In September 1997, as soon as Ally McBeal premiered on Fox, Calista Flockhart became an international star. Until then, she had appeared in several Off-Broadway productions and played the occasional minor role on television and the big screen. But despite the positive viewer data that the David E. Kelley show garnered - especially during its first four seasons - many were viciously critical of the actress, for reasons ranging from her extreme thinness to her on-screen portrayal of a histrionic single woman who loved miniskirts.
On June 29, 1998, five months after Flockhart won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Actress for a television series, American newsstands woke up to a controversial Time magazine cover. It featured the heads of Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, in black and white, accompanied by that of Calista Flockhart - not Ally McBeal- in color. The headline was a question: “Is feminism dead?”
“Much of feminism has devolved into the silly. And it has powerful support for this: a popular culture insistent on offering images of grown single women as frazzled, self-absorbed girls,” columnist Ginia Bellafante wrote at the time. She continued, “The show, for the few who may have missed it, focuses on a ditsy 28-year-old Ivy League Boston litigator who never seems in need of the body-concealing clothing that Northeastern weather often requires. Ally spends much of her time fantasizing about her ex-boyfriend, who is married and in the next office, and manages to work references to her mangled love life into nearly every summation she delivers. She has fits in supermarkets because there are too few cans of Pringles. She answers the question ‘Why are your problems so much bigger than everyone else’s?’ with the earnest response ‘Because they’re mine.’ When Ally gets any work done, how she keeps her job, why she thinks it’s ok to ask her secretary why she didn’t give her a birthday present - these are all mysteries.”
Oddly enough, the actress has never defended herself against any of this criticism. A response came instead from Ken Olin, executive producer of Brothers & Sisters, the series with which Flockhart returned to television after Ally McBeal. “Wherever she shows up, for whatever reason, she’s such a lightning rod for media and scrutiny and a certain kind of resentment, and I don’t think that’s always easy for her but she’s doing it. She’s had to be tough. That hurts her feelings,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “But it’s this character of Ally McBeal that is held up to represent something that she’s not.”
At that time, Flockhart had her mind on something more important. In early 2001, a year before Fox canceled Ally McBeal, the actress adopted a newborn named Liam. In fact, although she continued receiving job offers, she waited five years to get in front of the cameras again: her baby is her priority. She only agreed to play the Republican Kitty Walker, in Brothers & Sisters, when she was guaranteed that she would not have to leave Los Angeles and would shoot two or three days a week maximum.
“I certainly did [miss acting]. I loved being a mom,” she told CinemaBlend in 2006. “But as any mother can tell you, you stay home with a two-year-old 24/7 and you get mush brain and you start wishing that you were working. And then when you’re working, unfortunately you’re wishing that you were home. It’s a tough dilemma that I have a new appreciation for.”
Flockhart was also questioned about her relationship with Harrison Ford. Ever since they met at the 2002 Golden Globes, where Ford was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement, many tabloids doubted that their pairing would work. The reason? Their age difference. “It doesn’t faze me. Sometimes I even say, ‘Wow, I keep forgetting that he’s 22 years older than me.’ It doesn’t factor into our relationship at all. I like the way he looks first thing in the morning. It’s not handsome, it’s more cute. He looks like a little boy,” she told Hello! Magazine in 2003. Those gloomy predictions never came to pass. They were married in Santa Fe in 2010, in an informal ceremony in which he wore Wranglers and she a modest white dress. Today, they are one of the longest-lived couples in Hollywood.
Flockhart’s last feature film was the 2005 supernatural thriller Fragile, directed by Jaume Balagueró. Now, she is enjoying a resurgence. This year, taking advantage of the fact that her son has started college, she starred in a new version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. And next year we will see her as Lee Radziwill, Jackie Kennedy’s sister, in the long-awaited second season of Feud, the series created by Ryan Murphy, Jaffe Cohen and Michael Zam. About to turn 58, the actress who avoids social media - she has no active account - and puts her loved ones before fame is now ready to shine again.