Personal detailsName: Catherine Zeta-Jones
Born: 25 September 1969 (Age: 44)
Where: Swansea, Wales
Height: 5' 8"
Awards: Won 1 BAFTA and 1 Oscar; 2 Golden Globe nominations
All about this star
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).