Time Bandits. It seemed like you could always count on Shelley popping up somewhere and then all of a sudden, she was gone. But Shelley is appearing in her first film in 20 years, The Forest Hills, that opens March 11. She told People why she left Hollywood for two decades and what made her come back. Although there have been many stories about Shelley’s health, both mental and physical, the truth is much simpler: she left to be with ailing family and came back because she loves acting.
For the past two decades, Duvall, 73, has been quietly living in the area, where she’s a regular at most establishments. While many locals know her, some may be surprised to learn that the gray-haired woman who often breaks into song while speaking is an iconic actress from the ’70s and ’80s who showed off her impressive range and quirky style in classic films including Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, Robert Altman’s Popeye and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. After acting in more than 20 movies and producing several TV shows, Duvall decided to step away from Hollywood in 2002 and retire in Central Texas.
Duvall’s long disappearance from Hollywood sparked speculation about her mental health over the years. But in person she’s sharp, earthy, a bit eccentric and sometimes emotional as she looks back on her unique career. (She asks to do the interview from her SUV, since an injured foot makes it difficult to walk.)
Despite working with Hollywood giants, she didn’t always find the acting life easy or profitable. “You didn’t get paid much—just scale plus 10 percent,” she says. “They thought women would just marry and the husband’s going to support them. But that doesn’t happen for everybody.” Duvall has been in a decades-long relationship but declines to discuss her current or past loves, who have included Paul Simon and Ringo Starr. During the interview she is reminded of a song—-Supertramp’s “Even in the Quietest Moments”—and asks to play it. As the music swells, tears stream down her face. She wipes them away and smiles. “It’s the first time I’ve heard the song since a certain boyfriend,” she explains.
For the most part Duvall is happy to walk down memory lane. And whenever she stumbles across her films on TV, she’ll stop and watch. “On one channel there is Popeye and another one The Shining. Boy, those are two different films,” she says. “But in a way it’s like, ‘Gosh, I was great.’ ”
In the ’90s her movie offers began to dwindle. When her brother was diagnosed with spinal cancer, she packed up and moved back to Texas. “It’s the longest sabbatical I ever took,” she says, “but it was for really important reasons—to get in touch with my family again.”
Duvall says she enjoyed getting back in front of the camera and hopes to continue acting. “[Jessica Tandy] won an Oscar when she was 80. I can still win,” she says with a wink and a laugh. But first she’s off to place another order. “Let’s go to Dairy Queen and get ourselves some decadent desserts.”
The Forest Hill is an indie horror film that will premiere in Kevin Smith’s Smodcastle Cinemas in New Jersey. Technically Shelley’s start was in comedy with Brewster McCloud and Annie Hall, but she is so closely associated with The Shining, it feels like she’s returning to her roots, and I love that. But she can do anything. She and Sissy Spacek were mesmerizing in 3 Women. The point is, I am glad she’s decided to come back, emphasis on the ‘decided’ part. In the discussion about Shelley’s departure on social media not long ago, people completely discounted her talent. I’m not a huge fan of mental health speculation in general, but the physical comments that accompanied it were puerile and cruel. I can’t wait for people to rediscover her.
As for the pay discussion, we’ve heard this before but it rarely sinks in. Like Geoffrey Owens bagging groceries or Sydney Sweeny admitting recently she couldn’t go six months without work. When you think about all the bs actors have to put up with for their profession, only to find out most are just scraping by, you figure they have to really love it. Or at least some part of it. Hopefully things are different than they were in the 80s. Hopefully a woman of Shelley’s experience will be compensated for what she adds to the project and not the assumption that her partner will support her. *smacks head* My gawd, we still have so much to answer for.
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Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images
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