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TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Michelle Pfeiffer - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web
When Halle Berry won Best Actress at the 2002 Oscars many talked of the tough time she'd had transforming herself from a Beauty Pageant Queen into a top-line artist. It had indeed been a hard road, but one that had been travelled before, most notably by Michelle Pfeiffer. One of very few actresses capable of carrying a movie on her own, she rose from extremely lowly and sometimes dangerous beginnings to form a great female film-star triumverate with Meryl Streep and Jessica Lange. So respected is she by her peers that all the men would have her as their screen partner - from mainstream super-idols like Harrison Ford to indie mavericks like Sean Penn. And they have good reason - she can do it all.
She was born in Santa Ana, California, near Huntingdon Beach, on the 29th of April, 1958. Her father, Richard, was a heating and air-conditioning contractor. Her mother, Donna, was a housewife, looking after Michelle, her elder brother Rick, and two younger sisters, Dedee and Lori. Dedee would become an actress too but, far more flamboyant than the shy Michelle, would often court controversy, in 2002 even stripping off and simulating sex with some fellow in Playboy.
Richard and Donna had moved to California from North Dakota to escape the fall-out of post-WW2 depression. Their heritage makes Michelle a mix of Swedish, German, Dutch, Irish and Swiss ("I'm kind of a mutt", she's said). Resolutely blue collar and with Richard a strict authoritarian, they eventually settled the family in Midway City.
Incredibly, given her professional reputation now, Michelle was a horror of a child. Attending Fountain Valley High School, she was constantly ribbed for having big lips and walking like a duck - taunts that would make her insecure about her looks well into her thirties. Nicknamed Michelle Mudturtle (a name she actually rather likes), she became violently defensive, and a bully. The biggest in her class and wearing an inappropriately cute pixie hairdo, she made a habit of bashing everyone, even the boys, often stepping in to settle other people's disputes. "I was a rotten kid," she said later "just rotten. If anyone needed anyone beaten up they would come and get me". She was "not terribly feminine" and, believing boys only liked little girls with ringlets and beatific smiles, was taken aback in Fourth Grade when she found the most popular boy in class had a crush on her. Very stubborn, she'd mouth off constantly, putting on quite a performance - her mother coming to know her as "my little actress".
Yet Michelle, thanks to disciplinarian Richard, also had a strong work ethic. She'd help her father clean second-hand fridges for re-sale and, from the age of 14, lied about her age to get paid work. She worked in a kindergarten, in a printer's, and in clothing and jewellery shops, and as a check-out girl for Vons supermarket chain.
She wasn't much of a student, preferring to hang with the surfers on Huntingdon Beach. "I was a beach bunny," she later admitted "into all kinds of drugs". Very naughty indeed, she wrecked her first motor, a red '65 Mustang, before she was 16. Nevertheless, she did OK at school, being one of those who don't have to try too hard. In fact, she completed in just three years.
After High School, unsure of what to do, she attended community college, studying to be a court reporter. Soon bored senseless, she left but, for two years afterwards, was still mentally typing out whatever anyone said. She moved on to Golden West College to study psychology, but again got bored. She dropped out, came back, dropped out again. All the while she was working to support herself in Vons and it was here that she was hit by Road To Tarsus-style career revelation. She was kind of interested in psychology, and oil-painting, but she'd also always enjoyed Drama (for which she'd got a B). She recalled her teacher, Carol Cooney, saying that she had some talent, so she decided to go for it.
Her hairdresser had told her that one route to getting an agent was through Beauty Pageants. She didn't want to play on her looks - after all, she had big lips and walked like a duck - but took his advice, had some model shots done, and entered the Miss Orange County competition. She won, duly entered the Miss Los Angeles pageant and, despite losing, acquired an agent - John LaRocca.
Her dad reckoned she'd be a "broken-down housewife with a kid on each hip" by the time she was thirty. But Michelle persisted, as she always persists when told she will not succeed. She moved to Hollywood, working at Vons there and doing ads for Ford motors and Lux soap. She attended all the cattle-call auditions, once trying out as Tiffany Welles in Charlie's Angels (Shelley Hack got the part) and finally scored a debut in Fantasy Island ("Eet's the plehn, boss!") as a pretty, dumb blonde with one line - "Who is he, Naomi?"
Trouble was, Pretty Dumb Blonde was all she ever got, this terrible period culminating in the TV series Delta House, which sprang from the hit movie Animal House. Michelle, credited as Bombshell, got very few lines, at one point weeping down the phone to her agent - "They're putting me in hot-pants again!"
Yet she pushed on, renting a place in Laurel Canyon and acting and singing under the tutelage of the legendary Milton Katselas. She got a small role in the Earl Holliman-starring The Solitary Man, and played Susannah York in flashback in Falling In Love Again. In the meantime, there was a short-lived TV series, BAD Cats, a kind of LA-set Dukes Of Hazzard rip-off. Here Michelle played Samantha "Sunshine" Jensen, a southern belle helping two renegade cops in the Burglary Auto Detail. And she was Suzie Q in The Hollywood Knights, a cheapskate American Graffiti, where a motor gang raise hell at Halloween 1965. Tony Danza starred - not much else need be said. The next time Michelle played a character called Suzie, the situation would be VERY different.
So, work was beginning to come, but her personal life was down the pan. Desperately insecure about herself, her looks, her talent and the future, Michelle had turned to a cult for guidance. Dealing in metaphysics and demanding vegetarianism, they'd certainly helped clean her up - she no longer drank, smoked or did drugs. But she was also handing over control of her life and prospects to them. "I was brainwashed," she said later "I gave them an enormous amount of money" - though she did add that she'd rather have depended on a cult than on drugs or "some lecherous man". She wanted to leave but, having no confidence in her ability to live without them, she couldn't.
Luckily, help was at hand. In Michelle's acting class at the Beverly Hills Playhouse was budding director Peter Horton. In his first scene with her, he'd thought "This poor little girl, she's not very good" - but soon he'd realised what she was doing, working with her guts, looking for something real. With the pair beginning to date, he realised her plight and wanted to help. Coincidentally, he was to appear in a movie called Split Image, where a kid is enrolled in Peter Fonda's cult then ruthlessly de-programmed by James Woods. Researching the part, he travelled to San Francisco, taking Michelle with him to meet some real-life de-programmers. Recognising what they told her to be the truth, she found the strength to leave the cult. But she did cling to Horton, marrying him in 1981 at the Santa Monica court house. She was 22, he was 26. Due to dad Richard's strict regime, Michelle said Peter was "practically my first proper boyfriend".
Now work really began to pick up, some of it good. In a remake of Splendour In The Grass, she played Ginny, bad-girl sister of Bud Stamper (originally played by Warren Beatty), the object of Melissa Gilbert's affections. Then came her first stand-out performance, in The Children Nobody Wanted. Here she played the helpful girlfriend of Tom Butterford, a fellow who keeps adopting kids to save them from the perils of the orphanage.
It was now that Michelle really began her inexorable rise. In 1981, the search was on for a female star for Grease 2, expected to be the biggest smash of the early Eighties. Parallels were being drawn with the battle to play Scarlett O'Hara (though this was hardly in the same league). Michelle auditioned but really felt she wasn't up for it, not being a dancer. The director, however, Patricia Birch, thought she had real grace and pushed hard and successfully for her inclusion. So she became Stephanie Zinone, leader of a gang of bikers' molls called the Pink Ladies who embarks on a will-they won't-they relationship with Brit new boy Maxwell Caulfield.
She danced, she sang, she really was pretty good. But Grease 2 turned out to be a bad experience. First came the embarrassment of the posters - HUGE posters - that showed Michelle and Maxwell and yelled "TOO HOT!!" Then came the fact that the movie was poor and far from a success. And then she found herself typecast once more. She was now a sassy blonde rather than a dumb one, but it was still insufferable for an actress who was struggling so hard to be taken seriously (by herself as well as everyone else). Refusing to play the game, she did not work for a year, instead helping out Horton - she'd help produce his F. Scott Fitzgerald video and star in his educational film about the dangers of drink-driving, as the worried girlfriend of booze-boy Val Kilmer.
In many ways, times were hard. But then a real meaty role came along - as Elvira, the coke-addled, ice queen girlfriend of drug-lord Tony Montana in Brian De Palma's Scarface, written by the up-and-coming Oliver Stone. Unfortunately, De Palma had seen Grease 2 and refused Michelle point-blank. But the producer pushed him to give her a chance and, onstage in rehearsal, despite being wholly intimidated by Al Pacino, she won De Palma over.
Scarface was, of course, groundbreakingly rude and violent, with men being chainsawed in the bath and hanged from helicopters. Pacino's swearing smashed all records as he buried his head in mounds of cocaine and asked all comers to "Say hhello to ma leedle friend!" And Michelle was superb. Absolutely pristine, she embodied the wealth these wicked men sought. And sullen, frustrated and bombed out of her skull, she was also a paragon of female pain. Her raging bathroom arguments with Pacino were hard to witness - so real it almost felt as if we were intruding.
But, despite her performance and the massive controversy surrounding Scarface, Michelle would have to wait for real stardom. Continuing to study under Peggy Feury, she moved on to Into The Night, a slapstick comedy-thriller by John Landis, where she burst into the life of unhappy insomniac Jeff Goldblum and, as she's an emerald-smuggler being tracked by hit-men, led him on a wild night-time chase. She'd become friends with Landis and he'd direct her and Horton together in a segment of the skit-movie Amazon Women On The Moon (Horton would also direct a segment).
Then came the mediaeval romance Ladyhawke where she and lover Rutger Hauer were cursed by an evil bishop so that she'd be a hawk by day and he'd be awolf by night. Sneaky thief Matthew Broderick helped them in their fight for true love. Filmed in Italy with Michelle having to act with wolves, there was some challenge here, but she was mostly required to be beautiful - something she actively loathes. "Just standing around looking beautiful is so boring," she's complained "really boring, so boring".
Her next part was more beefy, in Alan Alda's Sweet Liberty. Here Alda played a historian whose book on the American Revolution is to be made into a film (and, of course, entirely re-written). Michelle played the eccentric, enigmatic lead, with whom Alda becomes besotted. And then came something of a breakthrough - The Witches Of Eastwick. Here Michelle played Sukie Ridgemont, a small-town journalist and single mum. Lacking any excitement, she gets together with equally unfulfilled buddies Susan Sarandon and Cher to conjure up the perfect man. And up he pops in the shape of Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne , a rich man, consummate seducer and, quite possibly, the Devil. Liberated by his attentions, they discover their own innate power and, finally, banish him.
Michelle remembers the filming as difficult, mostly because the studio were intent upon turning John Updike's treatise on freedom into a feast of special effects. But Nicholson, she said, held everyone together, keeping calm and organising impromptu rehearsals in his hotel. Michelle had further problems in that her marriage to Horton (now Professor Gary Shepherd in thirtysomething) was breaking up. They had grown away from each other, particularly as her confidence was higher and she no longer needed controlling. And the split was amicable - he even helped pack her car. But it still hurt like hell.
Michelle moved on to take a course in mediaeval philosophy at UCLA and, onscreen, stepped up to headliner. First, on TV, she played Natica Jackson, a famous but lonely 30's actress who fell for a married chemist and suffered the outrage of society and eventual tragedy (unsurprising as the story was based on the work of John O'Hara). Her reviews were tremendous, but there was more to come. Michelle fancied playing a brunette in a "dingy role" and tried for the lead in Married To The Mob. Director Jonathan Demme didn't want her so she left for Italy (she'd loved it while filming Ladyhawke), only to be told they wanted her after all. So she spent time on Long Island, picking up that hilarious, whining accent, and stole the show as Angie DeMarco - quickly the widow of murdered gangster The Cucumber. Trying to leave the Mob and neighbourhood, she's drawn back by the romantic attentions of Dean Stockwell as Tony "The Tiger" Russo. It was a comic tour de force with Michelle perky, harassed, courageous, vulnerable, and very sweet on her dates with undercover cop Matthew Modine.
Nominated for a Golden Globe, Michelle was now on her way. She joined the all-star cast of Dangerous Liaisons, playing the honourable, married Madame de Tourvel who becomes the subject of a bet between wicked ex-lovers Glenn Close and John Malkovich. For a night with Close, Malkovich must seduce Michelle. He struggles but pulls it off, at the cost of falling in love with Michelle, whose terrible distress at her actions touches even his cold heart. It certainly touched the Academy, which nominated her for an Oscar. Michelle and Malkovich would have a short fling in real-life too.
Next came Tequila Sunrise, where she played a restauranteuse caught between drug-dealer Mel Gibson and cop Kurt Russell. She said later that she did not enjoy the experience much as director Robert Towne (writer of Chinatown) did not allow freedom of expression. She was also uncomfortable at having to appear nude - this was only the second time she'd done so, after Into The Night.
Now, in 1989, came another killer role, as Susie Diamond in The Fabulous Baker Boys, a part turned down by Madonna for being "too slushy" (she's never been able to pick 'em, has she?). Here Jeff and Beau Bridges played a piano-duo who try to shake up their act by bringing in a singer. Susie is an ex-escort who learns fast, and Michelle was at her absolute sexiest, slinking all over Jeff's piano while lip-synching to her own version of Makin' Whoopee in a scene that's often described as one of the biggest male turn-ons in screen history. It won her a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination and a billion male fans.
Keen for yet more of a challenge, Michelle now took to the stage. Despite having only done it once, in a small role in a 1981 production of Playground In The Fall, she appeared as Countess Olivia in Twelfth Night, alongside her former co-stars Jeff Goldblum (Into The Night) and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Scarface). There were crowds of 2000, scathing reviews, and she kept on till she was excellent. The woman has cajones of titanium.
And quite deservedly, on Twelfth Night she found love, with actor Fisher Stevens, playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek. People thought him a little geeky for such a great beauty but, hey, Arthur Miller managed it. They'd remain a couple for some three years.
Next Michelle moved on to John Le Carre's spy thriller The Russia House, sometimes filming at 20 below, and being Golden Globe nominated once more. She turned down a few parts, too. There was Bugsy, a part taken by Annette Bening, who'd end up marrying star Warren Beatty (this turned out to be extremely advantageous for Michelle). There was Thelma And Louise and, because she felt tooill-educated, there was Lorenzo's Oil, both of which brought Oscar nominations for Susan Sarandon. Because she thought it might glorify violence, there was Silence Of The Lambs (Oscar for Jodie Foster). There was Basic Instinct (she asked for the sex to be toned down but was refused), Sleepless In Seattle, which she found silly, and Disclosure. And later there'd be Evita. Michelle actually worked for months on Evita but dropped out when director Oliver Stone withdrew and the production was moved from LA (by this time Michelle had a family).
Instead Michelle had involved herself in the production of Love Field, where she'd play a Dallas housewife who, obsessed with Jackie Kennedy, witnesses JFK's assassination and takes off on the bus to Washington. Along the way, chased by her hubbie and the police, she becomes friends with a mysterious black man and his daughter. It was all a bit of a pain. Denzel Washington had pulled out, filming-time was brief and then Orion got into financial difficulties, meaning the film was shelved, and then received only the most cursory release. But at least Michelle was Oscar-nominated again, alongside Sarandon for Lorenzo's Oil.
Next, she reacquainted herself with Al Pacino in Frankie And Johnny, playing a waitress who's disappeared into tedium and cannot be touched - until she's gradually won over by Pacino, an ex-jailbird now working as a chef. Many complained that the couple weren't dowdy enough, and Frankie should have been played by Kathy Bates, who'd starred onstage. But great pains were taken to make Michelle look less pretty, many scenes being re-shot to cast her in a more unflattering light. Her hardest scene, though, was the one where she finally opens up to Johnny, baring her breasts. As said, Michelle is no Demi Moore when it comes to flashing the ass and got tremendously nervous. So much so that the takes were endless, with director Garry Marshall eventually issuing the crew with teeshirts proclaiming "I survived Scene 105". Once more she was nominated for a Golden Globe.
And now came the major breakthrough. She'd been well-known since The Witches Of Eastwick, but Tim Burton's Batman Returns made her a mega-star. This is where Michelle's refusal to do Bugsy served her well. Though Sean Young was marching around Hollywood in a rubber suit, yowling for the role, the part of Catwoman had gone to Annette Bening. But Bening fell pregnant by Warren Beatty and had to pull out, leaving the way open for Michelle. And, Christ, did she carpe diem. Taking up kick-boxing, yoga and weight-lifting, and learning to wield a whip with erotic precision (that's her beheading dummies in the movie), she made a scintillating Catwoman. And just as good was her Selina Kyle, mousy secretary to Christopher Walken's corporate swine, who gets bullied and thrown to her death from a window, only to be re-animated by the breath of stray cats and transformed into a rubber-clad font of righteous female vengeance.
She was thrillingly good, a true match for Danny DeVito's wonderfully disgraceful Penguin. And she brought some fire to her relationship with Bruce Wayne. Michelle had actually dated Michael Keaton, having met him in a supermarket back in the late Eighties. But he had been busy being Batman and she's had left for Dangerous Liaisons so they'd split.
On she went to Scorsese's The Age Of Innocence, as Countess Ellen Olenska who, having left her abusive hubbie, is ostracised by late 19th Century New York. Comforted by Daniel Day-Lewis, the pair begin a love affair that will destroy him too, if discovered, so she protects his position by ending it and dooming them both to loveless respectability. Michelle was perfectly regal, with a simmering undercurrent of passion - a tremendously controlled performance. And all the better because she never expected it. Michelle had been trying to work with Scorsese for years, but had received no reply, coming to the conclusion (and this is SO Michelle) that this intellectual director must think she was rubbish. But Scorsese had been a fan since Married To The Mob (well, he was BOUND to love that accent, wasn't he?) and was just waiting for the right part for her. He was right, yet another Golden Globe nomination came her way.
Michelle was now big news. And, having reached the summit of her profession, she decided to do something about her empty private life, making arrangements to adopt a baby girl, soon to be born to a New York nurse who already had four children and could not afford another. And - naturally, for Sod hath decreed it - two weeks later she met David Kelley.
Kelley had been a Boston lawyer who'd quit to write for LA Law. Then came his own series, Picket Fences and a whole slew of mighty successes like Chicago Hope and Ally McBeal. Michelle was set up on a blind date with him but, not wanting to be alone with the guy, changed it to a bowling excursion with a group of friends. Both being shy, they said little to each other, but Kelley called later and invited her to a screening of Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. They began dating, and then the former Bombshell dropped the bombshell about the adoption. Kelley was thankfully supportive, so soon Michelle was off to New York to see her baby born.
Invitations went out for the christening of Claudia Rose in November, 1993. Days beforehand, Michelle called the invitees to tell them it was in fact a wedding, as so it was. Later that afternoon, the child was christened Claudia Rose Kelley. And, immediately, Michelle fell pregnant. Having made Wolf, where she played the rebellious daughter of a publishing magnate, falling for underling Jack Nicholson who's unfortunately turning into a werewolf, she moved on to Dangerous Minds. Here she was an ex-marine, now teaching in an inner-city school and having to win over a classroom of seriously suspicious kids. It was a big hit, promoted by Coolio's Gangster's Paradise (she appeared in the video). But it was a tough shoot, Michelle being six months pregnant AND working on the soon-to-be-ditched Evita. More difficulty followed when Michelle had a suit brought against her by Claudia Rose's father who claimed he'd given some ideas to Michelle when they'd met - ideas she used in Dangerous Minds. In August, 1994, John Henry Kelley was born.
Michelle battled to give her kids a "normal" upbringing, but kept working. Next came Up Close And Personal, the true story of Jessica Savitch, the first news anchor-woman. Here she played an ambitious woman whose rise to fame is paralleled by the fall of her lover and benefactor, played by Robert Redford. She made a brief appearance as the ghost of Peter Gallagher's wife in To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday, written by Kelley. And then she starred alongside George Clooney in One Fine Day, an excellent romantic comedy where they played a couple of single parents whose lives are suddenly intertwined.
Michelle served as executive producer on One Fine Day, and producer of her next project, A Thousand Acres. This - a little like King Lear - saw three sisters battling it out on an Iowa farm, with Jason Robards as the father and Jessica Lange and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Michelle's sisters. Next came the fraught The Deep End Of The Ocean, where Michelle loses her youngest son in a crowd and, much to her painful distress, he cannot be found. Years later, with the family moved to a new town, she sees him - or thinks she does...
After this, Michelle, renowned as the most beautiful actress in the world, took her rightful place as Titania, Faery Queen, alongside Rupert Everett's Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, with Kelley's main star Calista Flockhart also appearing. Then came Rob Reiner's sweet and touching The Story Of Us, where Michelle and Bruce Willis were a married couple out of love after 15 years. Looking back over their relationship in flashback, they seek to re-find each other.
Then came another step into the unknown. Most Hollywood actresses begin their career in horror movies. Michelle waited 20 years for What Lies Beneath, playing the wife of scientist Harrison Ford (this was Ford's first big bad-guy role, only taken for the chance to play beside Michelle). Wandering round their big house, she begins to suspect weirdness and foul play from the neighbours - but the truth is far more horrifying and much closer to home. This was another shoot that gave Michelle problems, mostly because of the bath scenes, which took weeks, meaning she had to be covered in petroleum jelly to stop her skin being ruined. As someone who's scrupulously clean, often bathing twice a day, Michelle found the experience utterly gross. If the multiple baths sound odd, Michelle has publicly described herself as obsessive-compulsive, perfectionist and selfish (in her career), with a terrible fear of being discovered to be un-talented.
Now came I Am Sam. Here Sean Penn played a father with a mental age of seven, whose daughter is taken and put up for adoption. Desperate to keep her, he wangles the services of a flash, none-too-pleasant lawyer (Michelle), along the way teaching her the meaning of love. Then came a love story of a different kind in White Oleander. Here Michelle played a free-spirited poet jailed for killing a lover who humiliates her. Her daughter, Alison Lohman, meanwhile, is sent from one foster home to another, seeing much that is good, bad and downright strange, with Pfeiffer adding weight, character and backstory when she's occasionally visited.
After the animated Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas, where she played the evil goddess Eris, getting Brad Pitt's titular sailor into all sorts of trouble, she'd take an extended sabbatical, even turning down the prime role of Jadis, the White Witch in the mega-hit The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. Then, in 2007, she'd return with a bang. First would come I Could Never Be Your Woman, where she'd play an aging and jaded professional, unlucky in love, who begins a relationship with younger guy Paul Rudd. Meanwhile her adolescent daughter is experiencing her first real crush, the emotions of the two females being compared and contrasted as both are manipulated by Tracey Ullman's mischievous Mother Nature.
Following this, Pfeiffer would be at full throttle in Hairspray, based on the 2002 musical, itself based on John Waters' 1988 original movie. Set in 1962 Baltimore, this would see super-cheerful teenage chubber Nikki Blonsky dreaming of starring on The Corny Collins Show but being obstructed by a malevolent Michelle's Velma Von Tussle, the TV station's racist, stoutist, snobby manager. Pfeiffer would be brilliant in the role, producing a bitch to rival any of Meryl Streep's, as she belted out (The Legend Of) Miss Baltimore Crabs and ruthlessly promoted the career of her own daughter, Brittany Snow. Next, as if making up for turning down the Jadis role, she took on Neil Gaiman's Stardust, her first fantasy adventure since 1985's Ladyhawke. Joining a stellar cast including Peter O'Toole, Ian McKellen and Robert De Niro, she'd be fabulously evil as Lamia the witch, leading her sisters in a hunt for Claire Danes, recently fallen from the sky. Danes being seen as a source of mighty power, she's sought by throne-hungry sons of O'Toole as well as romantic youngster Charlie Cox, so Pfeiffer must hurry if she's to cut out the girl's heart and gain the eternal youth she desires.
Michelle Pfeiffer seems to have life downpat. She takes her children on set with her, finishing work early to ensure she can make their dinner. She works on her family life, recognising that it is the most important thing to her. Having had a niece who suffered leukemia for ten years (and having smoked herself for many years), she supports the American Cancer Society, as well as the Humane Society. She has a right to feel pleased with herself. After all this time, the check-out girl from Vons who was forced into dumb blondeness has grown into one of the most respected actresses of her, or any other generation. She is, quite simply, magnificent.
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