Barbara Hershey has done a lot in her career, but it seems like she’ll always be best known for her role as Hillary Whitney in Beaches alongside Bette Midler. It’s no wonder considering the movie touched the hearts of so many people.
And it’s hard to forget a pretty face such as Hershey’s. But her role in Beaches was just one in a long and varied list of roles and appearances. At 74, she’s been in the business for close to six decades, and she’s still showing up on screens.
Here’s everything there is to know about Barbara Hershey (who also goes by Barbara Seagull).
Starting Out With Sally Field in Gidget
The Hollywood native was born Barbara Lynn Herzstein on February 5, 1948, and she always knew that she wanted to be an actress. He first screen credit came at the age of 17, when she appeared with Sally Field on the TV show Gidget.
She was in three episodes of the show, and then followed it up with a short-lived TV show called The Monroes in 1966. By that point, she was already going by her stage name, Barbara Hershey. Apparently, her last name was “too Jewish” as her agent told her. But she hated the name Hershey.
She Hated the Name Hershey
She hated the name because it made her think of chocolate, “and I thought, oh my God, so sweet! I accepted it, but it wasn’t my choice.” As it turns out, changing names runs in the family. Her son, Free, changed his name to Tom at age nine (we’ll get to that later).
Hershey grew embarrassed by it. “I was embarrassed for him every time he introduced himself: ‘Hi, I’m Free.’ That’s a hard thing to live up to.” They changed his name to Tom, but he only kept it for a while. “When he became an adult, he changed it back to Free,” Hershey said.
Getting to Be in Scorsese’s Boxcar Bertha
Thanks to her time on The Monroes, she got some new acting opportunities, like a part in Doris Day’s final feature film, With Six You Get Eggroll. Hershey was a child of the ‘60s, so she naturally became a part of the countercultural hippie movement that would have a huge effect on film.
Due to the changing times, Hershey appeared in several provocative movies, including 1972’s Boxcar Bertha, one of the earliest films of Martin Scorsese. A few years prior, there was an incident on the set of 1969’s film Last Summer, which made the actress famous.
The Seagull Incident Made Her Change Her Name
As Hershey was shooting a scene where her character throws a wounded seagull (hoping it would fly), the bird was accidentally killed. She was reportedly so deeply affected by the incident that in 1972, she changed her stage name to Barbara Seagull.
“I felt her spirit enter me,” she described. “It was the only moral thing to do.” At the time, Hershey was dating David Carradine. The two had met in 1969 while they both worked on Heaven With a Gun. They became a pair which lasted until the mid-‘70s, but their relationship was a wild and bizarre one, to say the least.
Cracked Ribs and a Playboy Spread
In the film they starred in together, Heaven With a Gun, there was a rape scene. While filming the scene, Carradine accidentally cracked one of her ribs. They reportedly said they filmed the movie’s sex scenes “without having to fake anything.”
They ended up playing alongside each other in Boxcar Bertha, too, and, in the same year, they posed together in a nude Playboy spread. Why? Well, they were recreating some of the sex scenes from the Scorsese movie. Also that year, Hershey and Carradine had a son, whom they named Free.
Giving Birth to Free (Tom) Carradine
They named him that because, as Carradine explained, “People were repressed at the time.” Reportedly, Hershey gave birth to Free in their Laurel Canyon home as Carradine played the piano and guitar to ease her 20-hour labor.
After he was born, Hershey revealed that she was planning to eat the afterbirth (“It’s very nutritious”), but instead they buried it beneath an apricot tree in their yard, “so he can eat the fruit nurtured by our own bodies.” It was a weird period for Hershey…
Her “Kooky” Phase
A newspaper article from 1979 referenced this time in the actress’s career, writing that “it looked as if she blew it.” The article also described Hershey as a “kook” and noted that she was frequently “high on something.”
She was a stereotypical hippie in those days (the name Seagull, the hair, the afterbirth thing), but her strange relationship with Carradine started to ruin her image. There were a number of reasons why people stopped taking her seriously. One reason she was ostracized was because of her breastfeeding.
The Dick Cavett Show Appearance
She had breastfed her son during an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, while she was sitting with Carradine on the couch. When Hershey walked out on stage with Carradine, she could hear eight-month-old Free crying off-camera.
So, she ran off the set and returned with the baby. But the boy continued to cry. Hershey did what many moms would do: she started breastfeeding him. The only thing is that it was live, on air. Cavett was stunned, as were the producers, who immediately cut to commercials.
Cavett Was Bothered by It
When they returned from commercials, Cavett asked Hershey, “Did you breastfeed the baby earlier or was that my imagination?” The 25-year-old actress responded, “I did it”; she was not at all ashamed. “I’ve seen it several times in my life,” Cavett then said.
“I think I’ve learned now to be cool about it, but it does bother me a bit. Does it bother you?” he asked Carradine, who was sitting next to Hershey. Carradine shrugged, unfazed. “Well, we presented the censor with a unique problem that will keep him up for days,” Cavett concluded.
Criticized for the Breastfeeding
After the show aired, Hershey was widely criticized for the breastfeeding “incident.” It was seen as final proof of her hippy wackiness – even wackier than her changing her last name to Seagull. There was the television appearance and the fact that she breastfed Free for over two years.
Watching the clip more recently, people tell Hershey that she was actually quite badass. “Oh, that makes me feel good!” she said to an interviewer once. “I wish that I could say I breastfed on TV for some political or badass reason, but I was an innocent.”
Breaking Up With Carradine
She continued: “I knew what my son needed, so I just gave it to him.” She was living a sensational life, but, eventually, Hershey realized that her relationship with Carradine was ruining her career, so after breaking up with him, she refocused herself on acting.
They broke up around the time Carradine was arrested in 1974 for burglary. The arrest and split had come after the actor had started an affair with Season Hubley (who guest-starred in his show, Kung Fu).
No Custody Problems
After the split, she and her son lived with their hound dog, Bird, in a two-bedroom apartment in the Santa Monica Mountains. Free was six and went to a private school and saw his dad frequently. Hershey and Carradine apparently had no custody rules or problems.
“Free is his name, and the beauty of it is that he is free to change it if he wants,” she said at the time. “So far he likes it.” As was mentioned earlier, Tom did want to change it when he was a kid. By age six, he was feeling strange about his name. They chose Tom from a book of names.
A “Lady With a Past”
When she was 31, she said in an interview that she’s a “lady with a past,” but it didn’t really help her career. The whole Carradine relationship damaged her image in Hollywood since he was a bad influence of sorts.
“Producers wouldn’t see me because I had a reputation for using drugs and being undependable,” Hershey later recalled. “I never used drugs at all, and I have always been serious about my acting career.” After the break-up, she changed her name back to Hershey.
Dropping the Seagull Name
Hershey explained that since she told the story of the name “Seagull” so many times, it started to lose its meaning. “I was naive,” she admitted at the time. “I just did a lot of growing up in public. I am older now, and I have changed.”
She eventually got roles again, unrelated to Carradine and his movies. Her first film in four years was The Stunt Man with Peter O’Toole, which the director called “her best role ever.” She was making a new name for herself and shedding her flaky reputation was a real feat.
Shedding the Flaky Persona
“The disturbing thing is that in the ’60s, I became better known as a personality than as an actress,” she recalled. There was a year when she was offered to be a presenter at the Academy Awards, but she turned it down.
“I said I was doing something else. I know now it was fear.” As usual, such fears date back to childhood. School happened to be traumatizing for Hershey. “I was petrified of people; they thought I was deaf,” Hershey explained.
A Repressed Childhood
Hershey was the daughter of a second-generation Jewish immigrant father and midwestern Presbyterian mother. “The truth is repression,” she said in an interview, saying that she had a “repressed childhood.”
She wasn’t allowed to say anything negative, “so I would go out in the back yard and act out the wicked witch and there was this release and freedom.” Acting became her solace. “I could be anybody and say anything and I was safe and free and happy.” She added, “I don’t think talent’s very rare; I think the need to express something is.”
Suddenly, Something Clicked
“Then, all of a sudden, when I was around nine or ten, something clicked, and I became a straight-A student.” As a student at Hollywood High, her drama coach recommended she see an agent. That agent landed her the part on Gidget.
Hershey will never forget what Sally Field said to her: “I hear this is your first job. If you need any support, I’ll be here.” It meant the world to the fresh actress. “I’ve always loved her for that,” Hershey said.
Meeting Woody Allen
In 2021, Hershey spoke of growing up in the limelight and the “danger” of five decades in Hollywood: “You grow up publicly… you get misunderstood.” Still, her roles got better and better. For one, she worked with Woody Allen on his Oscar-winning 1986 film Hannah and Her Sisters.
Playing Lee, the temptress, in Hannah and Her Sisters cemented her career. “I had just moved to New York with my son, and I didn’t know anybody,” Hershey said of meeting Allen for the first time.
Allen vs. Scorsese
Her agent told her, “Don’t worry if you just see the top of the director’s head, if his eyes don’t meet yours. He’s shy and don’t be surprised.” Allen turned out to be “so sweet.” He “basically handed me the script and said, ‘The role of Lee, if you want it.’”
Not long after, she reunited with Scorsese for 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ, where she played Mary Magdalene. As opposed to Allen, Scorsese had “a rapid-fire brain… he’ll talk to you about character as much as you want.”
The Controversial Love Scene
Her controversial love scene with Willem Dafoe (who played Christ to her Mary Magdalene) led to widespread protests and even death threats against the director. The film also led to a terrorist attack on a movie theatre in France that injured 13 people.
Hershey’s performance earned her a Golden Globe nomination. “Things happened that had nothing to do with the film itself. I think in retrospect – with distance – people have seen the film for what it is and not the controversy.” 1988 proved to be a big year for her…
Landing the Beaches Role
1988 was the year she played her infamous role in Beaches. Directed by Garry Marshall, the movie was based on the book about the lifelong friendship of CC (played by Bette Midler) and Hilary (Hershey). People cried their eyes out in theaters when, at the end (SPOILER ALERT), Hillary becomes terminally ill.
Hershey’s audition for the role wasn’t easy. Midler left before they could even run lines together, so Hershey had to read her lines against the director’s assistant. Her agent then told her that she did the best of all the actresses.
Something Was Missing
However, there was a problem. Her agent told her that the studio head said there was “something missing” between her and Midler. She said to her agent, “Did you tell him it was Bette?!” Obviously, there was a misunderstanding, but luckily the two actresses got along well during the filming.
They had great chemistry on and off screen. Producer Bonnie Bruckheimer did mention, though, one hiccup. “She didn’t have the lips when she got the part,” referring to Hershey’s famously puffed-up pout.
She Showed Up with Her New Lips
On the first day of shooting, Hershey showed up with her new lips. “We almost fainted!” Bruckheimer revealed. Removing her dark lip liner ended up helping. Lainie Kazan, who played CC’s mother, remember Hershey as being “very quiet, she kept to herself.”
By the end of filming, the cast and crew grew so attached to the characters that when Hershey and Midler shot the death scene, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. “When it finished and I opened my eyes, the whole crew was crying,” Hershey recalled.
She and Bette Midler Became Friends
Free (Tom), who was visiting the set that day, “thought everyone had lost their minds.” Fans will be pleased to hear that Hershey and Midler stayed close after the movie and would go out to dinner together often. “You see people do a double take at us, and that’s fun. I’ll always love her,” Hershey remarked.
When the movie came out, the reception was mostly lukewarm among the critics. Many considered it sentimental and manipulative. Still, it was a hit with audiences, who couldn’t get enough of these “weepies,” “tear-jerkers,” or “chick flicks,” which is a label Hershey does not like, apparently.
Don’t Call Beaches a Chick Flick
At the time, these “chick flicks” weren’t very common. Hershey explained that she knew making a movie about female friendships wasn’t popular. “You do a movie about two men, and it’s called a film. You do a movie about two women, and it’s called a chick flick, which I really found offensive.”
The movie was – and still is – a beloved one, but Beaches didn’t catapult Hershey to Hollywood’s A-list. Throughout the ‘90s, she moved towards more far-reaching and provocative material, like Joel Schumacher’s 1993 thriller Falling Down.
She Dated Lost’s Naveen Andrews for Ten Years
By the end of the ‘90s, Hershey began a relationship with Lost star Naveen Andrews, with whom she stayed for ten years. The two were 21 years apart, but it didn’t seem to bother them for a whole decade.
Hershey was 62 and Andrews 41 when they split in 2010, but they have remained good friends. Before Andrews starred in Lost, he was a 29-year-old actor who met then-50-year-old Hershey on the set of the 1999 indie film Drowning on Dry Land. Andrews fessed up to Hershey that he fathered a child with another woman.
From Black Swan to Damien
Hershey returned to the spotlight in 2010, when she played the creepy and domineering mother of Natalie Portman’s character in Black Swan. Hershey was praised for her work (as was Portman) and earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the British Academy Film Awards.
Black Swan led Hershey down a new path. Now in her 60s, she started taking more motherly roles, particularly in horror and fantasy films. She starred as Ann Rutledge on the A&E series Damien, a rather possessed character – a role that came to her “just out of the blue.”
David Carradine’s Death
Tom Carradine was born in 1972 and is now 50 years old. He became an actor himself, as well as a family man. Of course, it wasn’t pleasant to hear of his father’s death, especially considering the circumstances.
In June 2009, David Carradine was found dead by a chambermaid in a five-star hotel in Thailand. He was hanging naked in the closet with a cord around his neck. The cause of death was autoerotic asphyxiation. His family, however, believes he was murdered.
She Loves the Horror Roles
In 2021, Hershey headlined the horror film The Manor, the second of the Welcome to the Blumhouse series. She played a woman suffering from medical conditions who gets moved into a nursing home and experiences dark forces.
Hershey was no stranger to horror as she previously appeared in Insidious and The Entity. As for being a horror fan, she said she prefers psychological horrors, like Black Swan. “I don’t like the blood and guts horror.” She likes exploring all the “dark questions.”
Joining the X-Files Gang
Hershey joined the X-Files cast in its 11th season in a recurring role as Erika Price. 68 at the time, she said she chose the role because she likes mysterious characters. “I like to show a lot of different sides of the character at once,” she shared.
Hershey has made many comments about how hard it is for aging actresses to find work in Hollywood, calling it a desert for women in their 60s and 70s. But luckily for Hershey, she’s managed to get multiple roles as an older woman.
Looking Forever Young
Hershey says she’s happy to embrace the aging process and has credited her appearance to a number of lifestyle choices over the years. “I think I’ve always looked about ten years younger than I am all my life,” she told ABC.
“Being healthy [helps]. I’m not a drinker. I haven’t abused myself.” She insists that she doesn’t – and has never done – surgery and is careful with her diet. She doesn’t eat sugar or grains. She iterated that she’s not afraid of aging – “I’m afraid of everyone else’s reaction to my aging!”
She Loves Her Wrinkles
Hershey quoted the late Peter O’Toole, who said the best thing to happen to him was his wrinkles – how he earned every one of them. She agrees with him, calling her wrinkles the “map of her life” and something to “hang on to and adore.”
Spending part of the year in Hawaii can also make sometime stay forever young. She says she visits the state to “get up with the sun.” She also enjoys painting. Staying creative is good for the body, mind, and soul, people!
If you’re in a horror film mood but also want to hang around in the ‘70s, check out the making of Carrie, next…