On this day in 1993, Mrs. Doubtfire, starring Robin Williams as a divorced father who disguises himself as an elderly British nanny in order to spend time with his children, opens in theaters. Directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone) and based on a 1987 novel by Anne Fine titled Alias Madame Doubtfire, the film co-starred Sally Field, Harvey Fierstein and Pierce Brosnan. With Williams following in the footsteps of such actors-in-drag as Dustin Hoffman (1982’s Tootsie) and Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis (1959’s Some Like It Hot), Mrs. Doubtfire was a big commercial and critical success.
At the time of Mrs. Doubtfire’s debut, Robin Williams had already gained fame in Hollywood as an actor capable of playing both comedic and straight roles. Williams, who was born on July 21, 1952 (some sources list his birth year as 1951), in Chicago, studied acting at New York City’s Julliard School (where he was friends with future Superman Christopher Reeve) and later developed a stand-up comedy act. He became a star in the 1970s with the TV sitcom Mork and Mindy, which originally aired from 1978 to 1982 and featured Williams as Mork from Ork, a zany space alien who wore rainbow-colored suspenders and greeted people with the phrase “Nanu, Nanu.”
Williams’ early big-screen credits include Popeye (1980), in which he played the title role, The World According to Garp (1982), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), which earned him his first Best Actor Oscar nomination, and Dead Poets Society (1987), for which he collected a second Oscar nomination. In 1990, Williams co-starred with Robert De Niro in Awakenings, which was followed by performances in such films as The Fisher King (1991), for which he garnered his third Oscar nomination, Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991), with Dustin Hoffman and Julia Roberts, and Disney’s Aladdin (1992), in which he voiced the Genie.
Williams took home an Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category for his role as a psychologist in Good Will Hunting (1997); the film received a total of nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and put screenwriters Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (who also starred in the film) on Hollywood’s A-list. Williams went on to appear in clunkers such as Patch Adams (1998), as well as the thrillers One Hour Photo (2002) and The Night Listener (2006). In 2006, he voiced several characters in the popular animated feature about dancing penguins, Happy Feet.
In addition to his film work, since the 1980s Williams has been a co-host, along with friends and fellow comedians Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, of the Comic Relief TV benefit specials, which raise money for charities that aid the homeless.