Mary Steenburgen: actress 


Mary Steenburgen, actress

North Little Rock

Actress Mary Steenburgen lived in the Park Hill neighborhood of North Little Rock from the age of 18 months until she was grown. Her other and sister still live in the neighborhood. She and husband Ted Danson return to Central Arkansas regularly.

North Little Rock is definitely home, and that’s where my mother and my sister and my aunt still live. I’m very connected to it.

When I was 18 months old we moved from Newport, where I was born, to a small brick house on Idlewild Drive in Park Hill. A good friend of ours lives there now. Every once in awhile I turn up at her door and just ask to walk around. She’s made it even prettier than it was when we lived there. I’m very attached to that house.

My best friend and my partner in crime was Tom Alford, who’s worked for Channel 11 as a camera man and sound guy. He was my next-door neighbor. The two of us were honestly like twins — you never saw one without the other.

He was a big part of my imaginative play that led to me being an actor. He had a box of hats in his closet and every day he’d put on a hat, and that would be his character for the day. I was always running around after him. We’re still really good friends.

A lot of my memories have to do with Tommy, just of us making forts and things in the woods behind our house, playing James Bond and stuff like that. We just had a great time.

The first Beatles album I ever saw, he had it in his hand — it was like this reverential thing. I remember listening to it and knowing I would never be the same.

There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood, and we just had these kind of wonderful crazy times. I remember this huge snow, and there being a gigantic snowball fight with kids from the neighborhood up the hill. It was a wonderful, wonderful way to grow up.

My father was a freight-train conductor for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and my mother was a secretary for the school system. Part of the time she worked at Commercial National Bank and her best friend was Wes Clark’s mother. They’d sit there and brag about their kids. I said, “Mom, you really came up with the short end of that deal.”

The house has three bedrooms. The rooms are not too big, but the living room/dining room is one room. It had a big backyard, which was wonderful for playing in.

When I was 13, when I think girls start to get acutely aware of these things, I went to Washington, D.C., to visit my cousin, and I came back with a paper Tiffany lampshade. I thought it was the height of sophistication. And while I was there, my mother completely redecorated my room, and made it this kind of teen-ager room. It was all pink and white. She bought a really pretty bedspread, painted an old bed white, and made window shades and curtains. I came back with this lampshade that was perfect over a little round table she put in the corner. To me nobody had a room this beautiful.

My mother always had a sort of graceful way about her. She was always able to make the house look really pretty, sort of more expensively decorated than it was. There wasn’t any money for fancy stuff, but my mom had this beautiful eye for things. She would make things and arrange things so it was always very pretty and warm. The second you walked in you always felt very welcome. I think because my family was such a really loving family for me the house is still a house I adore, because I don’t have really negative memories attached to it. Not that my childhood was perfect — my dad had eight heart attacks, and there was a certain amount of worry about how we would survive. But there was just this kind of beautiful womb-like nature to our life.

— Jennifer Barnett Reed


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