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- March 11, 1991
- Vol. 35
- No. 9
After a Rocky Past, Jamie Lee Curtis Grabs Everything and Love
If Curtis, 32, has blossomed into something of a flea-control freak, then perhaps it's just her offbeat reaction to all those years in which she couldn't get a grip on her careening career. The first suburbanite stalked by the loony on the loose in John Carpenter's 1978 Halloween, she was pegged as Hollywood's Scream Queen, filming six low-budget horror flicks in three years. And after a display of nudity in the Eddie Murphy comedy Trading Places (1983) and the John Travolta clinker Perfect (1985), she was dubbed the Body. But now, with the steaming up of her role as journalist Hannah Miller on ABC's Anything but Love, she seems finally to have settled into her own skin. Not only has she proved herself as an actress—on the big screen, in the 1988 John Geese-Kevin Kline romp, A Fish Called Wanda—but she is the happy wife of writer-comedian Christopher Guest, 43, and the beaming mother of 4-year-old Annie. "I used to be wildly, chronically insecure." Curtis admits. "But, yes, I have come of age. It's really my time. Jamie's time."
And this Wednesday, March 6, is her prime time. That's the night she and Anything costar Richard Lewis, playing writer Marty Gold, abandon their everything-but-sex standoff and, after two teasing, frustrating seasons, become bedmates. "It could have been very cheesy, but I thought it was handled delicately," says Curtis, who filmed her scenes with Lewis in front of a studio audience. "It's never fun being intimate in front of strangers. It's always a little nerve-racking, but I thought Richard was more nervous than I was."
Curtis is no stranger to delayed resolutions. The daughter of movie stars Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis—she of the Psycho shower scene, and he of Some Like It Hot—Jamie was 3½ and her sister, Kelly, 5, when their parents divorced in 1962. She spent most of her childhood living with Mom on a Benedict Canyon ranch in L.A., happily playing dress-up and largely oblivious to the Hollywood mantle. It wasn't until 1970, when she was 11 and Tony was arrested for marijuana possession at London's Heathrow Airport, that the impact of her parents' fame finally hit. "It got weird when I was in school," she says. "That's when I started hearing, 'Your father's Tony Curtis. Your mother's Janet Leigh. Your father just got bus-ted, and your moth-er is free.' "
In 1975 Jamie moved east with her mother and attended Connecticut's tony Choate School while Janet performed on the stage in New York City. After graduating in 1976, Curtis homed back to California and began her acting career by accepting bit parts on a few forgettable shows. "I did a Nancy Drew where I was a motorcycle mama," she says. "It was fabulous." Or at least part of it was. "When I was 18 years old, all my friends were 30 or 40," says Curtis of the coworkers she hung out with. "I was called upon to be opinionated and smart, and I was an 18-year-old feather. I was just blowing around."
Along with her alienation came an attendant problem. "I was also this party girl very heavily into coke for a while," she admits. "I never did more than anyone else was doing, but I was certainly in the thick of it. It was a real lost time."
Unlike Kelly, who had spent a summer living with Tony after her mother's remarriage to stockbroker Bob Brandt in late 1962, Jamie refused to play Daddy's girl. "I grew up with Bob—a very competent father—and I never had a need for a relationship with Tony," says Curtis, who has always referred to her father by his first name. But at 20, she changed her mind. "Tony had alienated everyone in the family with drug abuse," she explains. "I was the outsider child who had never known him, and I stepped in for a two-or three-year relationship with him. There was a bond: I was the only person who could understand him, because I was doing coke." Did she do coke with her father? "Absolutely," she says. "For months, that was the bond. If you know anybody who has ever done drugs, that becomes the bond. 'Do you do coke? Do you have coke? Great.' "
Curtis characterizes her drug experience as falling well short of addiction. Still, in the summer of 1983, she decided to end it totally. "Ultimately it was boredom—with yourself, your times, your life, the people that you know. It was the time to stop. It had become too important."
Righting herself made for another painful dislocation. "My dad and I went through that period, and then we had to split up again," she recalls. "He had gone through drug programs, reneged on them, and I was disappointed in him. I basically had no more time for that."
Fortunately her lost period wasn't a total write-off. In 1984, while thumbing through a copy of Rolling Stone, she spotted a picture of actor Christopher Guest, then best known for his role as a dim-witted heavy-metal rocker in the spoof This Is Spinal Tap, and liked what she saw. "For a long time I never smiled, because I was self-conscious about my ugly, dull-looking teeth," says Curtis. "That's why I developed my smirk—which is why, when I looked at Chris's smirk in the picture, I basically saw myself. I saw a kindred spirit."
Through an agent, Curtis forwarded her home number. "It was a strange period, right after Spinal Tap," says Guest, who at first took a pass. "There were bizarre women calling at 3 or 4 in the morning." Fortunately he reconsidered. The two fell in love and became reluctant bicoastal companions. Guest shipped out to New York City to begin work as a Saturday Night Live regular, while Jamie was stuck in Hollywood filming Perfect. "I had just fallen in love like a brick, and I was now in New York thinking, 'What am I doing?' " says Guest. After four months of weekend commutes, the two were married on Dec. 18, 1984, at the home of mutual friend Rob Reiner, with both Tony and Janet in attendance.
Having overcome the geographical hurdle, Jamie admits that their union still takes effort. "I don't think we have an easy marriage," she says. "We have a difficult, but successful, marriage." It was cemented, she notes, by the arrival four years ago of their adopted daughter, Annie, whose birth mother Christopher and Jamie met through an adoption attorney and kept in touch with throughout her pregnancy. Then, in December 1986, when the two were at their Idaho vacation home, "we were awakened in the middle of the night with the phone call announcing that she was born," says Jamie. The first mother-child meeting was auspicious. "She threw up when she saw me," says Curtis. "She rolled over, looked at me, and went. 'Wa-a-a-h!' "
For Jamie, who has always been close to her own mother, having a child may have inspired reconciliation. "On my 30th birthday I called my father," she says. "He hadn't seen Annie since she was 8 weeks old, and she was now turning 2. I just felt it was time." Tony, who by then was drug-free, asked if he could come over. "I said, 'Sure.' And we reestablished," says Jamie. "We reconnected."
Mulling over her past, Jamie, minding Annie, is temporarily distracted by the dog. "Do you see any fleas?" she asks her toddler. "I see bugs!" says Annie, spotting a minute interloper. "Kill him!"
"Teaching my daughter to pop fleas," muses Curtis. "What a mom I am!"
Susan Schindehette, Michael Alexander in Los Angeles
- Michael Alexander.
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