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Sally Field — Promoting Healthy Habits

So a surfer girl, a flying nun and a woman with multiple personalities walk into a bar... No, wait a minute, that’s not really the start of a joke—it’s the versatile actress Sally Field.

This icon of the Baby Boomer generation turns 60 this year, but her wide-ranging performances will always be ageless. Americans have grown up with Sally, and her classic characters resonate anew with each generation. One of the few actors to have garnered two Academy Awards (for her roles in Norma Rae and Places in the Heart), Field not only thrilled us with her acting, but also touched our hearts at the award ceremony with her vulnerable acceptance remark, “You like me—right now you like me.”

Of course, it’s no wonder that both professionals and fans like her. Perennially fresh and always surprising, Field excels in a new way at every turn, giving us star performances in every venue, from the small screen to the stage to the large screen. She charmed us as TV’s surf-gal in Gidget and as Robin Williams’ ex-wife in the film Mrs. Doubtfire. She illuminated the puzzling world of a young woman with mental illness in the television movie Sybil (for which she won an Emmy). She had us rolling in the aisles as the housewife-turned-standup-comic in the sharp-witted film Punchline, and she brought us to tears as mother to Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias and to Tom Hanks in the Academy Award-winning Forrest Gump. Most recently, she’s reprised her Emmy Award-winning role as bipolar patient Maggie Wycenzki on the NBC television drama ER, and this season has launched the fresh, new ABC series Brothers and Sisters.
 
Belying her feisty appearance, Field has announced that she was recently diagnosed with osteoporosis. Using the same vitality she has brought to her many acting roles, she is boning up on her bone health knowledge and helping others along the way. Joining with Roche Therapeutics and GlaxoSmithKline (makers of the once-a-month osteoporosis medication Boniva), Field is spearheading the Rally With Sally For Bone Health campaign, helping make women aware of prevention, detection and treatment for this common and sometimes devastating degenerative bone disease.

Recently, ABILITY Magazine’s editor-in-chief Chet Cooper sat down with Field at New York’s elegant Four Seasons Hotel to talk about both her remarkable career and the cause she’s become so passionate about.

Chet Cooper: We’ll start with an easy one. How old were you when you were born?

Sally Field: (laughs)

CC: Okay, let’s start again. What got you into acting?

SF: I was just always interested in it as a child.

CC: So as a kid growing up in Southern California, you did as children do, playing around?

SF: Well, I also performed in junior high and high school. I was lucky—in those days the schools actually had really thriving drama departments. I’m very sorry they don’t have them right now in this country. I think it’s really important for children to have artistic outlets. I was always in the drama department.

CC: What was your big break?

SF: Believe it or not, I was discovered on a street corner and asked to go on an interview. And out of that I got my first television series, Gidget, in 1964.

CC: I remember you surfing as Gidget. But yesterday, I quizzed the younger people in my office, and they knew you for your movie roles. They weren’t aware of Gidget or The Flying Nun. But most of your early roles were TV sitcoms, right?

SF: Yes, Gidget and The Flying Nun were weekly sitcoms that ran through the ’60s and part of the ’70s. In the late ’70s I did a mini-series called Sybil, which was not a sitcom, very much not a sitcom. I’ve worked more in film, but I’ve done some other television in subsequent years—a mini-series called A Woman of Independent Means, about a widow coping with life’s hardships in the early 1900s, and a six-or eight-episode slot as a very colorful character on ER, for which I won an Emmy.

CC: Let’s talk about your portrayal of Sybil. The character was based on a best-selling book about a real woman who had multiple personality disorder. When you took that role, how much research did you do into mental health issues?

SF: I did as much research as I could. Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, the psychiatrist who diagnosed Sybil, spoke to me about her, and I spoke with other doctors as well, who showed me videotapes of multiple-personality patients they’d treated. It was interesting, but in the end I didn’t really use much of that information because I didn’t think it was dramatically viable.
CC: Did you find that your views about mental health changed at all after viewing those materials and actually performing as Sybil?

SF: Yes, in some ways. I didn’t really know much about multiple personality disorder, so obviously I learned a lot through researching that role. And again for ER, there was much learning to do about bipolar disorder.

I find that’s one of the great things about acting—you have the opportunity to stand in somebody else’s shoes, whether it’s someone with mental health problems or someone who lives and works in a small town. Each character faces a dilemma in her life, and as an actor you’re able to step into that character’s skin, look through her eyes. You leave transformed, a different person, because once you live a little bit of someone’s life, it changes you.

CC: Do you find it easier to relate to some roles than to others? For instance, is it harder when the character has a problem you’ve never experienced in your own life, like multiple personality disorder?

SF: Well, for almost every character I’ve played in the 43 years I’ve been working as a professional actor, I’ve found parts of myself. We are all bipolar in the tiniest essence of what it is. We are all multiple personalities, in a sense, and to be healthy mentally, I think, learning what those multiple personalities are and inviting them in your life is really important. I mean, Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow—the dark side that each of us carries around, the monstrosities we’re all capable of—is really a sort of multiple personality. It becomes a mental health issue when it occurs to such a degree that people are dramatically cut off from their own consciousness and can’t integrate the information in their minds.

CC: So what feelings about health and mental health have you taken away from playing those roles?

SF: I have felt and still feel that there have not been enough long-term studies for women’s health issues, both in mental health and in other areas. For example, researchers are finding that many mental health issues in women—and in men too, for that matter—are chemical and can be treated effectively with therapy and medications. But most people remain shut off from this information, this research. Addressing that divide is why I’m part of my own health campaign.

CC: You’re referring to your work with osteoporosis.

 SF: Yes. I’m the spokesperson for osteoporosis. It’s a huge epidemic, primarily because of this very large group of women who are now turning 60. Fortunately, osteoporosis has a very effective treatment if women are informed early. They need to be made aware of their risk and what to do to protect themselves—for instance, that they should be getting bone density scans at a certain age. In fact, this even extends to men..Continued in ABILITY Magazine

foreword by Kanani Fong

To join Sally Field in Rally With Sally For Bone Health,
visit www.bonehealth.com

For further information on osteoporosis or Boniva,
or to enroll in the MyBONIVA Program, visit www.myboniva.com

 

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Sally Field issue include Letter from the Editor — Uncovering Addiction; Senator Harkin — Mental Health Parity; Headlines — IBM, Marriott, AssistiveWare, Turboset; Humor Therapy— A Volunteer’s Lament; George Covington — High-Desert Hijinks; Book Excerpt — Leave No Nurse Behind; Casting Your Ballot — Making Voting Accessible; Community Studio — Verizon’s Video-on-Demand; A Lesson from Mackenzie— I Love My Little Self; Universal Design — NC State Leads the Way; Recipes — No-Sin Appetizers; ;Events and Conferences...subscribe

More excerpts from the Sally Field issue:

Sally Field — Promoting Healthy Habits

Osteoporosis -- Are You at Risk?

Jonathan Kuniholm -- A New World of Prosthetics

Diane Schuur -- The Hot Lady of Cool Jazz

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome -- Learning to Cope

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