By Lauren Minore
A crowd of over 750 guests rose to their feet to give two-time Academy Award winning three-time Emmy Award winning actress Sally Field a standing ovation while she walked across the stage in the Alumni Gym for a moderated discussion hosted by Penn Medicine Princeton Health on Oct. 27.
In September 2018, Field released “In Pieces,” a literary memoir which detailed her self-described “traumatic” childhood, her experience with her acting craft and her emotional life journey as both a daughter and a mother.
“When my mother passed away I [did] all the things that you… should do, you have those conversations, we resolved things that we thought were lingering,” she said. “My older parent was going to pass away, and I was going to be there with her, and I was going to feel at peace afterward because everything had been crossed and dotted and all those things. But when she was gone, I felt deeply disquieted.”
After her mother’s passing at 65, Field, now 72, said she was left with something festering inside of her. She compared it to having “a splinter that got into my foot that I didn’t see, and it was swelling, and I didn’t know what it was.”
Soon after, Field said she was invited by a friend to deliver a keynote address for an event at The Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. After delivering her speech, which was over an hour long according to Field, it became “essentially the last chapter of the book.”
“After I had written it, and most especially, after I had stood in this dark room, with people, like this, like you, out there [in the crowd],” she said. “What I felt from them to me, me to them, you to me and me to you, so strengthened me and underlined something that had been right in front of my face. I needed to write it all down. I needed to put the pieces all out in front of me and see if I could put them together and it would show me a picture that I couldn’t see otherwise.”
In the discussion, Field was candid about vulnerable moments in her life, including the sexual abuse she experienced from her stepfather, the abortion she recieved at 17 and her struggles with eating disorders.
While she was writing, Field said she did not originally write it to be read, but wrote it for herself. Field said she spent about seven years working on the book.
“Why has it become my best friend and my worst enemy, my closest confidant? I would be lonely without it and tormented with it,” she said. “I never had it out of my sight. Even when I was… away, working on jobs, my day job… I had pages in my pockets, in my shoes, I would sit down to do a scene on something and they would say, ‘What’s that crinkling?’… I had to have it with me all the time.”
Field, who is often celebrated as one of the most beloved actresses of her generation, was known for her notable roles in the television series Gidget and The Flying Nun, mini series Sybil, and movies Smokey and The Bandit, Norma Rae, Lincoln and more.
“The craft of acting had saved me because it forced me to go into parts of me that I didn’t want to see and to own them and be them and absorb them,” Field said.
In lighter moments of her discussion, Field was also asked questions from the audience about some of her experiences working with famous actors and directors including Robin Williams, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.
When asked about her favorite roles, Field compared them to children, and jokingly said she could not choose a favorite because then “the other ones would get mad and turn on each other.”
When asked about why she decided to title the book “In Pieces,” Field said she had to dig through pieces of her life that she didn’t want to look at to ultimately find what was inside of her.
She said, “Only in allowing myself to forgive myself, to own myself, to see myself, could I ever move on.”