Mary Martha Lambert (1951–)

Mary Lambert is a motion picture director who has been at the helm of landmark music videos, television programs, and feature films—the latter mainly in the horror genre (including Pet Sematary, based on the Stephen King novel). Along with directing music videos for Debbie Harry, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Mick Jagger, Alison Krauss, Annie Lennox, Mötley Crüe, Sting, and the Go-Go’s, Lambert directed many well-known videos for her friend Madonna, including “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl,” and the controversial “Like a Prayer,” which was seen by millions in a commercial during the 1989 Super Bowl.

Mary Martha Lambert was born in Helena (Phillips County) on October 13, 1951, to Martha Kelly Lambert and Jordan Bennett Lambert, who farmed cotton and rice. In 1960, Lambert’s younger sister, Blanche, was born; Blanche Lambert Lincoln would go on to become both a U.S. representative and a U.S. senator.

Lambert graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in 1974. After moving to Los Angeles, California, in 1977, she directed a twelve-minute short animation, Rapid Eye Movements. In 1984, following her work with the TV documentary The Go-Go’s: Wild at the Greek, Lambert began her collaboration with Madonna, which would include popular and much discussed videos such as those for “Borderline,” “Like a Virgin,” “Material Girl,” and “Like a Prayer,” all of which were named to VH1’s 100 Greatest Videos in 2001. “Like A Prayer” was rated at number two, second only to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

In 1987, Lambert directed her first feature film, Siesta, with its movie trailer tagline: “Siesta—the time of day when mystery and eroticism become one.” The R-rated thriller includes stars Ellen Barkin, Gabriel Byrne, Jodie Foster, and Martin Sheen. Following her work on Siesta, Lambert was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for best first feature.

In 1991, Mary Lambert married film producer and director Jerome Gary, with whom she has a son.

Lambert is known to horror fans for such films as Pet Sematary (1989), which grossed $84 million worldwide and is the second-most-popular film adaptation of a Stephen King novel, just behind Rob Reiner’s Misery. Prior to that time, no female director had directed a big-budget studio horror movie. Other films directed by Lambert include Grand Isle (1991), Pet Sematary Two (1992), Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge (2001), Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005), and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011), in which she became the first female director of a SyFy Channel original movie. Lambert’s other film-directing projects include Clubland (1999), The In Crowd (2000), Strange Frequency (2001), and The Attic (2007).

Her television work includes TV movies such as Dragstrip Girl (1994), Face of Evil (1996), My Stepson, My Lover (1997), and Presumed Dead in Paradise (2014). She has also directed episodes of various TV series, including The Dark Path Chronicles, On the Road in America, and The Blacklist. She has worked with television networks such as CBS, the Disney Channel, NBC, TNT, USA, Showtime, and the Sundance Channel.

Lambert’s documentary 14 Women (2007), about the female U.S. senators in the 109th U.S. Congress, is a feature-length work that Lambert both directed and produced. She continued documentary work with 2011’s Miss South Pacific: Beauty and the Sea, which was about both beauty pageants and climate change. The 2014 documentary Fishing Pono: Living in Harmony with the Sea for PBS follows native Hawaiians on Molokai using ancient conservation methods to restore fisheries. Lambert appeared in the 2009 documentary Pretty Bloody: The Women of Horror.

In an interview, she once stated, “As a director of music videos and feature films for over 30 years, the world of documentary filmmaking didn’t open up to me until I made a film called 14 Women about the women Senators in the United States Congress. That was not an easy film to make. Unlike narrative films where you work with a script and actors, documentary films evolve without a script, and with real characters. You can’t script a documentary film. It just happens.”

For additional information:
“Mary Lambert.” Internet Movie Database. (accessed September 9, 2020).

“Notable Arkie: Mary Lambert.” Department of Arkansas Heritage blog, July 21, 2015. (accessed September 9, 2020).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society


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