Ellen Lee DeGeneres ( /dɨˈdʒɛnərəs/; born January 26, 1958) is an American stand-up comedienne, television host and actress. She hosts the syndicated talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
DeGeneres has hosted both the Academy Awards and the Primetime Emmys. As a film actress, she starred in Mr. Wrong, appeared in EDtv and The Love Letter, and provided the voice of Dory in the Disney-Pixar animated film Finding Nemo, for which she was awarded a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress, the first and only time a voice performance won a Saturn Award. She was a judge on American Idol for one year, having joined the show in its ninth season. She also starred in two television sitcoms, Ellen from 1994 to 1998 and The Ellen Show from 2001 to 2002. During the fourth season of Ellen in 1997, DeGeneres came out publicly as a lesbian in an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Shortly afterwards, her character Ellen Morgan also came out to a therapist played by Winfrey, and the series went on to explore various LGBT issues including the coming out process. She has won thirteen Emmys and numerous other awards for her work and charitable efforts.
In November 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named her a Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness.
Early life and education
DeGeneres was raised in Metairie, Louisiana, the daughter of Elizabeth Jane DeGeneres (née Pfeffer), a speech therapist, and Elliott Everett DeGeneres, an insurance agent. She has one brother, Vance DeGeneres, who is a producer and musician. She is of French, English, German and Irish descent. DeGeneres was raised as a Christian Scientist until the age of thirteen. In 1973 DeGeneres’s parents filed for separation and were divorced the following year. Shortly after, Betty Jane remarried Roy Gruessendorf, who worked as a salesman. Betty Jane and Ellen moved with Gruessendorf from the New Orleans area to Atlanta, Texas. Vance stayed with their birth father.
DeGeneres graduated from Atlanta High School in May 1976, after completing her first years of high school at Grace King High School in Metairie, Louisiana. She moved back to New Orleans to attend the University of New Orleans, where she majored in communication studies. After one semester, she left school to do clerical work in a law firm with her cousin Laura Gillen. She also held a job selling clothes at the chain store the Merry-Go-Round at the Lakeside Shopping Center. Other working experiences included being a waitress at TGI Friday’s and another restaurant, a house painter, a hostess, and a bartender. She relates much of her childhood and career experiences in her comedic work.
On a February 9, 2009 episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, DeGeneres told her studio audience via a letter from the New England Genealogical Society that she is The Duchess of Cambridge’s 15th cousin via their shared common ancestor Thomas Fairfax.
DeGeneres started performing stand-up comedy at small clubs and coffee houses. By 1981 she was the emcee at Clyde’s Comedy Club in New Orleans. DeGeneres cites Woody Allen and Steve Martin as her main influences at this time. In the early 1980s she began to tour nationally, being named Showtime’s Funniest Person in America in 1982. In 1986 she appeared for the first time on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, who likened her to Bob Newhart. When Carson invited her over for an onscreen chat after her performance, she became the first comedienne in the show’s history to be treated this way.
Early screen work
Television and film work in the late 1980s and early 1990s included roles on television in Open House and in the film Coneheads.
Ellen’s Energy Adventure
DeGeneres starred in a series of films for a show named Ellen’s Energy Adventure, which is part of the Universe of Energy attraction and pavilion at Walt Disney World’s Epcot. The film also featured Bill Nye, Alex Trebek, Michael Richards, and Jamie Lee Curtis. The show revolved around DeGeneres’s falling asleep and finding herself in an energy-themed version of Jeopardy!, playing against an old rival, portrayed by Curtis, and Albert Einstein. The next film had DeGeneres hosting an educational look at energy, co-hosted with Nye. The ride first opened on September 15, 1996, as Ellen’s Energy Crisis but was quickly renamed to the more positive-sounding Ellen’s Energy Adventure.
DeGeneres’s comedy material became the basis of the successful 1994–1998 sitcom Ellen, named These Friends of Mine during its first season. The ABC show was popular in its first few seasons due in part to DeGeneres’s style of observational humor; it was often referred to as a “female Seinfeld.”
Ellen reached its height of popularity in February 1997, when DeGeneres made her homosexuality public on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Subsequently her character on the sitcom came out of the closet in April to her therapist, played by Oprah Winfrey, revealing that she is gay. The coming-out episode, titled “The Puppy Episode”, was one of the highest-rated episodes of the show. Later episodes of the series did not match its popularity, and after declining ratings, the show was canceled. DeGeneres returned to the stand-up comedy circuit, and later re-established herself as a successful talk show host.
The Ellen Show
DeGeneres returned to series television in 2001 with a new CBS sitcom, The Ellen Show.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show
DeGeneres launched a daytime television talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show in September 2003. Amid a crop of several celebrity-hosted talk shows surfacing at the beginning of that season, such as those of Sharon Osbourne and Rita Rudner, her show has consistently risen in the Nielsen ratings and received widespread critical praise. It was nominated for 11 Daytime Emmy Awards in its first season, winning four, including Best Talk Show. The show has won 25 Emmy Awards in its first three seasons on the air. DeGeneres is known for her dancing and singing with the audience at the beginning of the show and during commercial breaks. She often gives away free prizes and trips to her studio audience with the help of her sponsors.
DeGeneres celebrated her thirty-year class reunion by flying her graduating class to California to be guests on her show in February 2006. She presented Atlanta High School with a surprise gift of a new electronic LED marquee sign.
In May 2006, DeGeneres made a surprise appearance at the Tulane University commencement in New Orleans. Following George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton to the podium, she came out in a bathrobe and furry slippers. “They told me everyone would be wearing robes,” she said. Ellen then went on to make another commencement speech at Tulane in 2009.
The show broadcast for a week from Universal Studios Orlando in March 2007. Skits included DeGeneres going on the Hulk Roller Coaster Ride and the Jaws Boat Ride.
In May 2007, DeGeneres was placed on bed rest due to a torn ligament in her back. She continued hosting her show from a hospital bed, tended to by a nurse, explaining “the show must go on, as they say.” Guests sat in hospital beds as well.
On May 1, 2009, DeGeneres celebrated her 1000th episode, featuring celebrity guests such as Oprah, Justin Timberlake, and Paris Hilton, among others.
On September 9, 2009, it was confirmed that DeGeneres would replace Paula Abdul as a judge of the ninth season of American Idol. Her role started after the contestant auditions, at the beginning of “Hollywood Week”. It is reported that DeGeneres also signed a contract to be a judge on the show for at least five seasons. She made her American Idol debut on February 9, 2010.
On July 29, 2010, DeGeneres and Fox executives announced that the comedienne would be departing from the series after one season. In a statement, DeGeneres said that the series “didn’t feel like the right fit for me”.
2001 Emmy Awards
DeGeneres received wide exposure on November 4, 2001 when she hosted the televised broadcast of the Emmy Awards. Presented after two cancellations due to network concerns that a lavish ceremony following the September 11, 2001 attacks would appear insensitive, the show required a more somber tone that would also allow viewers to temporarily forget the tragedy. DeGeneres received several standing ovations for her performance that evening, which included the line: “What would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?”
In August 2005, DeGeneres hosted the 2005 Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony held on September 18, 2005. This was three weeks after Hurricane Katrina, making it the second time she hosted the Emmys following a national tragedy. She also hosted the Grammy Awards in 1996 and in 1997.
79th Academy Awards
On September 7, 2006, DeGeneres was selected to host the 79th Academy Awards ceremony, which took place on February 25, 2007. This makes her the first openly gay or lesbian person to have hosted the event. During the Awards show, DeGeneres said, “What a wonderful night, such diversity in the room, in a year when there’s been so many negative things said about people’s race, religion, and sexual orientation. And I want to put this out there: If there weren’t blacks, Jews and gays, there would be no Oscars, or anyone named Oscar, when you think about that.” Reviews of her hosting gig were positive, with one saying, “DeGeneres rocked, as she never forgot that she wasn’t just there to entertain the Oscar nominees but also to tickle the audience at home.” Regis Philbin said in an interview that “the only complaint was there’s not enough Ellen.”
DeGeneres was nominated for an Emmy Award as host of the Academy Awards broadcast.
2007 Writers Guild strike
DeGeneres, like many actors who are also writers, is a member of both the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA). Thus, although DeGeneres verbally supported the 2007 WGA strike, she did not support it when she crossed the picket line the day after the strike began. Her representatives said she was competing with other first-run syndicated shows during the competitive November sweeps period, and that she could not break her contracts or risk her show’s losing its time slot. As a show of solidarity with the strikers, DeGeneres omitted her monologue during the strike, typically written by WGA writers. The WGA condemned her while the AFTRA defended her.
DeGeneres lent her voice to the role of Dory, a fish with short-term memory loss, in the summer 2003 hit animated Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo. The film’s director, Andrew Stanton, claimed that he chose Ellen because she “changed the subject five times before one sentence had finished” on her show. For her performance as Dory, DeGeneres won the Saturn Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for “Best Supporting Actress”; “Favorite Voice from an Animated Movie” from the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards; and the Annie Award from the International Animated Film Association for “Outstanding Voice Acting”. She was also nominated for a Chicago Film Critics Association Award in the “Best Supporting Actress” category. She also provided the voice of the dog in the prologue of the Eddie Murphy feature film Dr. Dolittle. Her win of the Saturn Award marked the first and only time the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films has given the acting award for a voice performance.
In November 2004, DeGeneres appeared, dancing, in an ad campaign for American Express. Her most recent American Express commercial, a two-minute black-and-white spot in which she works with animals, debuted in November 2006 and was created by Ogilvy and Mather. In 2007, the commercial won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial.
DeGeneres began working with Cover Girl Cosmetics in September 2008, for which she has been criticized, as her animal-friendly values clash with Procter and Gamble’s (the maker of Cover Girl Cosmetics) animal testing. Her face is the focus of new Cover Girl advertisements starting in January 2009. The beauty campaign will be DeGeneres’s first.
On May 26, 2010, Ellen announced on her show that she was starting her own record label entitled “eleveneleven”. Ellen explained her choice of name, claiming that she often sees the number 11:11 when looking at her clocks, that she found Greyson on the 11th, and that the singer’s soccer jersey has the number 11. She mentioned that she had been looking for videos of performances on YouTube to start her label. The acts thus far signed to the label are Greyson Chance, Tom Andrews, and Jessica Simpson.
DeGeneres was in a relationship (1997–2000) with actress Anne Heche. From 2001 to 2004, DeGeneres and actress/director/photographer Alexandra Hedison were in a relationship. They appeared on the cover of The Advocate after their separation had already been announced to the media.
Since 2004, DeGeneres has had a relationship with Portia de Rossi. After the overturn of the same-sex marriage ban in California, DeGeneres announced on a May 2008 show that she and de Rossi were engaged, and gave de Rossi a three-carat pink diamond ring. They were married on August 16, 2008 at their home, with nineteen guests including their mothers. The passage of Proposition 8 cast doubt on the legal status of their marriage but a subsequent California Supreme Court judgment validated it because it occurred before November 4, 2008.
DeGeneres and de Rossi live in Beverly Hills, with three dogs and four cats, and both are vegan. DeGeneres served as campaign ambassador to Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt-A-Turkey Project in 2010, asking people to start “a new tradition by adopting a turkey instead of eating one” at Thanksgiving.
On August 6, 2010, de Rossi filed a petition to legally change her name to Portia Lee James DeGeneres The petition was granted on September 23, 2010.
In her book Love, Ellen, DeGeneres’s mother Betty DeGeneres describes being initially shocked when her daughter came out as a lesbian, but has become one of her strongest supporters, an active member of Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign’s Coming Out Project.
In 2007, Forbes estimated DeGeneres’s net worth at US$65 million.
She is a fan of the National Football League, and has shown particular support for the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers. In 2011, she attended a Saints practice dressed as Packers Hall of Famer Don Hutson.
|1990||Arduous Moon||Herself||Short film|
|1996||Ellen’s Energy Adventure||Herself||Short film|
|Mr. Wrong||Martha Alston|
|1998||Goodbye Lover||Sgt. Rita Pompano|
|Dr. Dolittle||Prologue Dog||Voice|
|The Love Letter||Janet Hall|
|2003||Pauly Shore Is Dead||Herself|
Annie Award for Outstanding Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production
Kids’ Choice Award for Favorite Voice from an Animated Movie
Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance
|2004||My Short Film||Herself||Short film|
|1988||Women of the Night||Herself||Comedy Special|
|1989||Open House||Margo Van Mete||Episode: “The Bad Seed”
Episode: “Let’s Get Physicals”
|1992||Laurie Hill||Nancy MacIntyre||Episode: “Pilot”
Episode: “The Heart Thing”
Episode: “Walter and Beverly”
|1994–1998||Ellen||Ellen Morgan||109 episodes|
|1995||Roseanne||Dr. Whitman||Episode: “The Blaming of the Shrew”|
|1998||Mad About You||Nancy Bloom||Episode: “The Finale”|
|2000||Ellen DeGeneres: The Beginning||Herself||Comedy special|
|If These Walls Could Talk 2||Kal||Segment: “2000”|
|2001||On the Edge||Operator||Segment: “Reaching Normal”|
|2001||Will & Grace||Sister Louise||Episode: “My Uncle The Car”|
|2001–2002||The Ellen Show||Ellen Richmond||18 episodes|
|2003||Ellen DeGeneres: Here and Now||Herself||Comedy special|
|2003–present||The Ellen DeGeneres Show||Herself||TV show|
|2004||E! True Hollywood Story||Herself|
|Six Feet Under||Herself||Episode: “Parallel Play”|
|2005||Joey||Herself||Episode: “Joey and the Sex Tape”|
|2007||Ellen’s Really Big Show||Herself|
|Sesame Street||Herself||Episode: “The Tutu Spell” (uncredited)|
|Forbes 20 Richest Women in Entertainment||Herself|
|2007–2008||American Idol||Herself||Episode: “Idol Gives Back 2007”
“Idol Gives Back 2008”
|2008||Ellen’s Even Bigger Really Big Show||Herself||Comedy special|
|2009||Ellen’s Bigger, Longer & Wider Show||Herself||Comedy special|
|So You Think You Can Dance||Guest Judge||“Week 7 (July 22, 2009)”|
|2010||American Idol||Judge||Season 9|
|2010||The Simpsons||Herself||Episode: “Judge Me Tender”|
|1996||Ellen Degeneres: Taste This||Stand-up comedy Live CD|
Awards and honors
- Daytime Emmy Awards
- Outstanding Talk Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show – 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011
- Outstanding Talk Show Host, The Ellen DeGeneres Show – 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
- Outstanding Special Class Writing, The Ellen DeGeneres Show – 2005, 2006, 2007
- Emmy Awards
- Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series, Ellen: “The Puppy Episode” – 1997
- People’s Choice Awards
- Favorite Funny Female Star – 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
- Favorite Talk Show Host – 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010
- Favorite Yes I Chose This Star – 2008
- Kids’ Choice Awards
- Favorite Voice from an Animated Movie – 2004
- Tulane University President’s Medal
- Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards
- 2000 Lucy Award, actor, If These Walls Could Talk 2, in recognition of her excellence and innovation in her creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television.
- DeGeneres, Ellen (1995). My Point…And I Do Have One. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0553099558.
- DeGeneres, Ellen (2003). The Funny Thing Is…. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0743247612.
- DeGeneres, Ellen (2011). Seriously…I’m Kidding. New York: Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0446585025.