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Melinda Dillon with Paul Newman in ‘Slapshot.’

Mr. Movie: Melinda Dillon

Her name was never really a household one, but Melinda Dillon had quite a good run until 1999. After that, she continued to work, with more than 100 credits, until she died at 83. She was nominated for Oscar twice, but was 0 for 2.


Her first Oscar nomination came for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). She lost to Vanessa Redgrave for Julia. Ms. Dillon portrayed Jillian Guiler, the awestruck Mom of the abducted child Barry. She and electrician Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) dream of a strange mountain, which turns out to be the landing area for a UFO. As the US Army tries to cover up the landing and abductions, the UFO lands anyway and Jillian and Roy are there. Barry is returned to his Mom along with dozens of abductees. The aliens select Roy to travel with them (voluntarily) and head out.


Melinda’s second Oscar nomination was for Absence of Malice (1981). This time she lost to Maureen Stapleton for Reds. Ms. Dillon’s role as Teresa Perrone cast her with heavyweights Paul Newman I(Michael Gallagher) and Sally Field (Megan Carter). Carter is a reporter who writes an altogether fake story about Gallagher committing a murder, causing him to lose his business and almost his life. Carter also includes in a later story the fact that Teresa Perrone claims to be Gallagher’s alibi in the fake murder charge because he took her out of town to get an abortion on the crucial date. Perrone is a devout Catholic who had pleaded with Carter not to reveal her name but Carter uses it anyway. Perrone subsequently kills herself.


Slap Shot (1977) is a fun movie about a minor league hockey team on its last legs. Paul Newman stars as player-coach Reggie Dunlop. Dillon has a minor, but revealing, part as his girlfriend Suzanne. (Beware the dreadful sequel.)


In 1983, Dillon landed the plum part of Mother Parker in Jean Shepard’s A Christmas Story. Her oldest son Ralphie wants just one thing for Christmas — a Red Ryder BB gun. He is repeatedly told by everyone, especially his Mom, that he will “shoot his eye out.” This charming film later became a pretty good Broadway musical.


In the semi-biographical Bound For Glory (1976), Dillon has a double role. She plays Woody Guthrie’s long-suffering wife Mary and is also the radio voice of country singer Memphis Sue. Keith Carradine is quite good as Woody.


Dillon’s last important roles were fairly minor, but she is very good in The Prince of Tides (1991) and Magnolia (1999).


All of the movies in this article are available on DVD. All are for adults.