Mary Kay Place
Born in Tulsa, OK, she was the daughter of Bradley Place, an art professor at the University of Tulsa, which later became her alma mater. Acting was a passion from a very young age, and after graduating from Tulsa with a degree in speech, she lit out for Los Angeles with just $300 and the number for the human resources department at CBS Studios. There, she landed a job as a receptionist, where she flailed in earnest to learn the intricacies of the job; her natural good cheer, however, caught the eye of comedian Tim Conway, who hired her as an assistant on his short-lived sketch comedy series, "The Tim Conway Comedy Hour" (CBS, 1970). After that show's demise, she became secretary to producer Norman Lear, who overheard her singing an original composition in the office and immediately cast her as a protest singer who serenades Archie Bunker with "If Communism Comes Knocking At Your Door, Don't Answer It" on "All in the Family" (CBS, 1971-1991). This led to more guest shots on CBS series like "M*A*S*H" (CBS, 1972-1983), though Place was working more as a writer during the early-'70s than an actress. She teamed with Linda Bloodworth-Thomas for three episodes of "M*A*S*H*;" one of which - 1974's "Hot Lips and Empty Arms" - was nominated for an Emmy. She also penned episodes of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77) and "Phyllis" (CBS, 1975-77) along with Oscar-nominated actress-writer, Valerie Curtin.Place's career bloomed in 1976 when she earned an Emmy Award as the eternally cheerful Loretta Haggers, best friend to Louise Lasser's title character on "Mary Hartman." An aspiring country singer, Loretta refused to let anything stand in the way of her dream, even after becoming paralyzed or giving birth to quintuplets. Place would later record Tonite! At the Capri Lounge Loretta Haggers, an entire album of country songs sung in character. An impressive showcase for her singing abilities, the LP yielded a Grammy nomination and a Top 10 hit, "Baby Boy," and featured backing vocals by no less than Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Anne Murray. A second album, 1977's Aimin' to Please, included a second Top 10 hit, "Something to Brag About," which saw Place duetting with Willie Nelson. Place continued to play Loretta after Lasser left "Hartman," but her recording success necessitated that the producers eliminate her character, which was done in a typically bizarre fashion: Loretta uttered an anti-Semitic comment on Dinah Shore's syndicated talk show "Dinah!" (1974-1980), which brought her career to a spectacular close.The exposure afforded to her career by "Mary Hartman" led to her feature film debut in Hal Ashby's "Bound for Glory" (1976), a biopic of the pioneering folk singer Woody Guthrie. More film work soon followed, which frequently cast her as offbeat fringe types or Loretta-esque beacons of happiness; she was the burnt-out saloon singer who replaces Liza Minnelli in Martin Scorsese's "New York, New York" (1976), while "Private Benjamin" (1980) and "Modern Problems" (1981) traded on her comedy background. "The Big Chill" (1983) was perhaps her most significant movie role. As Meg, a former 1960s counterculture child-turned-corporate lawyer who pines for a child, Place received a terrific showcase for her pixyish charm, as well as a previously unseen knack for drama. She would divide her time between the genres for the better part of the next two decades.In 1988, Place added directing to her growing list of credits by helming an episode of the short-lived sitcom, "Baby Boom" (NBC, 1988-89). She soon added more substantive programs, including "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004) and "The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman" (IFC, 2006-07), on which she also played the mother of Laura Kightlinger's eponymous screenwriter. Television would be a regular showcase for Place, most notably as Camille Cherski, best friend and confidante to Bess Armstrong's Patty Chase on "My So-Called Life" (ABC, 1994-95) and society columnist Prue Giroux in "Tales of the City" (PBS, 1993) and "Further Tales of the City" (PBS, 2001). From 2001 to 2004, she had a recurring guest role on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006) as the U.S. Surgeon General, whose friendship with President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen) is put to the test over controversial comments.While many actresses found it difficult to land roles of merit as they entered their fourth and fifth decades, Place continued to work steadily in features throughout the 1980s and 1990s, frequently in rich character roles. Standard-issue mom parts like her housewife in the dreary comedy "Captain Ron" (1992) with Kurt Russell and Martin Short were balanced by films like Francis Ford Coppola's "The Rainmaker" (1997), which provided her the choice role of the mother of a terminally ill child who sues her insurance carrier after it denies them coverage. She also earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination in 1996 as a baby store clerk kidnapped by two foster children in "Manny & Lo," and impressed as a fiery evangelical who tries to prevent wild child Laura Dern from aborting her baby in "Citizen Ruth" (1996). Comedy was naturally never far behind; most notably in a small but amusing turn as a perpetually confused receptionist in "Being John Malkovich" (1999), and as Reese Witherspoon's kind-hearted trailer park mother in "Sweet Home Alabama" (2002). She shared a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination with her "Malkovich" castmates in 2000. In 2006, Place joined the large ensemble cast of HBO's drama "Big Love" as Adaleen Grant, fourth wife and trusted confidante to polygamist sect leader Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton) and mother to Nicki Grant (Chl Sevigny). Though the role played on one of Place's acting strengths - limitless good cheer - Adaleen was also a formidable and even deadly figure who was not above sending Nicki to tamper with evidence against Roman and even placing a hit on her son, Alby (Matt Ross). After Roman's murder, Alby has his revenge on Adaleen by sending her to Nicki's first husband, the loathsome J.J. (Zeliko Ivanek), who impregnates Adaleen through a monstrous inbreeding program. However, Adaleen strikes back by setting fire to a fertility clinic with J.J. trapped inside. For her work on the eccentric series, Place was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in 2010. Place was also briefly top-billed opposite Lily Tomlin in "12 Miles of Bad Road" (HBO, 2007), a dark comic series from her old writing partner, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason about a highly dysfunctional group of wealthy Texans. The cable network unceremoniously dumped the show after negative reviews, and she soon returned to "Big Love." Her versatile voice could also be heard in several features and TV series; most notably as Amy Adams' mother in "Julie & Julia" (2009) and as the Guard Witch in "Shrek Ever After" (2010).