Debra Winger had a very successful career in the 1980’s and ‘90s, starring as the lead in several hugely successful movies. And while she always praised for her talent, her performances, and her charm on screen, she was also notoriously difficult to work with on set. Now, whether these many instances were all her fault (or if any were) is a matter of opinion. But it’s hard to imagine that any actor who is continuously getting into feuds with various co-stars, as well as directors and crew members, is 100% innocent. In this video, we’re taking a look at the feuds of Debra Winger, and how they may have ultimately caused her downfall in Hollywood. So, join Facts Verse as we present: No One Wants to Work with Debra Winger After This.
Her first feud was on the set of Urban Cowboy, the 1980 hit movie starring Winger and John Travolta. It was Winger’s first big role, and ultimately the movie that was her big break. However, she could sense right away that perhaps she wasn’t going to get along with Travolta. Reportedly, when she first met Travolta, he peppered her with somewhat invasive and insulting. The first thing he asked her was if she was Jewish.
Which certainly isn’t an insult, but a bizarre first thing to say to someone, and implies potential antisemitism in its asking. Next, Travolta asked her if she had graduated college. Again, not a particularly insulting thing on its surface, but it implies that she gave off an air of a lack of intelligence. And finally, Travolta said something sexual to her, which Winger didn’t reveal the specifics up. Certainly not a great start on Travolta’s part.
However, the two developed an intense, if not unhealthy working relationship on set. In an interview Winger gave to the NY Times, she recalled that she wanted to have actual sex in the love scenes. She also said that Travolta supposed to slap her in one scene. While the cameras were rolling, he evidently slapped her so hard, he knocked out one of her teeth.
Of course, sometimes an unhealthy working relationship leads to an unhealthy romantic one. Such was the case with Travolta and Winger. They began to date at some point during shooting, and Travolta soon asked her to marry him. Winger, however, not interested in taking their relationship to the next level, and said no.
An Officer and Some Not So Gentle Men
Winger’s feud with Richard Gere was one of her most famous. They starred together in An Officer and A Gentlemen in 1982, and their on screen chemitsty was electric. But reportedly things weren’t so great on set. The two had contrasting personalities, and reportedly didn’t get along. Their co-star, Louis Gossett, wrote in his autobiography years later that the two tried to stay as far apart from each other as they could on set. And Winger quoted as saying that acting opposite Gere like acting with a “brick wall.” This didn’t exactly help her reputation as being difficult on set. Though the two later reconciled and don’t’ have bad blood.
Winger says the difficulty didn’t actually stem from Gere, but from the folks behind the camera. She has said that director Taylor Hackford and the film’s producers treated her horribly. Debra likened them to pigs, and said she humiliated and objectified during the shoot. She singled out producer Don Simpson, saying he reportedly said she was ‘Not F-able enough” to play the part.
Debra Winger dropped out of 1992s A League of their Own
These days, A League of Their Own is considered a modern-day classic. Directed by Penny Marshall and starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell, and more, the movie is a charming and funny tale about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II. But most people don’t know that Debra Winger actually supposed to be the lead. And it wasn’t just that she was in discussions for it. She actually cast in the role, and spent several months training with the Chicago Cubs organization. She’s in the middle of trying her best to look like a convincing professional baseball player, when word reached her that Madonna had cast in the movie.
She felt that this choice took away from the tone of the film, and that it suddenly was a lot more like what she referred to as an “Elvis movie.” As such, she promptly decided to quit the film. Geena Davis brought in as a replacement, and the rest is history. So, join Facts Verse as we present: No One Wants to Work with Debra Winger After This.
Winger later elaborated that she felt the final product, while fun and humorous. Didn’t honor the women who’d played in the league the right way. She thought the film had a heightened enough reality that viewers would more likely to wonder if it completely made up, rather than assured that it’s a true story. When asked what she thought of the acting, Winger said she thought Geena Davis did fine. And that she had no hard feelings for any of the actors who stayed on board. She also said of Madonna’s performance, “I think [her] acting career has spoken for itself.”
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The Shirley MacLaine Feud
Perhaps none of Debra Winger’s on set feuds are more famous than the one she had with Shirley MacLaine on the set of Terms of Endearment. For starters, the two had vastly different personalities and senses of style. MacLaine recalled taken aback when she showed up on set with fur coats and glamorous “movie star” clothing. Because she felt her character would wear that kind of attire. And she reportedly taken aback when winger showed up in a miniskirt and boots. But their differences cut deeper than just clothing choices. Winger was apparently quite outgoing and stubborn on set, while MacLaine was more laid back and quiet. The director of the film, James L. Brooks once commented that on set, no one could quite grasp their relationship, and that included Shirley and Debra.
For her part, Debra felt their differing personalities were what made them connect so well as a mother and daughter pair on screen. But she admitted that it was a very ‘gritty’ way for them to work, and that the studio assumed they were nuts.
In MacLaine’s autobiography, she recalled that she didn’t appreciate Debra’s tone and demeanor. She told of a time when Winger yelled at her to “Get over here” when Shirley needed to hit her mark (aka where to stand for the next shot.) MacLaine said she responded to Winger that, as a seasoned actress, she certainly was familiar with how to hit a mark on set. And then in response, Winger said, “How’s this for a mark?” and promptly farted in MacLaine’s direction. So, join Facts Verse as we present: No One Wants to Work with Debra Winger After This.
In more recent times Winger has admitted to their being a rift between the two, and that her behavior didn’t help it.
Is sexism at play?
From her years of feuds with co-stars and people behind the camera, as well as her antics on set, Winger has gained a reputation for being ‘difficult’ to work with. But she maintains that there’s a layer of sexism built into that label. She points out that if a man had done some of the same behaviors as she had on set and during production. He wouldn’t have labeled as difficult. Instead, he would called a perfectionist, and praised for an independent thinker and expressing himself. She likes to point out that this is a classic double standard women in Hollywood have to constantly deal with.
And she’s not alone in thinking her reputation is at least somewhat unfounded. James Bridges, who directed her in Urban Cowboy, pointed out that while they had disagreements on set, Debra has excellent instincts. Not only that, but she pushes back when she thinks her instincts aren’t being heeded. Bridges pointed out that when Debra disagrees with you, it’s not something personal. He recalled to the NY Times a fight he’d had with Winger. Where she refused to act in a scene, and production had to shut down. Bridges said that he was furious at first, but then he reexamined the scene in question, and realized Debra was 100% right.
Winger quit on Hollywood
You have probably noticed that you don’t see much of Debra in Hollywood movies these days. Could that be because studios are too concerned about the hassle of a potential feud between Debra and a future castmate? Or because her movies haven’t performed well at the box office? Actually, neither is true.
In 1995, Debra decided that she was done with the rollercoaster ride that is the studio system in Hollywood. Reportedly, while on a trip with her husband, she looked out onto an Irish pasture and announced to him that she was done with acting. This actually followed several years of telling herself that she wanted to hang it up. But after never actually calling it quits, this was the moment that she made her final decision.
Winger says that she was still receiving offers of roles when she decided to retire from acting. But that these roles were essentially rehashes of work she had previously done. As such, she didn’t find them creatively fulfilling, and decided she would rather not do them. Winger told People Magazine in 2017 that the only roles she’d consider are ones that truly challenged her. And none of what she was being offered at the time did that.
Now it’s time to hear from you. What’s your favorite film featuring Debra Winger? Let us know in the comment section below. And before you go, be sure to give this video a like, and subscribe to Facts Verse if you haven’t already. Click the bell icon to stay updated on all our latest content!