June 28, 1948– Kathleen Doyle Bates:
“Like anybody, I wish I wasn’t getting older. I wish I had legs that were 50 inches long and thin. I’m sorry I had to have my breasts removed. There are lots of things I wish were different, but I have wonderful friends I rely on for my happiness. And I’ve been blessed with a keen mind and many interests…”
How do you name a favorite Kathy Bates performance? Well, for me, it would be Delores Claiborne (1995), easy. That underrated film has the memorable Stephen King line:
“Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman’s got to hold on to.”
She is such a brave actor, seemingly without vanity. In At Play In The Fields Of The Lord (1991), she did a nude scene in a rain forest. In About Schmidt (2002) she appears naked in a hot tub scene. I think being comfortable in your own skin is a ferociously freeing feeling, but how many short, squat actors would be willing to do that?
Long before freely giving gay wisdom to Melissa McCarthy’s character in the road-trip comedy Tammy (2014), Bates had already won over LGBTQ fans. I’ve been obsessed since I first took note of her in the cult classic Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) with Cher, Karen Black, and gay actor Sandy Dennis. Maybe that was where you first spotter her too.
Tammy wasn’t the only time Bates has played gay. There was her truck-driving lesbian politico in Primary Colors (1998), and her terrific turn as Gertrude Stein in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris (2011).
Except for maybe Meryl Streep, few actors possess the range of Bates. She might be the only living female actor capable of so totally giving herself over to her characters, from Annie, a maniacal obsessed literary fan in Misery (1990), to Evelyn Couch, a timid, unhappy housewife in Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), to Sunny, the very bad motorcycle mama suffering from early stages of Parkinson’s Disease in Bad Santa 2 (2016), and yet at the same time, still maintain so much natural charm.
She can play anything: Dramas, Comedies or Musicals; stage, film or television. She has a Tony Award nomination, an Academy Award and three nominations, two Golden Globes, two SAG Awards and two Emmy Awards, with 14 Emmy nominations. She received a Directors Guild Award nomination for her work on Six Feet Under (2001-05) a series in which she also had a recurring role.
She is, of course, most famous for her Academy Award winning work in Misery, only the second female to win for a horror film, after Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
Before Misery, Bates had a series of small roles in films, but was already a respected stage actor known for a string of revelatory performances. She played one of the three sisters in Crimes Of The Heart, an epileptic divorcée in ‘night, Mother, and she won an Obie Award for her over-the-hill waitress in Frankie And Johnny In The Clair de Lune. Bates originated all those roles, but when they were adapted to screen versions, they were taken by Diane Keaton, Sissy Spacek, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Bates managed to play the overdressed loudmouth she played on Broadway in Come Back To The 5 And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean when it was filmed by Robert Altman, who had directed it on stage.
On losing the role in Frankie And Johnny to Pfeiffer, Bates said:
“Big surprise, there! What would Hollywood want with a middle-aged fat lady, even though that is who the role was written for?”
Openly gay producer/director/writer Ryan Murphy loves Bates so much, he cast her as Madame Delphine LaLaurie in the third season of American Horror Story, Coven, Ethel Darling, the bearded lady, in the fourth season, Freak Show; Iris the desk clerk in the fifth season, Hotel; and the hostile tribe leader The Butcher in American Horror Story: Roanoke, along with playing Agnes Mary Winstead, the actor who portrayed The Butcher in the film within the television series “My Roanoke Nightmare”. In that one, her character murders her other character. Got that? Bates, who was already a big fan of American Horror Story, asked her friend Jessica Lange to put her in contact with Murphy about any acting work on the series. He called and invited Bates to play the role in American Horror Story: Coven, and she won an Emmy! This year, she had recurring role in Murphy’s Feud: Betty And Joan as Golden Age movie star Joan Blondell.
Bates was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the youngest of three daughters. She claims that she had an unhappy childhood as a chubby, shy, kid who loved the movies. She moved to NYC in 1970 to pursue an acting career.
Bates’ first film role was in Miloš Forman comedy Taking Off (1971), in which she sings an original song Even Horses Had Wings. She got her SAG card for Dustin Hoffman’s Straight Time (1978) after he spotted her in the play Vanities in LA. From 1977 through the 1980s, Bates worked steadily in daytime television soaps and had more tiny roles in films, all before that big break with Misery in 1990.
Bates received her first Emmy nomination for playing Jay Leno’s real-life manager Helen Kushnick in HBO’s The Late Shift (1996), and another as Miss Hannigan in Disney’s remake of Annie (1999), and for the HBO Franklin Roosevelt biopic Warm Springs (2005), and Lifetime Television’s Ambulance Girl (2006), which she also directed. She was Emmy nominated for directing for the Dashiell Hammett-Lillian Hellman biopic Dash & Lilly.
In 2012, Bates made a guest appearance on Two And A Half Men as the ghost of Charlie’s Sheen’s character Charlie Harper on the episode. It brought her a first Emmy win after nine nominations.
A long time Gay Rights advocate, Bates participated in a Human Rights Campaign tribute video to the victims of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub murders, telling stories about the lives of the victims. Although she grew up in a strict Southern Methodist family, Bates says:
“I really didn’t know what gay was until I got to college, but I was really in love with two of the guys who were in the theater department and then I realized they were in love with each other. It was like, ‘Oh, fuck, that just cut my opportunities in half here. It’s hard enough to find a guy, and now that means there’s 50% less!”
She serves as the Executive Committee Chair of the Actors Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences Board. A two-time cancer survivor, she is a national spokesperson and Chairperson for the Lymphatic Education Research Network (LE&RN).
Ryan Murphy said last month that the next season American Horror Story will be based on the 2016 Presidential Race. Rumors have been swirling that Bates would be playing Donald Trump!
She has two films coming up: Krystal, a comedy directed by William H. Macy, and The Death And Life Of John F. Donovan, a drama film with Kit Harington, Jessica Chastain, Natalie Portman and her friend Susan Sarandon.
If that’s not groovy enough, she’ll be starring in Disjointed, a new Netflix comedy series about a longtime advocate for marijuana legalization who opens her own pot dispensary.
Bates is giving you many reasons to be her biggest fan.