A Field That Has Come Far

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, center, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice applaud during President Bush's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007.
AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson
"What I feel most about myself I can count on is not my ability at all," says Sally Field. "It's my endurance," she says. "It's really that I am tenacious."

"I am self-assured that I will continue," Field declares.

You may know her best as an actress but, as CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver discovered, the 52-year-old movie veteran is re-inventing herself again.

Field always has pulled her own weight, whether it's hiking with two of her sons in the Colorado Rockies, or directing her very first feature film. She has come to directing because (let's face it) there aren't a lot of juicy parts out there for 52-year-old actresses.

Field is past being bothered by the lack of great roles for mature women.

"I can learn to tell stories...about people that are not me," Field says. "Then I am not stuck inside my body, railing against something I can't change, because the stories that I want to tell are all about women," she explains.

In her new movie, Beautiful, Field directs Minnie Driver, who plays a plain Jane who will do anything if it might help her become Miss American Miss. There are parallels to Field's own career. She was considered OK for TV, but not to make it as a movie star, even by her own agents and managers:

"They said, first of all, 'Women don't make any money in film,' which at that time was true," she recalls. "And they said...also, 'You're not pretty enough, and you're not good enough.' That's what they said."

Did that bother her?

Part of me was devastated," she says. "But I was my stepfather's daughter. I had been taught…that when that kind of meanness comes at you,…you either turn into a puddle, and you give over to them,...or you stand up to them."

Her stepfather was Hollywood stunt man and actor Jock Mahoney, who starred in a couple of Tarzan films. Sally always has been close to her mother, Maggie, who was a starlet at Paramount. But it was Mahoney, with his erratic temper, who dominated the family. After Sally starred in Gidget and wanted to turn to more serious work, Mahoney bullied her into playing the title role in The Flying Nun.

"He said to me, if I didn't do the show, I may never work again, and that I should think about it," recalls Field. "It was very scary."

"And I said, OK, I'd do it," she says. "And something in me died, and something in me quieted for three years."

She herself has described The Flying Nun as a national joke. "It was pretty devastating," she recalls. "I couldn't tell the difference between them making a joke about me...and making a joke about the flying nun."

Field had to prove herself, role by role by role. And eventually she won two Oscars as best actress, the first for her portrayal of union activist Norma Rae. Field got the part only after five other actresses turned it down. Te other Oscar was for playing a mother, trying to save family and farm, in Places in the Heart.

When she accepted the Oscar for that role, she made her most oft-quoted speech - which is oft-quoted incorrectly.

"What I actually said was, 'I can't deny myself, for this moment in time,...you like me. You really like me,'" Field observes.

With typical Sally Field spirit, she recently agreed to make an ad for a brokerage firm, spoofing herself.

Her talent for comedy was honed in those Smokey and the Bandit movies with Burt Reynolds, and they were a couple for five tumultuous years.

"A great time...,a wonderful time," she says. "Great happiness and great angst. It was certainly full of angst."

Reynolds, she says, was her most fun leading man. And what of the others?

Paul Newman: "He's just classic," she says. "Classic. Brilliant."

Tom Hanks: "Oh, God, he is a large throbbing heart."

Robin Williams: "Just lightning in a bottle,...and a dear, generous, smart man."

Tommy Lee Jones: "He's just a bad, bad, bad, bad boy. And he's a very talented bad boy."

James Garner: "Oh my God! Jimmy Garner! He's so profoundly sexy, and maybe the best kiss I ever had in my life, which is on camera, believe it or not."

That was in Murphy's Romance. But Field's off-screen relationships have not ended happily ever after. Her marriages, to high school sweetheart Steve Craig and Hollywood producer Alan Greisman, both ended in divorce.

Does she think in her heart that she'll ever find a man who she really loves?

"Or who really loves me? I don't know," Field replies. "I have serious doubts. I have serious doubts," she adds. "I'd like to know what that felt like....Yeah...I'd like to know."

Asked for a list of adjectives that apply to her, Field offers one: "Intense."

For now, Field concentrates on her place in Aspen. She dotes on granddaughter Isabel, the daughter of Field's son Peter, 30. She hikes with sons Sam, 12, who just started junior high, and Eli, 28, a fledgling actor. They wonder at how their mother has simultaneously driven their car pools and her career.

"She never relaxes," says Eli. "That's one of her things."

"She's always up and doing something," he says. "So for better or for worse…she's going to be always continuing to work at something."

In recent years, Field has turned in two Emmy-nominated TV appearances, including this year's cable movie A Cooler Climate. And she'll have a recurring role on ER this season.

But, at this point, Field says, directing is a lot harder than acting. In fact, her film Beautiful has received mixed reviews, something she says she refuses to dwell on.

So many actors come and go. To what does Field attribute her staying power?

"Hunger on my part," she says. "That feeling that comes when you'r working, and you take flight. This…feeling."