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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now back on top, with a remake of the Jodie Foster hit Freaky Friday, 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 made 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.
Curtis is also devoted to her duties as an author of children's books. Since 1993, she has released five volumes filled with charming rhymes ("Today I feel silly. Mom says it's the heat. I put rouge on the cat and gloves on my feet.") and wise words.