Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Diane Ladd and Family

A quick commercial before we get to Diane and family.  Please stop by The Lady Eve's Reel Life all this month for a Reel Treat.  Eve has put together a month of blog posts on Alfred Hitchcock's great movie Vertigo (1958).  Eve has invited ten guest writers to participate.  I was asked to give all of the Bit Actors my usual treatment, and I am sure every post is worth reading.  Don't miss it!

I happened across Diane Ladd (b. 1932) last week on "Gunsmoke" in an episode called "Sweet Billy, Singer of Songs" from 1966.  She looked familiar, and quite pretty, but I couldn't place her until I saw her name in the credits.  It was a fun episode with all of Festus' relatives.  The cast was amazing, including Judy Carne (b. 1939), Royal Dano (1922 - 1994) and Slim Pickins (1919 - 1983) as well.

Diane has 123 titles listed on IMDb and was married, for a while, to Bruce Dern (b. 1936).  They produced Laura Dern in 1967, and Diane has made several movies with her daughter. 

Most of her early work was on television, but she did appear in a few movies.  Murder, Inc. (1960) starring Stuart Whitman (b. 1928) was her first, then Something Wild with Carroll Baker (b. 1931) in 1961, and 40 Pounds of Trouble with Tony Curtis (1925 - 2010) the next year. 

I must admit that I am unfamiliar with most of her movie work before 1970.  Things seemed to perk up in the mid 1970s though.  She was in White Lightning (1973) with Burt Reynolds, Chinatown (1974) with Jack Nicholson, and received her first of three Oscar nominations for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore also in 1974.  That nomination led to a role on the TV spin-off, "Alice."

She was finally getting some starring roles after working very hard for the opportunity.  We won't talk too much about Embryo (1976) a sci-fi/horror flick with Rock Hudson.  She also stars in a few better movies, All Night Long (1981) with Gene Hackman and Barbra Streisand, and with Jason Robards (1922 - 2000) in Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes in 1983, which also featured Royal Dano.  He's one of my favorites.

Ladd then takes a few cruises on "The Love Boat" and shows up with John Randolph (1915 - 2004) as Chevy Chase's parents in Christmas Vacation (1989).  Two more Oscar nominations followed for Wild at Heart in 1990 and Rambling Rose in 1991.  In those two movies, she played her real daughter, Laura Dern's, mother.  Laura was also in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, but she was just seven years old playing a bit part.

Not all went well, though.  In 1993 she starred in Carnosaur where she plays a scientist bent on destroying everyone on Earth with a virus.  No Oscars for that one.  Better movies followed in Primary Colors (1998) and 28 Days (2000). 

Her last good role was in American Cowslip (2009) with ex-husband Bruce Dern.  She worked with Bruce in four movies, and with Laura in nine.

You can find Diane in the HBO comedy series "enlightened" playing mother and daughter again with Laura.  And she is still hard at work on new movies.  At only 80 years old, I think we will continue seeing her for a while.  And if you are in Hollywood, look for her star on the Walk of Fame, next to Bruce and Laura's.  In 2010, they were the first family to be awarded stars together.


  1. Diane Lane is a sharp actress who is often overlooked. I always like to watch her play daughter Laura's mother in films because I think they play well of one another--especially when their on-screen relationship is dysfunctional.

  2. I became a Diane Ladd fan in my teen years when she was appearing on "The Secret Storm". She was/is the sort of actress whose talent fairly leaps from the screen.

  3. For one so talented, why is she not much more than a Bit Actress? Does it have to do with the roles she is offered, or chooses to accept? Perhaps she is aligned with the wrong crowd, who are content with just making good productions, rather than blockbusters.

    And Caftan, sorry...I don't do soaps! But thanks for the comment.

  4. Nice to know she has a Star on the Walk of Fame!

  5. I probably first saw Diane Ladd in the Roger Corman classic, THE WILD ANGELS ('66) - made not too long before Laura Dern's arrival on the planet (Bruce also starred in that biker epic). My first glimpse of Mr. Dern, though, was in HUSH, HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE ('64) (it was no BABY JANE, sad to say)...and I was first aware of Laura in BLUE VELVET ('86). But I recall Diane Ladd most for her performances in CHINATOWN and ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE...two of the enduring classics of the '70s and two films in which she was an integral 'bit part actor.' Great tour of her career, Allen, & thanks for mentioning "A Month of VERTIGO," my first major blog event (so far, so fabulous)...

  6. Thanks, Tom. And it was nice for her to receive the stars as a family. She looks pretty good for her age as well!

  7. Thanks for your note, Eve. It's nice to hear what others think of the Bit Actors I write about. I have gained quite a bit of insight by viewing the movies you and others have recommended. I haven't seen everything...yet!

    I am thoroughly enjoying the Month of Vertigo posts. The comments are as interesting as the writings. And the subject is a perfect choice.


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