Nancy Travis

Nancy Travis

On this date in 1961, actress Nancy Ann Travis was born to Theresa and Gordon Travis in Queens, N.Y. Her mother was a social worker and her father was a sales executive. Raised in Baltimore and Framingham, Mass., Travis was bitten by the acting bug at age 7 while playing Wilbur the pig in “Charlotte’s Web” at her school. “When I got the lead, I was hooked.” (People magazine, Jan. 13, 2003)

That was also the age she made her First Communion as a Catholic. “Growing up, my mother wanted me and my brother to be raised with some kind of religious instruction, a point of reference that we could choose to accept or reject.” (Katie Couric Media, Nov. 24, 2023)

She graduated in 1983 with a bachelor of fine arts from New York University, then worked as a waitress while struggling to make it as an actress in New York City. She toured the country in 1984 as an understudy in “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and was a founding member of the Off-Broadway theater company Naked Angels. Her Broadway debut was in “I’m Not Rappaport” in 1985.

Travis’ screen debut was also that year in the made-for-TV biopic “Malice in Wonderland” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Alexander about Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. Her feature film debut was two years later in “Three Men and a Baby” opposite Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg and Ted Danson. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, it was a huge hit, grossing $240 million worldwide.

It was the start of a string of appearances in nearly 30 movies and short films. Most recently as of this writing, she appeared with Hilary Swank in “Ordinary Angels” (2024). Her work on the small screen in numerous series and movies starting in the mid-1990s also kept her busy, including 194 episodes of the ABC sitcom “Last Man Standing” opposite Tim Allen. She appeared in two seasons (2018-19) of “The Kominsky Method” on Netflix with Michael Douglas, Alan Arkin, Paul Reiser and Kathleen Turner.

A lead role in the 1990 Richard Gere drama “Internal Affairs” led to Travis meeting Robert Fried, executive vice president at Columbia Pictures: “He opened the door, and it was love at first sight.” They married in 1994 in a Jewish ceremony and have two sons, Benjamin (b. 1998) and Jeremy (b. 2001). (Ibid., People)

“I married a Jewish man for whom religion is not just worship, but his identity,” Travis later said. “I did not convert, but had rejected Catholicism and God.” She agreed to raise the children as Jewish, thinking they “should have something to embrace or scorn.”

She and her mother, an “adamant atheist,” had continued discussing religion and the existence of God into her adulthood. “I pivoted frequently: I’d disassociate myself from Catholicism and choose to call myself ‘spiritual’ instead. I would settle on God being an energy or life source rather than a bearded benevolent man at a judgment table.” (Ibid., Katie Couric)

In her extraordinary essay “My Mother Was an Atheist — These Days, I Understand Why,” Travis wrote that her mother, despite an Italian Catholic upbringing, thought “organized religion was ‘horseshit’ and had no problem saying so. Maybe it had to do with being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at a young age, with suffering so much chronic pain that God was only found in Vicodin.” (Ibid.)

Grieving after her mother’s death amid a world full of bloodshed and sectarian strife, Travis thought “She would not have been surprised to know that I did not turn to God for comfort, but to my family and friends who held me and helped me through my grief. Strength and empathy came from the people around me. The meaning I was searching for in God was really in my fellow human beings. For all the good and bad in life, at least we have each other. My mother didn’t believe in God, but she believed in people.”

PHOTO: Travis at the 2018 premiere of “The Kominsky Method” in Los Angeles; Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

Freedom From Religion Foundation