Mary Stuart Masterson was born on June 28, 1966, the second of three children, to Carlos Bee (Pete) Masterson, a writer, director and actor, and his wife, Carlin Glynn, an actress in stage, movie, and television productions. The Mastersons are originally from Houston, Texas, but became residents of New York City when Pete Masterson wrote and directed a hit Broadway musical titled "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."
Mary Stuart had her first role in films at the age of seven. In 1975, she played the older daughter of her real father, Pete Masterson, and Katherine Ross in the science fiction/feminist film "The Stepford Wives." She stayed out of films for the next ten years, concentrating on school and playing a few young peoples' roles on stage. In 1985, Mary Stuart had her first serious feature film role in "Heaven Help Us," a comedy-drama about a Catholic boys high school in 1965 Brooklyn. She played Danni, a teenage girl who ran a snack bar for her depressed father that was used by the local Catholic students as a hang-out. Danni became the love interest of Andrew McCarthy, the newest student at St. Basil's school. Her sensitive and winning portrayal of Danni got Mary Stuart Masterson noticed by many film critics. While not a box office success, "Heaven Help Us" served as a showcase for Ms. Masterson's talents. One thing about her performance in this film that I found memorable was Mary Stuart's striking resemblance to the actress Tippi Hedren in several of the scenes.
There was a brief lull for the actress during the rest of 1985, but in 1986 she could be seen in two films. In "At Close Range," she was Sean Penn's love interest, and the murder victim of a diabolical Christopher Walken. Again, the reviews for Mary Stuart's work were good, but the film did not perform that well at the cashbox. Her other 1986 film, "My Little Girl," went straight to video tape. The next year found Ms. Masterson in her first financially successful movie, "Somekind of Wonderful," a John Hughes high school film in which Eric Stoltz played the best friend of Mary Stuart's tomboy rocker (she played the drums for real) Watts. Watts won Eric's character in the end over a young Lea Thompson. A book about teen films remarked of Ms Masterson's work in "Somekind of Wonderful:" "She never puts her foot wrong. " Also released in 1987 was "Gardens of Stone," Francis Ford Coppola's drama about the home front during the Vietnam War, which co-starred James Caan, Angelica Huston, and Ms. Masterson's co-star in "My Little Girl," James Earl Jones. Coppola, a big believer in family involvement in his films, cast Pete Masterson and Carlin Glynn as the parents of Mary Stuart's character. Mary Stuart made a beautiful bride in the military wedding scene.
Mary Stuart Masterson had only one film released in 1988, a small, but effective role in "Mr. North." In 1989, she was back in the sensitive Lawrence Kasdan drama, "Immediate Family." She played a teenager who longed to be a beautician, but found herself pregnant to her long-time boyfriend, Kevin Dillon, one of her "Heaven Help Us" co-stars. Mary Stuart's character agreed to give up her baby for adoption to the desperate childless couple, James Woods and Glenn Close. In "Chances Are," she was the romantic partner of Robert Downey, Jr. This comedy , which also starred Ryan O'Neal and Cybill Sheperd, was a modest hit, with its theme song, sung by Cher, also doing well.
The year of 1990 found Mary Stuart starring with Gene Wilder in "Funny About Love." She did her best with a pretty poor script in that one, but the year of 1990 was just an anticlimax for Ms. Masterson. In 1991 she would win the role that may just be the signature role of her career: Idgie Threadgoode in the film version of Fannie Flagg's novel "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe."
"Fried Green Tomatoes" has quietly become a classic movie. Set in the small railroad town of Whistle Stop, Alabama in the period between 1920 and 1939, the story revolved around the friendship of Mary Stuart's character, Idgie, and Mary -Louise Parker's Ruth Jamieson. Cicely Tyson, Cathy Bates, and the famed Jessica Tandy made up the rest of one of the best female casts ever assembled for a film. After seven years have gone by, millions worldwide still rank "Fried Green Tomatoes" as their favorite movie, this writer among them. From the opening scene to the end of the credits, when the last sound is a haunting train whistle, the film is a feast for the eyes and the soul. The author of the novel, Fannie Flagg, was the principal writer of a great screenplay. Recently, Columbia Home Video Club ranked "Fried Green Tomatoes" the second highest selling drama in their collection. It is interesting that "Dances With Wolves" was ranked first. That film could legitimately be classified as WESTERN, not a drama. If that Kevin Costner movie had been classed as a Western, "Fried Green Tomatoes" would probably had copped first place. Why this movie did not win an Oscar for best film of 1991 is a complete mystery. The horror film (and that is what it really was) "Silence of the Lambs," took that award. Cannibalism triumphs over the humanity of "Fried Green Tomatoes." What a statement about the values of this sophisticated, technologically proud culture.
There are some interesting facts about Mary Stuart Masterson achieving the role of Idgie. For one, an actress had to have a realistic Southern accent to play the role. Ms. Masterson had developed a grasp of that dialect during her stage role of "Lily Dale" in 1986. Also, Fannie Flagg, an actress as well as a novelist, had been in the Tony Award winning musical "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," written and directed by Pete Masterson. Ms. Flagg was familiar with Mary Stuart's ability at "talkin' Southern." "Fried Green Tomatoes" was the second collaboration of Fannie Flagg and Kathy Bates. They had been in the 1986 corker "I Was a Teenage Vampire."
"Fried Green Tomatoes" was both a critical and financial success. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards, but the "Silence of the Lambs" effect that year prevented the movie from winning as many as it deserved.
Now "bankable" as an actress, Mary Stuart won roles in "Mad at the Moon" in 1992, a kind of strange horror-western, and "Married to It" in 1993, which reunited her with Cybill Sheperd, who had played Mary Stuart's mother in "Chances Are." That year would find Ms. Masterson in another profitable fim, "Benny and Joon," in which she portrayed the eccentric love interest of the equally eccentric Johnny Depp. "Benny and Joon" was followed by what can be termed as a "dry period" in Ms. Masterson's career. Unspecified problems left "Heaven's Prisoners" out of release until 1996. "Bad Girls," a Western that I personally found very entertaining, although I saw it on cable television, at five o'clock on a cold February morning while in a Knights Inn in Somerset, Pennsylvania in 1996, was released in May, 1994. Far too many people waited for that film to come out on cable and video. It was a good diversion, and films like it have their place. "Bad Girls" is well remembered by Mary Stuart's co-star, Andie MacDowell. The women starring in the Western, Mary Stuart, Ms. MacDowell, Drew Barrymore, and Madeleine Stowe had to attend "Cowboy School" to learn how to ride, shoot, rope, and do other Western stunts. Andie also remembers suffering with the plague of Texas cockroaches that even found their way into the washer and dryer in the cottage she lived in during the filming. AND YOU WANT TO BE IN PICTURES? Ms MacDowell vividly recalled the professionalism of Mary Stuart Masterson.
"Radioland Murders," another 1994 release, only served to prove that George Lucas can't make "screwball comedies" except exceedingly LOUD screwball comedies. The next year, 1995, saw no new releases for Mary Stuart.
The gentle love story, "Bed of Roses," was released in January, 1996. It starred Ms. Masterson as the troubled investment banker who found love with the lonely widower florist played by Christian Slater. That movie did not do that well at the box office, but after it was released on video it became a big seller, especially during the Valentine's Day season of 1997.
"Heaven's Prisoners," like "Bad Girls," a Ruddy-Morgan production, was the project of co-producer Alec Baldwin. After a two-year delay, it was released in 1996. Now I do not know why so few critics appreciated this suspense-drama. The cast did a fine job, the story was a good one, and the camera work was outstanding. Like "Bed of Roses," it did better in video rentals and sales. Baldwin did a finer job of acting in "Heaven's Prisoners" than he did in "Hunt for Red October," yet that movie did better than "Heaven's Prisoners." One never knows what the public will vote for with their money.
Mary Stuart Masterson was seen in Kevin Costner's ignored film "The Postman." If I had known she was in it, she played Costner's daughter, I would have gone to see it. I planned to, but never got around to it. Millions more reacted the same way, and "The Postman" became one of the biggest train wrecks in movie history, pulled from the theaters after about two weeks. Mary Stu knew something. She took an UNCREDITED role in the movie, which is why none of her fans could find out she was in it. Ms. Masterson banked a nice paycheck, I hope, and can probably use it to get her proposed independent film, "Grapefruit Moon," off the ground.
In 1997, Mary Stuart Masterson starred in the Lifetime Television Christmas movie "On the Second Day of Christmas." This entertaining holiday movie showcased Ms. Masterson as a pickpocket struggling to raise the daughter of her deceased sister in New York City and how they were able to start a new life during the holidays. It has become an annual event on Lifetime Television to show this movie during the Christmas season.
In March 1998, Mary Stuart completed "The Florentine," filmed in the Bethlehem and Easton areas of Pennsylvania. One of the local restaurants let the cast members cook for themselves in the kitchen. Sean Penn's brother, Chris, who was also in "At Close Range," was rated the best of the cast's cooks. The Florentine is the name of a bar and hotel in Easton, Pennsylvania. Virginia Madsen, a co-star of Mary Stuart's in "Mr. North," was Ms. Masterson's roommate during the filming in Easton and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Other co-stars included Virginia Madsen's brother, Michael, and two major stars from the celebrated 1998 World War II film, Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan," Tom Sizemore and Jeremy Davies. "The Florentine" was Mary Stuart Masterson's second film with director Francis Ford Coppola.
In September 1998, "Digging to China," featured at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, was released on a limited basis. With co-stars Kevin Bacon and Evan Rachel Wood, Ms. Masterson portrayed the eldest sister in a dysfunctional family. This movie marked the directorial debut of actor Timothy Hutton. After a brief run in mostly small art theaters, this independent film went to video in February 1999.
In April 2000, "Dogtown," the George Hickenlooper independent film drama was released to video after special showings at many independent film festivals and a limited release to mostly small art theaters. It was a fine film and a story with rich characters. Mary Stuart starred as the former high school cheerleader and Ms. Missouri contestant surrounded by her old friends from her glory days. When another former classmate returns, a class outcast who now has the false reputation of being a rising Hollywood star, her character undergoes a period of inner turmoil. The movie also stars Jon Favreau ("Rudy") Trevor St. John, and Maureen McCormick, best known as Marcia Brady of "The Brady Bunch."
During 1999, VARIETY magazine reported that Mary Stuart Masterson was on the verge of signing a television development deal with CBS Television. This contract would have Ms. Masterson starring in a weekly dramatic series created by John Wells, the co-creator of "ER" and "China Beach," two of the most critically acclaimed series of the past ten years. The pilot of the series, "R.U.S/H," was not picked up by CBS as a new series.
In addition to the CBS series, Ms. Masterson also starred in the 1999 CBS movie-for-television, "Black and Blue," based on the book written by Anna Quindlen. Mary Stuart starred as the abused wife of a New York City police detective who flees to Florida to get away from him. Anthony LaPaglia co-starred as the husband. The television movie was shown in November 1999. In that same month, the independent film, "The Book of Stars," which reunited Mary Stuart with her "Gardens of Stone" co-star, D.B. Sweeney, premiered at several major city film festivals and the Sundance Film Festival. Jena Malone, a highly-regarded young actress, portrayed Ms. Masterson's younger sister in the movie. "The Book of the Stars" was released on video on September 5, 2000.
During the summer of 2000, Mary Stuart Masterson was signed to direct one of three short science fiction movies for the Showtime cable television network. Ms. Masterson's film is titled "The Other Side," and involves a terminally ill scientist who produces a clone of himself. Ms. Masterson is also the author of this story. Anthony LaPaglia, Mary Stuart's "Black and Blue" co-star is also the star of "The Other Side."
In 2001, Mary Stuart entered a new phase in her career, that of star of a television series. Ms. Masterson portrayed "Kate Brasher," a CBS television series that was a mid-season replacement during 2000/2001. The show premiered in February 2001, but was not renewed by CBS for the 2001/2002 fall season. However, CBS did cast Mary Stuart in "Three Blind Mice," a courtroom/mystery drama in which she co-starred with Brian Dennehy.
During her foray into television, Ms. Masterson continued to turn out fine independent films. The first, which premiered during a 2002 Las Vegas Film Festival, was "West of Here," the directorial debut of her brother, Pete Masterson. The second, which premiered in September 2002, at a Toronto, Canada Film Festival was "Leo," which also co-starred Sam Sheppard from "Lily Dale."
The biggest news of 2003 was Mary Stuart's landing the role of Luisa in the revival of the Broadway musical "Nine." Based on the film "8 1/2," the musical had a successful original run, but the 2003 revival garnered high praise for Ms. Masterson for her performance in her first big Broadway production, especially her singing voice. Co-starring with Antonio Banderas as the main character, Guido, an Italian filmmaker who is reviewing his relationships with the important women of his life, Chita Rivera, and Jane Krakowski ("Ally McBeal"") Ms. Masterson was nominated for a Tony Award along with her two castmates, Ms. Rivera and Ms. Krakowski. "Nine" was originally scheduled to have a short run, but the revival was so popular its run was extended into 2004.
After the Broadway triumph of "Nine," Ms. Masterson returned to independent films, but also starred in a Kennedy Center production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" in the summer of 2004. Mary Stuart portrayed the character "Maggie the Cat," the main character in the play. This writer attended the play with Claudia Kehl, the Webmistress of another Mary Stuart Masterson site based in Switzerland. The theater was completely filled and the audience enjoyed the performances immensely. MSM also starred in the play "110 Stories" in the same year, and debuted on the London stage in "National Anthem" with Kevin Spacey. The year 2004 also saw Ms. Masterson co-star with Mos Def in the HBO drama "Something the Lord Made," while also performing in the independent film, "Whiskey School." The year also saw MSM appear in the first of five episodes of the popular police procedural NBC series, "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU), portraying the psychiatrist Rebecca Hendrix. The following year, 2005, the female ensemble drama "The Sisters," another independent film which also starred Maria Bello, was released. Mary Stuart was very busy that year, and logged plenty of miles as well as hours in some of the most demanding of show business venues, the stage and television.
In 2006, Mary Stuart Masterson was acting for a television production again, this time in a prospective series about local government corruption in a New England City, "Waterfront." Ms. Masterson was in five episodes of the series. Along with "Waterfront," MSM completed the independent film "The Insurgents," about domestic political extremism and terrorism. The year 2007 saw Ms. Masterson complete her second film as producer, and her first as director, "The Cake Eaters," starring the rising young actress, Kristen Stewart, whose success in "Twilight" in early 2009 spurred the general release of "The Cake Eaters" in 2009. Mary Stuart Masterson won four film festival awards for "The Cake Eaters."
Presently, in partnership with her brother, Peter, and the producer of "The Florentine," Steve Weisman, Mary Stuart is involved in almost every phase of filmmaking as a partner in Barn Door Productions. Presently, this close knit production company is completing the independent film "Tickling Leo" in 2009, a movie that probes the history and effects of the Holocaust on several individuals. Given the finished product of at least two of the partners, Mary Stuart and her brother, Peter, as well as some other members of the Masterson family, father Peter, mother Carlin Glynn, and sister Alexandra, their creative talents are very strong. In "The Florentine," Steve Weisman produced a fine ensemble story with believable and sympathetic characters. "The Cake Eaters" has garnered independent film awards and good response from audiences and most critics who viewed it. On this evidence it is safe to predict that the films Barn Door will produce will be filled with excellent performances, wonderful photography, and will be grounded in a real fascination with, and, well, love of the human experience. We can all be certain that this production company will not soon be producing the next "Howard the Duck."
As time has passed since this page was first started, we find that the not only was the critic who once described Mary Stuart Masterson as "a sensitive, engaging leading lady of film" absolutely right , but she can also sing ("Nine"), direct ("The Cake Eaters") and succeed as a producer.
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