What the Hell Happened to Kathleen Turner?
She started her career as the 80’s answer to a femme fatale. She became an international sex symbol. She could do action, drama and comedy and even voiced Jessica Rabbit. And then she dropped out of sight. No longer a sex symbol, she is best known to some TV viewers as Chandler Bing’s cross-dressing dad on Friends.
What the hell happened?
Like many actresses, Turner got her start on soap operas. In 1978, Turner made her TV debut on NBC’s The Doctors. She was the second actress to play the part of Nola Dancy Aldrich on the daytime drama.
Here’s a promo for the show.
In 1981, Turner made the leap to the big screen.
The movie was Lawrence Kasdan’s 1981 thriller Body Heat co-starring William Hurt as a dumb attorney and Turner as the femme fatale who liked her men dumb. Dumb enough to kill for her.
Body Heat is a surprisingly old fashioned film noir. The first half of the movie distracts the audience with steamy sex scenes between Turner and Hurt until the potboiler plot kicks into over-drive.
Turner had trouble even auditioning for the role because she had no prior movie experience. But after Kim Basinger and Sigourney Weaver turned down the part, Turner finally got a reading:
“They gave me a copy of the script and I immediately wanted it. After that reading they set up a screen test with William Hurt. I’d never tested for a film before, and it was pretty scary . . . walking into a studio, having make-up men and everybody turn you into their idea of what Matty should be”.
Body Heat was a home run scoring with critics and audiences alike. Turner was an overnight sensation.
Turner followed up Body Heat with the Steve Martin comedy, The Man With Two Brains in 1983. Once again, Turner was a femme fatale, but this time she played the part for laughs.
Martin plays a brain surgeon who marries a gold digger played by Turner. Martin falls in love with a disembodied brain with whom he can communicate telepathically. Soon, he realizes he is married to an evil woman in a sexy body but is in love with a beautiful woman with no body at all. What is a guy who specializes in brain transplants to do?
Turner explained why she took the part:
“After Body Heat I got a lot of offers but none of the films were good enough. I wanted this part because it’s a comedy and because the character was so outrageous. I thought if I was very brave I could do some extraordinary things with it. It wasn’t a run of the mill token female role”.
The Man With Two Brains is the same kind of clever/stupid comedy that made Martin’s The Jerk a hit. But it never managed to catch on with audiences. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s criminally underrated and ridiculously quotable.
I don’t know why, but this line cracks me up every time.
As does the “citizen’s divorce”:
E pluribus unum!
Just watch it already.
In 1984, Turner paired with Michael Douglas for the first time in Robert Zemeckis’s romantic adventure, Romancing the Stone.
The movie was about a dowdy romance novelist who gets caught up in an adventure out of one of her books. Only in the movies do dowdy romance novelists look like Kathleen Turner in her prime!
Turner remembers clashing with Zemekis during filming:
“I remember terrible arguments doing Romancing. He’s a film-school grad, fascinated by cameras and effects. I never felt that he knew what I was having to do to adjust my acting to some of his damn cameras – sometimes he puts you in ridiculous postures. I’d say, ‘This is not helping me! This is not the way I like to work, thank you!'”
Expectations for Romancing the Stone were exceedingly low. In fact, most of Hollywood thought it would flop. Zemekis was busy developing Cocoon. But after viewing a rough cut of Romancing the Stone, the producers fired him.
Fortunately, Romancing the Stone’s mixture of romance, action and comedy was a surprise hit. The chemistry between Turner and Douglas was so strong, they were compared to Tracey and Hepburn.
That chemistry almost didn’t happen. According to Turner, Douglas originally offered her role to Debra Winger. Douglas met Winger at a Mexican restaurant to discus the movie. But apparently they didn’t get along. Douglas claims that Winger bit him.
In the flood of Indiana Jones copycats, Romancing the Stone distinguished itself (in spite of a truly terrible title). Critics and audiences approved. Turner won her first Golden Globe for Best Actress.
Turner also costarred in a little-seen drama called A Breed Apart.
Rutger Hauer played a conservationist who lives on an island populated with rare birds including two bald eagles who were endangered at the time the movie was made. Powers Booth played a visitor to the island who wants to steal an eagle egg. Turner played the babe, because there is always a babe.
Later inn 1984, Turner once again played up her sexuality in Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion.
This is a movie where the plot kind of defies description. I’ll just say that Kathleen Turner plays a prostitute named China Blue and Anthony Perkins plays a street preacher who alternated between hiring her and trying to save her.
There are elements of satire in Crimes of Passion, but it’s unclear how much of the movie you are supposed to take seriously. I’m willing to bet I laughed at things I wasn’t supposed to laugh at. If you decide to check out Crimes of Passion, I can guarantee you won’t be bored.
Unfortunately, the movie was savage by critics and bombed at the box office.
Posted on July 4, 2011, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged body heat, entertainment, kathleen turner, movies, romancing the stone, who framed roger rabbit?. Bookmark the permalink. 101 Comments.