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Kennedy Center honoree Sally Field: "Acting has healed me in a lot of ways"

In a career spanning more than 50 years, Sally Field now adds Kennedy Center honoree to an already long list of accolades that includes two Oscars, three Emmys, and two Golden Globes.

Fields has starred in 35 movies, including Hollywood classics like "Steel Magnolias," "Mrs. Doubtfire," and "Forrest Gump."  This past week Tom Hanks, Maura Tierney, Pierce Brosnan and Steven Spielberg (the director of "Lincoln") helped celebrate Field as one of this year's Kennedy Center Honorees.

"CBS This Morning" cohost Gayle King met up with Field in New York City, at one of her favorite neighborhood restaurants, Cafe Cluny, to talk about her incredible career.

King said, "You talk about being a painfully shy little girl. So, I would think that acting would be the hardest thing for you to do?"

"You know, it's an odd dichotomy: I was a colorful little character in there," Field said. "But I wasn't allowed to be it. My grandmother would say to me, if I got angry, she would say, 'Don't be ugly.' And she was from the South."

"God don't like ugly!"

Actress and Kennedy Center Honoree Sally Field. The award-winning star of "Norma Rae" and "Forrest Gump" reflects on her stellar career, and a scarred childhood. CBS News

"God don't like ugly, girl! And so, the stage, when I first got to a stage, something cleared and I could be me."

Born Sally Margaret Field, she was only 12 years old when performing in a school production planted the seed for a dream. Raised by working class actors in Los Angeles, show business ran in the family. But it's a childhood that Field has called complicated. In her 2018 memoir, she described her stepfather sexually abusing her when she was a little girl.

"It has, you know, certainly haunted me, guided me throughout my life, my childhood with my beloved, complicated mother and my stepfather," she said. "And I think a kind of traumatic childhood, you are sorting it out your whole life long."

But an escape to those troubles at home came along the summer after she graduated high school, when Field landed her big break as the all-American sweetheart, Gidget.

"Gidget was a character inside of me that I had already perfected to hide behind, you know?" Field said. "I knew how to be that kind of bubbly, because I could keep all the other parts of me carefully hidden."

"And then we go from 'Gidget' to 'The Flying Nun,' which surprised me to read that you didn't even want that part in the beginning," said King.

"No, or at the end or the middle!" Field laughed. "I didn't want to be a nun! I wanted to find my own madness and craziness and sexuality."

"But she was a character?"

"She was a jerk! You know? She was a mindless idiot – there was nothing real to play."

"And you brought it, you said that at the time, you were that outspoken at the time," King said.

"I was learning to be. I was being pushed to finally have to say no."

Sally Field as a factory worker in "Norma Rae" (1979). 20th Century Fox

It was her starring role in the 1979 film "Norma Rae," in which she played a cotton mill worker fighting to unionize, that Field called a game-changer. "It certainly changed who I was in the industry. And in some ways was a tiny example – this one woman standing up for her dignity – was about me standing up for my own dignity.

"I had worked so hard to learn how to act, to get to those roles, to fight for them, in many cases tooth-and-nail."

Her hard work paid off, winning Field her first Oscar. And only five years later, another critically-acclaimed performance in "Places in the Heart" earned her a second Academy Award.

Of Field's oft-quoted Oscar acceptance speech, King said, "I always thought you said, 'You like me, you really like me.' That's not what you said?"

"No, no. I got up there and all of a sudden, this light that was a new thing, the light started flashing in my face to get off, get off, get off. And I just went to the truth and that was that I had worked so hard, I had such an unorthodox career. And right now, I cannot deny the fact that you like me. It means that the work worked."

Sally Field winning an Oscar® for "Places in the Heart" by Oscars on YouTube

Her life in the spotlight extended beyond work, when she began a high-profile relationship with Burt Reynolds.

King said, "You've written about the two of you together. It was loving and caring, but it was also confusing and complicated."

"My relationship with Burt was extremely complicated," Field said. "It was just as complicated as my relationship with my stepfather. I couldn't see him, really, 'cause I kept hearing my past. Except he kept stepping right into the ol' footsteps that were left behind."

"Of your stepfather?"


"So, how did you heal, Sally?"

"How do you ever know if you're healed? I don't know. But I do know this: I don't have a relationship with anyone …"

"Would you like to?"

"I don't know," she replied. "I distrust – I think that's probably the area of my life that I cannot heal."

"You distrust men, is that what you're saying?"

"Yeah," she laughed. "Absolutely. And I distrust that I can remain myself."

When asked if acting has been therapeutic, Field said, "Oh, acting has healed me in a lot of ways. Each time it asked me to find something inside of myself I didn't wanna know. And to own those pieces of myself is freeing."

King asked, "When you reflect on your career, what are you most proud of?"

"I guess in reality what I'm most proud of is that I'm still here," Field said, "that I still deeply, profoundly care that I'm an actor. I am so lucky to be able to do something I love."

Other 2019 Kennedy Center Honorees:

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