This page was last updated on 06 July 2022

Click here to 
Print this page

Biography finder





























Index of first names

Illeana Douglas





Illeana douglasSaucer-eyed actress Illeana Douglas (born July 25, 1965(but see 1) in Massachusetts.) has been regularly appearing in major films since 1987, when she debuted in the Shelley Long comedy Hello Again.


Born with show business in her blood, Illeana is the granddaughter of screen legend Melvyn Douglas and his first wife, artist Rosalind Hightower. She is the step-granddaughter of Melvin Douglas' second wife, actress and politician Helen Gahagan Douglas.

Douglas was born July 25, 1965 in Quincy, Massachusetts, the daughter of Joan Hesselberg (née Georgescu), a schoolteacher, and Gregory Hesselberg, a painter. Douglas had two older brothers, the late Stefan Gregor Hesselberg, a technician in the histology laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who also trained racehorses in Verona, Italy, and Erik Hesselberg, a journalist. Douglas grew up in Connecticut, but said that really she grew up all over, in Massachusetts (where her father lived), Connecticut (where her mother lived), and New York (where her extended family lived), going back and forth between relatives for summers during her youth.

Douglas said that her parents were heavily influenced by the 1970s hippy culture—her father especially by the movie, Easy Rider—and parented with an artsy philosophy, where the kids were not pressured to go to college. Comedy albums were really big in her family. The family would put on dramatic interpretations and performances.

Douglas' mother's side is Italian and Catholic and were from Astoria, Queens near Ditmars Boulevard in New York City. Her maternal grandmother worked at Gertz', in the department store's restaurant in Astoria and her maternal grandfather was a welder. Douglas said that her maternal grandmother was a former Rockette, had really wanted to be an actor and dreamed of being in show business, so she instilled in Douglas a love for the movies, taking her to the movies all the time as a child.

Douglas' father's side is German-Jewish on paternal great grandfather's side, and Southern on her paternal great grandmother's side. As a child she would visit her grandfather, the actor Melvyn Douglas, in his apartment in Manhattan on the Upper West Side as well as his beautiful mansion on Senalda Road off Outpost Drive in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles. In contrast to her half summers with her maternal grandmother in Queens, Douglas said her summers with Melvyn Douglas were about experiencing with him his love of theater and elocution and reading, art, and history.

Douglas paternal grandfather was the actor Melvyn Douglas from his first marriage to artist Rosalind Hightower. Douglas has said that her grandfather's performance in Being There, in particular, was influential on her own career. Douglas said that her grandfather and Peter Sellers both served in the U.S. Army, had "met in the 1940s in Burma (during World War II) and met again in London during the '60s.... They often reminisced about the war days while on the set."  During high school Douglas visited the movie set while they were shooting on location in Asheville, North Carolina and got to meet Peter Sellers, a very big deal to her as she was already a big fan of from his movies. It was the first time she was on a film set.

Her paternal great-grandfather was Latvian-born composer and pianist Edouard Hesselberg.

Douglas said that growing up she was both an insider and an outsider, which is reflected in her career, that there was a contrast between her working-class Italian roots and the glamorous Hollywood world of her paternal side of her family. Famous people like Myrna Loy, Gore Vidal, Gloria Steinem, politicians, writers, and others were always around in a salon-type world. Even so, Douglas said she feels more Italian than the other side of her family, that she developed more "rhythms and ways" from the Italian side of her family because she spent more time with that part of her family in Queens, but also had the contrast of a childhood based on the shoreline of Connecticut, in the Old Saybrook area. Douglas said it took her a long time to figure out the contrasting diversity, to put both halves of her family upbringing together.


After her film debut, the actress worked for years in relative obscurity, at one point dubbing a chilling scream for The Last Temptation of Christ.

She frequently appeared in other Martin Scorsese films, most notably Goodfellas (1990) and 1991's Cape Fear. Her collaboration with the director also took place offscreen, as the two dated for years. Following roles in a number of films, including Household Saints (1993) and Quiz Show (1994), Douglas was cast in Gus Van Sant's 1995 To Die For.

She won some measure of recognition and critical praise for her role as Nicole Kidman's sarcastic sister-in-law, and the following year landed the lead in Allison Anders' Grace of My Heart. Although Douglas was again praised for her work -- here portraying a Carole King-like singer/songwriter -- the film did poorly among critics and at the box office.

The actress went on to do a number of made-for-TV films, including the satirical Weapons of M Distraction in 1997. In 1999 she had a full plate, doing both television work (appearing as a prostitute on the Fox series Action) and more film work. She appeared with Kevin Costner in Message in a Bottle before going on to make the independent film Happy, Texas, the supernatural thriller Stir of Echoes with Kevin Bacon, and Can't Stop Dancing, a comedy in which she acted alongside Margaret Cho and Janeane Garofalo.

Illeana Douglas and the Web go together about as well as the Swedish and meatballs.  After all, the quirky actress has found a following online with her IKEA-set comedy series, Easy to Assemble, which [starts] its second season on My Damn Channel [today]. (Douglas plays a fictional version of herself who, fed up with showbiz, decides to work in an IKEA store.) And that’s not all: The actress is hard at work (October 2009) producing a spin-off Web series, Sparhusen, which follows a Swedish band that plays music for the big box store.

At one time (pre-2002), she was married to producer Jonathan Axelrod.



1.  I am told that 'Illeana lies about her age'.  Illeana was born in 1961.  

On page 105 of the 1979 Opticon yearbook for Haddam-Killingworth High School, a photo of Illeana Hesselberg is displayed in the lower left-hand corner as a graduating senior:




Any contributions will be gratefully accepted



Errors and Omissions

The Forum

What's new?

We are looking for your help to improve the accuracy of The Douglas Archives.

If you spot errors, or omissions, then please do let us know


Many articles are stubs which would benefit from re-writing. Can you help?


You are not authorized to add this page or any images from this page to (or its subsidiaries) or other fee-paying sites without our express permission and then, if given, only by including our copyright and a URL link to the web site.


If you have met a brick wall with your research, then posting a notice in the Douglas Archives Forum may be the answer. Or, it may help you find the answer!

You may also be able to help others answer their queries.

Visit the Douglas Archives Forum.


2 Minute Survey

To provide feedback on the website, please take a couple of minutes to complete our survey.


We try to keep everyone up to date with new entries, via our What's New section on the home page.

We also use the Community Network to keep researchers abreast of developments in the Douglas Archives.

Help with costs

Maintaining the three sections of the site has its costs.  Any contribution the defray them is very welcome



If you would like to receive a very occasional newsletter - Sign up!
Temporarily withdrawn.



Back to top


The content of this website is a collection of materials gathered from a variety of sources, some of it unedited.

The webmaster does not intend to claim authorship, but gives credit to the originators for their work.

As work progresses, some of the content may be re-written and presented in a unique format, to which we would then be able to claim ownership.

Discussion and contributions from those more knowledgeable is welcome.

Contact Us

Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024