If you “rocked the dock” this past summer at the annual Bay Street Theatre benefit on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, you enjoyed great food, including a mind-blowing filet de beouf en croute, an amazing fantasy auction, and the very classy company of co-host Blythe Danner. Along with True Blood star Chris Bauer, actor Richard Kind of Luck and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and a legion of guests including Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber and the like, Danner was doing her part to help out her Hamptons friends at Bay Street Theatre.
You might have caught sight of Danner this fall during the Hamptons Film Festival, at a dinner at Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton, honoring Oscar-winning costume designer Ann Roth. Or you might have seen Danner in the role the actress seems to particularly love—that of grandmother to little Apple and Moses Martin, progeny of Danner’s famous daughter Gwyneth Paltrow and equally famous son-in-law, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin.
“Charming” and “elegant” are the kind of words that get tossed around like bouquets at an Olympic figure skater when the topic of conversation turns to Blythe Danner. That celebrated charm was front and center when Danner romped onto the Broadway stage in 1970 in Butterflies Are Free. She spent most of Act I in her underwear, prompting a storm of favorable press, both for her acting and her undies, making most of us these days wax nostalgic for the good old ’70s.
Now, Danner is closing in on 70 herself, and the charm is still evident, even now that Danner is a grandmother, dubbed “Lalo” by granddaughter Apple.
Like any doting grandmother with a little cash and a good eye for real estate, Danner has found a place to call her own, and moved out to the East End to be closer to her grandchildren. She spent time this summer taking them to the beach and speculating on whether Apple or Moses will follow their famous mother and grandmother into the family business.
Danner herself grew up in a nonshow business family. A Philadelphia native, Danner’s family was well-off, affording her and her siblings a comfortable life. As a teenager, Danner got to travel to Germany as a foreign exchange student, returning home to attend Bard College. While there, she briefly dated fellow Bard student Chevy Chase.
Critics and audiences first began to take notice of Danner in the Lincoln Center production of Summertime, which had followed her theater debut in The Glass Menagerie at the Theatre Company of Boston. Butterflies Are Free would follow soon, but at a rehearsal for a now forgotten play called Someone’s Coming Hungry, Danner met young theatre producer Bruce Paltrow. It was a great time for the actress. She and Paltrow began a married life together that would span 32 years. She had just won a Tony for Butterflies, although she would not be considered enough of a box-office draw to play the role in a film, losing out to fellow blonde Goldie Hawn.
Danner made it onto the big screen just a few years later, in the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical 1776. Playing opposite Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson, Danner glowed as Southern belle Martha Jefferson. Her on-camera chemistry with Howard prompted a repeat performance. Howard and Danner were reunited for a short-lived TV series, Adam’s Rib, based on the classic film starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey.
Returning to the stage, Danner began what would be a long-standing relationship with the Williamstown Theatre Festival. She played the role of Nina in Chekov’s play The Seagull, receiving such accolades that the production was shot and aired on public television. Twenty years later, Danner would appear in The Seagull again at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, in the role of Arkadina, while daughter Gwyneth would step into the role of Nina.
By now, Danner and Paltrow had moved out to Southern California. Paltrow went to work at Screen Gems, and Danner spent time raising their children. As the decade came to a close, Danner scored big with the role of Robert Duvall’s put-upon wife in The Great Santini.
As her children grew, Danner was able to devote more time to acting, picking up Tony noms for her role in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, and for her role as Blanche DuBois in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire.
When Gwyneth began her career, Danner was able to join her both on the stage, in productions of Picnic and The Seagull at Williamstown, and on the small screen. Mother and daughter appeared together in the NBC miniseries Cruel Doubts, cast, predictably enough, as mother and daughter.
Without a doubt, Danner knows her way around heavy drama, but one of her most popular roles has been in the Meet the Parents comedy franchise. As Robert De Niro’s wife, Dina Byrnes, Danner hit the right note of Waspy cool as Ben Stiller’s awkward prospective bridegroom tried to win over his future in-laws.
Paltrow and Danner had always been considered one of Hollywood’s rare cases of true, enduring love. Paltrow died of oral cancer in 2002, while on vacation in Rome, celebrating his daughter’s 30th birthday. It was a devastating loss for the tight-knit family. Danner became involved with the Oral Cancer Foundation, and created the Bruce Paltrow Oral Cancer Fund.
Work continued to play a vital role for Danner. She appeared with her Gwnyeth in Sylvia, again playing mother and daughter, reprised her role as Dina Byrnes in both Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers, and played Hank Azaria’s manipulative but charming mother in the Showtime series Huff. The role earned her two Emmy Awards, one for each season of Huff.
With rave reviews in the past few months for her scene-stealing work as the mother in Hello, I Must Be Going, Danner is still going strong, enjoying her professional life and her life as an East End grandmother.
Who knows? The next time Danner decides to “rock the dock” she may bring little Apple and Moses along for the ride.