Martha Coolidge

Martha Coolidge

Coolidge first broke into Hollywood studios as a screenwriter receiving credit as one of several writers who contributed the story to the spy comedy "The Omega Connection" (1979). Her directorial debut, "Valley Girl" (1983), proved to be an above average teen comedy and quickly established her as one to watch. She had elicited a fine comic turn from Nicolas Cage in that film and her sophomore effort, "The City Girl" (1984) was an underrated gem featuring fine work from Laura Harrington as the titular character, a photographer with a penchant for unwise romantic pairings. With her growing reputation as an actor's director and given a "big budget" ($13 million), Coolidge helmed "Real Genius" (1985), a smart satire that featured a star-making turn by Val Kilmer and gave William Atherton a meaty supporting role. If overall the film was somewhat lacking in consistent character development, it did provide solid laughs and boded well for its director. Further adding to her reputation was "Rambling Rose" (1991), a meticulously performed character piece about an eccentric Southern family and their housemaid. The mother and daughter team of Diane Ladd and Laura Dern each received Oscar nominations under Coolidge's assured handling. An active member of the Directors Guild of America, Coolidge divided her time between TV and features and working within the union. While her film work in the 1990s hasn't exactly yielded a blockbuster, she has done yeoman work, often giving actresses rare chances to shine: consider Mercedes Ruehl in "Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers" (1993), Geena Davis in "Angie" (1994) and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in "Three Wishes" (1995). Even in "Out to Sea" (1997), a film built around the comic pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Elaine Stritch, Rue McClanahan, Dyan Cannon and Gloria DeHaven won critical kudos. Coolidge continued to demonstrate an affinity for pulling strong performances from her leading ladies in her small screen work as well. Her best-known telefilms were "Crazy in Love" (TNT, 1992), which focused on three generations of women (Herta Ware, Gena Rowlands and Holly Hunter) in the Pacific Northwest, and "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" (HBO, 1999), a biopic of the black sex symbol produced by and starring Halle Berry.