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Griffith, Melanie

GRIFFITH, Melanie



Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 9 August 1957; daughter of the actress Tippi Hedren. Education: Attended Hollywood Professional School, California; studied acting with Stella Adler in 1975, 1981. Family: Married 1) the actor Don Johnson, 1976 (divorced 1977; remarried 1989, divorced 1995), daughter: Dakota Mayi; 2) the actor Steven Bauer (aka Steven Echevarria), 1982 (divorced), son: Alexander; 3) the actor Antonio Banderas. Career: 1970s—model; 1975—feature film acting debut; 1976—TV movie debut in mini-series, Once an Eagle; 1977—debut as TV series regular in Carter Country (1978–79); 1981—starred with mother, Tippi Hedren, in Roar (produced by stepfather, Noel Marshall); 1981—took a year's sabbatical to study acting with Stella Adler; 1984—returned to feature films as the female lead in Brian DePalma's Body Double; 1987—guest starred in an episode of TV's Miami Vice, directed by Don Johnson, her once-and-future husband; 1995—role as Dora in TV mini-series Buffalo Girls. Awards: Best Actress Golden Globe, for Working Girl, 1988.


Films as Actress:

1973

The Harrad Experiment (Ted Post) (as extra, uncredited)

1975

Night Moves (Arthur Penn) (as Delly Grastner); The Drowning Pool (Stuart Rosenberg) (as Schuyler Devereaux); Smile (Ritchie) (as Karen Love/"Miss Simi Valley")

1977

Joyride (Joseph Ruben) (as Susie); One on One (Lamont Johnson) (as hitchhiker)

1978

Daddy, I Don't Like It Like This (Adell Aldrich—for TV) (as girl in hotel room); Steel Cowboy (Laidman—for TV) (as Johnnie)

1980

Underground Aces (Robert Butler)

1981

Roar (Noel Marshall) (as Melanie); The Star Maker (Antonio—for TV) (as Dawn Bennett); She's in the Army Now (Averback) (as Sylvie Knoll); Golden Gate (Wendkos—for TV)

1984

Body Double (DePalma) (as Holly); Fear City (Abel Ferarra) (as Loretta)

1985

Cherry 2000 (DeJarnatt) (as E. Johnson)

1986

Something Wild (Jonathan Demme) (as Audrey "Lulu" Hankel)

1988

The Milagro Beanfield War (Redford) (as Flossie Devine); Stormy Monday (Figgis) (as Kate); Working Girl (Mike Nichols) (as Tess McGill)

1990

Pacific Heights (Schlesinger) (as Patty Palmer); The Bonfire of the Vanities (DePalma) (as Maria Ruskin); In the Spirit (Seacat) (as Lureen); Women and Men: Stories of Seduction (Raphael, Richardson, and Russell—for TV) (as Hadley)

1991

Paradise (Donoghue) (as Lily Reed)

1992

Shining Through (Seltzer) (as Linda Voss); A Stranger among Us (Lumet) (as Emily Eden)


1993

Born Yesterday (Mandoki) (as Billie Dawn)

1994

Milk Money (Richard Benjamin) (as V); Nobody's Fool (Benton) (as Toby Roebuck)

1995

Now and Then (Glatter) (as Tina)

1996

Mulholland Falls (Tamahori); Lolita (Lyne) (as Mother); Two Much (Trueba) (as Betty Ferner)

1998

Celebrity (Allen) (as Nicole Oliver); Another Day in Paradise (Clark) (as Sid); Shadow of Doubt (Kleiser) (as Kitt Devereux)

1999

Crazy in Alabama (Banderas) (as Lucille); RKO 281 (Ross—for TV) (as Marion Davies)

2000

Ljuset håller mig sällskap (Light Keeps Me Company) (Carl-Gustav Nykvist—doc) (as herself); Cecil B. De Mented (Waters) (as Honey Whitlock); Forever Lulu (John Kaye) (as Lulu McAfee); Tart (Christina Wayne)



Publications


By GRIFFITH: articles—

"Flirting with Success," interview with Craig Unger and Paul Jasmin, in Interview (New York), November 1988.

"Girl Talk: Melanie Griffith Opens Up," interview with Jill Feldman, in Rolling Stone (New York), 26 January 1989.

"Melanie Unplugged," interview with Eric Alterman, in Vanity Fair (New York), July 1994.


On GRIFFITH: book—

Salamon, Julie, The Devil's Candy, Boston, 1991.

On GRIFFITH: articles—

Infante, G. Cabrera, "Blonde on Blonde: A Love Letter to Melanie Griffith," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), March 1988.

Hinson, Hal, "The Rewards of a Working Girl," in Washington Post, 29 December 1988.

McGuigan, Cathleen, "Working Her Way to the Top: Melanie Griffith Used to Be Something Wild; Now She's Really Something," in Newsweek (New York), 2 January 1989.

Current Biography 1990, New York, 1990.

Bravin, Jess, "Working Whirl," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), November 1990.

Stanley, Allessandra, "The Mellowing of Melanie," in Lear's (New York), 1 April 1993.

Avins, Mimi, "Melanie Griffith Faces Adversity with Style," in New Woman (New York), 1 September 1994.

Biskind, Peter, "More Than He Bargained For," in Premiere (New York), 1 October 1994.

Stars (Mariembourg), Autumn 1995.


* * *

By the turn into the 21st century, Melanie Griffith had been called the reincarnation of Jean Harlow, Judy Holliday, and Marilyn Monroe, but seems to have been none of these re-incarnations. More than anything else, Melanie Griffith is a late twentieth-century Hollywood original. Mike Nichols, her director on her most successful performance, Working Girl (1988), alone seemed able to harness her considerable talents, and temporarily make her a major movie star. Yet within any of her performances, throughout her 20 year career, Griffith's face, and eyes, always seem transparent; you can see right into her feelings, yet the audience never knows what her character is thinking. She is able to harness an intense power yet not seem to be acting, but just being "herself": profane and virginal, street-smart and gossamer, completely spontaneous while totally in control.

Sadly, the Hollywood system seemed unable to utilize her skills. To the public she remained more famous for her frequent appearances in gossip columns, as the daughter of a 1960s star, the child companion of television star Don Johnson at age 14 (he was 22), with a life filled with drugs, automobile accidents, and alcohol. Her latest exploits to be captured by tabloids involved her public marriage to another star, Antonio Banderas.

Melanie Griffith's career has been built on roles that call upon her to encompass contradictions. Not quite a child actress, she made her feature film debut before she would have been graduated from high school, as the promiscuous neglected daughter of an actress in Arthur Penn's Night Moves (1975). That same year, she played Miss Simi Valley in Michael Ritchie's Smile before proceeding to specialize in playing precocious teens who were less innocent than they appeared. But then her personal problems overwhelmed her and she did not return to important roles until Brian DePalma's Body Double (1984). Impressed by her work, director Jonathan Demme cast Griffith as the adventurous lead of Something Wild (1986). The crest of this period of accomplishment came with Working Girl (1988), which earned her not only stardom, but praise as an actress.

But follow-up proved difficult. Through the early 1990s Melanie Griffith was surely busy, but none too successful in such films as Paradise (1991), and Bonfire of the Vanities (1990). In 1992 Griffith began the unsuccessful process of attempting to expand her screen image. She endured two back-to-back failures with her performances as a legal secretary turned World War II spy in Shining Through, and a tough New York City cop in love with a Hassidic Jewish man in Sidney Lumet's A Stranger Among Us. Later came re-makes with Lolita, and Shadow of a Doubt. By 1999 she was making movies with her new husband in Crazy in Alabama, and for cable television with RKO 281. Like other actresses and actors of the late twentieth century, she began to be seen more frequently on television than on the theatrical screen. Her television appearances include a score of television movies, both network and HBO, one modestly successful series, and more failed pilots than she surely would like to remember.

Only occasionally during the 1990s did one glimpse Griffith's considerable talents. For example, the remake of a classic screwball comedy Born Yesterday (1993) should have been her hit, but while her performance as ex-show girl Billie Dawn was highly praised, the public was lukewarm. Born Yesterday was the vehicle that made Judy Holliday a household name in 1950; Griffith redid Billie in her own fashion, sassy but hip, never as dumb as one might think. But in the end, Born Yesterday seemed more a sequel to Working Girl than any faithful recreation of a role Judy Holliday made famous before Melanie Griffith was born. Born Yesterday has at the core the comedic mocking of the ways and woes of Washington, D.C. Perhaps in the cynical final decade of the twentieth century, the remake ofBorn Yesterday represented too much a tale of optimism, a celebration of the people over corrupt powers of money and influence.

Yet in Born Yesterday, Melanie Griffith did a wonderful send-up of Washington pretension. In a delightful scene Cynthia Schreiber (played by Nora Dunn), ace reporter for National Public Radio, interviews the guileless Billie as a representative of everything that is hick outside the beltway. But the joke turns out to be on Schreiber, for Billie has actually read Democracy in America while the National Public Radio host only knows it is important. Here is a use of her brilliant comedic ability.

In retrospect, audiences can only hope that before Griffith retires she can find another Working Girl. In this classic genre tale, Griffith played a classic rags to riches climber with a feminist twist. Her Tess McGill from the wrong side of New York City, working class, gains access to a top job on Wall Street through smarts and some luck. With all the contradictions of the fabled work of Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart two generations earlier, Working Girl tapped into the myths of upward mobility in the United States, with a rare power. One can not help liking Tess McGill, even if one can see the cracks and contradictions in the story logic. One sees those breaks only after the film is over and Tess is in her Manhattan high-rise, seeming to start her climb to the top of making money. Working Girl is a formula film, but Melanie Griffith proved a great actress in this great conventional movie.

—Douglas Gomery

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