The most famous mother-daughter duos of film

James Oliver

From Judy and Liza to Debbie and Carrie, these are our favourite mother-daughter teams of film. 

Ah, Mothering Sunday: a day to say thank you to those who love us best, and try to make up for taking them for granted during the rest of the year.

By way of a movie-related way of marking this special day, we thought we might look at some of the more notable mother-and-daughter acts in movie history; as we'll see, Hollywood can be quite the family business.

 

Maureen O'Sullivan & Mia Farrow

Oh, the temptation to start with a “Mamma Mia” joke... Maureen O'Sullivan is best remembered these days as the female lead in an assortment of Tarzan films (she was Jane) but she enjoyed a lengthy career that stretched into the 1950s, something that's all the more impressive when you consider she was mother to seven—yes, seven—children, all fathered by director John Farrow.

One of that brood inspired a Beatles song (“Dear Prudence”), while another (Tisa) appeared in Zombie Flesh Eaters. Best known, though, is Mia, who followed in her mother's footsteps in films like Rosemary's Baby and Death on the Nile. She also made a few films with Woody Allen which—erm—we'd probably best not dwell on, except to say that when they made Hannah and Her Sisters, she was able to blag a role for her mum so they could appear together, which was nice.

 

Maria Montez & Tina Aumont

This one's a bit sad because poor Tina Aumont didn't really know her mother. Maria Montez starred in a succession of gaudy fantasias in the 1940s before marrying the French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont in 1943. Tina arrived in 1946—it's said Marlene Dietrich sang her lullabies—and for a while all was rosy. But in 1951, Montez suffered a heart attack while in the bath—she was only 33.

Young Tina was a wild child—she married actor Christian Marquand when she was 17, which raised the occasional eye-brow since he was 19 years her senior. Hmm. Onscreen, she appeared in films for Fellini and Bertolucci; offscreen, she fraternised with rock stars and playboys (the Marquand marriage, you will be unsurprised to learn, didn't last long). She did time in Italy for smuggling drugs, and her career was undone by heroin addiction. No doubt amateur psychologists can suggest explanations, but it's all very unfortunate, especially since she also died too young, passing away in 2006 at 60.

 

Judy Garland & Liza Minnelli

Given her parentage, there was no way Liza-with-a-Z was going to stay out of show business. Her father was Vincente Minnelli, a director of some note, while her mother was no less than Judy Garland, one of the very greatest performers of the past century or so.

Liza's first screen appearance came in 1949, at the ripe old age of two-and-a-half, in a film that starred her mother, called The Good Old Summertime, and they later appeared together on stage. Sadly, their work together was limited—no matter how brightly Ms. Garland might have shone for the cameras, she was a troubled woman off-screen and she died in 1969, just as her daughter's career was taking off.

Liza Minnelli established herself as a formidable trouper in her own right—no mere clone, she. But let no one deny she learned from the best.

 

Ingrid Bergman & Isabella Rossellini

There was a certain amount of consternation when Isabella Rossellini was born. She—and her twin sister—were the progeny of Roberto Rossellini (another film director) and Ingrid Bergman; once Hollywood royalty, she had scandalised America by shacking up with the Italian Rossellini and bearing him children.

Like her mother, Isabella was a famous beauty, quickly in demand as a model once she reached maturity. But like her mother also, she was too smart to settle for mere celebrity; she grew into a notable actress (Blue Velvet, anyone?) and continues to surprise and delight.

 

Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher

Let's take a moment to realise just how much we all miss Carrie Fisher. Because you do, don't you? It wasn't just that she was Princess Leia, it was the waspish commentary she offered on Hollywood, her refusal to play the fame game. She had no illusions about tinsel town, and tried hard to disabuse others of them.

She was the offspring of Debbie Reynolds—everyone who's seen Singin' in the Rain is a little bit in love with Debbie Reynolds—and her then-husband, a crooner called Eddie Fisher. Alas, their union was short-lived once Liz Taylor came along—Eddie Fisher became the fourth Mr. Taylor.

Carrie Fisher was always open about the sometimes-fractious relationship she had with her mother; she wrote a semi-autobiographical novel about them, called Postcards From The Edge. But she always recognised the core of love between them too.

She died in 2016; soon afterwards, Debbie Reynolds died too. It's said her last words were, “I want to be with Carrie.”

 

Tippi Hedren & Melanie Griffith & Dakota Johnson

Here's a novelty—not two but THREE generations. We start with Tippi Hedren, best known for her work with Alfred Hitchcock (and the allegations against him she has subsequently made). She is the mother of Melanie Griffith, who started to build a screen career of her very own in the 1970s and became a bonafide star in the Eighties with engaging turns in Something Wild and Working Girl.

Now it's the turn of her daughter, Dakota Johnson; admittedly, she's blotted the family filmography by appearing those bondage-lite Fifty Shades... flicks but they've made her name and who knows? Maybe future versions of this feature will add another layer to the dynasty.

 

Vanessa Redgrave & Joely and Natasha Richardson

And talking of dynasties... Vanessa Redgrave was herself the daughter of an actress (Rachel Kempson) and in turn, brought two more into the world; Natasha and Joely (fathered by Tony Richardson, yet another film director). Mind, she also gave them big shoes to fill—she’s undoubtedly one of the more notable thespians of the post-war era, so it cannot have been easy to build a career of their own: family advantages would count for nothing if they didn't have the talent to back it up.

Not that they shunned the family ties: Joely played a younger version of her mother in the film Wetherby, while Natasha played opposite her Mum in The White Countess. Sadly, they never appeared on screen together, and now it's too late: Natasha died in 2009, after a skiing accident, a tragedy for the family and all who admire them.

 

Janet Leigh & Jamie Lee Curtis

The apple, it seems, does not fall too far from the tree: Janet Leigh's most famous role came in Psycho when her character was menaced by a deranged serial killer. By contrast, her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis' most famous role was in Halloween, where her character was menaced by a deranged serial killer.

Naturally, there is more to both ladies than that: Janet Leigh was a delightful presence in 1950s films, often paired with Tony Curtis, who—by happy coincidence—was her husband. Jamie Lee  (note how her name includes a variant on her mother's surname) has proved herself a sterling talent, skilled in drama and comedy.

Sure, the Psycho connection helped her get the Halloween gig but she certainly made the best of it, and unlike some actresses, she's never been ashamed of making her start in disreputable horror movies. Maybe she realised that you only need to be remembered for one iconic role. Now, who do you think might have told her that...?