While a prolific screen presence from the late '60s onward, Barbara Hershey did not truly attain star status until two decades later, finally blossoming to become one of the most acclaimed American actresses of her generation. Born Barbara Herzstein on February 5, 1948 in Hollywood, CA, she studied drama during high school, and in 1965 made her professional debut in the teen television romp Gidget. From 1966 to 1967, she was a regular on the series The Monroes, and subsequently guest-starred in a number of other programs. Hershey made her film bow in 1968's With Six You Get Eggroll, followed by the Western Heaven with a Gun and Last Summer. After a number of other lesser projects, she starred as the title heroine in 1972's Boxcar Bertha, the first major theatrical release from a then-unknown Martin Scorsese; David Carradine, Hershey's on-screen partner in crime, became her off-screen companion as well. Carradine directed them both in Americana (filmed in 1973 but not shown until eight years later), and together they had a child, Free.
In another nod to the counterculture, Hershey rechristened herself Barbara Seagull and traveled to the Netherlands to film the 1973 drama Angela, winning Best Actress honors for her work at the Berlin Film Festival. Still, box office success continued to elude her, and her résumé remained littered with undistinguished projects including the 1974 heist drama Diamonds, the 1976 comedy A Choice of Weapons, and the Western The Last Hard Men. By 1977 Hershey -- having dropped the "Seagull" surname -- turned to television, where she appeared in the Irwin Allen disaster production Flood! as well as the mini-series A Man Called Intrepid and the 1979-1980 weekly program From Here to Eternity. The 1980 comedy The Stunt Man, actually shot two years earlier, marked Hershey's return to feature films, and was followed by 1981's Take This Job and Shove It and the 1982 horror picture The Entity.
By this point, Hershey -- once viewed as a rising star -- had been largely written off by the Hollywood powers-that-be; however, in 1983 she accepted a small role in Philip Kaufman's acclaimed The Right Stuff, which garnered her considerable notice. She followed it with another small but pivotal role in Barry Levinson's 1984 baseball fable The Natural, and after a pair of well-regarded television projects -- the 1985 Errol Flynn bio My Wicked Wicked Ways and 1986's Passion Flower -- Hershey's name was back on the map. After years of low-budget and low-brow projects, suddenly she was a fixture of high-profile features including Woody Allen's masterful 1986 effort Hannah and Her Sisters, David Anspaugh's Hoosiers, and Levinson's 1987 comedy Tin Men. Also in 1987, Hershey's turn in Andrei Konchalovsky's Shy People won Best Actress honors at the Cannes Film Festival, an award she again took home the following year for her performance in Chris Menges' A World Apart.
Hershey also excelled in more mainstream affairs, appearing opposite Bette Midler in the weeper Beaches. In 1988, she and Scorsese reunited for the first time since Boxcar Bertha in The Last Temptation of Christ, in which she appeared as Mary Magdalene, winning a Golden Globe nomination for her performance. In 1990, Hershey returned to television to star in the movie A Killing in a Small Town, for which she won an Emmy; back in the movies, she remained noted for her performances in offbeat fare like 1990's Tune in Tomorrow, 1993's Falling Down, and 1996's The Pallbearer. For her supporting performance in Jane Campion's 1996 adaptation of The Portrait of a Lady, Hershey also earned an Academy Award nomination.