One whole wall in Actress Ellen Burstyn's Hudson Valley house is covered with nomination certificates. "No awards, mind you. Just nominations." Burstyn exaggerates a bit; she won New York and National Film Critics' awards for The Last Picture Show. Two of the other citations are Academy Award nominations for Picture Show and The Exorcist. But despite such well-deserved recognition, Burstyn's 17-year career has stopped just short of fame.
Now, at 42, she has made a movie that can only be considered a vehicle for its female lead. A rarity in today's male-dominated film market, Alice Doesn 't Live Here Anymore (TIME, Feb. 3) is an on-the-road journey toward self-discovery in which the seeker is a woman. A 35-year-old housewife whose oafish truck-driver husband is killed in a collision, Alice packs her twelve-year-old son into a battered station wagon and sets off for California in a desperately unrealistic attempt to recapture her girlhood dream of becoming a night club singer "better than Alice Faye."
Loose Ends. Alice is Burstyn's own project. Two years ago, she found Writer Robert Getchell's script and persuaded Warner Bros, to put up a $2.1 million budget for it. She picked her own director, Mean Streets' Martin Scorsese, and helped to select cast and crew. Major portions of the script were reworked on the basis of her improvisation sessions with other cast members or her own experience. Although the film, like its central character, seems completely at loose ends, it opened last week to favorable reviews and long lines. Whether or not it brings Burstyn the stardom that has eluded her, it may well make her rich: she gets 10% of the net.
Burstyn has a face that belongs above a Peter Pan collar, and a figure that deserves decolletage. Like Alice, she is a single woman raising a young son alone. (She has been divorced since 1969. Jefferson Burstyn, 13, appears briefly in the film as the kid next door.) Alice, says Burstyn, "is a woman grappling with the change of consciousness we are all grappling with. I'm just further along in the grapplea little older and wiser than Alice."
Like Zen. Like Alice, Ellen confesses that she was movie-afflicted early on. "It's just in the past six or seven years," she says, "that I've started to find out how I would act if I were not Betty Gra-ble." With a vision of herself as a composite Grable, Deanna Durbin and June Haver she wandered through an almost schizoid array of jobsand nameson her way to wising up. She was Edna Rae Gilloolythe daughter of middle-class Irish parents, "with dashes of French, Dutch and American Indian"until she left Detroit's Cass Technical High School; Edna Rae as a fashion illustrator's model in Texas; Keri Flynn as a dancer in a Montreal night club; Erica Dean as a model for paperback book covers in New York; and Ellen McRae in Broadway's Fair Game in 1957. Comments Burstyn: "I was a checker player, not chess. I could only see one move ahead."