Diane Ladd was born Rose Diane Ladner on November 29, 1942, in Laurel, Mississippi. She was the only child of Preston Paul Ladner and Mary Ladner. Diane's father was, by trade, a veterinarian and traveling salesman. He specialized in poultry, developing his own remedies which he sold throughout a five state area. However he was also a music-lover at heart. He composed hundreds of country-music songs, none of which were ever officially published. However, years later, during Diane's run on "Alice," she and her father composed songs that she ended up singing on the series.
One of Diane's initial career choices was law, for which she apparently had quite a passion, but was torn between that and her love of acting. At age 16, she graduated from St. Aloysius Academy and enrolled in finishing school in New Orleans.
She studied singing, dancing, fencing and acted in Community Theater. On weekends, she modelled professionally and sang jazz and blues with Dixie Hi-De-Ho-Joe and His Dixieland Band. She also won a scholarship to Louisiana State University to study law, but inevitably decided to follow her heart into a theatrical career. She was spotted during a performance at the Gallery Circle Theater by a touring cast member of John Carradine's Tobacco Road and was hired as a replacement for the San Francisco production.
That same year, she became a chorus girl at the Copacabana for three months, but she admits "after three months, you were out the door. It was company policy." She again began the gauntlet of auditions, which landed her parts in many plays, including "Noisy Passengers," starring Robert De Niro. She also acted in "Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander," one of Preston Jones' renowned "Texas Trilogy." Six months later, Diane's play went to Broadway and earned magnificent, rave reviews.
She married actor Bruce Dern in 1960 when she was 18 but the marriage ended in divorce after only nine years of marriage. Their first child, Diane, was born in 1961 but died tragically in a drowning accident at 18 months of age. Her second child, Laura, was born in 1967 and, in time, followed in her mothers footsteps and pursued an acting career. Laura Dern's most notable acting credit includes "Jurassic Park," where she played Dr. Ellie Sattler. Diane's second husband was stockbroker William A. Shea, Jr., whom she married in 1973 and divorced in 1977. Presently she is married to Robert Charles Hunter and together they formed a production company, Exxcell Entertainment, Inc., that produces documentary and feature films.
After numerous play and film credits, Diane migrated over to network television, but her early experiences were not always memorable. After landing a part in a CBS TV movie, conflicts developed between her and the crew. As Diane explains, "I had the power as the star [of that movie] to say, ‘Look, this is what I want done.' But the assistant director was a very negative guy and wrote a letter to CBS brass saying I was being a pain and playing prima donna." He also accused Diane of being late to the set, a claim she vehemently denied. The damage, however, had already been done. After filming was over, CBS was hesitant about hiring her again. Diane states, "When my name came up for other parts, the big dudes at CBS said, "Yeah, she's a great actress but she causes trouble." It was a tough reputation for her to live down, but in time she convinced CBS executives to give her a second chance. They were looking for a replacement for the soon-departing Polly Holliday on "Alice" and Diane landed the part.
The ALICE cast in 1980, with newcomer Diane Ladd
The "Alice" cast was happy to have Diane join their team. As Linda Lavin stated, "I was affected by what Ellen Burstyn ["Alice"] and Diane Ladd ["Flo"] brought to their relationship in the movie ["Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore"]. We want to explore relationships that very different women can have with each other in the show." However, instead of playing the part of Flo, Diane was cast as Isabel, a former waitress who had supposedly worked at Mel's Diner in the past. Belle, as she was nicknamed, was "less rural and more riverboat queen" than her Flo counterpart, says executive producers, Madelyn Davis and Bob Carroll Jr.
On the first night of the series, the show took all three major cities' top national ratings and was seen by viewing audience of 75 million, up from 35 million previously. Diane stayed with the show just over a year, doing two and a half seasons of shows and winning a Golden Globe for her performance.
In addition to acting and working with her production company, in recent years Diane has taken up writing and directing. She has just completed a nutritional health book titled "Spiraling Through the School of Life" and is completing a biographical novel, "Two Rebels with a Cause."
Diane with Laura Dern and Bruce Dern, each receiving their Hollywood Stars, Nov. 2010. Photo source: AP