An enduring love story unfolded in the romantic drama “An Officer and a Gentleman,” as Naval Officer Zack Mayo swept factory worker Paula into his arms and whisked her away from her workplace, leaving fans mesmerized by the stunning Debra Winger.
The iconic scene, where Richard Gere portrayed Officer Zack Mayo, the dashing hero in navy whites, set the standard for romantic tales that fans could only imagine in their wildest dreams.
Debra Winger was the envy of many as she shared the screen with Hollywood’s hottest men.
Today, at 67 years of age, Winger remains as beautiful as ever. In recent years, she has posted photos of herself on Instagram sporting brown hair at first, and now showcasing natural wavy gray locks.
Winger’s debut lead role was in the 1976 film “Slumber Party ’57,” which led to a part in the popular TV series “Wonder Woman” (1979), where she portrayed Drusilla, the younger sister of Lynda Carter’s character, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. Although she was asked to appear more frequently, Winger declined, fearing that the role would typecast her.
However, Winger had no regrets about her decision, as the early ’80s proved to be a prosperous time for the rising star.
During the peak of her young career, Debra Winger received numerous accolades from the Academy and Golden Globes for her performances in three iconic films of the 1980s.
In 1980, she starred in “Urban Cowboy” alongside John Travolta, who had gained fame for his slick dance moves in “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) and “Grease” (1988). She also played Paula in “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982) and portrayed Emma, a dying young woman with an overbearing mother, Aurora (played by Shirley MacLaine), in “Terms of Endearment” (1983).
Despite her tremendous success, Winger took a brief hiatus from Hollywood, juggling her acting schedule with other pursuits. More than four decades after her rise to stardom, speculation surrounding why she left the industry continues to circulate.
Most of the rumors revolve around feuds that Winger had with her co-stars.
While fans couldn’t seem to get enough of the dashing Richard Gere, it has been widely reported that Debra Winger had enough of him while on set.
An excerpt from co-star Louis Gossett Jr.’s book “An Actor and a Gentleman,” published on ABC News, sheds light on the onscreen chemistry between Winger and Gere. According to Gossett, “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 wrote that Winger didn’t think much of Gere’s acting, describing him as a “brick wall.” Additionally, Winger referred to the film’s director, Taylor Hackford, whom she also did not like, as “animal.”
It wasn’t only people on the set of “An Officer and a Gentleman” that seemed to ruffle Winger’s feathers.
Debra Winger, who played the free-spirited Emma in “Terms of Endearment,” also had clashes with Shirley MacLaine, the glamorous, eccentric, and seasoned veteran actress.
MacLaine recalled their first meeting in an interview with People, stating, “To see how my character would feel, I was wearing all my leftover movie-star fur coats. There was Debra dressed in combat boots and a miniskirt… I thought, ‘Oh my goodness.’”
According to People, the set of “Terms of Endearment” was the source of some of Hollywood’s most notorious rumors. Winger reportedly wanted top billing, and there were even rumors of physical altercations.
The two women were also pitted against each other at the Oscars when they were both nominated for Best Actress. MacLaine won the award and famously declared, “I deserve this!” during her acceptance speech.
Despite the rumors, Winger maintains that she stepped away from Hollywood for personal, not professional, reasons.
“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.
Following her appearance in the 1995 romantic comedy Forget Paris alongside Billy Crystal, Winger took a hiatus that lasted six years. During this time, she relocated to New York City and focused on her relationship with actor Arliss Howard, whom she married in 1996. The couple has a son, Gideon Babe, who was born in 1997, and Winger is also a stepmother to Sam, Howard’s son from a previous marriage. She also has another child, Noah Hutton, whom she had while married to her first husband, Timothy Hutton (1986 to 1990).
Winger returned to the screen in 2001’s Big Bad Love, which was directed and produced by her husband. Howard also co-starred in the film alongside Winger and Rosanna Arquette, who later directed the 2002 documentary Searching for Debra Winger.
In the documentary, Arquette explores the reasons behind Winger’s temporary departure from acting at the height of her career.
Winger gradually regained momentum with notable roles in films such as Rachel Getting Married (2008) alongside Anne Hathaway, the 2017 romantic comedy 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.