Blythe Danner, the Philly-born veteran of stage and screen, takes the lead
by Debra Wallace

Most of Blythe Danner’s sweetest family memories begin with pancakes.

During a weekend ritual at their home in Los Angeles, she and her late husband, Bruce Paltrow—producer, director and “master pancake maker,” she recalls—would whip up a fresh batch of buttermilk pancakes, served with warm maple syrup. The ritual was mostly “a family thing” shared among the couple and their children, Gwyneth and Jake, but when the invite was extended to a group of close friends, the stack of hot cakes would grow to towering heights.  

The couple’s daughter, the Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow, featured the family pancake recipe in her 2011 cookbook, “My Father’s Daughter: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family and Togetherness.” “The pancake making started as a casual weekend breakfast thing and became a ritual,” Paltrow wrote. “My father was, after all, the most loving and nurturing of all men.”

Although the family made its home in L.A. and spent summers at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Mass., Danner was born and reared in Philadelphia. She attended elementary school in Media, high school in Newtown.

Danner is best known for her roles in the “Meet the Parents” trilogy and the Woody Allen films “Alice” and “Husbands and Wives.” She received a Tony Award for her Broadway debut in “Butterflies Are Free,” and she also earned nominations for three other Broadway shows. Most recently, she performed in productions of “Madoff,” with Sarah Jessica Parker, and “The Country House.”

On television, she has played roles as diverse as Marilyn Truman, better known as Will’s mother, on the sitcom “Will & Grace” and Isabelle “Izzy” Huffstodt on the Showtime comedy series “Huff,” the latter of which earned her two Emmy Awards.

In 2015, Danner garnered her first leading film role, in the comedy-drama “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which also stars Sam Elliott and Rhea Perlman. Danner says she could relate to her character in the film, the widowed Carol, because her own husband of 33 years died in October 2002. We spoke with her about her many roles, the closeness of her famed family and why, at age 73, she’s still committed to finding new “firsts.”

About the family breakfast …
“On a typical Sunday morning it would be pancakes—lots of flour, butter and eggs—and laughter everywhere. There was lots of mixing, chopping, stirring and just hanging out. Gwyneth is an extraordinary cook, as was my late husband, Bruce. I was the sous chef, and they did all of the creating.”

The best thing about being a grandmother …
“You get to spoil them. You get to sleep late. You don’t have to be there for every single thing, but you are there when you are wanted. … I have two sets of grandchildren, and it is always special to spend time with each of them. That is the rich and delicious part of life.”

On juggling the demands of home and work early in her career …
“I think you can do both well, but it is not an easy road. I’ve always had a career and taken work when it suited my family. But I never had a career plan. I’ve always needed and wanted to act; otherwise I thought I’d go mad. My children and family always came first, and I’m very glad that I did it that way.”

The values she and her husband imparted to their children …
“To be strong and independent. We told them that it is important to be adventurous and to go out there and follow your dreams.”

On her new film, “I’ll See You in My Dreams” …
“It is difficult to believe that I would be playing a lead in a movie. I never would have considered it at this stage in the game. But here I am in this lovely movie going from heartbreak to hilarity in such a multidimensional role.”
What’s next for her …
“I play Ruth Madoff opposite Richard Dreyfuss in the ABC movie ‘Madoff,’ about Bernie Madoff’s rise and fall in the world of finance. I also did the movie ‘Tumbledown.’ [In that film] I play Rebecca Hall’s mother [and] I'm married to her father, played by Richard Masur. I’m a sort of an eccentric and over-the-top lady.”
On getting older …
“Age seems to surprise you in unexpected ways. I look at my hands and I see I have my mother’s knuckles. I’ve got things growing that weren’t there before. [Laughs] So I say to myself, ‘Good Lord! I saw this in my grandmother and my mother. But I didn’t ... expect this!’

“Growing older can be liberating in certain ways, and the characters I play can say what they feel. I love playing characters who are a bit snarky; that can be a great deal of fun.”

Photograph by DFree/Shutterstock.com