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Debra Winger
Winger in a 1984 studio portrait
Debra Lynn Winger[1]

(1955-05-16) May 16, 1955 (age 66)
Alma materCalifornia State University, Northridge
Years active1976–present
(m. 1986; div. 1990)

(m. 1996)

Debra Lynn Winger (born May 16, 1955) is an American actress. She starred in the films An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Terms of Endearment (1983), and Shadowlands (1993), each of which earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress for Terms of Endearment, and the Tokyo International Film Festival Award for Best Actress for A Dangerous Woman (1993). Her other film roles include Urban Cowboy (1980), Legal Eagles (1986), Black Widow (1987), Betrayed (1988), The Sheltering Sky (1990), Forget Paris (1995), and Rachel Getting Married (2008). In 2012, she made her Broadway debut in the original production of the David Mamet play The Anarchist. In 2014, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Transilvania International Film Festival.[2]

She starred as a series regular in the Netflix original television series The Ranch (2016–2020).

Early years

Winger was born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, into an Orthodox Jewish family, to Robert Winger, a meat packer, and Ruth (née Felder), an office manager.[3][4][5] Over the years, she told many interviewers that she volunteered on an Israeli kibbutz, sometimes even saying she had trained with the Israel Defense Forces,[6] but in a 2008 interview she said she was merely on a typical youth tour that visited the kibbutz.[7] At the age of 18, after returning to the United States, she was involved in a car accident and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage; as a result, she was left partially paralyzed and blind for 10 months, having initially been told that she would never see again. With time on her hands to think about her life, she decided that, if she recovered, she would move to California and become an actress.[8]



Winger's first acting role was as "Debbie" in the 1976 sexploitation film Slumber Party '57. Her next role was as Diana Prince's younger sister Drusilla (Wonder Girl) in three episodes of ABC's TV series, Wonder Woman. The producers had wanted her to appear more often, but she refused, fearing that the role would hurt her fledgling career. This was followed by a guest role in Season 4 of the TV drama Police Woman in 1978.[9] Played a supporting role in Willard Huyck's iconic “students in Paris” film “French Postcards” 1979.

Her first major role was in Thank God It's Friday, followed by her role in Urban Cowboy in 1980 with John Travolta, for which she received a BAFTA nomination and a pair of Golden Globe nominations (for Best Performance by an Actress and Best New Star). In 1982 she co-starred with Nick Nolte in Cannery Row and with Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress twice more: for Terms of Endearment in 1983 (which was awarded to her co-star, Shirley MacLaine, who played her mother in the film) and for Shadowlands in 1993, for which she also received her second BAFTA nomination. Her performance in A Dangerous Woman earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.[10]

Over the years Winger acquired a reputation for being outspoken and difficult to work with.[11][12][13] She has expressed her dislike of An Officer and a Gentleman, for which she refused to do any publicity,[13] and several of her other films, and has been dismissive of some of her co-stars and directors. When Barbara Walters interviewed Bette Davis in 1986, Davis said "I see a great deal of myself in Debra Winger."

Winger was going to play Peggy Sue in the film Peggy Sue Got Married but was forced to back out just before production began when she injured her back in a bicycle accident. The role went to Kathleen Turner. The injury affected Winger's ability to work for several months afterward. Winger was cast in the motion picture A League of Their Own but dropped out and was replaced by Geena Davis. It was later reported that the reason Winger dropped out of the film was her refusal to work with recording artist Madonna, whom Winger did not consider a serious actress.[14] Other starring roles during this period included Legal Eagles, Made in Heaven, Everybody Wins, The Sheltering Sky, Leap of Faith, Black Widow, Betrayed, Wilder Napalm, and A Dangerous Woman.

In 1995 Winger decided to take a hiatus from acting. In 2002 she said, "I wanted out for years. I got sick of hearing myself say I wanted to quit. It's like opening an interview with 'I hate interviews!' Well, get out! I stopped reading scripts and stopped caring. People said, 'We miss you so much.' But in the last six years, tell me a film that I should have been in. The few I can think of, the actress was so perfect".[15] After making Forget Paris in 1995 she was absent from the screen for six years before returning in 2001 with Big Bad Love, written and directed by her husband, Arliss Howard, and also marking Winger's debut as a producer.[16]

During her film hiatus, Winger had the female lead in the American Repertory Theater's stage production of Anton Chekhov's play Ivanov from November 1999 to January 2000.[17]

In 2001 a critically acclaimed documentary film titled Searching for Debra Winger was made by Rosanna Arquette and released in 2002 after Winger returned to film acting. She subsequently starred in the films Radio, Eulogy, Sometimes in April and received positive reviews for portraying Anne Hathaway's estranged mother in Rachel Getting Married.[18]

Winger (right) at Transilvania International Film Festival 2014
Winger (right) at Transilvania International Film Festival 2014

Winger earned an Emmy Award nomination for her title role in the television film Dawn Anna in 2005, directed by Arliss Howard. In 2010 she returned to television, making a guest appearance as a high school principal in an episode of Law & Order.[19] She also joined the cast of HBO's In Treatment as one of the three patients featured in the third season.[20]

In 2013 she starred in three episodes of In the Woods,[21] the first installment of Jennifer Elster's multimedia, experimental film series The Being Experience, also including: Terrence Howard, Dave Matthews, Rufus Wainwright, Karen Black, Will Shortz, Liya Kebede, Questlove, Famke Janssen, Moby, Gale Harold, Paz de la Huerta, Jorgen Leth, Rosie Perez, Aubrey de Grey, and Alan Cumming.[22]

From 2016 to 2020, Winger starred opposite Sam Elliott and Ashton Kutcher in the Netflix multi-cam comedy The Ranch as Maggie.

In 2017, she had a cameo as Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in the TV miniseries When We Rise.[23] The same year, she starred in her first romantic lead after many years in The Lovers.[24] She has continued to acquire roles in other feature films, such as Tiger City, scheduled for release in 2018.[25]

Other pursuits

In 1995 Winger performed in The Wizard of Oz in Concert: Dreams Come True a television musical performance of the popular 1939 MGM film at Lincoln Center to benefit the Children's Defense Fund. Her roles in that television special were the "Cyclone" narrator and the Wicked Witch of the West. It was originally broadcast on both TBS and TNT.

During her hiatus from the film industry, Winger spent a semester as a teaching fellow at Harvard University.[26] In 2008 Winger wrote a book based on her personal recollections titled Undiscovered.[27] She has shown her support for reconciliation between Arabs and Jews in Israel by visiting the bilingual Hand in Hand schools (Galilee Jewish-Arab School, Gesher al HaWadi School) where, in 2008, she stated she would "dedicate the next bit of my life to these schools".[28]

As 2009 president of the Zurich Film Festival jury, Winger joined other members of the Hollywood film community to speak out against the arrest and prosecution of director Roman Polanski who was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl in the 1970s, criticizing Switzerland's government for "philistine collusion" in arresting him so many years later, as he was en route to attend the Zurich festival.[29]

In 2010 Debra Winger was co-executive producer of the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Gasland.[30] She was also the executive producer of the 2012 documentary Bel Borba Aqui about the life and works of Brazilian graphic artist Bel Borba.[31][32]

Personal life

Winger's three-year relationship with actor Andrew Rubin ended in 1980.[33] From 1983 to 1985 Winger dated Bob Kerrey, at the time the Governor of Nebraska, whom she met while filming Terms of Endearment in Lincoln, Nebraska.[34] Winger has also dated her Cannery Row and Everybody Wins co-star Nick Nolte.[35]

From 1986 to 1990 she was married to actor Timothy Hutton with whom she had a son, Noah Hutton, a documentary filmmaker born in 1987. The marriage ended in divorce.[36][37]

In 1996 she married actor/director Arliss Howard, whom she met on the set of the film Wilder Napalm. Their son, Gideon Babe Ruth Howard (known as Babe), was born in 1997. She is stepmother to Sam Howard, Arliss's son from his prior marriage.[36][37]



Year Title Role Notes
1976 Slumber Party '57 Debbie
1978 Thank God It's Friday Jennifer
1979 French Postcards Melanie
1980 Urban Cowboy Sissy Nominated—BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress
Nominated—National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Utah Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
1982 Cannery Row Suzy DeSoto
1982 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Halloween Zombie—Nurse with poodle[38] Uncredited
1982 An Officer and a Gentleman Paula Pokrifki Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Utah Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
1983 Terms of Endearment Emma Horton National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
1984 Mike's Murder Betty Parrish
1986 Legal Eagles Laura J. Kelly
1987 Black Widow Alexandra 'Alex' Barnes
1987 Made in Heaven Emmett Humbird (credited as "Emmett" himself)
1988 Betrayed FBI Agent Cathy Weaver / Katie Philips
1990 Everybody Wins Angela Crispini Nominated—National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
1990 The Sheltering Sky Kit Moresby
1992 Leap of Faith Jane Larson
1993 Wilder Napalm Vida Foudroyant
1993 A Dangerous Woman Martha Horgan Tokyo International Film Festival Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Nominated—Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
1993 Shadowlands Joy Gresham Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated—Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
1995 Forget Paris Ellen Andrews Gordon
2001 Big Bad Love Marilyn
2002 Searching for Debra Winger Herself
2003 Radio Linda
2004 Eulogy Alice Collins
2008 Rachel Getting Married Abby Nominated—Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast
Nominated—Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Ensemble Performance
Nominated—Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female
Nominated—New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress (Shared with co-star Rosemarie DeWitt)
2012 Lola Versus Robin
2014 Boychoir Ms. Steel
2017 The Lovers Mary
2020 Kajillionaire Theresa Dyne
2021 With/In: Volume 2 segment: "Still Life"


Year Title Role Notes
1976–1977 Wonder Woman Drusilla / Wonder Girl 3 episodes: "The Feminum Mystique" (Parts 1 & 2), "Wonder Woman in Hollywood"
1977 Szysznyk Jenny Episode: "Run, Jenny, Run"
Tattletales Herself 5 episodes
1978 Special Olympics Sherrie Hensley TV movie
Police Woman Phyllis Baxter Episode: "Battered Teachers"
James at 16 Alicia Episode: "Hunter Country"
2005 Dawn Anna Dawn Anna TV movie
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
Sometimes in April Prudence Bushnell TV movie
2010 Law & Order Mrs. Woodside Episode: "Boy on Fire"
In Treatment Frances 7 episodes
2014 The Red Tent Rebecca 2 episodes
2016–2020 The Ranch Maggie Bennett Main role
2018 Patriot Bernice Tavner Main role (season 2)
2021 Mr. Corman Ruth Corman


  1. ^ "Debra Lynn Winger (b. 1955)". Archived from the original on April 4, 2015. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  2. ^ "Debra Winger – Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at Transilvania IFF". Film New Europe. May 20, 2014. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  3. ^ "Debra Winger Biography". filmreference. Archived from the original on December 22, 2008. Retrieved January 22, 2009.
  4. ^ Jan Hoffman (January 9, 1994). "FILM; Debra Winger: Caught on a Winter Afternoon". The New York Times. p. 211. Archived from the original on November 13, 2013. Retrieved December 27, 2009.
  5. ^ Naomi Pfefferman (March 7, 2002). "'Big Bad' Debra". The Jewish Journal. Archived from the original on April 17, 2009. Retrieved December 27, 2009.
  6. ^
    • Allen, Henry (December 13, 1983). "Debra Winger, Coming to Terms". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on August 18, 2016. Retrieved June 24, 2016. She tried studying criminology and sociology at Cal State-Northridge, and went to Israel to spend time on a kibbutz, but by 17, she'd moved away from home and she was making it in commercials.
    • Thomas, Bob (December 25, 1983). "Don't Try to 'Type' Debra Winger". The Gainesville Sun. The Associated Press. Retrieved June 24, 2016. After high school, she worked on an Israeli kibbutz, trained with the Israeli army, and then returned to the United States to study sociology at California State University at Northridge.
    • "Debra Winger". People. December 26, 1983. Archived from the original on August 28, 2016. Retrieved June 24, 2016. At 16, she ran off to a kibbutz and did her basic training in the Israeli Army.
    • Klein, Uri (July 14, 2006). "On Her Own Terms". Haaretz. Archived from the original on August 10, 2016. Retrieved June 24, 2016. Exaggerated reports about her also concern her biography. For example, at one of the Internet sites devoted to her it is stated that she spent part of her youth on a kibbutz in Israel and even served for several months in the Israel Defense Forces. Winger laughs. Indeed, when she was 17, she spent four months at Kibbutz Beit Zera, but she never enlisted in the IDF. She took part in Gadna (youth cadet) activities, and apparently once told this to someone who told it to someone and it developed into an urban legend, according to which Debra Winger was once a soldier in the IDF.
    • Arfa, Orit (April 24, 2008). "Debra Winger Explores Jewish/Arab Day Schools". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Archived from the original on September 19, 2016. Retrieved June 24, 2016. Raised in a secular Jewish household in Cleveland, Winger volunteered on a kibbutz in 1972 and has maintained her connection ever since.
  7. ^ Lopate, Leonard (June 10, 2008). "Debra Winger on Life Beyond Hollywood". The Leonard Lopate Show. WNYC. Archived from the original on September 17, 2016. Retrieved June 24, 2016.
  8. ^ Farber, Stephen (July 6, 1986). "Where There's Smoke, There's A Fiery Actress Named Debra Winger". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  9. ^ "Battered Teachers". January 1, 2000. Archived from the original on October 31, 2017 – via IMDb.
  10. ^ "Debra Winger bio". American Repertory Theater. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  11. ^ Debra Winger : Dangerous Woman Archived November 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, Time, article by Richard Corliss and Elizabeth L. Bland, January 24, 1994
  12. ^ Debra Winger: a star is re-born Archived December 3, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, Daily Telegraph, December 19, 2008
  13. ^ a b Farber, Stephen (July 6, 1986). "Where There's Smoke, There's A Fiery Actress Named Debra Winger". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 25, 2017.
  14. ^ "Penny Marshall: Debra Winger Dropped out of "League" Because of Madonna". September 4, 2012. Archived from the original on October 21, 2013.
  15. ^ Does Debra Winger Still Have Legs? Archived February 25, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, New York, article by Holly Millea, February 25, 2002
  16. ^ Wilmington, Michael (March 15, 2002). "'Bad Love' portrays a writer's anguish". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on July 28, 2012. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  17. ^ "Ivanov". Experience the A.R.T. American Repertory Theater. Archived from the original on December 2, 2010. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  18. ^ Scott, A. O. (October 3, 2008). "Out of Rehab, Wreaking Havoc". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 1, 2010.
  19. ^ "Law & Order "Boy on Fire" Episode Information". All Things Law and Order. blog. January 12, 2010. Archived from the original on July 30, 2012. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  20. ^ Fretts, Bruce (October 22, 2010). "Cheers & Jeers: Debra Winger Gets the VIP Treatment". Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  21. ^ "The Being Experience: The Prologue". IMDb.
  22. ^ Matheson, Whitney, "Moby, Questlove, others endure puzzling 'Experience'" Archived April 15, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, "USA TODAY", June 17, 2013
  23. ^ "Everything You Need To Know About 'When We Rise'". BuzzFeed. Archived from the original on April 26, 2017. Retrieved April 23, 2017.
  24. ^ "Debra Winger and Tracy Letts are 'The Lovers' in New Film's First Trailer". January 4, 2017. Archived from the original on January 5, 2017.
  25. ^ "Brick Whisperer: Architect Louis Kahn's magnum opus now in cinemas near you". Architectural Design - Interior Design - Home Decoration Magazine - AD India. Archived from the original on March 2, 2018. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  26. ^ Solomon-Schwartz, Benjamin P. (September 28, 1999). "Winger Trades Silver Screen for Section". The Harvard Crimson. Archived from the original on June 5, 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2014.
  27. ^ "Debra Winger, Actor—Blue Flower Arts: An Agency Representing Poets, Authors and Speakers". Archived from the original on May 17, 2008.
  28. ^ Kupfer, Ruta (March 28, 2008). "Weighing their words with care". Ha'aretz. reprinted in Hand in Hand: Learning Together Living Together. Retrieved October 8, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  29. ^ "Hollywood Left Bands Together to Fight Polanski Arrest". Fox News Channel. September 29, 2009. Archived from the original on December 4, 2011. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  30. ^ Koehler, Robert (January 25, 2010). "Gasland Movie Review from the Sundance Film Festival". Variety. Archived from the original on December 16, 2010. Retrieved October 17, 2013.
  31. ^ Rohter, Larry (September 18, 2012). "Brazil's Pied Piper of Street Art". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 21, 2013. Retrieved October 17, 2013.
  32. ^ "Debra Winger". Archived from the original on July 15, 2013. Retrieved October 17, 2013.
  33. ^ "Two Sexy 'Urban Cowgirls'—One Called Debra Winger—Give Travolta a Run for His Movie – Vol. 14 No. 7". August 18, 1980. Archived from the original on October 22, 2013.
  34. ^ "SHORT TAKES : Debra Winger Is Not for Politics". Los Angeles Times. September 12, 1990. Archived from the original on July 30, 2012. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  35. ^ "Debra Winger: The return of a class act". The Independent. October 24, 2008. Archived from the original on June 7, 2015. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  36. ^ a b Rachel Cooke "The interview: Debra Winger" Archived April 27, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, "The Observer", December 28, 2008. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  37. ^ a b "Debra Winger: The return of a class act" Archived June 7, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Gaynor Flynn, The Independent, Friday, October 24, 2008. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  38. ^ Brode, Douglas. Fantastic Planets, Forbidden Zones, and Lost Continents. University of Texas Press (2015). p. 215

External links

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