The untold truth of Sally Field

You like her, you really, really like her. But just how much do you really know about Sally Field? From her tough upbringing to that infamous Oscar speech and beyond, here's a closer look at a fearless and remarkable actress who went from being a flying nun to a two-time Academy Award winner.

She feared her stepfather

Born in Pasadena, California, on November 6, 1946, Field's parents divorced when she was just 4 years old. Field's mother, an actress, went onto remarry a stuntman named Jock Mahoney whom Field said she feared for much of her adolescence.

"He was really big and handsome—I was both terrified of him and madly in love with him," Field told Oprah Winfrey in 2007. "Unfortunately, that stayed with me as I grew up: I was attracted only to men I simultaneously feared and loved. My stepfather was both cruel and loving, and therefore our relationship was very confusing. I felt I was in danger all the time."

Still, despite being subjected to emotional and, on a couple of occasions, physical abuse, Field claims her stepfather actually helped save her life. "Even though my mother is a loving person, she and my real father were extremely passive and repressed," Field said. "My stepfather, on the other hand, created a situation in which my survival was dependent on getting angry. So when I was 14 or 15, I would literally stand on the coffee table to look this 65 man in the face and scream at him. During my adolescence, that was the only communication that could go on between us. I couldn't swallow my feelings, or something in me would have died. I fought for everybody else in the family, too, including my older brother."

Field also said that her unsafe upbringing led her to pursue acting in high school. "In high school, acting is what I did to stay sane. It wasn't about showing off; it was about revealing parts of myself that I couldn't reveal anyplace else," she said.

Filming The Flying Nun was 'deeply humiliating'

Field found work rather quickly in Hollywood, landing the title role on the television series Gidget (1965-66) when she was just a teenager. From there, she went on to star in three seasons of The Flying Nun (1967-70), an experience she's described as "deeply humiliating."

"Once Gidget was canceled, the producers came up with this flying nun show to get me on the air again," she told Oprah Winfrey. "I didn't want to do it. I was trying to figure out who I was, but I knew who I wasn't: a flying nun. I was almost 19, and my sexuality needed to be explored. My real father was Catholic, and I had issues with all religions. So I said no, which I thought was incredibly brave. But my stepfather said, 'Don't get on your high horse. If you don't take this part, you may never work again.' The assumption was that I wasn't good enough. At the time, I wasn't old enough, strong enough, or sophisticated enough to tell him that he was wrong. "

She continued, "I listened to him. I was so blind. It was one of the times in my life when fear made the decision for me, and when fear makes the decision, it's a mistake. That job was three long, hard years, and The Flying Nun became a huge joke. Bob Hope and all the other comics poked fun at it. I couldn't tell the difference between jokes about Sister Bertrille, my character, and jokes about me. It was deeply humiliating. I felt denigrated as a person."

She accepted Smoky and the Bandit for superficial reasons

Despite the embarrassment of The Flying Nun, Field slowly began to build a reputation for herself as a serious film and television actress in the 1970s. This included an Emmy-winning performance in the made-for-television movie Sybil (1976), in which she played a young woman with multiple-personality disorder.

Still, roles like Sybil came with its own set of challenges. "The challenge for me was that people saw Sybil and said, 'Boy, she can act—but man, is she ugly!'" Field told Oprah Winfrey. So, when Burt Reynolds came to her with the chance to star in the movie that would become Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Field decided to take a calculated risk. "I thought if I did a movie with Burt and he thought I was cute, then somebody else might think I was cute and I could continue acting," she said. "It was a really hard time for women in film. There were mostly just tall, gorgeous models working, and I wasn't pretty. But by then, I was single with two kids. I had to earn a living."

Burt Reynolds has called her the love of his life

Field found considerable success—or at the very least mainstream recognition—thanks to Smokey and the Bandit. She also found herself in a relationship with her co-star Burt Reynolds, which lasted for several years. In multiple interviews throughout his career, Reynolds has waxed rhapsodically about the failure of their romance, even going as far to admit that Field remains the love of his life.

For her part, Field took a more psychological approach to their union. "Burt was very similar to my stepfather in so many ways, and with all due respect to what an interesting man Burt is, a lot of our time was about my needing to be able to walk away from that profound connection to my stepfather," she told Oprah Winfrey.

Studio execs didn't want her to play Norma Rae

Field's career hit the stratosphere in 1979 when she landed the title role in Martin Ritt's workers union drama Norma Rae, for which she received her first of two Academy Awards for Best Actress.

And yet, despite the success of the film, Field admitted to Entertainment Weekly's Jess Cagle in 2016 that the film's director, Martin Ritt, had to battle with studio executives to get her cast in the role in the first place. 

"Marty Ritt asked me to come in… He said, 'Look, the studio doesn't want you… and they offered it to everyone else, and luckily they turned it down, because I want you, and I will fight for you, and I will win."

"And he did," she added. "That was the first time that anybody went to bat for me."

Her second Oscar speech lives on in infamy

Remarkably, Field won a second Best Actress Oscar just five years after Norma Rae, this time for the depression-era drama Places in the Heart (1984). Of course, as anyone who lived through that era will tell you, it wasn't actually Field's performance in the movie that would remain in the cultural zeitgeist for years to come. Rather, it was the awkward acceptance speech she gave at the 57th Academy Awards, during which she uttered the admittedly cringe-worthy and long-since misquoted line, "You like me. Right now, you like me!"

Field has attempted on numerous occasions to explain the meaning behind the now-infamous speech, including during her 2007 sit-down with Oprah Winfrey. "I was trying to own that—for this one moment in time—this amazing thing was happening to me … For me, it was about admitting that the moment was real. When you've had a career that lasts a while, the hard times impact you so greatly, especially if you allow yourself to feel them; they sock you in the stomach. The challenge is always to move forward out of them."

She continued, "But you do the work and your life such a terrible disservice if you aren't able to feel the good. You would never have the strength to move on to the next place unless you took a moment to stop and say, 'Something good is happening here. I have been successful. I am seen and appreciated.' If you're busy thinking, 'Gosh, I'm not pretty or smart enough,' your spirit is undernourished. So that speech was about accepting that I'd achieved what I'd always wanted—which was to do good work and to have that work be recognized. It came out the way it did because the light was flashing to signal a commercial break."

Filming Steel Magnolias was hell

Although Steel Magnolias (1989) remains an uber-popular film among those who can't resist a good tearjerker, actually filming the movie was a horrible experience, all because of its director, Herbert Ross.

At a 2013 event in Los Angeles, Field confessed (via Us Weekly), "Our keenest memory was how hard it was to work with our director. We hated him and we would go after him. The stronger ones of the group who were just older and had been there longer would go after him. That meant Shirley [MacLaine] and Dolly [Parton]." 

Field added that Ross took particular aim at co-star Julia Roberts. "He went after Julia with a vengeance. This was pretty much her first big film," Field said, adding later that Ross asked her at one point "to cut off some little wart or mole she had under her eye."

Mrs. Doubtfire hit close to home

Field reached a whole new generation of fans thanks to the 1993 comedy Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), in which she played a wife divorcing her not-exactly-mature husband, played by the late Robin Williams.

Incidentally, Field's real-life marriage—to film producer Alan Greisman—was also falling apart around the time Mrs. Doubtfire hit theaters. As for what went wrong, Field later told People magazine that their divorce was catalyzed by Greisman's desire to go out and her desire to, well, not. "He wanted to go out, to be with people or go to parties, she told the magazine. "I couldn't take it. I'd have an anxiety attack."

Within a few years, she claimed, "The joy had gone out of Mudville. Instead of appreciating what we cared about in each other, we focused on the negative things. I didn't want to live in a household that was tense and unhappy."

The couple split in 1994, marking Field's second divorce. She was previously married to her high school sweetheart, Steven Craig, until they split in 1975.

She fought hard for Lincoln

By the turn of the century, Field found herself back on television, landing Emmy-winning roles on everything from ER (1994-2009) to Brothers & Sisters (2007-11). Slowly but surely, however, she began the process of a legitimate big-screen comeback, all thanks to playing Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln, in Steven Spielberg's thoughtful Civil War drama Lincoln (2012).

Although she was reportedly Spielberg's first choice to play the role back in 2005, Field explained on a 2012 episode of Oprah's Next Chapter that actually landing the part took many years of convincing, especially when Daniel Day-Lewis, who is 10 years her junior, came on board. In fact, Spielberg at one point flat-out rejected Field, telling her it just wasn't going to work. Only when Day-Lewis agreed to fly to Los Angeles from Ireland (for one day, mind you) did things fall into place. The next day, Field recalled to Winfrey, Spielberg and Day-Lewis called her to offer her the part.

Field would go on to receive a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for the role, her first nomination since Places in the Heart.

She's a proud mother

Despite the many accolades she's won throughout her career, like any mother, Field says the three sons she had from her two failed marriages remain the "three things [she is] most proud of in [her] life." In recent years especially, she's become particularly vocal about the love and respect she has for her youngest son, Sam Greisman, after Sam came out as a gay man. This included delivering a powerful speech at the Human Rights Campaign's 16th Annual National Dinner in 2012, and writing a touching, touching, tearjerker of a tribute letter to Sam for the HRC two years later.

"It's important to have a parent speak about raising a magnificent, proud, intelligent, funny, lovable, sexy gay son," Field said while discussing her HRC speech on Oprah's Next Chapter in 2012. "There are so many parents who are frightened of that, and who don't embrace their children as they struggle… to embrace who they are, what nature intended them to be."

She's open to dating again

Although she's the first to tell you she's not the best at relationships, to this day, Field remains open to finding love again. If the right guy comes along, anyway.

"I'm open to [dating], but I'm such a hermit. Unless they came to the door selling Bibles …" Field quipped to People magazine in 2016. "If I knew anyone I wanted to be with, I would hope I would have the gumption to bang on his door. I just don't know who that is."

Field, who today has five grandkids from her three sons, added, "I am totally fulfilled. That doesn't mean I would [rule] anything out, but I wouldn't dress up and go roaming the streets looking for it."