Gena Rowlands
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Gena Rowlands

Gena Rowlands
Rowlands in 1955
Virginia Cathryn Rowlands

(1930-06-19) June 19, 1930 (age 89)
Alma materAmerican Academy of Dramatic Arts
Years active1952-present
John Cassavetes
(m. 1954; died 1989)

Robert Forrest (m. 2012)
ChildrenNick Cassavetes
Alexandra Cassavetes
Zoe Cassavetes
Parent(s)Edwin Myrwyn Rowlands
Lady Rowlands

Virginia Cathryn "Gena" Rowlands (born June 19, 1930) is an American actress, whose career in film, stage, and television has spanned over six decades. A four-time Emmy and two-time Golden Globe winner, she is known for her collaborations with her late actor-director husband John Cassavetes in ten films, including A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Gloria (1980), which earned her nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won the Silver Bear for Best Actress for Opening Night (1977). In November 2015, Rowlands received an Honorary Academy Award in recognition of her unique screen performances.[1]

Early years

Rowlands was born on June 19, 1930, in Madison, Wisconsin.[2] Her mother, Mary Allen (Neal), was a housewife who later worked as an actress under the stage name Lady Rowlands.[3][4] Her father, Edwin Myrwyn Rowlands, was a banker and state legislator.[5] He was a member of the Wisconsin Progressive Party, and was of Welsh descent.[6] She had a brother, David Rowlands.

Her family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1939, when Edwin was appointed to a position in the United States Department of Agriculture; moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1942, when he was appointed as branch manager of the Office of Price Administration;[7] and later moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. From 1947-50, she attended the University of Wisconsin,[8] where she was a popular student already renowned for her beauty.[9] While in college, she was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma.[10] She left for New York City to study drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.


Early roles (1952-1967)

Publicity photo, 1955

In the early 1950s, Rowlands performed with repertory theatre companies and at the Provincetown Playhouse. She made her Broadway debut in The Seven Year Itch and toured in a national production of the play. In 1956, she starred in the Broadway play Middle of the Night opposite Edward G. Robinson.

Rowlands costarred with Paul Stewart in the 26-episode syndicated TV series Top Secret (1954-55).[11] She guest-starred on such anthology television series as Robert Montgomery Presents, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Studio One, Appointment with Adventure, The United States Steel Hour and Goodyear Television Playhouse, all in 1955. In 1959, Rowlands appeared in the western series Laramie, alongside her husband John Cassavetes in the detective series Johnny Staccato, and in the western series Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin. In 1961, she appeared in the adventure series The Islanders, set in the South Pacific, and in Target: The Corruptors!, starring Stephen McNally. She guest-starred in The Lloyd Bridges Show, the detective series 77 Sunset Strip, the westerns Bonanza and The Virginian, and Breaking Point, all in 1963. In 1964, she guest-starred in the medical drama Dr. Kildare and in two episodes of Burke's Law. She appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, three of which were after the series had been renamed The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1967, she was cast as socialite Adrienne Van Leyden in the prime-time ABC soap opera Peyton Place.

Rowlands made her film debut in The High Cost of Loving in 1958. In 1962, she starred in director David Miller's Lonely Are the Brave, with Kirk Douglas and Walter Matthau. She played the former lover of the Kirk Douglas character, now the wife of the Douglas character's best friend.

Cassavetes era (1963-1984)

Rowlands and Cassavetes made ten films together: A Child Is Waiting (1963), Faces (1968), Machine Gun McCain (1969), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), A Woman Under the Influence (1974; nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress), Two-Minute Warning (1976), Opening Night (1977), Gloria (1980; nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress), Tempest (1982), and Love Streams (1984).

According to Boston University film scholar Ray Carney, Rowlands sought to suppress an early version of Cassavetes' first film, Shadows, that Carney says he rediscovered after decades of searching.[12] Rowlands also became involved in the screenings of Husbands and Love Streams, according to Carney. The UCLA Film and Television Archive mounted a restoration of Husbands, as it was pruned down (without Cassavetes' consent, and in violation of his contract) by Columbia Pictures several months after its release, in an attempt to restore as much of the removed content as possible. At Rowlands' request, UCLA created an alternative print with almost ten minutes of content edited out, as Rowlands felt that these scenes were in poor taste. The alternative print is the only one that has been made available for rental.[13]

Late career (1985-present)

In 1985, Rowlands played the mother in the critically acclaimed made-for-TV movie An Early Frost. She won an Emmy for her portrayal of former First Lady of the United States Betty Ford in the 1987 made-for-TV movie The Betty Ford Story.

In 1988, Rowlands starred in Woody Allen's dramatic film Another Woman. She played Marion Post, a middle-aged professor who is prompted to a journey of self-discovery when she overhears the therapy sessions of another woman (Mia Farrow). The review in Time Out described the character's trajectory: "Marion gets to thinking, and is appalled to realise that so many assumptions about her own life and marriage are largely unfounded: in her desire for a controlled existence, she has evaded the emotional truth about relationships with her best friend (Sandy Dennis), brother (Harris Yulin) and husband (Ian Holm)." Time Out praised the "marvellous" performances in the film, adding, "Rowlands' perfectly pitched approach to a demanding role is particularly stunning."[14]Film4 called her performance "sublime",[15] while Roger Ebert noted that it marked a considerable change in tone from her work with Cassavetes, thus showing "how good an actress Rowlands has been all along."[16]

In 2002, Rowlands appeared in Mira Nair's HBO movie Hysterical Blindness, for which she won her third Emmy. She was later seen in The Notebook (2004), which was directed by her son Nick Cassavetes. The same year, she won her first Daytime Emmy for her role as Mrs. Evelyn Ritchie in The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie. In 2005, she appeared opposite Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard, and John Hurt in the gothic thriller The Skeleton Key.[]

In 2003, she appeared as Mrs. Hellman in Numb3rs. She played a Nazi survivor whose whole family was killed. The family owned a painting that the Nazis confiscated. Later on the painting reappeared. The new owner lent the painting to an art gallery in Los Angeles but while on display it was stolen. The F.B.I. agent, played by Don Eppes, tries to figure out what really happened. Rowlands received rave reviews for this role. She has been a spokesperson for people who were persecuted by the Nazis so this role was a perfect match for her.

In 2007, she played a supporting role opposite Parker Posey and Melvil Poupaud in Broken English, an independent American feature written and directed by her daughter Zoe Cassavetes. In 2009, she appeared on an episode of Monk ("Mr. Monk and the Lady Next Door"). On March 2, 2010, she appeared on an episode of NCIS as lead character Leroy Jethro Gibbs's former mother-in-law, who is embroiled in a murder investigation.[17] In 2014, she starred in the film adaptation of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.[18]

Personal life

Rowlands was married to John Cassavetes from April 9, 1954, until his death on February 3, 1989. They met at the American Academy at Carnegie Hall where they were both students. They had four children, all actor-directors: Nick, Alexandra, Frankie Cassavetes, and Zoe. Rowlands married retired businessman Robert Forrest in 2012.

Rowlands has stated that she was a fan of actress Bette Davis while growing up. She played Davis's daughter in Strangers.[19]


Rowlands has been nominated for two Academy Awards, eight Primetime Emmy Awards, one Daytime Emmy Award, eight Golden Globe Awards, three Satellite Awards, and two SAG Awards. Some of her notable wins are a Silver Bear for Best Actress, three Primetime Emmy Awards and one Daytime Emmy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, two National Board of Review Awards, and two Satellite Awards.

In January 2015, Rowlands was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.[20] At the 2015 Governors Awards, she received an Honorary Academy Award. The press release described Rowland as "an original talent" whose "devotion to her craft has earned her worldwide recognition as an independent film icon".[21]


Year Title Role Notes
1958 The High Cost of Loving Jenny Fry
1959 Shadows Woman in Nightclub Audience Uncredited

Directed by John Cassavetes

1959 Laramie - The Run to Tumavaca Laurel DeWalt
1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Lucille
1962 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Helen Martin
1962 Lonely Are the Brave Jerry Bondi
1962 The Spiral Road Els
1963 A Child Is Waiting Sophie Widdicombe Benham Directed by John Cassavetes
1963 Bonanza Ragan Miller Episode: "She Walks in Beauty"
1967 Tony Rome Rita Kosterman
1968 Faces Jeannie Rapp Directed by John Cassavetes
1969 Machine Gun McCain Rosemary Scott Also known as Gli intoccabili
1971 Minnie and Moskowitz Minnie Moore Directed by John Cassavetes
1974 A Woman Under the Influence Mabel Longhetti Directed by John Cassavetes

Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
National Board of Review Award for Best Actress
San Sebastián International Film Festival Prize for Best Actress
Nominated -- Academy Award for Best Actress

1975 Columbo: Playback Elizabeth Van Wick
1976 Two-Minute Warning Janet
1977 Opening Night Myrtle Gordon Directed by John Cassavetes

Silver Bear for Best Actress[22]
Nominated -- Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama

1978 The Brink's Job Mary Pino
1978 A Question of Love Linda Ray Guettner
1979 Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter Abigail Mason
1980 Gloria Gloria Swenson Directed by John Cassavetes

Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
Nominated -- Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated -- Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama

1982 Tempest Antonia Dimitrius Directed by John Cassavetes
1982 Faerie Tale Theatre The Witch Season 2 Episode: Rapunzel
1983 Thursday's Child Victoria Alden Nominated -- Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Mini-Series or Television Film
1984 Love Streams Sarah Lawson Directed by John Cassavetes

Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Actress

1985 An Early Frost Katherine Pierson Nominated -- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress - Mini-Series or a Movie
Nominated -- Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Mini-Series or Television Film
1987 Light of Day Jeanette Rasnick
1987 The Betty Ford Story Betty Ford Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress - Mini-Series or a Movie
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Mini-Series or Television Film
1988 Another Woman Marion Post
1989 I'm Almost Not Crazy: John Cassavetes, the Man and His Work Herself
1990 Montana Bess Guthrie
1990 Hollywood Mavericks Herself
1991 Once Around Marilyn Bella
1991 Night on Earth Victoria Snelling
1991 Ted & Venus Mrs. Turner
1991 Face of a Stranger Pat Foster Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress - Mini-Series or a Movie
1992 Crazy in Love Honora Swift Nominated -- Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Mini-Series or Television Film
1993 Silent Cries Peggy Sutherland
1993 Anything for John Herself
1994 Parallel Lives Francie Pomerantz
1995 Something to Talk About Georgia King
1995 The Neon Bible Mae Morgan
1996 Unhook the Stars Mildred "Millie" Hawks Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Nominated -- Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

1997 She's So Lovely Miss Jane Green Directed by Nick Cassavetes
1998 Paulie Ivy
1998 Hope Floats Ramona Calvert Lone Star Film & Television Award for Best Supporting Actress
1998 The Mighty Gram
1998 Playing by Heart Hannah
1999 The Weekend Laura Ponti Nominated -- Seattle International Film Festival Citation of Excellence for Ensemble Cast Performance
2000 Light Keeps Me Company Herself - interviewee
2000 The Color of Love: Jacey's Story Georgia Porter Nominated -- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress - Mini-Series or a Movie
Nominated -- Satellite Award for Best Actress - Mini-Series or Television Film
2001 Wild Iris Minnie Brinn Nominated -- Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress - Mini-Series or a Movie
2002 Charms for the Easy Life Ms. Charlie Kate
2003 Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There Herself
2003 Hysterical Blindness Virginia Miller Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress - Mini-Series or a Movie
Nominated -- Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Series, Mini-Series, or Television Film
2004 The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie Evelyn Ritchie Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children/Youth/Family Special
2004 Taking Lives Mrs. Asher
2004 The Notebook Old Allie Calhoun Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture

2005 The Skeleton Key Violet Devereaux Nominated -- Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
2006 Paris, je t'aime Gena (segment "Quartier Latin")
2006 Numb3rs Mrs. Hellman Episode: "Provenance"
2007 Broken English Vivien Wilder-Mann Directed by Zoe Cassavetes
2007 Persepolis Marjane's grandmother Voice role, English dubbed version
2007 What If God Were the Sun? Melissa Eisenbloom Nominated -- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress - Mini-Series or a Movie
Nominated -- Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Mini-Series or Television Movie
2009 Monk Marge Johnson Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
2010 NCIS Joann Fielding
2011 Olive Tess M Powell
2012 Yellow Mimi Directed by Nick Cassavetes
2013 Parts Per Billion Esther
2014 Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks Lily Harrison


  1. ^ Tim Gray. "Gena Rowlands, Spike Lee, Debbie Reynolds to Receive Governors Awards Oscars". Variety.
  2. ^ Dane County Register of Deeds, Madison, Wisconsin.
  3. ^ U.S. Census, April 1, 1930, state of Wisconsin, county of Columbia, village of Cambria, enumeration district 3, page 4-B, family 130
  4. ^ "Gena Rowlands Biography (1930?-)".
  5. ^ Assembly, 1927-1935; Senate, 1935-1939. Members of the Wisconsin Legislature 1848-1999, Informational Bulletin 99-1, Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, 1999.
  6. ^ Lane, Lydia (November 21, 1980). "Beauty".
  7. ^ "OPA Directed by Merwyn [sic] Rowlands," The Sheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, April 2, 1942, p. 4
  8. ^ Registrar's Office, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  9. ^ "Six U.W. Co-eds 'Badger Beauties", The Sheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, November 14, 1949, p. 2
  10. ^ University of Wisconsin Badger, 1950
  11. ^ "Top Secret". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2014.
  12. ^ "Who Owns an Improvised Work?". The John Cassavetes Pages. Retrieved 2006.
  13. ^ Carney, Ray "On Your Relationship with Criterion", The John Cassavetes Pages; accessed December 17, 2006
  14. ^ "Another Woman". Time Out. Retrieved 2013.
  15. ^ "Another Woman". Film4. Retrieved 2013.
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 18, 1988). "Another Woman". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2013.
  17. ^ Ausiello, Michael (January 16, 2010). "'NCIS' exclusive: Gena Rowlands unlocks Gibbs' past". The Meredith Corporation. Retrieved 2019.
  18. ^ Chang, Justin (December 16, 2014). "Film Review: 'Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks'". Variety. Retrieved 2016.
  19. ^ "The Hollywood Reporter Interview with Gena Rowlands". March 29, 2015.
  20. ^ "LAFCA Lifetime Achievement Award". March 29, 2015. Archived from the original on December 30, 2014. Retrieved 2015.
  21. ^ "Spike Lee, Debbie Reynolds And Gena Rowlands To Receive Academy's 2015 Governors Awards". AMPAS. Retrieved 2015.
  22. ^ "Berlinale 1978: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2010.

Further reading

External links

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