Melinda Dillon

Melinda Ruth Dillon (October 13, 1939 – January 9, 2023) was an American actress. She received a 1963 Tony Award nomination for her Broadway debut in the original production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her roles as Jillian Guiler in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Teresa Perrone in Absence of Malice (1981). She is well known for her role as Mother Parker in the holiday classic A Christmas Story (1983). Her other film roles include Bound for Glory (1976), F.I.S.T. (1978), Harry and the Hendersons (1987), The Prince of Tides (1991), and Magnolia (1999), for which she was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award.

Melinda Dillon
Melinda Dillon, 1976.jpg
Dillon c. 1976
Melinda Ruth Clardy

(1939-10-13)October 13, 1939
DiedJanuary 9, 2023(2023-01-09) (aged 83)
EducationArt Institute of Chicago
Years active1959–2007[1]
(m. 1963; div. 1978)

Early lifeEdit

Dillon was born as Melinda Ruth Clardy on October 13, 1939, in Hope, Arkansas, but raised in Cullman, Alabama.[2][a] After spending four years in Germany, Dillon attended Hyde Park High School and the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago (now at DePaul University) in Chicago.[3]


Though best known for her supporting performances in films, Dillon began as an improvisational comedian and stage actress. Recalling her performance as Sonya in a 1961 student production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, Alan Schneider wrote:

What distinguished and made the whole attempt worthwhile for me was casting the role of Sonya with a young actress named Linda Dillon, who was a senior acting student at Goodman as well as a hanger-on with a Second City troupe that included two young performers named Barbara Harris and Alan Arkin. During our tryouts, John Reich, then the Goodman Theatre's artistic director, had seriously tried to discourage me from using Linda. He admitted her talent but warned me that she was highly volatile and completely unpredictable as an actress. He had found another actress whom he found much more suitable for Sonya. I insisted on using Linda, no matter the consequences. I was fascinated by the combination of her fragility and sensuality, intrigued with the unconventional way in which she was able to make a line seem utterly spontaneous, and impressed with her emotional range and richness. During our four weeks of rehearsal [...], I wound up alternately adoring and hating Linda. She always did too much and yet not enough. She was never the same twice in a given scene, even when she had found something wonderful last time. She was always wanting to quit the cast or leave school or kill herself. And yet, at the same time, I felt she was extraordinary, the most talented young actress I'd ever worked with, the potential peer of Geraldine Page and perhaps even Kim Stanley. I was sure she'd be a big star one day, and I wanted to be with her when that happened.[4]

Dillon's 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,[5] and she also appeared in You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running and Paul Sill's Story Theatre.

In 1959, she acted in The Cry of Jazz, an influential short film dealing with jazz music and Black culture.[6] Dillon's first feature film was The April Fools in 1969. She also worked in television, notably in a guest-starring role in 1969 on an episode of the hit TV series Bonanza titled "A Lawman's Lot Is Not a Happy One" (Season 11). She co-starred with David Carradine in the 1976 Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory and was nominated in the Best Female Acting Debut category of the Golden Globe for her role as Memphis Sue.[7]

The following year she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role of a mother whose child is abducted by aliens in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That same year, she made an uncredited cameo in The Muppet Movie and had a role in the comedy Slap Shot with Paul Newman. Four years later, Dillon was again nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as a suicidal teacher in Absence of Malice in 1981, working again with Newman.

Dillon was perhaps best known for her role as the mother of Ralphie and Randy in Bob Clark's 1983 movie A Christmas Story. The film was based on a series of short stories and novels written by Jean Shepherd about young Ralphie Parker (played by Peter Billingsley) and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun from Santa Claus.[citation needed]

Four years later, Dillon co-starred with John Lithgow in the Bigfoot comedy Harry and the Hendersons. She continued to be active in stage and film throughout the 1990s, taking 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.[8]

In 1999, she appeared in Magnolia, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, as Rose Gator, the estranged wife of terminally ill television game-show host Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall). In 2005, she guest-starred in the episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit titled "Blood". Dillon's last major acting role was in the 2007 film Reign Over Me.

Personal life and deathEdit

Dillon was married to actor Richard Libertini and together they had a son.[9] They divorced in 1978.[10]

A Methodist,[11] Dillon was a staffer on Democrat Eugene McCarthy's 1968 presidential campaign.[11]

Dillon died on January 9, 2023, at the age of 83. Her remains were cremated.[12]



Year Title Role Notes
1959 The Cry of Jazz Faye short film
1969 The April Fools Leslie Hopkins
1976 Bound for Glory Mary Nominated—Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress
1977 Slap Shot Suzanne Hanrahan
1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind Jillian Guiler Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Actress
1978 F.I.S.T. Anna Zarinkas
1979 The Muppet Movie Woman with Balloon Uncredited
1981 Absence of Malice Teresa Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
1983 A Christmas Story Mother Parker
1984 Songwriter Honey Carder
1987 Harry and the Hendersons Nancy Henderson Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Actress
1988 Shattered Innocence Sharon Anderson
1989 Staying Together Eileen McDermott
1990 Spontaneous Combustion Nina
1990 Captain America Mrs. Rogers
1991 The Prince of Tides Savannah Wingo
1994 Sioux City Leah Goldman
1995 To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar Merna
1995 How to Make an American Quilt Mrs. Darling
1996 Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story Sister Aloysius
1999 Magnolia Rose Gator Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Cast
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
2001 Cowboy Up Rose Braxton
2004 Debating Robert Lee Mrs. Lee
2005 Adam & Steve Dottie
2007 Reign Over Me Ginger Timpleman


Year Title Role Notes
1963 The Defenders Jeannie Birch Episode: "The Empty Heart"
1964 East Side/West Side Stacey Barbella Episode: "The Beatnik and the Policeman"
1969 Bonanza Cissy Summers Episode: "A Lawman's Lot Is Not a Happy One"
1970 Storefront Lawyers aka Men at Law Connie Swann Episode: "He Lies Better Than I Tell the Truth"[13]
1975 The Jeffersons Daphne Episode: "Harry and Daphne"
1976 Sara Lily Henchard Episode: "Lady"
1976 Freeman Madam Arkadina Television pilot[14][15]
1977 Enigma Dora Herren Television movie
1978 The Critical List Kris Lassiter Miniseries[16]
1979 Transplant Anne Hurley Television movie[17]
1979 CHiPs Unknown Episode: "Death Watch"
1980 Marriage Is Alive and Well Jeannie Television movie[18][19]
1980 The Shadow Box Agnes Television movie
1981 Fallen Angel Sherry Phillips Television movie
1981 Insight Janet Episode: "A Decision to Love"
1981 Insight Mysterious Woman Episode: "Rendezvous"
1982 Insight Susie Episode: "The Fiddler"
1982 The Juggler of Notre Dame Dulcy Television movie
1983 The Mississippi Unknown Episode: "Cradle to Grave"
1983 Right of Way Ruda Dwyer Television movie
1984 Insight Woman Episode: "The Game Room"
1985 The Twilight Zone Penny Episode: "A Little Peace and Quiet"
1985 Space Rachel Mott Television movie
1986 Shattered Spirits Joyce Mollencamp Television movie
1988 Shattered Innocence Sharon Anderson Television movie
1989 Nightbreaker Paula Brown Television movie
1993 Judgment Day: The John List Story Elanor List Television movie
1994 State of Emergency Betty Anderson Television movie
Nominated—CableACE Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1995 The Client Verna Caldwell Episode: "The Peach Orchard"
1995 Naomi & Wynonna: Love Can Build a Bridge Polly Judd Television movie
1996 Picket Fences Mrs. Klausner Episode: "Liver Let Die"
1997 Tracey Takes On... Desiree Episode: "Mothers"
2001 Judging Amy Violet Loomis Episode: "Surprised by Gravity"
2003 The Lyon's Den Charlotte Barrington Episode: "Pilot"
2003 A Painted House Gran Chandler Television movie
2005 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Jenny Rogers Episode: "Blood"
2007 Heartland Janet Jacobs 3 episodes


  1. ^ As Dillon explained in a 1962 interview, Hope was not her hometown, nor had her parents ever resided there. It was only because they had lost their previous child at birth that Floyd Clardy opted to bring Norine to Hope, where a doctor that he knew and trusted happened to practice.[3]


  1. ^ Thomas, Mike (2012). The Second City Unscripted: Revolution and Revelation at the World-Famous Comedy Theater. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. p. 254. ISBN 9780810128446
  2. ^ Traub, Alex (February 5, 2023). "Melinda Dillon, 2-Time Oscar Nominee, Is Dead at 83". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 5, 2023. Retrieved February 5, 2023.
  3. ^ a b Wahls, Robert (October 28, 1962). "90-Day Wonder: An Unknown Only Three Months Ago, 23-year-old Actress Melinda Dillon Shot to Stardom in Broadway Debut". New York Daily News. Sec. 2, p. 16. Retrieved March 18, 2022 – via
  4. ^ Schneider, Alan (1986). Entrances : An American Director's Journey. New York, NY: Viking p. 292–293. ISBN 0670806080.
  5. ^ Stevenson, Isabelle (1987). The Tony Award : A Complete Listing, With a History of the American Theatre Wing. New York: Crown Publishers. p. 76. ISBN 0-517-56664-8.
  6. ^ "New Film". The Negro History Bulletin. p. 59. Retrieved March 18, 2022.
  7. ^ "1977 Golden Globe Nominations Listed". Los Angeles Times. Part 4, p. 14. Retrieved March 19, 2022.
  8. ^ Stevens, Tracy (2001). International Television & Video Almanac. New York: Quigley Publishing. p. 137. ISBN 0-900610-68-9.
  9. ^ Kleiner, Dick (April 20, 1985). "Libertini Trying to Avoid Typecasting". Ocala Star-Banner. Newspaper Enterprise Association. pp. 10, 54 (TV Week supplement). Retrieved December 15, 2013.
  10. ^ Pak, Eudie (December 14, 2012). "'A Christmas Story' Cast: Where Are They Now?". (FYI / A&E Networks). Retrieved January 10, 2016.
  11. ^ a b "'Close Encounters' Says We Are Not Alone, but Melinda Dillon Often Has Been During a Traumatic Life". Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  12. ^ Barnes, Mike (February 3, 2023). "Melinda Dillon, Actress in 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' and 'A Christmas Story,' Dies at 83". The Hollywood Reporter.
  13. ^ "TV Key: Best Bets". Wisconsin State Journal. September 23, 1970. p. 47. Retrieved March 18, 2022.
  14. ^ Bok (June 23, 1976). "Television Reviews: 'Freeman'". Variety. p. 46. Retrieved March 18, 2022.
  15. ^ "Comic Sparks on 'Freeman'". Kenosha News. p. 37. Retrieved March 18, 2022.
  16. ^ Clarey, Kathey (April 11, 1978). "Tonight's Best: Critical List". Argus-Leader. p. 13. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  17. ^ Clarey, Kathey (April 17, 1979). "Please Stand By". The Fresno Bee. p. 18. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  18. ^ Williams, Gail (January 25, 1980). "Marriage Is Alive and Well". The Hollywood Reporter. p. 6. "Under Russ Mayberry's direction, Dillon is the only member of the cast that comes through the battle with even a spark of genuine humanity." Retrieved March 19, 2022.
  19. ^ Warner Brothers. "Marriage Is Alive and Well (TV Movie) Feature Clip". YouTube.

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