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TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Catherine Zeta-Jones - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web
There are many who consider Catherine Zeta Jones to have been canny, manipulative and, eventually, undeniable in a rapid rise to the top. In fact, her passage to Hollywood stardom has been anything but steady. Her career choices have, on occasion, been terribly flawed. Her big breaks have been hilariously, fabulously fortunate. And, being as she began her education and career in entertainment back inthe mid-Seventies, it's actually all taken a very long time.
Catherine Zeta Jones (Catherine Fair and Zeta Jones being the names of her grandmothers) was born in Swansea on the 25th of September, 1969, growing up in the now-chic Mumbles area, a beautiful sweep of wooded coastline. Her father, Dai, managed a confectionery factory, turning him, in young Catherine's eyes, into something of a Willy Wonka figure. Her mother, Pat, was Irish and a seamstress by trade. She commented, upon Catherine's birth, that she looked like a frog. Catherine had one older brother, David A Jones, and one younger, Lyndon, both of whom now aid her in her work with her production company, Milkwood Films (Swansea also being the former home of Dylan Thomas, author of Under Milk Wood).
From the age of 4, Catherine wanted to entertain, to be the centre of attention. She'd prance around using the spout of her grandma's kettle as a microphone. Very soon, she was onstage, performing with an amateur troupe organised by the local Catholic Church. Her singing voice, though, was once severely threatened. Falling sick with a viral infection that impaired her breathing, she had to undergo a tracheotomy (the scar is still visible today). Consequently, she missed a lot of school, and was sent to a small private establishment to catch up.
But, though she was bright, academic work was not Catherine's calling. Studying tap and ballet, she continued with the amateur troupe, starring in Annie, then as Tallulah in Bugsy Malone. This latter part was wholly appropriate, Catherine being perfect as the super-sexy vamp. She says that even at 12 she looked 22, and would go to clubs with the blessing of her trusting parents.
When she was 14, along came her first break. A production starring Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees arrived in Swansea, one of its attractions being that, wherever it went, it recruited local children to form the chorus. Catherine auditioned successfully, so successfully that the producers quickly cast her in a touring production of The Pyjama Game. By 15, she had dropped out of school, received her Actor's Guild card, and moved to London.
Soon Catherine enjoyed a ludicrous slice of good luck. Signing on for the chorus of 42nd Street, she became second understudy to the lead. One evening both the lead and the first understudy were struck down by illness, leaving the way open for Catherine, then aged 17, to star as Peggy Sawyer. Coincidentally, her efforts were witnessed by the show's producer, David Merrick, who'd never attended any of the previous performances. So impressed was he that he gave her the lead full-time, and she reprised the role eight times a week for nearly two years.
After 42nd Street, Catherine took a sabbatical in France, doing little work other than starring in Philippe De Broca's Scheherazade. Here, in the title role, aided by a genie from 1990's London, she met all the great heroes of her legendary dreams (including Vitorio Gassman as Sinbad), as well as engaging in a couple of nude scenes that have since made the film much sought-after. Returning to the UK after a year, she found immediate fame for her part as Mariette Larkin, David Jason's daughter in The Darling Buds Of May. After Only Fools And Horses, Jason was perhaps the country's most popular TV star and here, as loveable rogue Pop, with his rowdy family and neat catchphrase "Perrrfic" he topped the ratings again with these warm, Kent-set adaptations of the novels of H.E Bates.
With the show such a howling success, and Catherine its sexiest star by some considerable distance, the tabloids went into a feeding frenzy. She was hounded wherever she went, at one point driving her car into a lamp-post while trying to escape their seedy attentions. Indeed, she was hounded even if she didn't go anywhere, once calling the police to check out a van parked outside her house and discovering it to be packed with surveillance equipment. She was connected to every well-known man who wandered into wide-angle lens distance of her, including Blue Peter presenter John Leslie, actor Angus MacFayden (star of Braveheart and the excellent Titus), to whom she was actually engaged in the mid-Nineties and, later, film producer Jon Peters, ex-hubbie of Barbra Streisand.
While finding fame on TV with Darling Buds, Catherine also continued to seek success in her other areas of expertise, onstage and in music. She appeared in a production of Under Milk Wood, directed by Anthony Hopkins and co-starring Tom Jones, and would also turn up (after Darling Buds) in a English National Opera production of Kurt Weill's Street Scene (she's on the CD, singing Moon Faced, Starry Eyed, if you can find it). There was also an attempt at a solo singing career. Jeff Wayne, who'd had a massive hit in the late Seventies with the concept LP War Of The Worlds, was making a comeback with a similar take on the story of Spartacus. Catherine won the role of Spartacus's wife Palene, both singing and narrating (though the main narrator was Anthony Hopkins, popping up again as Marcus Crassus). Taken from Spartacus, Catherine's first single was For All Time, and there were high hopes. However, Spartacus was not a success and consequently the single reached only Number 36. In 1994, Catherine followed this with True Love Ways, a duet with David Essex (coincidentally the star of Wayne's War Of The Worlds), which stalled at Number 38. Finally, and in desperation, Catherine changed her image, bowing to tabloid demands and garbing herself in rubber and fishnets. It didn't work. Neither In The Arms Of Love nor I Can't Help Myself were hits.
Catherine's failure to achieve pop stardom mattered not a jot. By the time she called it a day, she'd already sown the seeds of her later Hollywood stardom by moving to America and scoring both experience and notable roles. It was difficult when she first moved to Los Angeles. She knew no one but film editor Petra Van Oelffen who was at the time in Europe. Thankfully, Petra let Catherine live in her house in the Palisades, and the search for work was on (sadly, her friendship with Van Oelffen would later be severely strained when, having broken her ankle in an accident while Catherine was driving, Petra sued for $1.6 million).
Having appeared in Eric Idle's profoundly unamusing Splitting Heirs, as well as historical dramas Christopher Columbus (with Marlon Brando and Benicio Del Toro), The Return Of The Native and Catherine Cookson's The Cinder Path (as the promiscuous and casually unfaithful Victoria Chapman) Catherine also tried out contemporary drama with Blue Juice, a UK surfing flick co-starring Sean Pertwee and Ewan McGregor. But it was the bigger American productions that would break her. First she starred as Catherine The Great, the notorious Russian Empress, plotter and seducer who rose to power in 1762. Then came The Phantom, where she was Sala, sexy leader of a female fighter squadron. And then there was Titanic.
Many careers were made by James Cameron's epic Titanic. Sadly, Catherine wasn't in his version, starring instead (in the Kate Winslet role) in a TV version released a year earlier and starring George C. Scott and, er, Marilu Henner. Yet amazingly, even this version of Titanic was good enough to have a career-making effect, for Catherine's performance was seen and admired by none other than Steven Spielberg. At that time, Spielberg was busying himself in pre-production for The Mask Of Zorro, and recommended Catherine to director Martin Campbell. He liked her - she was in.
Attending what she called the Zorro boot-camp, Catherine spent two hours per day dancing, two hours learning to ride, two hours practising sword-fighting and another two in dialect classes. The training paid off, as the critics found her scintillating as Elena, the feisty long-lost daughter of Anthony Hopkins' aged Zorro. It should be noted that, reintroduced to the woman he directed in Under Milkwood and who had co-narrated Spartacus, Hopkins did not remember her. After Mask Of Zorro, he'd not forget her in a hurry.
Made by Zorro, Catherine was summoned to Rome to be interviewed by Sean Connery, then looking to cast his co-star in Entrapment. Charmed, he took her on as Virginia Baker, the insurance fraud agent who tracks art thief Connery, then aids him in his most audacious crime yet. One scene, where she used all her balletic suppleness to creep through a pick-up-sticks mess of laser alarms, sent millions of male pulses racing. After this, she starred with Liam Neeson in a remake of The Haunting. The film was wretched, but Catherine stood out again as Theo, the lesbian medium originally played by Claire Bloom.
In the meantime, there was marriage. In August 1998, Catherine met Michael Douglas, 25 years her senior, at the Deauville Film Festival. They began dating seriously in March, 1999, with Catherine reportedly sticking to her mother's advice of "Show them nothing!" by keeping him waiting for a full nine months - good therapy for a fellow reputed to be a recovering sex addict. Romantically, the couple were engaged on New Year's Eve at the turn of the millennium, in Aspen, Colorado. A child, Dylan Michael (that Swansea poet again!) would be born in August, 2000.
Plenty of controversy surrounded the couple's wedding in late 2000. They'd been paid $900,000 by OK Magazine for exclusive pictures of the newly born Dylan. Now they accepted a further $1.5 million for exclusive shots of the wedding, a helpful amount as the proceedings at the New York Plaza would cost $1.8 million, including $10,000 for the four-foot cake. Unfortunately, Hello Magazine got hold of pictures and published, the Douglases attempting to take out an immediate injunction. Eventually, they sued for damages and the case stretched on till 2003, when they were awarded $23,000 (OK! got $1.6 million). Even then it wasn't over, with Hello! deciding to appeal, and the case would go as far as the House of Lords in 2007, with Hello! eventually having to pay OK! around $4 million in damages and court costs.
Now financially secure for life (it's said Catherine's pre-nup with Douglas gives her $3.2 million for every year of the marriage), she continued to win prime roles. In Traffic, which Douglas had turned down then accepted when Catherine was sent a re-write, she was superb as Helena Ayala, the dealer's wife who, innocent at first, comes to organise assassinations and negotiate cocaine deals. Many wondered how she missed out on an Oscar nomination (though she did get one for a Golden Globe). No worries for Cat though, as her next role was in the hit rom-com America's Sweethearts, as Gwen Harrison, whose relationship with fellow superstar John Cusack breaks down, leaving publicist Billy Crystal to control the story and Julia Roberts (as Gwen's sister) to cause maximum confusion. The film was a huge hit in the States, Catherine's fourth hit in three years, after Zorro, Entrapment and Traffic. Catherine herself didn't help the cause much. In an incredible TV botch-job, she went on the David Letterman Show to promote the movie and, in a moment of unparalleled madness referred to David as Jay (the name of his arch rival Jay Leno!)
Now a major Hollywood player, Catherine returned to her musical roots with Chicago, high-kicking and seductively squirming as Velma Kelly, a 1920s stage star in competition with newcomer Roxy Hart (Renee Zellweger). Having killed her husband and sister, whom she caught in flagrante, she's followed to Murderer's Row by Zellweger, who's topped a lover who failed to make her a star. Both are represented by dodgy lawyer Richard Gere, and both need him to make them media darlings to escape their plight. The movie, taking its lead from Moulin Rouge, was flashy and sexy, with Catherine pulling out all the stops to top Nicole Kidman's efforts, as well as those of Bebe Neuwirth, who'd scored a huge hit as Velma in the latest Broadway production. Glamorous, stylish and confident, she made full use of her stage experience, winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her efforts. The film itself was a huge hit, taking $170 million at the US box office on a budget of $45 million.
As if to confirm her newfound status, Catherine added her voice to the all-star animation Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas, her name appearing on the credits alongside such heavyweights as Brad Pitt and Michelle Pfeiffer. And then - for all "real" stars must have this on their CV - she teamed up with the Coen Brothers for Intolerable Cruelty, playing Marylin Rexroth, a gold-digger who hopes to gain control of her rich and cheating husband's fortune. Foiled by invincible divorce lawyer George Clooney, she then shocks him by hiring him to forge an unbreakable pre-nup for her next marriage, to bashful Texan oil billionaire Billy Bob Thornton. Clooney then looks on in admiration as she reveals the magnificent scope of her deceit, and attempts to win this dangerous woman for his own. Intolerable Cruelty was smart and sassy, a real throwback to the Fifties, and it showed George and Catherine to be one of the best-looking couples in recent memory.
Off-screen, 2003 would see Catherine co-host the Nobel Peace Prize concert, and also give birth to her second child, daughter Carys. The next year would see her back in court, this time giving evidence against one Dawnette Knight who was accused of stalking and threatening Catherine over the previous two years. The defence claimed that Knight simply had a "girlish crush" on Michael Douglas. The prosecution, though, said Knight had threatened to chop Catherine up "like Sharon Tate" and "feed her to the dogs". Bail was set at $1 million as the case stretched into 2005.
Onscreen, 2004 saw Catherine appear in two major productions. First, her Zorro benefactor Steven Spielberg signed her up for The Terminal. This saw Tom Hanks as an Eastern European whose passport and visa become invalid after a coup in his home country, leaving him stranded at JFK. Unable to step onto American soil, unwilling to fly home, he's forced to make a life for himself in the airport (as really happened to Merhan Nasseri in Paris in 1988), making a number of new friends, among them Catherine, an agreeably neurotic, weak-willed flight attendant who's having an affair with a married Michael Nouri and realises she can turn to the simple, unspoilt Hanks for advice.
Next, having won acclaim in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic and co-starred with Clooney in Intolerable Cruelty, she reunited with them both (as well as Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt) for Ocean's Twelve. Here the new Rat Pack were forced to carry out a daring robbery in Europe in order to pay back casino boss Andy Garcia the money they stole from him in Ocean's Eleven. Catherine would play Isabel Lahiri, an Interpol cop on their trail, who coincidentally happens to be an old flame of Brad Pitt's character. The pair thus had the chance to seriously smoulder.
Though she had usually played alongside major stars, Catherine could now boast that (Intolerable Cruelty excepted) her last 9 movies had made money, most of them a lot of money. She was now resolutely of the A-list and, in order to cement that position, she returned to the scene of her first big hit with The Legend Of Zorro for a paycheck of $10 million. Here she and Antonio Banderas's Zorro are now married, but she leaves him and he descends into drunkenness and conflict with a young son who does not know his illustrious past. To redeem himself, he must both win Catherine back from a typically wicked Rufus Sewell and foil Sewell's plot to stop California from becoming a state of the Union. It was certainly swashbuckling stuff, but was aimed at a younger audience than its predecessor. It also made the fatal mistake of turning Jones's feisty, buccaneering Elena into a nagging fishwife.
Many believed that now she'd reached the top Catherine would settle back in Malibu and fight to maintain her position in the Hollywood hierarchy. They were surprised when she set about building a new home back in Swansea and, through her Milkwood production company, made plans to make films in Wales. The first was slated Coming Out, where gay West End performer Alan Cumming was to take over a near-bankrupt Welsh rugby club after his father, their coach dies. a prolonged and difficult pre-prod period would show Jones how tough it would be to build a career as a producer.
Back onscreen, 2007 would see Catherine in two movies. the first of these would be No Reservations, based on the 2001 German hit Mostly Martha and directed by Shine helmsman Scott Hicks, where she'd play a short-tempered and obsessive chef working in Patricia Clarkson's restaurant. Suddenly her life becomes more complex when she's forced to look after her dead sister's daughter, Abigail Breslin, and must deal with Aaron Eckhart, a new (and good-looking) rival in the kitchen. Part of Jones's research would involve her waiting on tables and serving in the kitchen of the well-known Fiamma restaurant in New York.
Neither No Reservations nor The Legend Of Zorro would be hits at the US box office, and they'd be followed by another miss in Death Defying Acts. Directed by another top Aussie, Gillian Armstrong, who'd earlier delivered the likes of My Brilliant Career and Oscar And Lucinda, this would see Guy Pearce as Harry Houdini, on tour in Britain back in 1926. As well as being a renowned escape artist, he's also known for uncovering fake mediums, and offers a $10,000 dollar reward for any psychic who can reveal his mother's last words. This alerts ambitious con-woman Jones who, along with daughter Saoirse Ronan, sets about seducing Houdini and learning his secrets so she can put on a killer performance before Houdini and an audience of cynical scientists and journalists. It was a strong performance by Jones, particularly in the early stages of the plot, before love inevitably rears its head, but the movie suffered from arriving after both The Prestige and The Illusionist and would be pretty much binned, being released to only two American cinemas by Harvey Weinstein's Third Rail distribution label, set up to get rid of films in which Weinstein had no confidence.
Now concentrating heavily on raising her family, as well as aiding her husband in his ambassadorial duties, Catherine would not appear onscreen again till 2009. This was in the Rebound, written and directed by Bart Freundlich, theatre director and husband of Julianne Moore. A New York-set rom-com, it would see Jones as a suburban mother cheated on by hubbie Sam Robards and moving into the city to find a new life with her young kids. Finding a good new job, she hires 25-year-old neighbour Justin Bartha to babysit and, with him, enters into an unexpected romance.
Catherine is sometimes referred to as a prima donna but, a hometown girl who enjoys rugby, boxing, golf, and a few beers, she has her head screwed on far too tightly to care about petty bickering. As well as sinking her money into Milkwood, she also uses her fame and funds - like Douglas - to help worthy causes, including young adults with cerebral palsy and the International Centre For Missing And Exploited Children. With Douglas taking on a public role as Hollywood Ambassador For Worldwide Decency, we can expect Catherine to be right by his side - or perhaps right behind him, kicking his ass forward. She's that kind of girl - both lucky and deserving, she gets things done.