Scholars’ Spotlight: The Carradine Family: Part 3

Cinema Scholars continues our Spotlight on the Carradine acting dynasty. In this latest edition, we focus on Robert Carradine and his niece, Martha Plimpton. You can read Part I of this multi-part series here, and Part II here.

Robert Reed Carradine

Perhaps the lesser-known son of John Carradine, Robert Carradine is no less a lovable icon to those who grew up in the 1980s. With a prolific and busy career in acting, he too follows in his father’s footsteps of staying busy in front of a camera.

Young Life

Born in Hollywood California on March 24, 1954, Robert Reed Carradine, was the last son born of the marriage between John Carradine and Sonia Sorrel. Only two years after his birth, his parents had divorced. He and his brother, Keith would inevitably both suffer through three months as wards of the court during the difficult divorce. Once John won custody, he soon remarried.

Robert was raised primarily by his stepmother, Doris Grimshaw. Having joined families with Grimshaw and her sons at such a young age, Robert would not be aware of his birth mother’s existence until much later in life. As a teenager, Robert moved in with his half-brother David and began to pursue his love of music and race car driving. Like Keith, David helped young Robert start his career in show business.

John Wayne Robert Carradine and John Carradine

Film Career

Robert’s first film would be in 1972 when he starred as Slim Honeycutt in The Cowboys with John Wayne. That same year, he would guest star as Sonny Jim on an episode of David’s show, Kung Fu. He would act alongside his brother again a year later in Scorsese’s film Mean Streets. His role in The Cowboys would be reprised for a television series in 1974. He also joined his brothers Keith and David in the film The Long Riders in 1980.

Lewis The Nerd

Robert mostly took smaller roles in films and television before his biggest break as Lewis in Revenge of the Nerds (1984). His unabashed portrayal of the pocket-protector-wearing nerd won over audiences. As Lewis, Robert plays the leader of a group of lovable outcasts. The movie pits popular jocks against nerds in a raunchy underdog story that hit home.

Unlike comedies like Porky’s (1981), Revenge of the Nerds was unique in that it championed diversity and overcoming adversity with one’s own unique talents. By today’s standards, some of the film’s content would be questionable at best due to racial stereotypes and a sex scene of questionable consent. However, the film remains a cult classic that is beloved to many.

Anthony Edwards and Robert Carradine in Revenge of the Nerds

A Busy B-Actor

Despite having success in Revenge of the Nerds and the release of three sequels, Robert couldn’t seem to lift his career past character parts and smaller roles, mainly appearing in supporting parts on television.

He starred in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1985, Twilight Zone in 1986, and Faerie Tale Theatre in 1986 to name a few before Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise came out. After that, he continued to dabble mostly in one-off television episodes and made-for-TV movies, such as K-9 (1991), Body Bags (1993), and Humanoids from the Deep (1996).

Hillary Duff and Robert Carradine in Lizzie McQuire

On occasion, Robert would land a part in bigger films with A-list directors, such as John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (2001) and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012). However, his most successful role after Revenge of the Nerds was as Sam McGuire, in The Lizzie McGuire Movie and subsequent televisions series with Hillary Duff. A new season of Lizzie McGuire has been announced by Disney and Robert will continue his part as Sam.

Race Car Driver

Unique among his brothers, is Robert’s intense love and career as a professional race car driver. He would participate in professional races from 1977 to 2002. His biggest win came in just his second race in 1978 when he placed first in the ICSCC Formula Ford Race. Robert used his car racing talents to star alongside his brother David in the film Cannonball! (1976) where he played Jim Crandell.

Robert Carradine in Cannonball!

Personal Life

In 1974, Robert had a daughter, Ever Carradine, with Susan Snyder, a horse trainer and his girlfriend at the time. They never married, and Robert remained single until 1990 when he married Edie Mani. They had two children together, Marika Reed Carradine and Ian Alexander Carradine.

Scandal and Divorce

Edie filed for divorce shortly after a horrific car accident that took place in 2015 in which Robert swerved into an oncoming semi-truck. All the people involved only suffered minor injuries, but a media scandal ensued when Edie filed for divorce in 2017. In her divorce claim, she stated that at the time of the accident, Robert was sober and had intentionally swerved into the truck.

Edie maintained that he was depressed over his brother David’s death and intended to kill them both. Robert later admitted to this but held that Edie was at fault for denying him his bipolar medication. The couple finalized their divorce in 2018. Despite this unfortunate incident, Robert continues to stay busy in his career with guest roles in television shows and minor parts in films.

Martha Plimpton

The daughter of two actors, Shelly Plimpton and Keith Carradine, Martha Plimpton inherited a love of acting. She was born in New York City, on November 16th, 1970. In line with the artistic lifestyle of her family, Martha was sent to the Professional Children’s School located in Manhattan. The school focused on performing arts and gave Martha a foundation in her future craft.

Career Beginnings

Although Martha had landed a small part in Rollover (1981), her first major career move was in a 1983 Calvin Klein jeans commercial. In her outspoken ad, her signature tomboy persona came to vivid life. That same year she starred in an ABC Afterschool Special episode, which at the time were wildly popular. In 1984, she snagged a major part as Jonsy in The River Rat opposite Tommy Lee Jones.

Hitting Her Stride

Like her uncles, David with Kung Fu and Robert with Revenge of the Nerds, Martha earned immense recognition by starring in a beloved and timeless cult classic. In 1985, The Goonies hit theaters and Martha played Stef, the tomboy teen who joins a group of friends in search of treasure to save their small town.

Directed by the late Richard Donner, this box-office smash hit children’s adventure film catapulted many a career. This included Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, and Josh Brolin. As such, Martha was no exception and she subsequently gained much recognition from this movie’s huge success.

Martha Plimpton in The Goonies

Continued Film Success

In 1986, Martha starred in The Mosquito Coast with Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, & River Phoenix. She worked again with River Phoenix in 1988 in Running On Empty. That same year she had a minor role in Woody Allen’s Another Woman and a year later, Silence Like Glass was released where Martha played a cancer patient opposite Jamie Gertz.

In 1989, Martha landed a worthy role as Julie in Ron Howard’s Parenthood. An ensemble comedy about the follies of family life in the late 1980s, Parenthood starred established big-hitters such as Steve Martin, Dianne Wiest, Jason Robards, Rick Moranis, and Tom Hulce. Martha was also in the company of rising stars, including Keanu Reeves and Joaquin Phoenix.

Martha’s career continued strongly in films through the early 1990s, mostly taking on roles in comedies about family life, such as Stanley and Iris (1990), Samantha (1991), and Inside Monkey Zetterland (1992). Her choices took on a more dramatic turn with Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), The Beans of Egypt, Maine, (1994), and Eye of God (1997).

Martha Plimpton and Keanu Reeves in Parenthood

Television Films

Martha kept busy performing in made-for-television films as well. The actress was a main character in The Defenders: Payback (1997), The Defenders: Choice of Evils (1998), and The Defenders: Taking the First (1998). The Defenders was slated to become a regular series but the death of E.G. Marshall caused the project to be abandoned.

Plimpton went on to guest-star in a four-episode recurring role in E.R. when the show was at its peak. The young actress remained prolific in her work on television and film even as she added theater work to her repertoire.

Theater Work

In 1996, Martha joined the Steppenwolf Theatre Company Ensemble and began her work on stage. She would maintain her membership until 2019. During this period, she starred in dozens of plays. Her Broadway plays would include Top Girls, The Coast of Utopia, Cymbeline, and Sixteen Wounded. Her work also included off-Broadway plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The False Servant, and The Haggadah.

Awards and Nominations:

For her work on stage, Martha earned 5 Tony Nominations for Best Featured Actress In A Play for her parts in Top Girls, The Coast of Utopia (Parts 1, 2, & 3), and Pal Joey. She won three Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Featured Actress In A Play for all three series of The Coast of Utopia.

Martha was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for her guest appearance in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode Denial as Claire Rinato in 2002. In 2011, she won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Patti Nyholm in the episode The Dream Team in The Good Wife. She also earned a nomination for a Critics Choice Award for this part.

Raising Hope

In 2010, when she was experiencing financial difficulties, Martha was cast as Virginia Chance in the television show Raising Hope. The popular comedy saved her finances and earned her a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series as well as a Critic’s Choice TV Award nomination two years in a row for Best Actress in a Comedy Series.

Her success in Raising Hope would secure her continual work in television, including parts on The Real O’Neals, Younger, and Generation. Martha will star in the television series Sprung and A Town Called Malice. Both are slated to air in 2023.

Personal Life:

In 1986 Martha began to date River Phoenix. The couple co-starred in multiple films together, including The Mosquito Coast (1986) and Running on Empty (1988). They stayed together for three years before splitting, supposedly due to River’s drug issues. Martha was also engaged to Jon Patrick Walker, another actor, in 1995, but they soon separated a year later.

Martha Plimpton and Willie Parker

Advocacy & Politics

Much like her father, Keith, the actress prefers to be private about her romantic life. Instead, she pushes headlines as an outspoken reproductive rights advocate. She has done multiple interviews with press outlets on abortion rights and actively participates in organizations including Planned Parenthood, The National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

In defense of Planned Parenthood, Martha openly admitted to multiple abortions during an interview with Dr. Willie Parker in 2017 during a #shoutyourabortion event, creating shockwaves among numerous conservative groups. In 2012, she fiercely defended the use of birth control as part of the Affordable Care Act when Congress was debating the issue. Martha remains a staunch supporter of women’s bodily autonomy rights as well as LGBTQ+ rights, which she states are the same issue.

A Talented Feminist

Martha Plimpton is a powerful feminist and an undeniable talent. Her work spans decades and she shows no signs of slowing as an accomplished artist. She represents her acting heritage with pride. She has maintained a fabulous career without scandal and with charming dignity. In summary, one could argue that she is the most successful of the Carradine dynasty members. She has clearly done her relatives proud.

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