The Magic School Bus: Encouraging Us To “Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy”

Knowing the theme for this blog series is Valerie, if I asked you to think of “Valeries” from television history, it might take you a while to come up with our subject for today. We are learning about Valerie Frizzle, an eccentric teacher who takes her class on educational field trips on her magical school bus on The Magic School Bus.

Based on the books that are written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen, the original television show ran from 1994-1997, producing 52 episodes. It was created by Joanna Cole, Bruce Degen, and Laskas Martin. (A reboot The Magic School Bus Rides Again began recently.)

Photo: io9.com

The premise of the show is that a class taught by Valerie Frizzle at Walkerville Elementary take field trips to learn about science. Mr. Ruhle is the principal, and he is not aware that the bus is anything other than a simple school bus. However, the “Friz’s” bus can change shape and form to explore anything: far into outer space, deep in the ocean, back to the days of dinosaurs, and even into the human body. The bus can transform itself into a plane, a jeep, or other form of transport. It can become a frog or another type of animal to get into a specific ecosystem.

The Friz has a pet lizard named Liz who accompanies the class on its trips. Liz eats insects, but when the bus shrinks, she is very frightened by bugs.

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Apparently Walkerville is in a small community, because there are only eight children in her third-grade class: Arnold, Carlos, Dorothy Ann, Keesha, Phoebe, Ralphie, Tim, and Wanda.

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The Bus

The bus itself is a 1970s Ward International R-183 manufactured by Ward International Trucks, Inc. The bus is painted the typical school bus yellow. The magic part comes in with the devices that are installed in the bus. There is the shrinker scope that can shrink and re-size the bus when Ms. Frizzle asks it to. There is also a portashrinker that doesn’t work if the bus is wet and if someone tries to use it then, the Dew Dinger alerts them. There is also a mesmerglober which can change the shape of the bus. A magic battery runs on solar power.

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The bus seems pretty indestructible. In one episode it floated around in lava. The bus has eyes and a mouth and often shows emotions like fear, anger, and sadness.

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The Friz

Valerie Felicity Frizzle is a quite a character. She has fiery red hair that is usually seen in a bun. Static electricity makes her hair frizzy. So, what do we know about Ms. Frizzle? She was a Shakespearian actress at one point in her life. She also had a band called The Frizzlettes and toured with rock star Molly Cule. She then went back to school for education. She learned about “busanautics” from a mechanic she knows, R.U. Humerus.

Voiced by the funny Lily Tomlin, the Friz is always optimistic. She cares about her students and is passionate about science. She lives in a mansion that has a bridge on the property as well as a fountain with a statue of Liz. You can often spot the bus parked in her driveway. She keeps a framed photo of Mr. Seedplot, suggesting that they may be romantically involved. She loves to tell jokes. She is very protective of her students who love and respect her.

Miss Frizzle has an interesting wardrobe and most of her clothing is science themed.

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Some of her taglines are “To the bus!”; “Okay, bus, do your stuff!”; and “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

During the four years the show was on the air, we got to know her students very well.

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Arnold

Arnold was not a fan of field trips. Like The Friz, he is a redhead. Arnold wears glasses. He was the shyest kid in the class, but he was brave. He cares about the environment and is interested in rocks. His aunt, Arizona Joan, is a famous archaeologist. He also has an uncle who is a firefighter in a national park.

Arnold’s favorite color is orange and he is Jewish. Pollen and pepper both make him sneeze. He also loves cold weather because that means he can drink hot chocolate.

His most famous sayings are “I knew I should have stayed home today”; “We’re doomed” and “Carlos!”

In one of his interviews, illustrator Bruce Degen mentions that Arnold was based on his son.

Photo: wikia.com

Carlos

Carlos, a brunette, is the class clown. He tells a lot of jokes, some not so good which always gets the reactions, “Carlos!” from his classmates, especially Arnold. Carlos and Dorothy Ann often butt heads about learning because he is a hands-on learner while she is not.

Photo: wikia.com

Dorothy Ann

Dorothy Ann likes to learn by reading. Her favorite science area is astronomy and she has a telescope at home. She tends to argue with many of her friends and one of her favorite sentences starts, “According to my research . . .”

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Keesha

Keesha can be a bit sarcastic. While Arnold and Dorothy Ann have different perspectives, Keesha and Ralphie are opposites. Keesha is a realist. Like Ms. Frizzle, she keeps her curly hair in a bun most of the time. Unlike most girls her age, she likes garter snakes.

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Phoebe

Phoebe keeps her brown hair in a flip with a yellow hairband and bangs. She is kind-hearted, sweet, very bright, and patient. She’s left-handed and she cares a lot about animals. She often refers to her previous class, saying “At my old school . . .” When her father visits the school one day, he also refers to her old school.

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Ralphie

Ralphie is a heavyset boy who often wears a baseball cap. He loves baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey and is athletic. He daydreams a lot, learning through imagination. He is a fun-loving kid. He has a dog named Noodles. We learn he loves comic books and superheroes but dislikes anchovies and roller coasters. He worries about creatures like vampires which probably comes from overusing his imagination. His mother is a doctor and they seem to have a lot of fun together.

Photo: wikia.com

Tim

Tim is quiet and artistic; we often see him off drawing somewhere. Sometimes he tells jokes with Carlos. An interesting family fact is that his grandfather is a bee keeper and he delivers honey every winter.

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Wanda

Wanda is a tomboy. She is the smallest member but may be the toughest. She dreams of being a pilot and loves it when the bus can fly. She hates cold weather. Her mother visits class now and then; she is a science journalist. It’s often mentioned that her mother keeps reptiles around the house; one time an alligator is found in the bathtub and a gila monster in the sandbox. Wanda is a gaming expert; she also likes to play the guitar.

We often hear her say, “What are we gonna do, what are we gonna do, what are we gonna do?”

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Famous Guest Stars

For an animation show, this series featured an incredible number of famous guest stars. Tyne Daly was Ralph’s mother; Elliott Gould was Arnold’s father; Swoosie Kurtz was Dorothy Ann’s mom, and Eartha Kitt was Keesha’s mother. Ed Begley Jr. showed up as Logaway Larry; Carol Channing was Cornelia C. Contralto, Cindy Williams was Gerri Poveri; Dolly Parton was Katrina Murphy; Sherman Hemsley was Mr. Junkit; Rita Moreno was Dr. Carmina Skeledon; Dabney Coleman was Horace Scope; and Bebe Neuwirth was Flora Whiff. Tony Randall took the role of mechanic, R.U. Humerus while Wynonna Judd became rock star Molly Cule. Dom DeLuise was a baker; Ed Asner a general; Alex Trebek an announcer; and Tom Cruise played himself.

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Theme Song

The theme song is sung by Little Richard. The show begins with:

 (Bus honks, drives up, doors open)
 

Valerie Frizzle: Seatbelts, everyone!
 

Arnold: Please let this be a normal field trip.
 

Wanda: With the Frizz?
 

Kids except Arnold and Dorothy Ann: No way!
 

Arnold: Ohh!

Little Richard: Cruising on down main street. You’re relaxed and feeling good! (Yeah!)
 

Next thing that you know, you’re seeing…
 

Valerie Frizzle: (driving into ocean) Wa-ha-ha-hoo!
 

Little Richard: An octopus in the neighborhood?!

Surfing on a sound wave! Swinging through the stars!

Ralphie, Wanda and Carlos: Yee-ha!

Little Richard: Take a left at your intestine. Take your second right past Mars!

Kids: On The Magic School Bus!

Little Richard: Navigate a nostril!

(Ralphie sneezing)

(class gasping)

Kids and Little Richard: Climb on The Magic School Bus!

Little Richard: Spank a plankton, too!

Wanda: Take that!

Kids: On our Magic School Bus!

Little Richard: Raft a river of lava!

Kids: On The Magic School Bus!

Little Richard: Such a fine thing to do!

Kids: Whoa!

Little Richard: So, strap your bones right to the seat, come on in and don’t be shy….

Come on.

Just to make your day complete,

You might get baked into a pie!

Kids and Little Richard: On The Magic School Bus!
 

(Dorothy Ann, Keesha and Ralphie run up to Bus and enter before Bus shapeshifts)
 

Little Richard: Step inside, it’s a wilder ride!
 

Come on!
 

(Bus appears under big title that reads “The Magic School Bus…”)
 

Kids and Little Richard: Ride on The Magic School Bus!
 

(Bus disappears to reveal title of episode)
 

(Bus honking)

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I did not watch The Magic School Bus a lot. It went off the air about the time my older boys would have been the age to watch it. However, we read most of the books, and my kids learned a lot from them. Along with Arthur, this is probably one of my favorite cartoons for combining fun with learning.

Just A Girl From the Bronx: Penny Marshall

Today we look at the career of Penny Marshall. She comes across in most of her interviews as a “what you see is what you get” type of girl.

Penny Marshall was born Carole Penny Marshall in the Bronx in October of 1943. Her mother was a tap dancer and, according to Penny and her brother Garry, was quite a character. Her father was a film director for industrial films. Garry says Penny caused their mother the most problems of all the children. They knew it would be so when she walked on the ledge of the apartment building they lived in.

While attending the University of New Mexico, Penny became pregnant. She and her boyfriend, Michael Henry married in 1961 but divorced by 1963. Penny says she ended up there because her mother didn’t know geography and assumed New Mexico was close to New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire.

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After working as a secretary, she dabbled in acting. One of her first jobs was a Head and Shoulders commercial with Farrah Fawcett.

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Her brother Garry cast her in the movie How Sweet It Is in 1968 with Debbie Reynolds and James Garner. Penny began getting roles on television shows including Love American Style, That Girl, and The Bob Newhart Show.

In 1971 she married Rob Reiner. That same year she began a recurring role on The Odd Couple as Myrna Turner, Oscar’s secretary. She appeared in 27 shows. penny3odd

 

Marshall had been considered for the role of Gloria Stivic on All in the Family, the television wife of her husband Rob.

Rob Reiner and Penny Marshall circa 1970s © 1978 Gary Lewis

 

In 1974 Garry was looking for a couple of girls to appear on an episode of Happy Days. Cindy Williams had previously dated Henry Winkler, and Garry cast Cindy and Penny as the “fast girls” dating the Fonz and innocent Richie Cunningham. The girls appeared in five different episodes.

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They were such a hit that a spinoff was created for them in Laverne and Shirley. The show ran from 1976-1983, producing 178 episodes. Laverne and Shirley were best friends and roommates. They worked at the Shotz Brewery Company in Milwaukee and had a wacky group of friends. After several seasons, the girls move to California when automatic bottle cappers replaced them at the brewery. Laverne could be a bit rash and spontaneous, but she had a heart of gold, and Shirley tried her best to keep her in line.

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One of my favorite books is My Happy Days in Hollywood by Garry Marshall. In a chapter about Laverne and Shirley he wrote that one of the producers on the show asked him to switch shows for a while because he had an urge to run Penny and Cindy over with his car. Garry said he switched but had to change back quickly because he understood that urge. He said they were terrible to work with. Rumors spread that they both had inflated egos and did not get along. Penny later admitted that she had not behaved the best and apologized to her brother. During the run of the series, Marshall and Reiner went through a rough divorce.

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Penny had directed four Laverne and Shirley episodes. In the 1980s and 90s, Penny began directing movies as well. Her most famous movies were Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986), Big (1988), Awakenings (1990), and A League of Their Own (1992). She was the first female director to get more than $100 million when she directed Big. Marshall also appeared in a variety of movies and television shows during this time.

 

In 2013 she accepted a role on Murder Police, playing Sylvia Goldenberg. This was an animation comedy about two policemen, one a good cop and his partner a tough, rule-breaking officer. The show was set to air on Fox, but the network didn’t like the show. The 13 episodes taped have never been seen in the US.

In 2012, Marshall published a memoir, My Mother Was Nuts. She talked into a tape recorder and had someone type it up. She had many memories of her childhood and the sarcastic one-liners her mother was famous for.

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Marshall enjoys needlepoint, putting together jigsaw puzzles and shopping for antiques. Though I don’t do needlepoint, I’d be happy to join her to work on a puzzle or shop for treasures.

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She is an avid sports fan, especially baseball and basketball, and has a well-respected collection of sports memorabilia. A few years ago, announcements were made about a documentary Penny would be the executive producer of. It’s the true story of Effa Manley who managed the Negro League’s Newark Eagles during the 1930s and 1940s. I have not been able to find any current information about whether the film was made or not.

While Garry was instrumental in getting Penny her first roles, she proved that she was a great actress and a highly accomplished director. She has had an interesting and meaningful career and it will be fun to see what direction she decides to go as she  journeys into her seventies.

 

Please Report to Room 222

Last week we continued to paid homage to the Friday night schedule of shows airing in 1970 and 1971, learning about The Odd Couple. Today we continue that theme as we meet the cast of Room 222.

Debuting in 1969, Room 222 produced 113 episodes by 1974 when it was cancelled for low ratings. The show, one of the first dramedies, was a more serious counterpart to the later-seen Welcome Back Kotter.

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The series was created by James Brooks who wrote for That Girl and The Andy Griffith Show and would go on to create Taxi, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda and Lou Grant. What all these shows have in common is a group of characters who have a depth and sophisticated writing that captures the realistic language and behavior of individuals in their settings.

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The show featured Seymour Kaufman (Michael Constantine), the principal of Walt Whitman High School, a racially mixed school in Los Angeles; American history teacher Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haines); the guidance counselor (and Pete’s girlfriend) Liz McIntyre (Denise Nicholas); and student teacher Alice Johnson (Karen Valentine). The four staff members were friends, but they did not always agree.  They debated issues and solutions but always with respect. Kaufman displayed a dry humor and could make Dixon laugh. Dixon was the easy-going, wise, and insightful thinker in the bunch. Liz was compassionate while Alice was enthusiastic and idealistic, but a bit naïve. The staff members invest in the students, acting as surrogate parents teaching them important life lessons. The other staff member we get to know is Miss Hogarth (Patsy Garrett), Mr. Kaufman’s secretary.

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We also spend a lot of time with several students who interacted with staff members in the classroom and occasionally outside of school. There was Richie Lane the Brain (Howard Rice); Jason Allen, tough guy (Heshimu Cumbuka); Pamela, Miss Popular (Ta-Tanisha); Helen Loomis, shy but thoughtful (Judy Strangis); and Bernie, the sports jock and class clown (David Joliffe). Although students were a large part of the show, many episodes focused on the teachers and administrators.

students

 

Room 222 is Dixon’s classroom where the students are given free range to discuss topics from a variety of viewpoints.  Some of the issues were topical such as the Vietnam war, women’s lib, and Watergate; however, most of the debates could be pulled from today’s headlines:  race relations, shoplifting, drug use, illiteracy, police presence in schools, dress codes, guns in schools, and teen pregnancy. Dixon lets the students lead many discussions, but he preaches tolerance and the ability to see things from others’ shoes. He is respected and liked by his students.

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Imdb.com summarized the pilot episode as: Pete Dixon teaches history in Room 222 at Walt Whitman High School. Principal Seymour Kaufman introduces Pete to Alice Johnson, a perky but painfully insecure student teacher. Pete’s most enthusiastic student is Richie Lane, who goes so far as to dress a lot like Pete and even takes roll in his absence. But Guidance Counselor Liz McIntire has discovered some disturbing news about Richie — the home address he submitted is fake, suggesting that he may not live in the school district, and therefore might be ineligible to keep attending Whitman.

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Many guest stars showed up at Walt Whitman High including Ed Begley Jr., Richard Dreyfuss, Jamie Farr, Teri Garr, Mark Hamill, Bernie Kopell, Donny Most, Chuck Norris, Rob Reiner, Kurt Russell, and Cindy Williams.

The show was originally on Wednesday nights, and the ratings weren’t great. The network was planning on cancelling the series, but then the show won the Emmy for Outstanding New Series, Michael Constantine won for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, and Karen Valentine won for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. The show was moved to the Friday night line up between The Partridge Family and The Odd Couple where its ratings soared.

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The first season used a laugh track which was not used for subsequent seasons, helping to add drama to the show.

The theme song was written by Jerry Goldsmith. He would go on to be nominated for seven Academy Awards for music, winning for The Omen. A series of novels was created based on the show by William Johnston in the early 1970s, and Dell Comics published four issues about Room 222 in 1970-1971.

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The show propelled Valentine to star status. Mark Voger interviewed her online for New Jersey Advance Media for NJ.com on October 25, 1970. Part of his article is quoted below:

“I had gone in to meet the casting person for ‘Room 222,'” the Santa Rosa, Calif., native told me during a telephone interview some years back.

He took down the color of my eyes and the color of my hair, and I was dismissed. Nothing happened for a number of months.

Then I was called in again to meet with (series producer) Gene Reynolds. When you talk about naivete — the character of Alice Johnson was a bit of a bumbler and very naive and just wet behind the ears.

When I read for Gene, everything imaginable went wrong. I mean, I went to put my purse down, and I had sunglasses on my head; they fell off. I went to pick those up, the pages went all over the floor. I had to pick those up.

I looked up at him and I said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I’m really rather chic, you know. This is so strange.’ And he said, ‘Don’t change a thing.'”

Valentine believes she’d hit upon the essence of the character that Reynolds sought.

She continued: “After I read, I was leaving the office. He said, ‘Don’t get hit by a car.’ And I thought, ‘Boy, this is a good sign. It’s the first time anyone cared whether I was dead or alive in this town.'” . . .

“It was a real forerunner for integrated shows,” Valentine said. “It was the first show, I think, that showed blacks and whites interacting so well together, and role models in teachers and counselors. It was so well accepted that in certain parts of the country, ‘Room 222’ was required viewing by some of the teachers and principals and administrative staffs around different schools.”

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While the hair-do’s and clothing tie the show to the early 1970s, the scripts could easily be part of current television shows. I’m not sure if that is positive because the show was so well written or if it’s negative because we are dealing with these issues almost 50 years later without much progress. Either way, taking some time to watch the show will be time well spent.

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From Gidget to Mary Todd Lincoln: The Highly Respected Career of Sally Field

When you mention the name of Sally Field, different generations of women remember her for different roles.  That is because she has continued to find quality movies and television shows to add to her resume. Beginning her career in 1965, 52 years later she is still appearing in respected films.  The woman who started out as Gidget, a typical teenager has become Mary Todd Lincoln. Let’s take a look at her long and admired work.

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Sally Margaret Field was born in 1946 in California.  Her mother was actress Margaret Field. Margaret is a descendent of a passenger on the Mayflower and William Bradford, governor.  Her parents divorced in 1950 and her mother then married stuntman Jock Mahoney. Sally graduated from Birmingham High School in Van Nuys where she was a cheerleader. Her classmates included Michael Milken and Cindy Williams.

Her first acting job was the role of Frances Elizabeth Lawrence, or Gidget, as she was nick-named in the 1965 series. Field was perfectly matched as the all-American girl Gidget; she lived with her widowed father, a college professor (Don Porter). Her older sister Anne was married, and she and her husband John felt compelled to watch over Gidget. Gidget spent most of her time surfing and hanging out with her best friend Larue played by Lynette Winter. The show was based on the book and Sandra Dee movies which were very popular, but the series was cancelled after only 32 episodes due to low ratings.

In 1967, she accepted the role of Sister Bertrille on The Flying Nun. The show featured a nun who was assigned to a convent in Puerto Rico. Her coronets and small size allowed the trade winds there to lift her up, and she was able to fly. This series was also based on novel, The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Rios.

She also appeared in her first movie in 1967 – opposite of Kirk Douglas in The Way West.

Sally has been married twice, first to Steven Craig from 1968 to 1975.  The couple had two sons, Peter and Eli. Following that marriage, Sally was involved in a long relationship with Burt Reynolds.  In his book which came out in 2015 he said that she was the love of his life and definitely the one that got away.  Sally then married Alan Greisman from 1984-1993 and they had one son, Samuel.

 

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Field appeared in several television series in the 1970s and finally received a role as The Girl with Something Extra in 1973.  For 22 episodes, she starred with John Davidson as her husband who realizes on his wedding night that his wife has ESP. Hopefully she was able to alert him that the show would be cancelled before the end of the season so he could start looking for a new job.

 

After this tv series flopped, Field became a serious movie actress.  She appeared in many critically acclaimed movies during her career, including Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Norma Rae (1979), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), Places in the Heart (1984), Steel Magnolias (1989), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Forest Gump (1994), Legally Blonde 2 (2003), and, most recently, Lincoln (2012).

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In the late 1990s, Field added to her resume, directing several shows including the tv film The Christmas Tree in 1996, one episode of From the Earth to the Moon in 1998, and the feature film Beautiful in 2000.

 

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In 2000, Field returned to television with a recurring role on ER between 2000 and 2006. She played Abby Lockhart’s mother, Maggie, who has bipolar disorder. She won an Emmy for the role in 2001. She starred in The Court in 2002 which only lasted for six episodes.

In 2005, Sally was diagnosed with osteoporosis. She created the Rally with Sally for Bone Health campaign which encouraged early diagnosis of the condition using bone-density scans.

 

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Her last television role was matriarch Nora Walker in Brothers & Sisters which was on the air from 2006 until 2011. Originally the role of Nora was played by Betty Buckley. The producers decided the character would take a different direction and offered the part to Field. She also won an Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series for this show in 2007.
In 2014 Sally received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located front of the Hollywood Wax Museum.

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2017 found Field in a Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie. She was nominated for a Tony award for best actress in a play for the performance.

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In addition to her Emmys listed above, Sally won an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or movie for Sybil in 1977. She won Academy Awards for best actress in Norma Rae and Places in the Heart. Her acting performances have been nominated for awards 57 times.

Sally Field is a well-respected and award-winning actress who has continued to find projects as she ages which is not always easy for women in film. At 70, Field appears much younger and energetic than other women her age.  She has continued to fight for causes she is passionate about. Her acting portfolio has definitely been a career to be proud of.