Gena Rowlands

Gena Rowlands

Rowlands in 1967
Born Virginia Cathryn Rowlands
(1930-06-19) June 19, 1930
Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.
Alma mater American Academy of Dramatic Arts
Occupation Actress
Years active 1954–present
Spouse(s) John Cassavetes (1954–1989; his death)
Robert Forrest (2012–present)
Children Nick Cassavetes
Alexandra Cassavetes
Zoe Cassavetes
Parent(s) Edwin Myrwyn Rowlands
Lady Rowlands

Virginia Cathryn "Gena" Rowlands (born June 19, 1930) is an American film, stage, and television actress, whose career in the entertainment industry has spanned over six decades. A four-time Emmy and two-time Golden Globe winner, she is known for her collaborations with her late actor-director husband John Cassavetes in ten films, including A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Gloria (1980), which earned her nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won the Silver Bear for Best Actress for Opening Night (1977). In November 2015, Rowlands received an Honorary Academy Award in recognition of her unique screen performances.[1]

Early years

Rowlands was born as Virginia Cathryn Rowlands in Madison, Wisconsin.[2] Her mother, Mary Allen (Neal), was a housewife who later worked as an actress under the stage name Lady Rowlands.[3][4] Her father, Edwin Myrwyn Rowlands, was a banker and state legislator.[5] He was a member of the Wisconsin Progressive Party, and was of Welsh descent.[6] She had a brother, David Rowlands.

Her family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1939, when Edwin was appointed to a position in the United States Department of Agriculture; moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1942, when he was appointed as branch manager of the Office of Price Administration;[7] and later moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. From 1947–50, she attended the University of Wisconsin,[8] where she was a popular student already renowned for her beauty.[9] She left for New York City to study drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.


Early roles (1952–1967)

Publicity photo, 1955

In the early 1950s, Rowlands performed with repertory theatre companies and at the Provincetown Playhouse. She made her Broadway debut in The Seven Year Itch and toured in a national production of the play. Rowlands costarred with Paul Stewart in the 26-episode syndicated TV series Top Secret (1954–55),[10] and she guest starred on such anthology television series as Robert Montgomery Presents, Appointment with Adventure, Kraft Television Theatre, and Studio One (1955). In 1956, she starred in Middle of the Night opposite Edward G. Robinson. She appeared alongside husband Cassavetes on an episode ("Fly Baby, Fly") of the 195960 NBC detective series Johnny Staccato. She also appeared on an episode of the NBC western series, Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin, and the ABC adventure series, The Islanders, set in the South Pacific. Rowlands made her film debut in The High Cost of Loving in 1958.

In 1961–62, she starred as Teddy Carella, the deaf-mute wife of Robert Lansing, on NBC's 87th Precinct. In that same season, she appeared on ABC's Target: The Corruptors!, starring Stephen McNally. She also guest starred in CBS's The Lloyd Bridges Show and ABC's Breaking Point. In 1963, she guest-starred in an episode on the NBC western series, Bonanza and The Virginian, and "The Lonely Hours" and "Ride The Nightmare" on CBS's The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1967, she was cast as socialite Adrienne Van Leyden in the prime time ABC soap opera Peyton Place.

Cassavetes era (1968–1984)

Rowlands and Cassavetes made ten films together: A Child is Waiting (1963), Faces (1968), Machine Gun McCain (1969), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), A Woman Under the Influence (1974; nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress), Two-Minute Warning (1976), Opening Night (1977), Gloria (1980; nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress), Tempest (1982), and Love Streams (1984).

According to Boston University film scholar Ray Carney, Rowlands sought to suppress an early version of Cassavetes' first film, Shadows, that Carney says he rediscovered after decades of searching.[11] Rowlands also became involved in the screenings of Husbands and Love Streams, according to Carney. The UCLA Film and Television Archive mounted a restoration of Husbands, as it was pruned down (without Cassavetes' consent, and in violation of his contract) by Columbia Pictures several months after its release, in an attempt to restore as much of the removed content as possible. At Rowlands' request, UCLA created an alternative print with almost ten minutes of content edited out, as Rowlands felt that these scenes were in poor taste. The alternative print is the only one that has been made available for rental.[12]

Late career (1985–present)

In 1985, Rowlands played the mother in the critically acclaimed made-for-TV movie An Early Frost. She won an Emmy for her portrayal of former First Lady of the United States Betty Ford in the 1987 made-for-TV movie The Betty Ford Story.

In 1988, Rowlands starred in Woody Allen's dramatic film Another Woman. She played Marion Post, a middle-aged professor who is prompted to a journey of self-discovery when she overhears the therapy sessions of another woman (Mia Farrow). The review in Time Out described the character's trajectory: "Marion gets to thinking, and is appalled to realise that so many assumptions about her own life and marriage are largely unfounded: in her desire for a controlled existence, she has evaded the emotional truth about relationships with her best friend (Sandy Dennis), brother (Harris Yulin) and husband (Ian Holm)." Time Out praised the "marvellous" performances in the film, adding, "Rowlands' perfectly pitched approach to a demanding role is particularly stunning."[13] Film4 called her performance "sublime",[14] while Roger Ebert noted that it marked a considerable change in tone from her work with Cassavetes, thus showing "how good an actress Rowlands has been all along."[15]

In 2002, Rowlands appeared in Mira Nair's HBO movie Hysterical Blindness, for which she won her third Emmy. She was later seen in The Notebook (2004), which was directed by her son Nick Cassavetes. The same year, she won her first Daytime Emmy for her role as Mrs. Evelyn Ritchie in The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie. In 2005, she appeared opposite Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard, and John Hurt in the gothic thriller The Skeleton Key.

In 2007, she played a supporting role opposite Parker Posey and Melvil Poupaud in Broken English, an independent American feature written and directed by her daughter Zoe Cassavetes. In 2009, she appeared on an episode of Monk ("Mr. Monk and the Lady Next Door"). On March 2, 2010, she appeared on an episode of NCIS as lead character Leroy Jethro Gibbs's former mother-in-law, who is embroiled in a murder investigation. In 2014, she starred in the film adaptation of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.[16]

Personal life

Rowlands was married to John Cassavetes from April 9, 1954, until his death on February 3, 1989. They met at the American Academy at Carnegie Hall where they were both students. They had three children, all actor-directors: Nick, Alexandra, and Zoe. Rowlands married retired businessman Robert Forrest in 2012.

Rowlands has stated that she was a big fan of actress Bette Davis while growing up. She played Davis's daughter in Strangers.[17]


Rowlands has been nominated for two Academy Awards, eight Emmy Awards, one Daytime Emmy, eight Golden Globes, three Satellite Awards, and one SAG Award. Some of her notable wins include a Silver Bear for Best Actress; three Emmy Awards and one Daytime Emmy; two Golden Globes; two National Board of Review Awards; two Satellite Awards; and one Prize San Sebastián.

In January 2015, Rowlands was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association [18] At the 2015 Governors Awards she received an Honorary Academy Award. The press release described Rowland as "an original talent" whose "devotion to her craft has earned her worldwide recognition as an independent film icon".[19]


Year Title Role Notes
1958 The High Cost of Loving Jenny Fry
1959 Shadows Woman in Nightclub Audience Uncredited
1959 Laramie - The Run to Tumavaca Laurel DeWalt
1962 Lonely Are the Brave Jerry Bondi
1962 Spiral Road, TheThe Spiral Road Els
1963 Child Is Waiting, AA Child Is Waiting Sophie Widdicombe Benham
1967 Tony Rome Rita Kosterman
1968 Faces Jeannie Rapp
1969 Machine Gun McCain Rosemary Scott Also known as Gli intoccabili
1971 Minnie and Moskowitz Minnie Moore
1974 Woman Under the Influence, AA Woman Under the Influence Mabel Longhetti Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
National Board of Review Award for Best Actress
San Sebastián International Film Festival Prize for Best Actress
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
1975 Columbo: Playback Elizabeth Van Wick
1976 Two-Minute Warning Janet
1977 Opening Night Myrtle Gordon Silver Bear for Best Actress[20]
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1978 Brink's Job, TheThe Brink's Job Mary Pino
1978 A Question of Love Linda Ray Guettner
1979 Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter Abigail Mason
1980 Gloria Gloria Swenson Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1982 Tempest Antonia Dimitrius
1982 Faerie Tale Theatre The Witch
1983 Thursday's Child Victoria Alden Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
1984 Love Streams Sarah Lawson Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Actress
1985 Early Frost, AnAn Early Frost Katherine Pierson Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
1987 Light of Day Jeanette Rasnick
1987 Betty Ford Story, TheThe Betty Ford Story Betty Ford Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
1988 Another Woman Marion Post
1989 I'm Almost Not Crazy: John Cassavetes, the Man and His Work Herself
1990 Hollywood Mavericks Herself
1991 Once Around Marilyn Bella
1991 Night on Earth Victoria Snelling
1991 Ted & Venus Mrs. Turner
1991 Face of a Stranger Pat Foster Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
1992 Crazy in Love Honora Swift Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
1993 Silent Cries Peggy Sutherland
1993 Anything for John Herself
1994 Parallel Lives Francie Pomerantz
1995 Something to Talk About Georgia King
1995 Neon Bible, TheThe Neon Bible Mae Morgan
1996 Unhook the Stars Mildred 'Millie' Hawks Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
1997 She's So Lovely Miss Jane Green
1998 Paulie Ivy
1998 Hope Floats Ramona Calvert Lone Star Film & Television Award for Best Supporting Actress
1998 Mighty, TheThe Mighty Gram
1998 Playing by Heart Hannah
1999 Weekend, TheThe Weekend Laura Ponti Nominated — Seattle International Film Festival Citation of Excellence for Ensemble Cast Performance
2000 Light Keeps Me Company Herself – interviewee
2000 The Color of Love: Jacey's Story Georgia Porter Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated — Satellite Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
2001 Wild Iris Minnie Brinn Nominated — Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
2002 Charms for the Easy Life Ms. Charlie Kate
2003 Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There Herself
2003 Hysterical Blindness Virginia Miller Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
2004 The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie Evelyn Ritchie Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children/Youth/Family Special
2004 Taking Lives Mrs. Asher
2004 The Notebook Old Allie Calhoun Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
2005 Skeleton Key, TheThe Skeleton Key Violet Devereaux Nominated — Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
2006 Paris, je t'aime Gena (segment "Quartier Latin")
2007 Broken English Vivien Wilder-Mann
2007 Persepolis Marjane's grandmother Voice role, English dubbed version
2007 What If God Were the Sun? Melissa Eisenbloom Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie
2009 Monk Marge Johnson Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
2010 NCIS Joann Fielding
2011 Olive Tess M Powell
2012 Yellow Mimi
2013 Parts Per Billion Esther
2014 Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks Lily Harrison


  1. Tim Gray. "Gena Rowlands, Spike Lee, Debbie Reynolds to Receive Governors Awards Oscars". Variety.
  2. Dane County Register of Deeds, Madison, Wisconsin.
  3. U.S. Census, April 1, 1930, state of Wisconsin, county of Columbia, village of Cambria, enumeration district 3, page 4-B, family 130
  4. "Gena Rowlands Biography (1930?-)".
  5. Assembly, 1927–1935; Senate, 1935–1939. Members of the Wisconsin Legislature 1848–1999, Informational Bulletin 99-1, Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, 1999.
  6. Lane, Lydia (November 21, 1980). "Beauty".
  7. "OPA Directed by Merwyn [sic] Rowlands," The Sheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, April 2, 1942, p. 4
  8. Registrar's Office, University of Wisconsin–Madison.
  9. "Six U.W. Co-eds 'Badger Beauties", The Sheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, November 14, 1949, p. 2
  10. "Top Secret". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2014-11-26.
  11. "Who Owns an Improvised Work?" Dead Link. Page leads to this statement: "Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist.", The John Cassavetes Pages; accessed December 17, 2006
  12. Carney, Ray "On Your Relationship with Criterion", The John Cassavetes Pages; accessed December 17, 2006
  13. "Another Woman". Time Out. Retrieved April 1, 2013.
  14. "Another Woman". Film4. Retrieved April 1, 2013.
  15. Ebert, Roger (November 18, 1988). "Another Woman". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 1, 2013.
  16. Chang, Justin (16 December 2014). "Film Review: 'Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks'". Variety. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  17. "The Hollywood Reporter Interview with Gena Rowlands". March 29, 2015.
  18. "LAFCA Lifetime Achievement Award". March 29, 2015.
  19. "Spike Lee, Debbie Reynolds And Gena Rowlands To Receive Academy's 2015 Governors Awards". AMPAS. Retrieved 5 November 2015.
  20. "Berlinale 1978: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2010-08-08.
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