Also Credited As:Baroness Haden-Guest of Saling, Lady Haden-Guest
|November 22, 1958|
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Born Nov. 22, 1958 in Los Angeles, Jamie Lee Curtis was the daughter of movie stars and "America's Sweethearts," Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. She grew up in Los Angeles, but graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut, and briefly attended the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA before leaving to pursue acting. Although she had already worked considerably in television by then, her first truly famous role came in John Carpenter's seminal horror film, "Halloween" (1978). As Laurie Strode, the shy babysitter stalked by "the boogeyman" Michael Myers, Curtis offered a strong and intelligent lead in the film; one of the earliest in the influential slasher genre. Critics were divided about the redeeming features (if any) of the genre, but were universally interested in the unusually compelling presence of Curtis in otherwise unchallenging fare. "Halloween" was one of the most successful independent films of all time, and while it was not the first in its field, its influence could not be denied in modern filmmaking.
Curtis earned the title of "Scream Queen" when she followed her scary "Halloween" success with "The Fog" (1980) (again with Carpenter) and the cheap Canadian-filmed slashers "Prom Night" (1980), which somehow earned her a Genie Award nomination in Canada, and "Terror Train" (1980). While Curtis's roles in those films required less of her than the comparatively sophisticated "Halloween," something about her presence offered a box office boost. Her association with Carpenter earned her the lead female role in the Australian thriller "Roadgames" (1981), but when she made her return in "Halloween II" (1981), the industry had changed considerably. Highly influential and successful horror films had flooded the market, including "Friday the 13th" (1980), "Friday the 13th Part II" (1981), and a score of others; each one boasting more graphic nudity and violence than the relatively-tame "Halloween," leaving the producers of the sequel feeling the pressure to compete. Although critics and moral watchdogs panned the increasingly explicit "Halloween II" (1981) - during which Curtis spent most of her time recuperating in a hospital bed while Michael Myers slashed his way through the medical staff - the movie was a hit. As the most visible horror franchise at the time, the film attracted controversy when an El Monte, CA man violently murdered an elderly couple, claiming that a viewing of "Halloween II" had inspired his crime; he was subsequently sentenced to death.
The actress returned to TV to play a real-life murder victim in "Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story" (1981), a production most notable for how successfully Curtis shed her tomboyish screen persona to mirror the extremely glamorous, erotic charms of Stratten. She continued to prove that she had range beyond horror with a well reviewed leading turn in the little-seen but excellent drama "Love Letters" (1983), and broke through on all levels in John Landis's classic smash "Trading Places" (1983). In the film, Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche make a bet over what determines success - nature or nurture - and to settle things once and for all, switch a streetwise hustler (Murphy) with a high-society investor (Dan Aykroyd) to see what happens. Curtis played Ophelia, an intelligent, kindhearted prostitute who cares for Aykroyd and memorably shows off her impressively toned body, including a brief bit of topless nudity that made the film required viewing by young men of a certain age. For her charming performance, Curtis won the Best Supporting Actress BAFTA Award.
While shooting "Trading Places," Curtis was engaged to Marlene Dietrich's grandson and staying in Dietrich's apartment, but the relationship disintegrated, in large part because of Curtis' increasing struggles with her addiction to drugs and alcohol. A new relationship - and an innate streak of sensibility in her character - helped the actress get clean and sober. Seeing a picture of Christopher Guest in a magazine donning his "This is Spinal Tap" (1984) get-up, she was smitten and arranged through her agent to give Guest her phone number. Although he did not call at first, when they happened to bump into each other at a restaurant, the attraction caught fire on both sides and they were married four months later. As part of her new life, Curtis swore off substance abuse, and helped her father get clean as well, ending their long estrangement. Curtis' healthy, world-class physique was front and center in a tight spandex leotard in the aerobics comedy "Perfect" (1985) with John Travolta as a Rolling Stone reporter writing an exposé on the health club industry. Although the film was a bomb with critics and audiences, Curtis's unbelievable aerobics-toned frame earned her global notoriety as "The Body," something that surprised the notoriously self-conscious actress who had long struggled with what she perceived as her odd looks.
Accepted as a mainstream movie star at last, Curtis filmed a series of roles that had more to do with her personality than her body, including American heroine Annie Oakley on an episode of Shelley Duvall's "Tall Tales & Legends" (Showtime, 1985-88), Bette Davis's daughter in the drama "As Summers Die" (HBO, 1986), and "Un homme amoureux" ("A Man in Love") (1987) as Peter Coyote's discarded wife. She had a strong supporting role as a sports agent in the strange, idealistic "Amazing Grace and Chuck" (1987), in which a Little League pitcher decides to boycott the sport until the U.S. and USSR destroy all their nuclear weapons, as well as another role in the troubled twin brothers drama, "Dominick & Eugene" (1988). These roles, while demonstrating another side to Curtis, did not have the effect on her career that her next one did. As sexy American jewel thief in the Oscar-winning black comedy "A Fish Called Wanda" (1988), Curtis lit up the screen and held her own alongside comedy giants. Sharply written, brilliantly acted by Curtis, John Cleese - who also co-wrote it - and the scene-stealing Kevin Kline, the film was an international sensation and presented Curtis with her first Golden Globe nomination, her second BAFTA nomination (this time as Lead Actress) and a big boost to her profile as a comedic actress.
Surfing on her "Wanda" success to a successful sitcom, Curtis starred opposite Richard Lewis in the yuppie workplace comedy, "Anything But Love" (ABC, 1989-1992), which charmed audiences but struggled to stay alive after numerous time slot shifts and hiatuses, despite Curtis's Golden Globe win for Best Actress. In one of the strangest cancellation stories in television, the show died when the production company - not the network - pulled the plug, judging it to be no longer profitable. Back on the big screen, Curtis played an empowered, adult take on her Laurie Strode character in Kathryn Bigelow's hard-edged, feminist cop thriller "Blue Steel" (1990). As a rookie police officer under investigation for shooting a perp, Curtis becomes the obsession of a brilliant psychopath, and has to enforce her own particular brand of justice when the law fails her in an over-the-top, shoot-'em-up finale. Her small role as a sexual aggressor in the talky flop "Queens Logic" (1991) showed Curtis still had verve, but she dialed down the glamour and confidence for an understated, tender performance in the sweet, thoroughly lovely dramedy, "My Girl" (1991). Set in 1972, the film followed the small-town coming-of-age of 11-year-old Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky), including how she dealt with her father (Dan Aykroyd) dating a free-spirited new makeup artist (Curtis) at the family funeral home. Curtis' subtle performance impressed critics, and the film became a fondly remembered family favorite. The actress landed another successful movie with a supporting part as the mother of a boy (Elijah Wood) who discovers the cryogenically-preserved Mel Gibson in the romantic drama, "Forever Young" (1992).
Perhaps because Curtis and Guest had adopted a daughter in 1986, Annie, and would later adopt a son, Thomas, in 1996, parenthood had an unexpected effect on Curtis. Writing down her little girl's humorous observations inspired her to write a children's book When I was Little: A Four-Year Old's Memoir Of Her Youth, a strong seller that inspired her to continue writing as a second career. Curtis would go on to pen close to 10 children's books with a combined figure of more than 4.6 million units sold by 2010. In the interim, Curtis returned to her cosmetologist character in "My Girl 2" (1994), a pleasing, but lesser sequel to the original, although most of the film's action took place away from home with Vada visiting Los Angeles. Returning to her horror-inspired roots - except this time she played the psycho killer - Curtis top-lined the strange horror/thriller, "Mother's Boys" (1994). As Jude, a woman who abandoned her husband (Peter Gallagher) and three sons, Curtis served up her best crazy as she seduced, manipulated and murdered her way back into their lives. The film drew notoriety for a scene where Curtis, naked in a bathtub, discussed giving birth to her adolescent son as he looked at her body. The ensuing whiff of scandal did little to increase the film's box office or critical esteem. She was back on top in her biggest success up until that time, with the Arnold Schwarzenegger action comedy "True Lies" (1994), which not only delighted audiences, but many critics as well; especially for Curtis's surprisingly large role as Schwarzenegger's clueless wife recruited into the spy game. Goofy, offbeat, charming, and yet incredibly sexy and game for all the action-heroine moves required of her, Curtis won a Golden Globe for her role and was perhaps one of the main reasons for its success. She also starred in "The Heidi Chronicles" (PBS, 1995) based on Wendy Wasserstein's famous play, and received a Golden Globe nomination, but critics were divided on her performance.
Fully minted as a recognizable star to all age groups, Curtis did mom duty in the kids-imprison-their-parents comedy "House Arrest" (1996), which was warmly received by its target audience, if not by many others, and then reunited with her "Wanda" castmates for their comedic sequel, "Fierce Creatures" (1997). Ironically, the American Curtis returned to her mostly-English co-stars with a new title, since Christopher Guest had inherited a barony in the UK, giving Curtis the title of the Baroness, Lady Haden-Guest. Set in a failing zoo taken over by a greedy company, the film followed Cleese as he institutes a "fierce creatures" policy, where only dangerous animals will be kept in an attempt to drum up more visitors. As with the far more intelligent "Wanda," the crisscrossing paths of a handful of characters led to escalating misadventures, but audiences and critics did not warm to the movie, which was deemed significantly less than "equal." She earned an Emmy nomination in the wrenching drama "Nicholas' Gift" (CBS, 1998), as a devastated mother who chooses to donate her son's organs when he is fatally injured in Italy. For Curtis, the role was close to her heart, as her stepbrother had died in 1994 of a drug overdose,
Professionally established, Curtis felt comfortable returning with a splash to bid adieu to the franchise that made her a star with "Halloween H20: 20 Years Later" (1998). As the brainchild behind the entire project, she brought on huge fan Kevin Williamson, himself a hot Hollywood commodity thanks to "Dawson's Creek" (The WB, 1998-2003) and his "Halloween"-inspired smash "Scream" (1997), to help shape the ultimate ending to the series. As an extra bonus, it included a delicious cameo by her mother Janet Leigh in an echo of her iconic "Psycho" (1960) role. Curtis reprised her Laurie Strode character - or Keri Tate as she reinvented herself after faking her death -but even the resourceful babysitter-turned-headmistress could not escape Michael Myers, who quickly showed up, ready for a bloody reunion. Around this time, Curtis, who had maintained a composed, healthful front in the press in terms of her long-publicized battles with addiction, admitted to her family that she had not quite conquered her demons. She later spoke at length about how she had kept her escalating alcohol and painkiller addictions - the pills after a cosmetic surgery procedure - from her husband and family, but capitulated when her daughter asked her to get help.
Next, Curtis appeared in the terrible sci-fi action movie "Virus" (1999), a film she later ripped to pieces in the press as one of her worst, as well as had supporting roles in a string of misfires: the black Bette Midler comedy "Drowning Mona" (2000), Pierce Brosnan's thriller "The Tailor of Panama" (2001), and Billy Bob Thornton's "Daddy and Them" (2001). Strangely, in 2002, she went back on her earlier claim to have sent her Laurie Strode character off in the best way possible - $3 million for a small cameo perhaps was not that strange - and reprised the role for one final film, "Halloween: Resurrection" (2002). The umpteenth horror sequel in a sea of them, critics and audiences showed no mercy with their barbs or indifference, and Curtis was perhaps wise to get killed off at the film's opening. Making peace with her career beginnings as well as her lifelong struggle to accept her body - especially in such a competitive and beauty-centric industry - Curtis made headlines of the most positive sort for a shoot she pitched and did for Moremagazine in 2002, when she posed without makeup or retouching, revealing her body as it truly was. A second image showed Curtis after a dose of Hollywood styling and photo magic, and the article discussed just how much work went into the transformation. Her courage in admitting her vulnerability led to tons of excellent press and a culture-wide discussion of body image and beauty ideals. The admiration extended when she let her hair go gray, refusing to dye to confirm to some idea of beauty, citing the unfairness of men with salt and pepper hair being regarded as sex symbols.
Her popularity hit its peak the following year when the matter-of-fact actress notched an enormous triumph in the remake of "Freaky Friday" (2003) opposite an up-and-coming Lindsay Lohan. Not only did the film do enormous box office, but reviewers could not rave enough about Curtis's charming performance, which earned her yet another Golden Globe nomination as well as a Best Actress Saturn Award nomination. Critics marveled at Curtis' complete metamorphosis into comedic firecracker from her meek, horror beginnings, with many saying her work in the film was a career-best. While critics hated the artificial-as-a-plastic-tree "Christmas with the Kranks" (2004), Curtis's casting as the female lead in the studio family comedy was something of a marker of her reputation and recent success, and the film was a box office hit. Around this time, Curtis had become very vocal about her desire to make her home life the priority over acting, and only to accept family-friendly roles that were shot in Los Angeles around her kids' schedules. She admitted that she was unsurprised that directors seemed hesitant to hire her, but Curtis seemed happy taking undemanding but lucrative roles such as the human owner of the sassy, spoiled "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" (2008) in the talking-dogs Disney comedy.
Proving just how practical she was, Curtis signed on to be the face of Activia, a yogurt that promoted regularity in digestive health, and appeared in a string of commercials for the product so ubiquitous that they were spoofed on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) with Kristen Wiig playing an all-too-regular Curtis. Her next film project was the comedy "You Again" (2010), which starred Kristen Bell as a young woman who finds out that her brother is engaged to her high school rival. As Bell's mother, Curtis ends up thrust back into old competitive modes with the fiancée's aunt, who turns out to be her old school rival, Sigourney Weaver.