Turner, Kathleen

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TURNER, Kathleen

Nationality: American. Born: Springfield, Missouri, 19 June 1954. Education: Attended Southwest Missouri State University, Spring-field; University of Maryland, M.F.A., 1977; trained for the stage at Central School of Speech and Drama, London. Family: Married Jay Weiss, 1983, daughter: Rachel. Career: Acted with the Manitoba Theatre Company, Baltimore Arena Players, and in New York offoff-Broadway; 1976—on Broadway in Gemini; 1977–78—in the daytime TV soap opera The Doctors; 1981—film debut in Body Heat; 1994—directed TV special Leslie's Folly. Awards: Best Actress, Los Angeles Film Critics, for Romancing the Stone, 1984. Agent: c/o Phil Gersh, The Gersh Agency, 222 N. Canon Drive, Suite 202, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, U.S.A.

Films as Actress:


Body Heat (Kasdan) (as Matty Walker)


The Man with Two Brains (Carl Reiner) (as Mrs. Hfuhruhurr)


Romancing the Stone (Zemeckis) (as Joan Wilder); A Breed Apart (Mora) (as Stella Clayton); Crimes of Passion (Russell) (as China Blue/Joanna)


Prizzi's Honor (Huston) (as Irene Walker); The Jewel of the Nile (Teague) (as Joan Wilder)


Peggy Sue Got Married (Coppola) (as Peggy Sue)


Giulia e Giulia (Julia and Julia) (Del Monte) (as Julia); Switching Channels (Kotcheff) (as Christy Colleran)


Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Zemeckis) (as voice of Jessica Rabbit); The Accidental Tourist (Kasdan) (as Sarah Leary)


The War of the Roses (DeVito) (as Barbara Rose); Tummy Trouble (Minkoff—short) (as voice)


Rollercoaster Rabbit (short) (as voice of Jessica Rabbit)


V. I. Warshawski (Kanew) (title role)


Trail Mix-Up (short) (as voice of Jessica Rabbit); House of Cards (Lessac) (as Ruth Matthews); Undercover Blues (Ross) (as Jane Blue)


Serial Mom (Waters) (Mom/Beverly Sutphin); Naked in New York (Algrant) (as Dana Coles)


Friends at Last (for TV) (as Fanny Conlon, + pr); Moonlight and Valentino (Anspaugh) (as Alberta Russell)


Stories from My Childhood (anim for TV) (as The Snow Queen)


Bad Baby (as voice of Mom); A Simple Wish (Ritchie) (as Claudia); Love in the Ancient World (Miles—doc for TV) (as Host); The Real Blonde (Tom DiCillo) (as Dee Dee Taylor)


Legalese (Glenn Jordan—for TV) (as Brenda Whitlass)


Prince of Central Park (Leekley) (as Rebecca); Baby Geniuses (Clark) (as Elena Kinder); The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola) (as Mrs. Lisbon); Love and Action in Chicago (Johnson-Cochran) (as Middleman); Cinderella (Kidron—for TV) (as Claudette)


Beautiful (Sally Field) (as Verna Chickle)


By TURNER: articles—

Interview with N. Mills, in Stills (London), March 1986.

Interview with A. Crystal, in Films and Filming (London), April 1986.

Interview with Graham Fuller, in Interview, August 1995.

Interview with Andrew Duncan, in Radio Times (London), 16 August 1997.

On TURNER: book—

Stefoff, Rebecca, Kathleen Turner, New York, 1987.

On TURNER: articles—

Doudna, C., "Her Brilliant Career," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), November 1984.

Hibbin, S., "Kathleen Turner," in Films and Filming (London), October 1985.

Current Biography 1986, New York, 1986.

MacPherson, Malcolm, "Kathleen Turner: The Single-Minded Cinderella," in Premiere (Boulder), November 1989.

Schruers, Fred, "The Sum of Her Parts," in Premiere (Boulder), August 1991.

DeNicolo, David, "Watched Sexpots Still Simmer," in New York Times, 10 April 1994.

* * *

With her Tallulah voice and sensuous pout, Turner created a sensation by out-fataling the femme fatales of Hollywood's Golden Age in Body Heat. This rather academic film noir about instant divorce could have been retitled Lethal Weapon with Kathleen unleashed in the title role, but Turner has gone from thinking man's sexpot to character actress with only a brief stopover as major star. While many of her projects outgrossed those of more prestigious contemporaries, she found herself too often pigeonholed vis-à-vis male box-office attractions, with only two hits, Romancing the Stone and Peggy Sue Got Married (replacing Debra Winger) weighted in her favor. A risk-taker, she shrewdly balanced her steamy debut with a Steve Martin lark, The Man with Two Brains, in which she burlesqued her own bitch goddess image. Then, she followed her sensationally popular feminization of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Romancing the Stone, with a bravura performance as a woman fogged by a sexual identity crisis. Whereas Turner's two-faced characters often camouflaged their amoral purpose, Crimes of Passion cleverly split the scheming Turner persona into two aspects of the same personality: Joanna, a repressed 9-to-5 careerist and her after-hours alter ego, a whore named China Blue who indulges Joanna's fantasies. Somehow, her talent flowered in the hothouse atmosphere of Ken Russell's camera flourishes and Barry Sandler's memorably florid dialogue. What lent Turner's work variety was her method of shading a good girl role such as Peggy Sue with a subversive edge while endowing her terminatrix in the corrosively funny Prizzi's Honor with a nesting instinct; Irene Walker just happens to kill for a living. Whether victor (Body Heat) or victim (Prizzi's Honor) in the battle of the sexes, Turner's formidable women never surrender; the impact of her provocative accessibility and killer instinct can be devastating.

After succumbing to sequeldom in Jewel of the Nile and rising above the sloppily fashioned but fetching time travel of Peggy Sue Got Married, Turner's instincts failed her. Although the leaden black comedy War of the Roses drew crowds to its screaming matches, Turner miscalculated by repaying her discoverer, Lawrence Kasdan, by accepting a matronly mourner role in Accidental Tourist. More damaging than the Euro-nonsense of Julia and Julia or the thuddingly inept remake of The Front Page, Switching Channels, Turner's drab ancillary turn in Accidental Tourist evaporated her sexy demeanor and created the false perception that she was no longer big time. Despite kudos on Broadway for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Indiscretions, Turner slid through muddy problem dramas (House of Cards) and inane commercial misfires (Undercover Blues) into a slump where her come-hither look now seemed like ancient history.

Perhaps, Turner will rebound as a latter-day Shelley Winters and grace us with powerhouse supporting turns. That being said, has there ever been as rapid a decline and fall of a goddess in movie history. She's gone from being the top female draw in films to scrambling for character work in vanilla-flavored flops like The Real Blonde and Moonlight and Valentino, neither of which made her ingrained arrogance particularly fetching.

Although this is a sexist proposition, one cannot overlook how her ravaged leading lady looks have limited her options. What makes the discussion of her decline so troubling is that Turner was never just another pneumatic sexpot deflated by the passage of time. But what pray tell, is the brilliant comedienne of Prizzi's Honor and the heartbreaking camp tragedienne of Crimes of Passion doing in the diaper-changing arena of Baby Geniuses? Her broad playing of a private eye in V.I. Warshawski made her a critical laughing stock instead of providing her with the signature franchise she had coveted. None of her contemporaries has had to settle for less than leading lady status or prestigious cameos, so it's dismaying to see her reduced to preening in the meandering kiddie flick, A Simple Wish. Often relegated to playing generic ballbusters, Turner can point to only two cinematic highlights over the past dozen years: (1) as a witchy newsmonger in the TV film, Legalese, and (2) as a demented suburbanite in John Waters media satire Serial Mom. In the latter, she's a bewitching substitute for Divine as she blithely towers above the over-the-top material. Because that smoky voice and fierce bravado are still intact, one hopes the crushing disappointments of recent vintage will lend a vulnerability to her range. (It's a pity she never remade Of Human Bondage earlier in her career.) Even in dire artistic straits, however, the unbowed Turner seems to be saying, "Don't cry for me baby; I'll deliver my Oscar acceptance speech on your grave!"

—Robert Pardi