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Jamie Lee Curtis - Biography

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Jamie Lee Curtis

Personal details

Name: Jamie Lee Curtis
Born: 22 November 1958 (Age: 56)
Where: Los Angeles, California, USA
Height: 5' 9"
Awards: Won 1 BAFTA, 2 Golden Globes

All about this star


Back in the early Eighties, Jamie Lee Curtis was on her way down the path to disaster. Having followed the success of Halloween with a succession of slasher-flicks, she was busy getting typecast as the Scream Queen, while drink and drugs were busily eating her away from the inside. Born of Hollywood aristocracy, she was all set to pre-date the fall of Drew Barrymore. Yet somehow she turned it around, re-cast herself as a world-class comedienne, stole one of the biggest action movies ever made, AND became a million-selling children's author. Not bad for a girl who could so easily have been utterly overshadowed by her madly illustrious parents.

She was born in Los Angeles on the 22nd of November, 1958, second child of the film star couple Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis (she has an older sister, Kelly Lee, also an actress). Problems were immediate. Tony's penchant for intoxicants was legendary, causing the marriage to falter almost as soon as Jamie was born. On top of this, both parents were enjoying massive personal success, bringing concomitant pressure from the world's media. 1960 alone saw Tony star in Stanley Kubrick's mighty Spartacus, while Janet, as Marion Crane, was notoriously butchered in perhaps the first slasher-flick ever made, Hitchcock's Psycho.

Divorce came when Jamie was 3. Janet, who had her head screwed on tight, looked for a more secure existence for herself and her kids. The same year, she married stockbroker Robert Brandt and moved the family away from the glitterati to a more mainstream life in the LA suburbs.

And here young Jamie stayed, showing few signs of what was to come. She was not a great student, not good-looking, and jealousy over her parentage made her far from popular. To avoid looking spoiled, she'd discard her nice clothes in favour of thrift-store specials, and still never fitted in. As far as horror movies went - she avoided them like the plague. In 1968, in fact (the same year her dad starred as The Boston Strangler), her mother took her to see Oliver! and covered her eyes at the moment Oliver Reed beat Shani Wallis to death. From then on, Jamie Lee could never watch a horror movie she wasn't actually in.

Life at Beverly Hills High School just got worse until, when Jamie was 16, Janet pulled her out and sent her east to the prestigious Choate Rosemary Hall prep school in Connecticut, from which she'd graduate in 1976. By now, young Jamie was keen to follow in her parents' footsteps, but the ever-astute Janet insisted she continue her education, and so (like her mother before her) she enrolled at the University of the Pacific at Stockton.

She lasted less than one semester. Having caught the acting bug at High School (well, she had it in her blood), she dropped out and went looking for work. It wasn't easy, for two reasons. For a start, she said later, though Meryl Streep, Sally Field and Jane Fonda were finding great roles, "The movie business wasn't particularly friendly to 18-year-old girls. You couldn't get work unless you were a nymphet". On top of this, she reckoned, there were her teeth - coloured a greenish grey due to Janet's taking the powerful antibiotic tetracycline when she was pregnant. "I always thought," said Jamie "I was this little pipsqueak with grey teeth, an odd face and no discernible talent".

Eventually, she got a break. Auditioning for a part in the TV series The Nancy Drew Mysteries, she was turned down, but impressed the producers enough to win a recurring part in another of their series, Operation Petticoat. This had John "Gomez Addams" Astin as the captain of a US submarine that picks up a team of nurses and is called into action before the women can disembark - with naturally hilarious consequences. It was based, coincidentally, on a movie Jamie's father had made with Cary Grant, released the year after she was born.

Sacked from the series after one season, she continued to pick up bit parts in big shows like Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat and Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. But before any of these, she received the most important phone-call of her professional life. This was from director John Carpenter and his producer Debra Hill. Fresh from cult success with Dark Star and Assault On Precinct 13, Carpenter was planning a low-budget shocker, inspired by Psycho, to be titled Halloween. Would Jamie be interested? You bet. And so she found her most famous character, Laurie Strode (named, as it happened, after Carpenter's first girlfriend).

Halloween, inventive and terrifying, was one of the launch-pads for the video nasty boom of the late Seventies/early Eighties, though its power lay in suspense, rather than buckets of blood. In it, back in 1963, a young boy named Michael Myers kills his older sister while she's having sex with her boyfriend. After 15 years in a sanitarium, under the care of Dr Loomis (the name of a character in Psycho), he escapes and heads back to hometown Haddonfield, keen to slaughter the present-day teenage population. No one knows his intention, only Loomis (Donald Pleasance), who recognises the pure evil within.

Enter Laurie Strode, perky good-girl, babysitting on Halloween, the anniversary of Myers' debut murder. As her friends are menaced and butchered, she becomes his final target, harried, wildly fleeing through shadowy houses, then driven to extremes of resourcefulness as, by inches, she escapes death at his bloody hands time and again. And Jamie was tremendous, wholly convincing in her shrieks of terror, totally credible in her attempts to destroy this seemingly spectral dealer in death.

The movie was a soaring success. Carpenter and the crew were as resourceful as Laurie in their cost-cutting. Myers' mask, for instance, was the cheapest they could find - a William Shatner mask from 1975 witchcraft flick The Devil's Rain that they denuded, painted white and delicately reshaped. Filmed in 21 days, for $300,000, Halloween brought in $47 million at the box office, making it the highest grossing indie film ever.

For Jamie, it was the start of something big. "Halloween really gave me a platform in show business", she said later "a launch. I only stopped (doing horror movies) because clearly there was a point when it would become a detriment if they were the only thing I did".

For the next couple of years, though, they WERE the only thing she did. First she was back with Carpenter for The Fog. Here she was a mysterious, sexy hitch-hiker, drifting into small town Antonio Bay just as it comes under attack from a boat-full of ghostly leper pirates who were deliberately scuppered and drowned 100 years before, and with whose gold the town was built. Of course, they want their gold back, as well as plenty of blood. Also appearing, in her first film since Paul Newman's Harper in 1966, was Jamie's mum Janet Leigh. She would not be seen again for 20 years, when Jamie brought her onboard for the sixth Halloween sequel, H20.

Next came another cult hit with Prom Night, one of the better Halloween rip-offs, with another masked killer menacing more teenage girls. Here one of a gang of kids is accidentally killed when they're larking about in a disused school-house. The rest of them swear silence and get away with no fuss. But someone else witnessed the tragedy and, 10 years later, when the kids are enjoying their senior prom night, a series of horrible murders begins.

After this, there were yet more masks'n'murders in Terror Train. This time a student prank goes disastrously awry, with one kid ending up in an asylum. Four years later, it's graduation time, and the students decide to celebrate with a masked costume party on a train-trip. Could it GET any easier to sneak in amongst them and bump them off? This time there were magic tricks from David Copperfield, with Jamie violently exercising her vocal chords once more.

With The Fog, Prom Night and Terror Train all released in 1980, Jamie was dubbed the ultimate Queen of Scream, quickly taking her place in the horror pantheon alongside Fay Wray, Barbara Steele and Ingrid Pitt. But, as mentioned earlier, despite the lucrative and burgeoning horror market, she knew she couldn't continue in this vein for long. By way of saying thank you to her fans, she took on one last big-scream role, returning as Laurie Strode in Halloween II. Here, directed by Rick Rosenthal, Laurie's rushed to hospital after her exertions in the original. Unfortunately, Michael Myers, despite having taken enough bullets and blows to reduce an elephant to jelly, is still after her and, breaking into the hospital, begins to terminate all in his path.

Now came the great step forward, when the screaming stopped. First Jamie stepped gingerly into She's In The Army Now, a TV take on Private Benjamin's basic training scenario, featuring Melanie Griffith and Kathleen Quinlan. Then she upped the emotional ante by headlining as Dorothy Stratten, the Playboy model murdered by her psychotic husband, in Death Of A Centrefold. Her performance, pre-dating Mariel Hemingway's Stratten in Star 80, was extremely well-received.

But Jamie wanted to go even further out into the realms of the unknown. Next came Road Games, shot in the Australian outback, where Stacy Keach drove a big lorry cross country. As in The Fog, Jamie played a drifter. Keach picks her up, then she goes missing and he comes to suspect that the driver of a mysterious van he keeps seeing is the serial killer he's been hearing about on the radio. Tense stuff, and well directed by Richard Franklin - coincidentally soon to helm Psycho 2.

After, Jamie got in some slutty practice with Money On The Side, wherein three women become prostitutes for varying reasons, Jamie just liking the buzz. This came in useful in 1983 when Jamie scored her first blockbusting success with Trading Places. Here, scheming capitalists the Duke brothers entertain themselves by trying to reverse the fortunes of snobby broker Dan Aykroyd and street-wise con-man Eddie Murphy. Destroying Aykroyd's life by framing him for murder, they send him into a terrible downward spiral. Confused and distraught, he finds himself in the gutter, and the only one who'll help him is the glamorous hooker Ophelia (Curtis). Between them, they plot his revenge against the Dukes.

Jamie was outstanding as a tart with a heart. She also earned herself another nickname, by briefly revealing her breasts. With videos now commonplace, she became affectionately known as Jamie Lee "Freeze-Frame" Curtis.

Just as her career was taking off, so her private life was moving on. Having dated Adam Ant for 9 months, by now she was engaged to production designer J. Michael Riva, the grandson of Marlene Dietrich. Indeed, while filming Trading Places in New York, Jamie stayed in Dietrich's apartment. Sadly, it fell apart fast. Still caning the drink and cocaine, Jamie was having trouble keeping it together.

But not for long. Sensible like her mother, Jamie sorted herself out in a matter of months. First she met Christopher Guest, British-born star of National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live. Back then, in 1983, he was also filming his masterwork, appearing as dumbo guitarist Nigel Tufnell in the classic rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. Jamie spotted Guest in Rolling Stone magazine and tried to engineer a meeting, giving her number to Guest's agent. No call came. Later they found themselves in the same restaurant. Guest waved, acknowledging her call. She waved back. Minutes later, he had to leave, and waved again. The next day, he called. Two days later, they went out. Four months later, they were married, eventually adopting two children, Annie and Thomas.

The relationship caused her to clean up her act completely. Outing herself as a user, she weaned herself off intoxicants. She also helped her father do the same, their shared problems with cocaine having finally brought the pair together after years of estrangement.

Still seeking interesting roles, Jamie did not enjoy another hit for five years. In 1984, she appeared amongst a strong cast of newcomers (Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John and Joan Cusack) in the American Graffiti-like Grandview USA. Then her part was cut from the crazy comedy The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai - though it was restored in later versions. After this, she reacquainted herself with the Keach family, starring alongside James in Love Letters, where she played an obsessive DJ who, having discovered that her dead mother had had an affair, deliberately hooks up with a married man in order to better understand her mum.

Next came a strange one - Perfect. Here John Travolta played a Rolling Stone journalist researching a story on the early-Eighties' health craze, with Jamie as aerobics instructor Jessie. It wasn't a good movie, the gradual building of the couple's relationship being constantly interrupted by silly side-stories. And it wasn't a hit, nearly finishing off Travolta's career for good. But Jamie came out of it well. Continually going for the burn in her skin-tight gym-wear, she became a bona fide Eighties sex symbol, no longer known as Freeze-Frame, but as The Body. Not bad for a pipsqueak with grey teeth and an odd face.

On she went. 1986 saw her in As Summers Die, where a black woman is given land by a white patriarch who's her lover and the father of her kids. After he dies, oil is discovered on the patch, and she must battle for ownership with the man's family, including the fearsome Bette Davis - Jamie playing her daughter. Then it was off to Rome for A Man In Love, a study in relationships, where Peter Coyote played a US film star who falls for English ingenue Greta Scaachi - Jamie playing his cast-off wife. Next came Mike Newell's massively sentimental Amazing Grace And Chuck, where she played the Little League manager of a kid who decides he won't play baseball again till all the world's nuclear weapons are decommissioned. A bit of a long-shot, you might think, but then the star of the Boston Celtics joins in the protest.

At last, 1988 brought another hit, and revealed a spinal cord of connections running through Jamie's career. John Landis had cast her in Trading Places because of her horror work. Now John Cleese cast her in A Fish Called Wanda because of Trading Places. Here she played the titular Wanda, a woman in love with diamonds who, along with her nutty boyfriend Otto (Kevin Kline) and two even nuttier Brits, pulls off a heist in the UK. Unfortunately, the diamonds go missing, and Wanda seeks information by seducing straight-laced lawyer John Cleese, all the while dodging an insanely vengeful Michael Palin.

It was an exceptional black comedy and a worldwide hit, earning Jamie her first Golden Globe nomination. It also convinced Jamie of her abilities in the genre. Making a pilot for a comedy series called Anything But Love, she played Hannah Miller, one of two co-workers who are in love but won't start a relationship through fear of ruining their friendship. No network would touch it. Then A Fish Called Wanda was released, the series was picked up and it ran for three years, earning Jamie both a Golden Globe nomination and a win. Success breeds success, as they say.

In the cinematic meantime, there was Nicky And Gino, where Ray Liotta and Tom Hulce played blue collar brothers in Pittsburgh. Hulce is a tad simple, and very dependent on Liotta, who's hoping to make it to Stanford Medical School. Hulce consequently becomes ever more fearful of losing his brother, particularly when Liotta takes up with student Jamie, in another beautifully understated role.

Her next part was anything but understated. Teaming up with Kathryn "Point Break" Bigelow for Blue Steel, she played a rookie cop with the NYPD, enduring a cat and mouse game with voice-hearing loon Ron Silver. This was followed by the intellectual comedy Queens Logic, a stylistic precursor to Short Cuts with several interlocking storylines. Jamie played an odd young woman who turns up at a bachelor party and picks up Joe Mantegna, fishmonger and resident wild man who's unsure of his marriage to feisty Linda Fiorentino.

1991 brought another major hit, when Jamie teamed up once more with her Trading Places co-star Dan Aykroyd in My Girl. Here widower Aykroyd owns a funeral parlour and falls for a woman he hires as a cosmetologist (Jamie). Trouble is, his young, death-obsessed daughter is outraged by this turn of events and does all she can to keep them apart. The movie was cute and sensitive, and spawned a sequel three years later, where Jamie has married Dan and is about to give birth when the daughter decides to take off for LA to research her biological mother's life.

In between these would come another high-profile role in Forever Young. Here Mel Gibson played a test pilot in 1939 who risks being cryogenically frozen when his girlfriend is bashed into a coma. Catastrophically, he's not awakened after a year as planned, but after 50 years, when he's stumbled upon by young Elijah Wood - Jamie playing Wood's mother.

Next, she stretched herself once more with Mother's Boys, as a mother who leaves her husband Peter Gallagher and their three kids, then wants to return three years later. But times have changed, and Gallagher is now living with Joanne Whalley. Disgruntled and increasingly psychotic, Jamie does everything she can to smash this new family and inveigle her way back into her children's hearts.

Now came another biggie. In James Cameron's True Lies, she played Helen Tasker, wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Harry (Arnie casting her because he loved A Fish Called Wanda - that spine again). Secretly, he's an all-action spy but, so good is his cover, she thinks he's a tedious workaholic. Bored senseless, she determines to embark upon an affair, much to Arnie's consternation. So he poses as a would-be lover and meets her in a darkened hotel-room where she - hilariously nervous and unsure - engages in a clumsily un-sexy dance. Now, of course, he has to admit the truth, and she and their daughter are drawn into a hi-octane, hi-tech battle against Art Malick's terrorist band, Jamie even indulging in stinging fisticuffs with Tia Carrere. Another Golden Globe was hers.

True Lies was a monster, but it wasn't the only outrageous success Jamie enjoyed in the mid-Nineties. She also embarked on a career writing children's books, witty tomes intended to help kids come to terms with some of childhood's more complicated problems. The first of these was When I Was Little: A Four Year Old's Memoirs Of Childhood, quickly followed by Tell Me Again About The Night I Was Born, Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day, Where Do Balloons Go? An Uplifting Mystery, and I'm Gonna Like Me: Letting Off A Little Self-Esteem. Each illustrated by the artist Laura Cornell, the books were each best-sellers, Today I Feel Silly selling over 750,000 copies, and Where Do Balloons Go? spending over 30 weeks in the New York best-seller list.

On screen, Jamie kept pushing back the envelope. In The Heidi Chronicles, earning her fifth Golden Globe nomination, she played an art historian specialising in women artists, who learns about life, love and feminist ideals over a 30-year period (Tom Hulce reappearing as a gay friend). Next came another kids' comedy, House Arrest, where she and warring hubbie Kevin Pollak are locked in the basement by their children until they agree not to divorce. Not a bad idea - but then all the kids in town attempt similar extortion.

1997 brought a reunion with the A Fish Called Wanda team in Fierce Creatures. This involved a low-key Brit zoo being taken over by a slick businessman (Kline) who, via new manager Cleese, introduces a new policy - the zoo will only feature fierce creatures. Jamie plays the partner of Kline's idiot son (also Kline) who goes along with the policy until, taken by the cute zoo and its bumbling keepers, she changes her mind and tries to save it from corporate ruin.

After this came two wildly varied projects. First there was Homegrown, where she played a hippie mother-figure to Billy Bob Thornton and his wastrel buddies when they attempt to run a marijuana farm. Then there was the heavily emotional drama Nicholas' Gift, where she and Alan Bates played a couple on holiday in Italy. Attacked by bandits, their son is left brain dead, and the traumatised parents must decide whether to allow his organs to be used to save the lives of others. It was harsh stuff, and Jamie was deservedly Emmy-nominated. There were cruel parallels with real life, too, Jamie's step-brother Nicholas having died of an overdose in 1994 (she has two other step-siblings, Alexandra and Allegra Curtis).

By this time, Jamie had received another, more unlikely honour. When her husband's father died in 1996, Christopher inherited a barony in the UK, making Jamie the Baroness, Lady Haden-Guest. Of course, their time being spent mostly in America, they couldn't take the role too seriously. But Jamie did accompany Christopher when he first took his seat in the House Of Lords, her presence bringing glamour to the corridors of power for the first time since the Reformation.

Now approaching 40, it was time to revisit the scene of her initial triumph. Jamie had had an idea for a 20th anniversary Halloween sequel and took it to Bob Weinstein. Unfortunately, he was about to release Scream, so no can do. Jamie took the script to Scream-writer Kevin Williamson. He was too busy to write it in full, but came up with a storyline and a few key scenes and systems were go.

Jamie's idea was to reintroduce Laurie Strode to the story, but in a sensitive and serious way, as if she had really endured 20 years of fear and grief, with all the problems that go with that. Naturally, this meant ignoring the events of Halloweens 3 to 6, but no matter. Halloween 7, known as H20, saw Laurie as the headmistress of a posh school. Having faked her death in a car crash, she hopes to have eluded Michael Myers for good. But life isn't too hot. Unable to love, her marriage has crashed and her relationship with son Josh Hartnett is bad. She drinks and has nightmares of Myers. Quite rightly so, for Myers is back and, having read through Dr Loomis' papers, he knows where she is. When he comes, she's terrorised once again - but this time she won't run.

With Williamson writing some appropriately funny lines, Jamie also managed to persuade her mother to appear as her secretary. The notion was that it would allow Janet to say farewell and thanks to her legions of fans. Hence the Psycho music playing when she appears, and the knowing line she shares with Jamie - "We all have bad days".

Directed by Steve Miner, who'd done Forever Young (as well as the classic House and a couple of Friday The 13ths), H20 was another smash, setting Jamie up once more. She moved on to Virus where, along with William Baldwin and Donald Sutherland, she wound up on a seemingly abandoned Russian intelligence ship. In fact, everyone's been killed by aliens who believe humans to be a virus. Well, who could blame them?

After this came Drowning Mona, an odd black comedy where police chief Danny De Vito investigates the death of town character Bette Midler. Absolutely everyone might have been involved, especially Jamie who plays a waitress having affairs with both Bette's husband and son. Horror fans were quick to note that Jamie was playing alongside the new Jamie, Scream-star Neve Campbell.

Showing no signs of letting up, Jamie moved on to The Tailor Of Panama, as a woman working for the Panamanian government. As in True Lies, she's unaware that her husband, Geoffrey Rush, works in espionage. Neither does she know that he's plotting something big and bad with conniving Pierce Brosnan. After this came a small part in Billy Bob Thornton's long-shelved Daddy And Them.

Having brought the Halloween franchise back up to scratch with H20, it was time to bow out with grace. Turns out the guy Laurie decapitated at the end of H20 wasn't Myers after all, so she's been locked up. Thus the film, directed by her Halloween 2-helmsman Rick Rosenthal, opens with Myers coming after her once again in a final confrontation (though very little is final when it comes to Myers). Then we cut to a gang of kids who are to be boarded into Myers' old house and filmed throughout one terrifying night. It would have been less terrifying if they hadn't boarded Michael in there, too.

Jamie was actually only contracted for a 30-second cameo in Halloween: Resurrection, but she liked it so much her part was dramatically extended, becoming one of the movie's big selling points. Consequently, she received $3 million for her pains - a far cry from the $8000 she earned from the original Halloween.

With James Cameron working on Avatar and yet more mind-blowing projects, and Schwarzenegger the governor of California, it now seemed unlikely that the long-mooted True Lies 2 would ever come to fruition. Instead, Curtis found success in other areas, moving on to a remake of the Jodie Foster hit Freaky Friday. Joining her in this would be the girl of the moment, Lindsay Lohan, Curtis playing a widowed psychiatrist and Lohan her 15-year-old daughter, disapproving of her mother's new relationship with Mark Harmon. Suffering a fortune cookie curse, the pair swap bodies, both having great fun in a series of comic set pieces. The film proved an huge winner, smashing the $100 million barrier, and Curtis would enjoy another hit the next year, with the infinitely inferior Christmas With The Kranks. Set in suburban Chicago, this would see her and Tim Allen decide to go on a cruise when they learn their daughter will be working for the Peace Corps over Yuletide. This brings them into direct confrontation  with their neighbours, led by a righteous Dan Aykroyd (a former Curtis co-star, of course), who resent the fact that Allen and Curtis will not be contributing to their annual Christmas lights extravaganza. Then the daughter returns early and the neighbours all pull together to ensure the Kranks have an appropriately glaring festive season after all. It was horrible stuff and odd to see Curtis in it, tacitly backing its conformist message.

By now, Curtis's acting career was really tailing off. She'd appear as a nutty Seventies DJ in Molly & Roni's Dance Party, a cheap release intended to teach dance moves to youngsters. She'd appear as a host on A Home For The Holidays, an annual event designed to give the public a clearer idea of the adoption process. Her voice could be heard in the videogame The Tuttles: Madcap Misadventures, but her only cinematic appearance of the late 2000s would be in Beverly Hill Chihuahua, yet another big earner. Here she'd play a rich cosmetics entrepreneur who entrusts her beloved lap-dog to niece Piper Perabo. The niece blows it, the dog's dognapped and taken to Mexico and a big search is on. Much of the film would concentrate on the dog, voiced  by Drew Barrymore, and the other canines she meets on her journey home. Curtis would show only briefly and this was in keeping with the new life she'd now chosen for herself. Now she saw herself primarily as a family woman and a writer, having  seen It's Hard To Be Five, Is There Really A Human Race and Big Words For Little People all become bestsellers. She also join appeals for various charities, including the American Red Cross.  She was not really, she stressed, any longer an actress.

Lady Haden-Guest uses her position well. Not only does she work extensively for children’s charities (she got involved when Tom, at 5, fell off his teeter-totter and ruptured his spleen), she also continues to make a stand for women in general. Defying her earlier reputation as “The Body”, in 2002 she appeared in More magazine in a sports bra and spandex briefs, wearing no make-up, with no hairdressing and no electronic touch-ups. Her idea was to soothe women’s image-fears, constantly reinforced by glossy pictures of seemingly perfect models and film stars. As just such a star, she reasoned, she’d ease many minds by appearing as she really was - 43 and imperfect.

So, the young Hollywood aristocrat with the odd face and no discernible talent has become a multi-media superstar. You have to admit it - the pipsqueak done good.

Dominic Wills


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