This girlishly attractive actress-the daughter of actress Margaret Field-began her career as the impossibly perky TV "Gidget" in 1965, then went on to play the impossibly perky "The Flying Nun" from 1967 to 1970. Some limited fame and financial rewards accrued, but both roles proved formidable obstacles in Field's subsequent attempt to make it as a serious actress. Things began going her way in the mid 1970s: She played the female lead in the quirky 1976 bodybuilding drama Stay Hungry and a woman with 17 distinct personalities in the compelling breakthrough TV movie Sybil (1976), for which she won an Emmy. A romantic liaison with Burt Reynolds led to their costarring in 1977's Smokey and the Bandit and 1978's Hooper a lighthearted look at movie stuntmen (which echoed her life as the stepdaughter of stuntman extraordinaire Jock Mahoney).
In 1979 Field took on a challenging, serious role as a reluctant union organizer in the drama Norma Rae for which she won a Best Actress Academy Award. Field did solid leading work throughout the 1980s, playing an ambitious reporter in 1981's controversial Absence of Malice a haunted widow in Kiss Me Goodbye (1982), and a determined Texas mother in Places in the Heart (1984, one of the more distinguished pictures in that decade's losing-the-farm subgenre; she won another Best Actress Academy Award for that film, occasioning her notorious "You like me" acceptance speech).
Like other actresses, she began developing and producing her own film vehicles, leading to such worthwhile projects as Murphy's Romance (1985), Punchline (1988), and Steel Magnolias (1989). She also starred in the melodramatic Not Without My Daughter and the broadly comic Soapdish (both 1991). That same year she wore a producer's hat for the first time on a film in which she did not star: the Julia Roberts tearjerker Dying Young More recently, she provided the voice of Sassy the cat in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993), played Robin Williams' estranged wife in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) and Tom Hanks' mom in Forrest Gump (1994). She returned to TV as star and executive producer of the miniseries "A Woman of Independent Means" (1995).