Melinda Dillon

Actor, Director
An original member of the Second City improv troupe, Melinda Dillon scored a Tony nomination for her supporting work as the vulnerable Honey in the original Broadway production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" After ... Read more »
Born: 10/12/1939 in Hope, Arkansas, USA


Actor (49)

The Effects of Magic 2014 (Movie)

Mom (Actor)

Heartland 2007 (Tv Show)


Reign Over Me 2007 (Movie)

Ginger Timpleman (Actor)

Adam & Steve 2006 (Movie)

Dottie (Actor)

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit 2005 (Tv Show)


John Grisham's A Painted House 2002 - 2003 (TV Show)


Cowboy Up 2001 (Movie)

Rose Braxton (Actor)

Judging Amy 2001 (Tv Show)


Magnolia 1999 (Movie)

Rose Gator (Actor)

Tracey Takes On... 1995 - 1999 (TV Show)


How to Make An American Quilt 1995 (Movie)

Mrs Darling (Actor)

Sioux City 1994 (Movie)

Leah Goldman (Actor)

The Prince of Tides 1991 (Movie)

Savannah Wingo (Actor)

Captain America 1990 (Movie)

Mrs Rogers (Actor)

Spontaneous Combustion 1990 (Movie)

Nina (Actor)

Staying Together 1989 (Movie)

Eileen McDermott (Actor)

The Twilight Zone 1985 - 1989 (TV Show)


Harry and the Hendersons 1987 (Movie)

Nancy Henderson (Actor)

James A. Michener's "Space" 1984 - 1985 (TV Show)


Songwriter 1984 (Movie)

Honey Carder (Actor)

A Christmas Story 1983 (Movie)

Mother (Actor)

Absence of Malice 1981 (Movie)

Teresa (Actor)

Fallen Angel 1980 - 1981 (TV Show)


F.I.S.T. 1978 (Movie)

Anna Zerinkas (Actor)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977 (Movie)

Jillian Guiler (Actor)

Enigma 1976 - 1977 (TV Show)


Slap Shot 1977 (Movie)

Suzanne (Actor)

Bound For Glory 1976 (Movie)

Mary Guthrie (Actor)

Freeman 1975 - 1976 (TV Show)


Story Theater 1971 - 1972 (TV Show)


The April Fools 1969 (Movie)

Leslie Hopkins (Actor)

A Painted House (Movie)

Gran Chandler (Actor)

Fallen Angel (Movie)

Sherry Phillips (Actor)

Hellinger's Law (TV Show)


Marriage Is Alive and Well (TV Show)


Nightbreaker (TV Show)


Right of Way (TV Show)


Shattered Innocence (TV Show)


Shattered Spirits (TV Show)


State of Emergency (TV Show)


The Critical List (TV Show)


The Juggler of Notre Dame (TV Show)


The Shadow Box (TV Show)


Transplant (TV Show)



An original member of the Second City improv troupe, Melinda Dillon scored a Tony nomination for her supporting work as the vulnerable Honey in the original Broadway production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" After her Golden Globe-nominated turn in "Bound for Glory" (1976), she earned an Oscar nomination for one of her most famous roles, that of a mother in search of her alien-abducted child in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977). After roles in "Slap Shot" (1977) and "F.I.S.T." (1978), she earned another Oscar nomination as a woman driven to suicide by the machinations of a reporter (Sally Field) in "Absence of Malice" (1981) and achieved pop cultural immortality as the sweet, slightly goofy mother in the ultimate holiday classic, "A Christmas Story" (1983). Dillon scored important roles as John Lithgow's wife in "Harry and the Hendersons" (1987) and Nick Nolte's troubled sister in "The Prince of Tides" (1991), but notched smaller supporting turns in the ensemble pieces "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar" (1995), "How to Make an American Quilt" (1995) and "Magnolia" (1999). Working steadily but quietly, the actress continued to pop up in character roles, including an uncredited turn in "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" (2012). Equally adept at comedy as well as drama, Melinda Dillon was an exceptionally gifted actress who brought a unique spark to any project in which she appeared.

Born Oct. 13, 1939 in Hope, AR, Melinda Rose Dillon began her career at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, IL and subsequently became an original member of the famed Second City improvisational company. She made her Broadway debut creating the role of Honey in the original production of Edward Albee's classic "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" for which she won a New York Drama Critics Award as well as received a Tony nomination. She became a familiar face to audiences of that era with a string of TV guest spots on such popular programs as "Bonanza" (NBC, 1959-1973) and "The Jeffersons" (CBS, 1975-1985), while also making her film debut in "The April Fools" (1969), where she played an eccentric neighbor of Catherine Deneuve. Dillon's greatest impact would come on the big screen, and she earned a Golden Globe nomination for playing the dual roles of Woody Guthrie's abandoned wife and his singing partner in Hal Ashby's biopic "Bound for Glory" (1976). Her career earned a major boost, elevating her to household name status when Steven Spielberg cast her in his extraterrestrial masterpiece, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) as a desperate mother coping with the alien abduction of her son. Her frantic search for her young son (Cary Guffey) as the aliens surround the family farmhouse, beaming otherworldly light through every crevice in the wall and floorboards, remained one of the most classic moments put to film. Her heartbreaking performance earned Dillon nominations for an Oscar and Saturn Award.

Dillon proved surprisingly sexy in the hockey comedy "Slap Shot" (1977) and flexed her dramatic chops as the lover of union organizer Johnny Kovak (Sylvester Stallone) in the drama "F.I.S.T." (1978). After a sweet cameo in "The Muppet Movie" (1979), she starred in several made-for-TV movies, including "The Shadow Box" (ABC, 1980), before notching her most powerful dramatic film role in Sydney Pollack's "Absence of Malice" (1981). As a loyal but emotionally fragile friend whose attempts to defend a businessman (Paul Newman) result in her own undoing and eventual suicide, Dillon delivered an unforgettable performance which earned her a second Oscar nomination. Dillon's most iconic and most beloved role, however, came when she played the high-spirited but understanding mother of young Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) in "A Christmas Story" (1983). Although the film achieved a quiet, sleeper success at the box office upon its initial release, it was not until later in the decade that annual television airings and word-of-mouth propelled it into a beloved classic. By the 1990s, "A Christmas Story" was universally acknowledged as an annual holiday must-see and, for many viewers, an all-time favorite with oft-quoted lines and sequences immortalized in the popular imagination. Dillon herself provided many of the film's best moments, showcasing her exceptional ability with comedy as well as drama, including her frazzled, one-sided battle with her husband's (Darren McGavin) alluring leg lamp, her "mommy's little piggy" eating lesson with finicky younger brother Randy (Ian Petrella), and a touchingly gentle sequence in which she gracefully defuses a potential dinner table fight between Ralphie and his father.

Dillon went on to anchor an especially memorable nuclear war-themed installment of "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964, 1985-89; UPN, 2002-03), earned another Saturn Award nomination as John Lithgow's warm wife in the Bigfoot family favorite "Harry and the Hendersons" (1987), and essayed Savannah Wingo, Nick Nolte's fragile poet sister whose attempted suicide serves as the catalyst for family redemption in Barbra Streisand's masterful drama, "The Prince of Tides" (1991). Continuing her journey as an acclaimed character actress, Dillon notched a CableACE nomination for her work on the medical ethics drama "State of Emergency" (HBO, 1994) and took small roles in the ensemble films "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar" (1995), "How to Make an American Quilt" (1995) and "Magnolia" (1999). Although her professional output slowed in later years, the actress still managed to notch interesting character work, including supporting turns in the gay romance "Adam & Steve" (2005), the 9/11 drama "Reign Over Me" (2007), and the quirky apocalyptic romantic comedy "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" (2012).

By Jonathan Riggs


E Norine Dillon


W Dillon


Richard Libertini Actor

Married Sept. 30, 1963 Divorced Jan. 18, 1978


studied acting with Lee Strasberg from 1962-64

The Goodman School of Drama

Chicago , Illinois 1958 - 1961



Cast on the short-lived TNT series "Heartland"


Acted in the post 9/11 drama "Reign Over Me"


Co-starred with Chris Kattan in Craig Chester's directing debut "Adam & Steve"


Played the long suffering wife of a game show host in "Magnolia"


Landed supporting roles in "How to Make an American Quilt" and "Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everyhting, Julie Newmar"


Cast as Robert Blake's wife in the based-on-fact TV-movie "Judgment Day: The John List Story" (CBS)


Played recurring role on CBS drama series "Middle Ages"


Appeared as Nick Nolte's suicidal sister in "The Prince of Tides"


Co-starred in "Harry and the Hendersons"


Played the mother in Bob Clark's minor masterpiece "A Christmas Story"


Earned second Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for "Absence of Malice"


Received Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"


TV miniseries debut "The Critical List" (NBC)


First film in seven years, "Bound for Glory"


TV debut as regular cast member in the syndicated series "Story Theater"


Screen acting debut in "The April Fools"


Broadway debut as Honey, in original Broadway production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"


Became member of original company of the Second City improvisational troupe

Bonus Trivia


"She gives off a lovely light." – Steven Spielberg on Dillon, quoted in Halliwell's Filmgoer's and Video Viewer's Companion, Ninth Edition, 1988