In a timeless tale of romance, Naval Officer Zack Mayo swept factory worker Paula into his arms and carried her from her workplace, leaving fans everywhere wishing they were the beautiful Debra Winger.
The legendary scene in the romantic drama an Officer and a Gentleman–where Richard Gere played Officer Zack Mayo, the handsome hero in navy whites–became the benchmark of love stories for daydreaming fans.
Acting alongside Hollywood’s hottest men, Debra Winger was the envy of many.
Today, Winger, 67, is as beautiful as ever. In the past few years, Winger has posted photos herself on Instagram, first with brown hair and now to a natural wavy gray.
Winger’s first starring role was in the 1976 film Slumber Party ‘57, which led to a part on the hit TV series Wonder Woman (1979), where she played Drusilla, the younger sister to Lynda Carter’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Winger was asked to appear more often but concerned she’d be typecast by that role, she declined.
There were no regrets for that decision, the early ‘80s would be prosperous for the rising star.
At the height of her young career, she received numerous nods from the Academy and Golden Globes for performances in three iconic movies of the 1980’s.
In 1980, she starred in Urban Cowboy, with John Travolta, who at the time was driving fans wild with his smooth dance moves in Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1988); as Paula in an Officer and a Gentleman (1982) and in Terms of Endearment (1983), where she played Emma, a dying young woman with an over-bearing mother, Aurora, played by Shirley MacLaine.
Despite her huge success, Winger, carving hours from her acting schedule, took a mini Hollywood hiatus, and more than four decades after her rise to stardom, speculation of why she left is still circulating.
Most of these rumours revolve around the feuds that Winger had with her co-stars.
Though fans couldn’t get enough of the handsome Gere, it’s been widely reported that Winger had enough of him on the set.
According to an excerpt published on ABC News from the book, “An Actor and a Gentleman,” by co-star, Louis Gossett Jr., who played Sgt. Emil Foley: “The onscreen chemistry between the two of them was terrific, but it was a different story once the camera was turned off. They couldn’t have stayed farther apart from each other.”
Gossett also claims that Winger didn’t think much of Gere’s acting and wrote that she once described Gere as “a brick wall.” And, the film’s director, Taylor Hackford, whom she also did not like, she referred to as “animal.”
It wasn’t only people on that film that ruffled her feathers.
Winger, a free spirit in real life and in her role as Emma, also clashed with the prolific MacLaine, a glamourous, eccentric and seasoned veteran.
Their first meeting set the stage for their relationship.
“To see how my character would feel I was wearing all my leftover movie-star fur coats,” MacLaine said in an interview with People. “There was Debra dressed in combat boots and a miniskirt…I thought, ‘Oh my goodness.’”
People writes, “Indeed, the set became the source of Hollywood’s most relished rumors. Winger wanted top billing. One reportedly slugged the other.”
And then, the women were pitted against each other in the Oscars when they were both nominated for best actress.
MacLaine, taking the trophy home, said in her acceptance speech, “I deserve this!”
Rumors aside, Winger insists she “pushed the pause button” on Hollywood for personal reasons and not professional.
“The parts that were coming, I wasn’t interested in. I’d already done that or I’d already felt that. I needed to be challenged. My life challenged me more than the parts, so I dove into it fully,” Winger told People.
After starring in the 1995 romcom Forget Paris with Billy Crystal, Winger took a six-year break.
In that time, she moved to New York City and shifted her focus to actor Arliss Howard, whom she married in 1996. The pair have a son, Gideon Babe, who was born in 1997, and she is stepmother to Sam, Howard’s son from a previous marriage. She also has another biological child, Noah Hutton, whom she mothered while married to her first husband, Timothy Hutton (1986 to 1990).
She reappeared in the 2001 film Big Bad Love, that was directed and produced by her husband, who also co-starred alongside Winger and Rosanna Arquette, who’s next project was 2002 film Searching for Debra Winger. As director of the documentary, Arquette attempts to answer why Winger temporarily abandoned her career at peak performance.
Winger gained some momentum with roles in Rachel Getting Married (2008) with Anne Hathaway, the 2017 romcom The Lovers, and the crime-comedy, Kajillionaire (2020).
In 2021, she was in With/In, Volume two of the anthological drama film, in the segment Her Own, which is written and directed by her husband, who also co-stars.
“I don’t know what Hollywood is. I’m living under the freaking sign now, and I just stare at it and laugh. Los Angeles is a place, but the idea of Hollywood doesn’t really exist for me,” Winger said, adding, “…although there must be some in-crowds that I just don’t know about.”