The Unsung Heroes of Hollywood: Melinda Dillon

While we all adore and root for the stars and starlets of tinseltown, there is a treasure-trove of good men and women who have been integral to the success of all our favorite films. Bona fide, hard working and talented people who may never star in a film or see their name on a poster hanging in the local cineplex but will never escape our minds and imaginations when it comes to some good iconic and funny roles they play. This column is a tribute to the “Oh, That Guy” types, the common actor and the B-listers. They are the…


Melinda Dillon

Melinda DillonAge: 73

Number of Film & TV Roles: 60

Notable Roles: Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Slap Shot; A Christmas Story; Harry and the Hendersons; Magnolia

Typical Role: Caring mother

Why She’s Great: Melinda Dillon has popped up in many of my favorite movies and it’s always nice to see her, like when your favorite aunt visits and she brings a bottle of gin to share. She was a caring mother who loses her child in Close Encounters, a caring mother who wants to protect her sons eyes and get rid of her husband’s lamp in A Christmas Story, and a caring mother who wants to protect the rights of a giant woodland ape in Harry and the Hendersons. She just seems like she cares. And she was also topless in Slap Shot. She never achieved that next level of stardom, but she doesn’t seem like she really wanted to. Good for her.

Biography (via Wikipedia): Melinda Dillon was born in Hope, Arkansas, the daughter of E. Norine (née Barnett) and W. S. Dillon, an army officer. Dillon went to school in Chicago attending Hyde Park High School.

Though best known for her supporting performances in films, Dillon got her start as an improvisational comedian and stage actress. Her first major role was as Honey in the original 1962 Broadway production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, for which she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play, and she also appeared in You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running and Paul Sill’s Story Theatre.

Dillon’s first film was The April Fools in 1969. Playing “Memphis Sue” opposite David Carradine, she was nominated for the Best Female Acting Debut Golden Globe for the 1976 Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory. She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role of a mother whose young child is abducted by aliens in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, and had an uncredited short role in The Muppet Movie. The same year she appeared semi-nude with Paul Newman in the comedy classic, Slap Shot. Four years later she was once again nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as a suicidal teacher in 1981’s Absence of Malice, opposite Paul Newman. She had a guest role in 1969 on an episode of Bonanza titled “A Lawman’s Lot Is Not a Happy One” (Season 11).

As a comedienne, Dillon is perhaps best known for her role as the compassionate mother of Ralphie and Randy in Bob Clark’s 1983 film A Christmas Story. The film was based on a series of short stories and novels written by Jean Shepherd, and follows young Ralphie Parker (played by Peter Billingsley) on his quest for a BB gun from Santa Claus.

Five years later she appeared opposite John Lithgow in the Bigfoot comedy Harry and the Hendersons. She continued to be active in stage and film throughout the 1990s, taking minor roles in the Barbra Streisand drama The Prince of Tides, the low-budget Lou Diamond Phillips thriller Sioux City, and the drama How to Make an American Quilt.

In 1999 she appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia as Rose Gator, the wife of TV game show host Jimmy Gator, played by Philip Baker Hall.

In 2005, she guest starred in an episode of Law & Order: SVU entitled “Blood”.

Melinda Dillon has remained a private person, and information about her personal life is largely unknown. She was married to character actor Richard Libertini (30 September 1963 – 18 January 1978), with whom she had one child.

Some Nice Clips:

This clip doesn’t feature Melinda Dillon, but it’s about Melinda Dillon, who played recently bisexualized Suzanne, the goalie Hanrahan’s wife:

20 thoughts on “The Unsung Heroes of Hollywood: Melinda Dillon

  1. Pingback: Schlocktoberfest VIII – Day 7: Parents | Hard Ticket to Home Video

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