Many remember her as a beautiful blonde who was not indifferent to even the biggest of all monkeys – King Kong, back in 1976. It was a role in which she infamously began her very rich career today. She is Jessica Lang and to this day she has proven that the first negative criticisms of her acting were quite real, but also that they quickly lost some meaningful foothold.
Two “Oscars” and five nominations for the most prestigious film award only confirm that. Just like the recently won “Golden Globe” for the role in the series “American Horror Story”, which they say is Jessica’s only bright moment in that work.
Jessica Lang’s life story is amazing and in the following texts, I will describe the life of this amazing actress.
Jessica Phyllis Lang was born on April 20, 1949. In the small town of Cloket in Minnesota, as the third daughter of merchant Albert John Lang (Ala) and Dorothy Lang, originally from Finland.
A descendant of German-Dutch immigrants, Al and his wife Dorothy already had two children at the time; Anne and Jane, and after daughter Jessica, had a son, George. Although she dreamed of becoming a dancer, Dorothy took care of the children and was a housewife. With their kids, the Lange led a real nomadic life. They often roamed the towns in Minnesota, so Jessica later described her childhood as a real gypsy life. Although she constantly wanted to leave, the frequent changes in the environment did not suit her too much.
– I always thought that real life was somewhere else and I could hardly wait to meet him – she later stated, but she did not leave her native Minnesota even when she enrolled at the University of Minneapolis. She received a scholarship and began studying art to become a painter. But she didn’t stay there long.
She met a professor who came to the University as a guest and taught photography there. And Jessica got so hot for the 24-year-old Spaniard Francisco (Pac) Grande, who often changed his residential address, just like the one when she was a girl, that she was ready to follow him anywhere.
Namely, he traveled the world to give lectures at various universities, and as she liked it, she agreed to his every proposal to join him on his travels. Jessica finally left Minneapolis two months after she fell in love with Pac, so she went to New York with him, doing the painting she loved.
After New York, she stayed with him in Paris for a while, enjoying it, because she lived outside the environment in which she grew up and which she never loved too much. Since Grande had a large number of friends everywhere, except in Paris, they lived in other cities and areas that they would like, and at the same time they would sleep in his van. Their European tour lasted more than a year, after which they were in New Mexico for a while, before finally returning to Minnesota. Two years after they met, they decided to legalize their relationship. It was in July 1970, when they became spouses in an informal ceremony, at the house of Jessica’s parents.
They continued to lead a nomadic life in marriage, so they moved from Minnesota to New York, where photographer Grande was hired. Jessica painted at the beginning, but she soon realized that this was not what she would like to do, and besides, she no longer enjoyed herself as she used to enrich the canvases with a brush in her hand. And while her husband was preoccupied with his job and studying innovations in film making techniques, she engaged in the thought of how she could express herself. She decided to dance, convinced that it suited her best, but she changed her mind before she even started.
A turning point
And one cinema-projection, which she happened to watch, of the French film “Les enfents du paradis” (Children of Paradise), is to blame for everything. It was the beginning of 1971, and she was enchanted by the actor – pantomime artist Jean-Louis Barrot. She was so thrilled with his points that she decided to travel to France to learn something about pantomime. Despite the fact that her husband was still working in New York, she implemented her decision when, with three hundred dollars in her pocket, she traveled for her dreams and immediately after arriving in Paris, went to classes with the then famous father of modern French pantomime, Etienne Decroe.
She stayed at his lectures for two years, and everything she learned there later benefited her a lot in her career as an actress. The year 1973 was coming to an end, just like the French adventure of the future actress, who then returned to her husband in New York, where he still lived as a bohemian. Since they neglected their relationship a lot in those two years, their marriage was on shaky ground. They did not divorce, at least not formally. They continued to be dedicated to their work. While he traveled too Jamaica to meet a new business challenge – shooting a low-budget film, Jessica was trying to find a job in New York.
Investing in herself was her first priority this time as well, so she enrolled in acting classes and joined a small theater company, but she also had to make a living from something.
– I did not rely on luck and the belief that I would find a job overnight that would enable me to live a normal life – Lang recalled, who somehow had to ensure her existence, so for a while she even waited and worked as a model.
– I was never afraid of work, so I started waiting in the tavern “Lion’s Head”, in New York’s Greenwich Village.
– Through some acquaintances, I managed to find an additional job in the modeling agency “Vilemina”. The money I received for shooting commercials was the hardest to earn my fee. The myth about the glamorous life of models is the biggest lie you can imagine.
– Editors and photographers treat you like a thing, you are just a commodity for them, you have no dignity at all. Really humiliating – Jessica told about the journey through the thorns to the stars. But, it was that painful job of a beauty that introduced her to the one that will determine her future. The legendary film producer Dino De Laurentis, who was then preparing to shoot a new film – a remake of the famous “King Kong” from 1930, stopped by the “Vilemina” agency.
Although at first sight the late producer liked it, it took some time until the signing of the cooperation agreement for as long as seven years. As well as until her first appearance on the big screen. After watching the recordings of all the girls who wanted to play in “King Kong”, De Laurentis decided on the beautiful Jessica, to whom he set three conditions if he really wanted a role.
She mastered the first sacrifice test for her career very well – she gained a few kilograms, bleached her hair and took off her braces, just as Dino wanted. But she wasn’t too happy when she first came on set. Namely, the role of the girl who was the only one who managed to gain the trust of the giant monkey, considering that he fell in love with her, frustrated Jessica, who embodied her because she shot most of the scenes herself, in front of a blank screen on which the recordings were then mounted. A monkey in the setting of the film. And, it’s her first job, it turned out just as bad as she felt filming it.
At least that was some comments from the work of film critics who wrote that it would have been better for her to continue sticking to modeling and to act like a baby in the film, as she looked compared to a gorilla. However, the earnings of “King Kong”, which premiered for Christmas in 1976, were not so small, but Jessica’s first film did not open the door to Hollywood. Even the fact that she had a signed collaboration with producer De Laurentis didn’t mean anything anymore.
For the next two years, she didn’t record anything. But that’s why she had time for love. Given that she and Paco Grande had long been a finished story, (he contracted rhinitis pigments, the so-called night blindness, in the early 1970s, so she took care of him financially even after a formal divorce, 1982), Jessica, having met the Russian ballet dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, fell madly in love. It was 1977, when Baryshnikov came to the United States from the USSR a little earlier and starred in the film “The Turning Point”.
The language barrier did not stand in the way of their love. The ballet dancer did not know English yet, but he spoke excellent French, and since Jessica stayed in Paris for a while, they understood each other in that language. For the next six years, they were a couple, but marriage was not an option for them. As they both thought that the relationship between the two people was not regulated by the state or the Church, the Russian said later, they never discussed that possibility.
Since she didn’t do anything after the first film, Jessica continued to attend acting classes in New York, and her sweetheart burned out for a job in the New York Ballet. In acting school, she met the famous choreographer, writer and director as well as Oscar winner Bob Fose (he won the Golden Statue for directing the musical “Cabaret” in 1972) with whom she quickly became close friends. He was 22 years older than the rising blonde actress, but also a very versatile artist. He always walked around with a hat or cap on his head, in order to cover up the baldness he had to gradually face from the age of seventeen, which he did not easily accept.
How special he was is also shown by the fact that he even wore gloves in the summer, because he thought he had ugly hands, so he didn’t want to look at them. On the other hand, he was a passionate fan of dance, which for him was the only real way to express art.
And just shortly after meeting Jessica, he began preparations for his new film, “All That Jazz.” With this story about the talented and self-destructive choreographer Joe Gideon, a womanizer and drug user who begins to think about his past and thus becomes more and more aware of his own mortality, Bob Fose in a way told his life story. In which 30-year-old Jessica fit in perfectly, because he offered her a role even before he organized the audition.
But, unfortunately for her, with the role of Angelique in the film that won as many as four “Oscars” as well as the “Golden Palm”, she did not win criticism again. In anticipation of a role in which she could affirm herself as an actress, Jessica Lang lost a bit of hope that something like that would happen. And then she got pregnant. At the beginning of 1981, she became the mother of the little girl Alexandra (her nickname is Shura), whose father is Baryshnikov. She finally stopped getting tired of her career and lived through her best days.
– Motherhood is the most beautiful thing that has happened to me in my life. I have always enjoyed being a daughter, sister, wife, but only motherhood has revealed to me how beautiful it is to be a woman – said the actress who, while enjoying her daughter, lost her father a bit.
Jessica and Mikhail were no longer in love with each other, and their relationship cooled slightly, so they broke up before the end of the same year. But they never said a single ugly word about each other, moreover, Lang described the father of her child as an amazing man with whom she remained on good terms.
– The more time passes, the better friends we are. It is a great gift not only for me but also for our Shura, just like for him – said a few years ago an actress who, after a role in the movie “All That Jazz”, also starred in the comedy “How to Beat the High Cost of Living” and introduced “Angel on my Shoulder” when a turnaround occurred in her career.
She was called by director Bob Rafelson, who worked on a remake of the 1940 classic “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and was looking for the ideal actress for the role of Kore, a waitress who and her lover devise how to kill her husband and get life insurance money. Jessica seemed ideal to him, and he wasn’t wrong. With partner Jack Nicholson, this time she lived up to expectations, and their sex scene on the butcher’s table became legendary. Even the critics were delighted with the spectrum of emotions she showed in the film, which they could not even imagine from her.
Finally, Jessica climbed on the path to fame and success, so after the great role of Kora, she accepted the one in the biographical drama “Frances”, in which she fantastically embodied the main character, the schizophrenic actress Francis Farmer. And just then she met the American actor, writer and theater director Samuel Shepard Rogers III (Sam Shepard), who was only six years older than her.
He already had several collections of short stories, essays and memoirs behind him, and he was also the proud owner of the “Pulitzer Prize” for the play “Buried Child”. And as it usually happens, except in love, her roses bloomed at work, so she approached the top at the speed of light.
Despite the exhaustion of the organism, after the shooting of the film “Frances”, she accepted a new role. Just as her friends advised her that it would be good for her to tackle a lighter topic, it so happened that she really got a chance to star in a comedy. Since Sydney Polak won the role in the film “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, he offered her a supporting role in the film “Tootsie”, which, along with “Frances”, secured her a place in the front rows at the “Oscars”. Namely, in 1982, Jessica Lang was nominated for as many as two golden statues – for the best supporting role in “Tootsie” and the best leading role in “Frances”, which earned an actress two nominations for the first time in 40 years.
Lang was left without that prestigious film award in the category of best lead actress, which was won by Meryl Streep for “Sofia’s Choice”, but she won for a great role about the disappointed soap star in Polak’s comedy. How much the glitter and fame that her job brought her was actually unimportant, she showed with the nervousness she had when she took over the “Oscar” and barely read the notes she had with her.
Like her, Shepard was not prone to Hollywood glamour, so when they had children – daughter Hannah Jane, January 13, 1986, and then son Samuel Walker, born June 14, 1987 – they enjoyed themselves in Minnesota, where they moved, which was largely Sam’s wish. Before that, they lived for a while on a farm in Virginia, and then on a ranch in New Mexico.
– Sam is a loner at heart. But, still, he will go crazy for something that may be close to me.
Such is Waller, who has always wanted to catch “muskie” (a type of pike), that mythical fish that is almost impossible to catch, because it is huge. So we went to the lake, where I immediately saw how delighted Sam was with the space and isolation, he was simply amazed – said the actress in an interview, when she revealed how much her descendants like life in her hometown, which she as the little one never favored.
– Unlike them, I didn’t have much choice. I think they have a life I could only dream of. They spent part of the fall in Rome, and Shura and I were in India for the summer. It’s a real thrill for me and I think it’s the same for them when they have the opportunity to travel. And that’s the great thing about making movies, because you live in a completely different place for a while. You don’t just visit them as a tourist. I hate being a tourist, I like to settle somewhere, work, go to the store, meet neighbors … The fact that my children can go to India, Rome, France or Britain, makes them really lucky. Of course, they like it best when they are at home and when they can go out with friends on Saturday nights. But, it must be like that, a man is never satisfied with what he has – said Jessica, who, despite the fact that she and Shepard raised three children, never married him.
She said that the relationship between two people do not depend on paper.
– We live like we’re married. In the beginning, I experienced those vicissitudes about the dissolution of the first marriage, and I really don’t need someone to tell me that I’m married. And so time passed, we have been together for 17 years, with or without paper, it doesn’t matter. I do not condemn anyone who does that, I have an understanding for such decisions, especially when it comes to women, because they first want to protect their children through the institution of marriage. But when you are financially independent, that urge is weaker, because a woman feels safer and more valuable. Of course, a lot depends on the partner, and I was lucky – said the Oscar winner, to whom the roles of Sam Shepard’s unmarried wife and mother of three children have always been her favorite.
But, because of them, she did not neglect her career, so until the mid-nineties of the last century, she acted in a dozen films, including: “Country” from 1984, in which she starred with her beloved Sam, and they played spouses, farmers, and earned an Oscar nomination, then “Sweet Dreams” the same year, a life story about country singer Patsy Klein that Lang loved to listen to privately, and brought her a new Oscar nomination, while she earned her fifth in 1989, with a role in a thriller. “Music Box”.
That same year, her father Al died, and after she recorded “Men Don’t Leave” the following year, she slowed down a bit, so she rarely accepted roles in order to dedicate herself to children.
– Only they could keep me somewhere. And I enjoy them. I’d rather be with them than with anyone else. I am constantly fascinated – said the actress, but above all the mother of Shura, Hana and Walker, who are already adults today.
– I raised my children according to the principles that I built myself and in which I firmly believe even today: I taught them that people should be accepted, be tolerant and know how to forgive. The art of forgiveness is one of the most important human virtues, although it seems to me that it is less and less valued today – said Jessica, a devoted mother and a great actress, which she reaffirmed in 1984, when she made another successful film – “Blue the sky”.
Sam Shepard rarely spoke publicly about his private life, but he failed to hide his love for Jessica.
“I love this woman in a way I can’t describe and the feeling of belonging to each other reaches all the pain … When I look back on 10 years in California, I see myself desperately chasing something I didn’t find. I know Work’s point of view the only right one. Life is in us. Nothing outside can answer our longings. I know that’s true, but, in a way, finding Jessica has reached something in me. Part of me feels completely new. – awakened again.
“I see that fear stems from loneliness in the world and now has a new meaning for me. You can be alone in the middle of other people or you can be alone and join someone else’s loneliness. There can be a true meeting of two people, in a place where they feel isolated. On the very edge. And that’s exactly how it is with me and her, “Shepard wrote.
Having won her second “Oscar”, this time in the category of the best female role for “Blue Sky”, Lang came to the position that she could choose the projects in which she will act. And she chose only those who intrigued her enough. In addition to the big screen, she continued to act in the theater, so in the Broadway play “Tram Called Desire”, based on a book by Tennessee Williams, which she played before winning the last “Oscar”, she was brilliant, just like in the London performance of the drama ” A long journey into the night “, according to the novel by Eugene O’Neill, in which she played Mary Tyrone and was really beautiful.
It was 2000, the year after the film “Titus”, a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play “Titus Andronicus”, about the Roman military leader of the same name, played by Anthony Hopkins, and Jessica revived the Gothic ruler Tamora, which immediately attracted her.
– In “Titus”, my character opens the first scene in which he prays for his son’s life. I thought about how inherent it is in motherhood. And if that’s some kind of guiding thread for me, I could tackle it. And I agreed. But lately I’ve noticed that the less I work, the harder it is for me to dedicate myself to something and the easier it is for me to say: I’m not interested in that role or I’m not very enthusiastic about working with that director or it’s football season. So I better be home. Ever since I made this film, I have actually turned down all offers. Ten years ago, I would certainly have accepted at least one, if not more than what was offered to me, but now I somehow can’t give up, my routine. Not to pretend to be so-called ordinary characters. I don’t want to sound pretentious or conceited – said the actress, who was strongly influenced by the death of her mother in 1998, whose loss she had a hard time with, so she started to look at things around her in a completely different way.
– Now that I look back, I realize that borders exist for a reason. When you are young, you are so abrupt in your emotions that you go through life without paying attention to responsibility and consequences. Some things I would never allow myself again, because they distract you from what really matters. When my mother died, I suffered terribly, so much that I can’t describe it in words at all. Her death changed the way I look at life, I wondered how I would proceed at all. Since then, I have turned more to myself, I want to understand a lot better, and that can only be achieved by studying, either spiritually or in some other way. Everything else has become irrelevant to me – said the actress who turned 50 this year.
– It didn’t particularly affect me. I think it’s more on the surrounding people. They told me, “It’s a real birthday!” But I wasn’t too excited. I didn’t dance for joy on the street because I’ll be 50! I never paid special attention to birthdays. I think since I was 12, I’ve only had one birthday party. But, as from time to time you have to write somewhere how old you are, I happened to hesitate and say – I can’t believe it. But then I read the curiosity that of those people who turn 50, half live to a hundred. Isn’t that great? I hope I’m in that 50 percent?
It is nice to think that you are only halfway there – said Jessica, who over time became a great advocate for the protection of human rights.
A new role
Since 2003, she has been a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, and she has distinguished herself with her political beliefs as a member of a more liberal, democratic current. Thus, she was a very fierce opponent of former US President George W. Bush, whom she publicly called the greatest shame of American recent history.
She considered him the main culprit for the situation in the country, and when US President Barack Obama was elected, she did not hesitate to show that she opted for him. She participated in all variants of public support for Obama, and after his victory in the elections, she stated that he gave her one of the best reasons to celebrate in the last twenty years.
She continued to act more on theatrical boards than in movies, so in 2005 she again participated in a play based on the novel by Tennessee Williams – “Glass Menagerie”, which was played at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, as many as 120 times.
And when she wasn’t working, just like today, she enjoyed taking photos or arranging her garden.
– I love acting, but doing photography – it’s something special – she explained once.
– I will never forget when, after digging and arranging the garden, I went to play the piano with my son. My hands were scratched, my veins were visible, and I noticed that he was looking at them and that his eyes were watering. It was then that I realized that at that moment he saw me looking old. I remembered my childhood, when I was waiting for my mother to pick me up. She just had style, she had black hair and pronounced cheekbones on her face. As she approached me, I thought: How beautiful she is. And one girl sitting next to me asked me, “Is that your mom?” I answered her in the affirmative, and she replied, “She’s old, isn’t she?” It broke my heart – she said about the aging of actresses who have always been different from most of her colleagues: more muscular, pronounced cheekbones, which sometimes bothered her, but over time she learned to deal with everything, so she appreciated natural beauty more.
Despite her claims, it was said that she underwent face tightening or used Botox, and even that she knew how to overdo it. But she never talked about it. She almost ended up on the operating table in 2009, when she awkwardly fell on the steps of her house in Minnesota and broke a collarbone, an arm and two ribs, which is why she spent several days in the hospital. That is why the premiere of the film “Gray Gardens”, the story of Big Ida Bill (Jessica Lang) and her daughter, Little Ida (Drew Barrymore), who created a special relationship living in a dilapidated summer house, unfortunately, grew up bedridden. .
– “Gray Gardens” is a shocking story from which a person, if he wants, can learn a lot. I realized that happiness is a very relative term. Having before me the destinies of these two women, I realized that each of us holds the key to his happiness in his own hands. Of course, for such knowledge you need to have a huge life experience. Many people are incredibly successful, they seem to be doing well, they own wealth, and yet they are unhappy. And vice versa – said the actress after the premiere of the film, who was experiencing another love crisis at that time, but this time stronger than the previous ones. Namely, after 30 years of living together, she broke up with Sam Shepard.
But that they decided that everyone should go their own way, Sam confirmed only before the end of 2011, although they broke up two years before. Just at the time of the end of the love story of the golden American couple, the actress turned sixty.
– I can’t describe exactly how I feel. One part of me is satisfied, because I have nothing more to lose. The most important achievements are behind me and when I look back, I really have reason to be satisfied. The other part of my soul is a bit empty, because my third child has also moved away, so after 28 years, I am alone in the house for the first time. I just want to be happy, because I spent a lot of time in vain choosing the opposite – the actress admitted.
Sam Shepard passed away on August 1, 2017, and Jessica had a hard time with his death.
Jessica Lang is still working full time today at the age of 69. A couple of years ago, she returned to television in the series “Feud”, in which she revived the character of the famous Hollywood diva Joan Crawford, while her rival was brilliantly played by Susan Sarandon, who masterfully played the character of Betty Davis.
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