Nationality: American. Born: Santa Ana, California, 29 April 1957 (some sources say 1959); sister of the actress Dedee Pfeiffer. Education: Attended Fountain Valley High School. Family: Married 1) the actor Peter Horton, 1982 (divorced 1987); adopted daughter, Claudia Rose, 1993; 2) producer/writer David E. Kelley, 1993, one child. Career: Worked as supermarket cashier; won Miss Orange County Beauty Pageant, 1977; TV debut in Delta House series, 1979; in TV series B.A.D. Cats 1980; film debut in The Hollywood Knights ; stage debut in Twelfth Night , 1989. Awards: Best Supporting Actress,
The Solitary Man (Moxey—for TV)
The Hollywood Knights (Mutrux) (as Suzi Q); Falling in Love Again (Paul) (as Sue Wellington)
Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (Clive Donner) (as Cordelia Farrington); Splendor in the Grass (Sarafian—for TV); The Children Nobody Wanted (Richard Michaels—for TV); Callie & Son (Hussein—for TV)
Grease II (Birch) (as Stephanie Zinone)
Scarface (De Palma) (as Elvira)
Into the Night (Landis) (as Diana); Ladyhawke (Richard Donner) (as Isabeau)
Sweet Liberty (Alda) (as Faith Healy)
Amazon Women on the Moon (Dante) (as Brenda); The Witches of Eastwick (Miller) (as Sukie Ridgemont)
Married to the Mob (Jonathan Demme) (as Angela De Marco); Tequila Sunrise (Towne) (as Jo Ann Vallenari); Dangerous Liaisons (Frears) (as Madame de Tourvel)
The Fabulous Baker Boys (Kloves) (as Susie Diamond)
The Russia House (Schepisi) (as Katya)
Frankie and Johnny (Garry Marshall) (as Frankie)
Love Field (Kaplan) (as Lurene Hallett); Batman Returns (Burton) (as Catwoman/Selina Kyle)
The Age of Innocence (Scorsese) (as Countess Ellen Olenska)
Wolf (Nichols) (as Laura Alden)
Dangerous Minds (John N. Smith) (as LouAnne Johnson)
Up Close and Personal (Avnet); To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday ; One Fine Day (Hoffman) (as Melanie Parker +exec pr)
A Thousand Acres (Moorhouse) (as Rose Cook Lewis)
The Prince of Egypt (Chapman, Hickner) (as voice of Tzipporah +singer)
The Story of Us (Reiner) (as Katie Jordan); A Midsummer Night's Dream (Hoffman) (as Titania); The Deep End of the Ocean (Grosbard) (as Beth Cappadora)
What Lies Beneath (Zemeckis) (as Claire Spencer)
Interview, in Cinéma (Paris), September 1982.
Interview, in Photoplay (London), July 1985.
Interviews, in Inter/View (New York), March 1986, August 1988, and February 1989.
Interview, in Vanity Fair (New York), February 1989.
"Michelle Pfeiffer as Work in Progress," interview with Hal Hinson, in Esquire (New York), December 1990 .
Interview with Graham Fuller, in Interview (New York), July 1994.
"Michelle Pfeiffer, Sensuous to Sensible," interview with Tim Egan, in New York Times , 6 August 1995 .
"Female in Tuition" interview with Edwin J. Bernard, in Time Out (London), December 20-January 3, 1995–96.
Thompson, Douglas, Pfeiffer: Beyond the Age of Innocence , London, 1993.
Crowther, Bruce, Michelle Pfeiffer: A Biography , London, 1994. Holt, Julia, Michelle Pfeiffer , London, 1997.
Thomson, D., "Class of 1985," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1985.
McGillivray, David, "Michelle Pfeiffer," in Films and Filming (London), November 1985.
Current Biography 1990 , New York, 1990.
Premiere (New York), March 1990.
Winnert, Derek, "The Fabulous Pfeiffer Girl," in Radio Times (London), 28 July 1990.
Seidenberg, Robert, "The Fabulous Pfeiffer Girl," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), January 1991.
Hirshey, Gerri, "The Bat's Meow: Catwoman Michelle Pfeiffer," in Rolling Stone (New York), 3 September 1992.
Kaplan, James, and Ty Burr, "Blond Ambivalence," in Entertainment Weekly , 29 January 1993.
Radio Times (London), 10 December 1994.
Wolcott, J, "Closeup," in New Yorker , 19 February 1996.
Greene, R., "Personal Best," in Boxoffice (Chicago), 10 March 1996.
Norman, Barry, "The Fabulous Pfeiffer Girl," in Radio Times (London), 7 June 1997.
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Michelle Pfeiffer made her entry in Hollywood's 1980s intake of attractive, blue-eyed blondes that included Meg Ryan, Kim Basinger, Rebecca de Mornay, Tess Harper, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Of them all (and there were others), Pfeiffer seemed the most precisely cut from the cloth of a long Hollywood tradition—a sexy, beautiful, intelligent, modern answer to, say, Carole Lombard, blessed with a sophisticated gift for witty one-liners, an ability to cross class barriers, and to bring conviction to a range of contrasting characters across a spectrum from wild comedy through forgettable formula gloss to serious drama.
After a conventional Californian upbringing, during which she displayed little interest in her education, Pfeiffer won the 1977 Miss Orange County beauty contest and began directing her former aimlessness toward modeling, acting classes, and auditions for commercials. This well-trodden route led her to playing a succession of bit-part bimbos on television before she drifted onto the big screen in 1980, gaining some notice in her fourth film, Grease 2 , which allowed her an opportunity to reveal her budding talents and hinted at her erotic qualities, if not yet the depths and widths of her range. It was to Brian De Palma's fine instinct for detecting new talent and taking a chance on it that she owed her first real chance to show what she was capable of. Cast as Elvira, the gangster's moll who becomes Al Pacino's wife in Scarface , she gave a sharply observed, hard-edged portrayal of a woman who takes refuge in cocaine from the hopelessness of her situation. Elvira's graphically distressing descent into addiction and destruction owed as much to the young actress's performance as to De Palma's operatic eye for the material. Having given notice of her dramatic potential, she next evinced a seductive mix of mystery, kookiness, and vulnerability, racing through an escalating series of bizarre situations with Jeff Goldblum in John Landis' comedy crime caper, Into the Night , a movie now almost forgotten but which brought the relative newcomer to wider attention and doubtless encouraged Jonathan Demme to cast her in his inspired and anarchic genre spoof, Married to the Mob . As the gum-chewing, Italian-American gangster's wife, a crazy kook bent on escape, replete with authentic accent and wild hairdo, Pfeiffer was both touching and hilarious.
Before Married to the Mob , Pfeiffer had made Richard Donner's awful medieval fantasy legend Ladyhawke and Alan Alda's tedious attempted satire on film-making Sweet Liberty , neither of which advanced her standing with the general public, but the industry seemed to sense what they were holding and teamed her with Susan Sarandon and Cher as one of the three Witches of Eastwick in thrall to Jack Nicholson. Now established as a thoroughgoing "modern"—drop-dead beautiful and with a talent to amuse—it came as something of a surprise to find her cast as the ill-fated 18th-century religieuse Madame de Tourvel, preyed upon by John Malkovich's Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons . Although essentially miscast, her serious stab at this tragic role was not without honor and, indeed, not only elevated her to the ranks of actresses who are taken seriously by serious critics, but also brought her an Academy Award nomination. The superficial formula romance thriller, Tequila Sunrise , that followed, kept watchable by Pfeiffer's cool restaurateur caught between the attractive competing forces of Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell, was a forgettable blip before first-rank leading lady stardom came, nine years after her inconspicuous Hollywood debut, with The Fabulous Baker Boys .
As Susie Diamond, the small-time whore-turned-nightclub-singer whose presence disturbs the long-time partnership of two piano-playing brothers (Jeff and Beau Bridges), Pfeiffer set the screen alight with unbridled sensuality, while displaying the full sum of her now experienced parts: cool wit, tough-minded independence, and vulnerability. Garlanded with awards for her performance, she moved into that bracket of stars who could almost command their own price, but the movie itself failed to fulfill its own best ideas, leaving its popularity to rest on its leading lady's seductive, multi-layered presence. And therein lies the rub of Michelle Pfeiffer's career through its second decade. A glance at her filmography shows, on the credit side, a really remarkable range, from the defensive, worn-down waitress of Frankie and Johnny to the remote, elegant Countess Ellen Olenska of The Age of Innocence , hiding her pain, her yearning and her isolation beneath her surface of controlled independence. Contrast, too, her athletic Cat Woman of Batman Returns , in which she effortlessly segues back and forth between the wild extremes of bad girl comedy and the confusions of her alter ego, the frumpy, intimidated secretary, with Lurene in Love Field . Jonathan Kaplan's too-little seen film showcases Pfeiffer as a lonely Dallas housewife, all beehive hair and false eyelashes, who buries her frustrations in a fantasy of empathy with Jackie Kennedy, and blithely crosses the racial divide she doesn't know exists. This performance, much-lauded by those who saw it, by the critics and by the Academy, moved Hal Hinson of the Washington Post to extol Pfeiffer as "a performer who allows us direct access to her character's thoughts and feelings. This character [Lurene] is simply another in her wide-ranging gallery of vivid, complex women. She's fully alive up there on the screen: a grounded angel, tarnished, funny and exquisitely soulful, even when the movie is dead."
That is as accurate an appreciation of this actress's screen persona as one could wish for but, alas, despite the maturing of her gifts, Pfeiffer, as the 1990s wore on, began to look increasingly like an actress in search of an author, her superior gifts more often than not inadequately matched by the material in which she appeared. This, alas, is very much a sign of the Hollywood times, with celebrity taking precedence over substance, and substance itself—as the eminences grises of the profession, Meryl Streep and Glenn Close have publicly complained—in short supply for women. But Pfeiffer herself has sometimes sacrificed her judgment, wasting her gifts on specious disposable pap such as Up Close and Personal (though her eminent co-star, Robert Redford, was equally guilty), while her appearance alongside Jessica Lange and Jennifer Jason Leigh (doubtless suffering similar problems of choice) in the catastrophic adaptation of Jane Smiley's "King Lear" novel, A Thousand Acres , smacks of desperation in the search for heavyweight material.
While it is difficult to fault the actress herself in films such as Dangerous Minds , a simplistic, rose-colored view of how a feisty, dedicated teacher (Pfeiffer) overcomes the resistance of kids in an underprivileged ghetto school; or in One Fine Day , a minor, romantic, latter-day "woman's picture" no better than a TV movie, which trades on a dream team in Pfeiffer and heart-throb George Clooney, such films only serve to emphasize that the course of Pfeiffer's career, like that of several of her gifted contemporaries, has been dictated by the era from which she sprang. It is a sad but unassailable truth that the great female movie star of the Golden Age is no more. Only Julia Roberts seems to hold the drawing power that would have been familiar to a whole host of yesteryear's stars and the discerning moviegoer can only hope that approaching middle-age will bring fresh and worthy challenges to Michelle Pfeiffer, an actress of whom Jonathan Demme once said, "she can do anything. We will be moved by her in a variety of ways over the years."