Born June 4, 1936 in Chicago, Illinois into a prominent American family, Bruce Dern’s mother was the niece of poet Archibald MacLeish and his father was the son of former Utah Governor and sitting Secretary of War under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Dern. His godfather was future Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.
A lifelong avid runner and track star in high school, Dern tried out for the Olympic Trials in 1956. Studying at the Actors Studio under Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg, he made his Broadway debut in 1958 in Sweet Bird of Youth in support of Paul Newman and Geraldine Page. He made his film debut in 1960 in Wild River in support of Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick, gaining prominence as Bette Davis’ murdered lover in 1964’s Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.
Married to Marie Dawn Pierce in 1957, they divorced in 1959. Dern married actress Diane Ladd in 1960, the mother of his daughter, actress Laura Dern. He and Dern were divorced in 1969, the year he married third wife Andrea Beckett with whom he has been married ever since.
Dern’s career took off in a big way with his strong supporting roles as a marathon runner in 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and as the cattle thief who kills John Wayne in 1970’s The Cowboys. In 1972, he costarred with Jack Nicholson in The King of Marvin Gardens and in 1974 he co-starred with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. In 1975 he starred in the hit comedy, Smile, and in 1976 he was one of four stars of Alfred Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot.