Nebraska State Historical Society Blog

Terms of Endearment and the Governor's Hollywood "First Lady Friend"

The Oscars are coming up this Sunday, and while many people are looking ahead to see which of the year's films will be honored, we can't help but look back to the 1983 comedy-drama Terms of Endearment based on Larry McMurtry's 1975 novel. Filmed in Lincoln, it was one of the most popular movies filmed in Nebraska, winning a total of five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. The cast featured Debra Winger, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, and Danny DeVito.

However, what many Nebraskans probably remember most is former Nebraska Governor Bob Kerrey’s relationship with star actress Debra Winger. The romance was a hot topic at the time and received national press in publications like the Washington Post and People Magazine. When Winger stayed the weekend in the governor’s mansion, a survey was conducted to see how Nebraskans felt about the stay.

In a poll of registered voters in the capital city, the local newspaper straightforwardly asked whether Gov. Bob Kerrey should or shouldn't have his girlfriend, Debra Winger, stay in the governor’s mansion with him. Still, only 12 percent of those surveyed thought Winger's weekend visit was “not all right”; 76 percent judged them to be “all right,”  -- Mark Shields in a Washington Post article entitled Nebraska’s ‘First Lady Friend.’

On another visit, Winger was stopped for speeding in a car leased to Kerrey. After this event, Curt Donaldson, a part-time columnist, asked for donations to buy Winger a used car. Even Canadians took part in the donations. Winger ultimately matched the $300 donation and purchased the car from a local used car dealer, “Weird Wally” Smith. The used 1976 Chevy station wagon was then donated to a home for “troubled girls.”

Kerrey and Winger were in a relationship for several years, but ultimately it’s said that Winger did not believe she was cut out to be a politician’s spouse.

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