Personal detailsName: 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.