Personal detailsName: Michelle Pfeiffer
Born: 29 April 1958 (Age: 56)
Where: Santa Ana, California, USA
Height: 5' 9"
Awards: Won 1 BAFTA, 1 Golden Globe, nominated for 3 Oscars
All about this star
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.