Diane Ladd, a talented actress, writer, director, and singer who has received three Academy Award nominations, was born Rose Diane Ladner on 29 November 1935 in Meridian. She remained in her hometown until she graduated from high school at age sixteen and moved to New Orleans to attend finishing school. There, she studied singing, dancing, and fencing while acting at a community theater, modeling professionally, and singing with a French Quarter band. After a touring cast member of John Carradine’s Tobacco Road spotted Ladd during a performance, she was hired as a replacement actress for a San Francisco production. She made her way to New York City, where she enrolled at the Actors Studio and found a job dancing at the Copacabana.
Her first major stage role came in the 1959 Off-Broadway production of Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams, who was Ladd’s first cousin. The following year, she married Bruce Dern, one of her Orpheus Descending costars. Before divorcing in 1969, the couple had two children, Laura Dern, who went on to become a noted actress, and Diane Elizabeth Dern, who died in an accident at age eighteen months. Ladd performed in many theater productions, including the Broadway play Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights (1968), the Off-Broadway production of Noisy Passengers (1970), and Preston Jones’s renowned Texas Trilogy, Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander (1976).
After appearing in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), which received numerous Oscar nominations, Ladd had her breakthrough film role as the wisecracking waitress Flo in Martin Scorcese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), for which she earned the first of her Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nominations. In 1980–81 she played waitress Belle Dupree in CBS’s television adaptation of the film, Alice. Her second Academy Award nomination acknowledged her portrayal of Marietta in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, in which she played the obsessive and malicious mother of her real-life daughter, Laura Dern. In 1991 she and Dern again acted together in Martha Coolidge’s Rambling Rose, for which both mother and daughter received Academy Award nominations.
From 1969 to 1977 Ladd was married to William A. Shea Jr., and in 1999 she married businessman Robert Charles Hunter. Ladd continues to act on stage, on television, and in films, frequently playing the role of a southern woman, replete with a heavy accent. In addition to guest appearances on E.R., Cold Case, Touched by an Angel, Grace under Fire, and numerous other shows, she appeared as Helen Jellicoe on television’s Enlightened from 2011 to 2013. Other notable films have included Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), Primary Colors (1998), 28 Days (2000), The World’s Fastest Indian (2005), and Joy (2015).
- Diane Ladd website, www.dianeladd.com
- Hollywood.com website, www.hollywood.com
- Internet Movie Database website, www.imdb.com
- US Census (1940)