What the Hell Happened to Debra Winger?
Debra Winger has received three Academy Award nominations. She’s been nominated four times by the Golden Globes. Not to mention numerous nominations for various critics’ awards and a couple of wins. But despite the acclaim, she had a toxic reputation for being “difficult” – a reputation which she reinforced by trash-talking co-stars and directors.
After over a decade as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses, Winger walked away. Even among actresses where this sort of thing is common, Winger’s disappearance was perplexing. So much so that it was the inspiration for a documentary titled What the Hell Happened to Debra Winger?
No wait, that’s not right. It was actually called Searching for Debra Winger. but it might as well have been the original What the Hell Happened?
So, what the hell happened?
At a young age, Winger was in a serious car accident and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. This left her partially paralyzed and blind for ten months! Doctors told her she would never see again. During this time, she decided that if she recovered she would move to California and become an actress. When she did recover, Winger did exactly that.
Winger got her start in the sexploitation pic, Slumber Party ’57 which was actually released in 1976. She played a high school girl named Debbie who spends the night at a slumber party with her friends. The girls tell stories of their first sexual experiences. It’s every bit as cheap and cheesy as it sounds.
Winger’s next role was equally improbably. She appeared opposite Lynda Carter on three episodes of the TV show Wonder Woman. She played Carter’s little sister and sidekick, Wonder Girl.
In later years after Winger had established herself as an Oscar contender, she had fun with the role on talk shows. This clip from Letterman is a classic:
Winger had nothing good to say about Carter. She frequently told the story of how Carter would not allow her to have the same kind of support that she had in her costume. She also made an off-color reference to a scandal Carter was going through at the time which elicited stunned gasps from the audience. Years later, Carter responded to Winger’s accusations on Larry King:
In 1977, Winger appeared in an episode of the sitcom, Szysznyk. Ned Beatty starred as a former marine who takes over management of an inner city playground. Winger played a teenage runaway in the episode, Run, Jenny, Run.
In 1978, Winger appeared in the TV movie, Special Olympics, and in an episode of the crime drama, Police Woman, which starred Angie Dickinson as a female police officer. In the episode, Battered Teachers, Police Woman investigates a teenage gang that terrorizes the teachers at a high school.
Later that year, Winger got her first role in a mainstream Hollywood movie. It was the disco extravaganza, Thank God It’s Friday.
Winger played the new girl in town who is naturally seduced by the irresistable allure of disco and a club owner played by Jeff Goldblum. TGIF was less of a movie than a feature-length music video for the triple-album soundtrack featuring disco acts like The Commodores, Donna Summer and Thelma Huston.
Donna Summer’s hit, Last Dance, won Best Song at the Academy Awards leading film critic Leonard Maltin to call Thank God It’s Friday “the worst film ever to have won some kind of Academy Award.”
Posted on February 2, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged Academy Award, An Officer and a Gentleman, Debra Winger, Terms of Endearment, Urban Cowboy. Bookmark the permalink. 96 Comments.