Jill Clayburgh has died at the age of 66 after a 21 year battle with leukemia. It hardly seems possible. Clayburgh was an actress who flowered in the 1970s and then, for reasons that passed understanding, faded away into TV guest role twilight.
Jill Clayburgh first came to my attention in the 1976 comedy “Silver Streak” in which she made out with none other than Gene Wilder on a train. The journey also featured a number of near death experiences with a gang of criminals led by Patrick McGoohan along with hijnks with Richard Pryor in his prime. “Silver Streak” was a sweet, almost innocent movie in which a casual sexual encounter on a moving train seemed as natural as being thrown off of it several times by gangsters. Clayburgh was the sort of natural, sexy woman who would make getting almost killed several times almost bearable.
Clayburgh went on to star in a series of chick flick romantic comedies of the time one grudgingly takes ones wife or girlfriend. In “An Unmarried Woman” Clayburgh finds herself divorced by her husband for a younger woman and falls in love with an artist. In “Starting Over” Clayburgh is part of a love triangle that also consists of Burt Reynolds and a pre Murphy Brown/Boston Legal Candice Bergin. Since Bergin had not yet developed her liberal bitchy persona that served her so well in those two TV series, one can see Burt’s dilemma. In “It’s My Turn” it is Jill Clayburgh’s turn to have to choose, this time between Michael Douglas and Charles Grodin.
The best thing in each of these films is Clayburgh’s natural performance of appealing albeit put upon women. Her presence in these films made them bearable and, in some instances, even enjoyable.
Clayburgh played the first female Supreme Court justice in a film version of the play “The First Monday in October” which opened about the same time Sandra Day O’Conner was named to the court. She played opposite Walter Matthau whose character was a riff on the actual Supreme Court Justice William Douglas. Since Clayburgh’s character was a conservative, the two engaged in a lot of political banter.
Clayburgh did have some misses, including the early melodrama “Gable and Lombard” about the 1930s era romance between the leading man and comedic actress of that era and the horrid Costa-Garvras anti Israeli film “Hannah K.”
In her later career, Clayburgh did a series of reoccurring characters in such TV shows as “Ally McBeal”, “The Practice”, “Nip/Tuck”, and “Dirty, Sexy, Money.”
Source: Jill Clayburgh, IMDB