Lois Chiles was born April 15, 1947 in Houston, Texas as the eldest child to a prominent couple, Barbara Wayne Kirkland and Marion Clay Chiles. She was raised with her younger brothers Bill and Clay in Alice, Texas, and received higher education at the University of Texas at Austin, and Finch College in New York City, where she was discovered by a modeling scout. She ended her engagement to her college boyfriend, whom she really loved, because she felt there was a restlessness to her and started landing modeling assignments. Another boyfriend encouraged her to enroll in Sanford Meisner’s acting class, when an agent named Billy Barnes signed her and got her cast in her first film in an interracial love story called Together for Days (1973) with Clifton Davis and Samuel L. Jackson, who was also making his film debut. Chiles’ mother always thought it was her best work, but unfortunately the film just disappeared. But by luck its director, Michael Schultz, showed the movie to producer Ray Stark, who was casting The Way We Were (1973). Stark was impressed, and Chiles landed a role as Robert Redford’s rich college girlfriend. The film, which also starred Barbra Streisand, was one of the nation’s top-grossing movies in 1973, and was directed by Academy Award winner Sydney Pollack. Lois had no experience with Hollywood up to that point, and when she went to Los Angeles for the final two months of shooting, dozens of Hollywood big shots were lusting to take her out. She turned all of them down, with the exception of film producer Robert E. Evans. While she shot The Way We Were, Lois also read for the roles of both Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated novel The Great Gatsby (1974), a project that Paramount Studios was heavily promoting as its big film for 1974. Director Jack Clayton selected Mia Farrow for the leading role of Daisy, but Lois also impressed him, so he cast her in the supporting role as Jordan. When it was announced in the press that Lois was reunited with Redford, who was playing the title role, her arrival as a star seemed assured. After just two notable pictures, she was considered a major talent in films. At the same time, she was also one of the hottest models in New York. But in the early seventies, beautiful people were compartmentalized: An actress couldn’t model, not if she wanted to be taken seriously, and she was already typecast as a rich, glamour girl. So she quit modeling and studied acting. She only meant for there to be brief pause in her film career, but her younger brother Clay was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and she was also romantically involved with rock star Don Henley. She didn’t work again for four years, and her career cooled considerably and when she reemerged in 1978, it was again in supporting roles, such as for director Michael Crichton with Coma (1978), followed by the film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery Death on the Nile (1978) that had an all-star cast such as Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, and her Great Gatsby co-star Mia Farrow. Chiles spends most of the film as a corpse, and once again, Farrow got the far juicier, leading role. The critics weren’t impressed, but it didn’t stop Chiles from finally landing a leading lady role in a major film, Moonraker (1979). Her role of Holly Goodhead was a departure from the previous Bond girls, since she plays a doctor and a CIA agent and wasn’t scantily clad. The James Bond film remains her best known film. Once again, Chiles disappeared from the limelight when she kept making repeated trips to donate blood to her terminally ill brother. In spite of her best efforts, he died shortly thereafter. She was devastated. Her relationship with Henley ended as well, because they had different careers and lifestyles. In 1982 she turned to television and landed the part of oil heiress Holly Harwood for a season on the hit show Dallas. It was a role she was born to play. Lois’ father was a drilling contractor, and her uncle, Eddie Chiles, made a fortune as an offshore driller. The show’s season finale ended with Sue Ellen finding Harwood and J.R. in bed, but her character was discontinued the following year. After that, she did supporting roles in comedies such as Sweet Liberty (1986) and the Academy Award nominated Broadcast News (1987), where film critic Pauline Kael finally gave her good notices after having panned her performances in the 1970’s. She was also romantically involved with ‘William Paley’, but the relationship ended. She reunited with Angela Lansbury when she guested on “Murder She Wrote” and did another guest appearance for Academy-Award winning director Quentin Tarantino on “C.S.I.”. The death of her father, Clay, in 1999 and her own struggle with breast cancer created a desire to be closer to her remaining family, her mother, Barbara, and her younger brother, Bill. She moved back to Texas in her 50s, because she also felt that Hollywood wouldn’t offer the A-list leading parts she coveted at her age. Back in her hometown, she took a job teaching film acting at the University of Houston’s School of Theatre. In 2002, in Maine, she met Richard Gilder, the New York investor and philanthropist who jump-started the Central Park Conservancy. In 2005, he finally persuaded her to marry him, and she quit acting altogether and moved to live with him in New York City. She turned to painting. She spends as much as five hours, five days a week, in her New York studio, painting. Her subjects, most often, are female nudes – a practice necessary to understanding what’s underneath clothing when one paints. Chiles works the old-fashioned way, spending hours at a stretch with professional life models. Her works had a showing at Octavia Art Gallery in Houston in 2016. The couple maintains a full schedule, with pet projects that include the New York Historical Society and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. They spend summers entertaining at a spectacular historic estate in Islesboro, Maine. They are both honorary co-chairs of Northfield Mount Hermon, a school in Massachusetts, and he donated money to the school, and they named the Chiles Theater after her.
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