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Any other name
I've changed my name eight times. I was born Edna Rae Gillooly. My mother had four husbands — three by the time I was 7, so the name kept changing. When I started acting, it was Ellen McRae. After I got famous, I couldn't change it anymore. Too many names were flying around.
I was a child during World War II and remember collecting scrap metal and newspaper in my wagon for the war effort. We all pulled together. Whatever bad thing there is, there's the other side, too — how people respond and don't get defeated by it. I know we're going to be OK.
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The inspiration of my life is my acting teacher, Lee Strasberg. I was a mess from Detroit, getting hired for my looks and being as cute as I could be. I noticed Marlon Brando, James Dean and Kim Stanley — they knew something. I went to Lee and he stripped me down to my essence.
I met Marilyn Monroe only once. She was a luminous character, a radiant being. She reflected light. She was always reading. That whole Marilyn character — she created. Students who saw her scene from Anna Christie in class say it was one of the greatest performances of all time.
During the ‘70s women's movement, female characters were either the loyal wife who stayed home while the husband saved the world, the prostitute with a heart of gold or the victim who was raped and murdered. I said, “No, I want to do a movie about the women I know.” Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore gave voice to women bringing up children alone, getting jobs, breaking glass ceilings.
When I started acting, everybody on set was a white man except the actress and the script girl. Slowly, they brought in women, Black people, Asian people, gay people. Sixty years later, women are producers, directors and grips. Women hold the boom over your head for hours. The change is remarkable. Real cultural change takes real effort and time.
I saw it again for its 45th anniversary showing in L.A. No, it doesn't scare me. You know what's funny? I passed a group of people the other day and a man said, “Ellen Burstyn?” I said, “How can you recognize me with this mask on?” He said, “I've seen The Exorcist over 40 times. Your eyes are very familiar."