What the Hell Happened to Michelle Pfeiffer?

Michelle Pfeiffer

Michelle Pfeiffer

Michelle Pfeiffer was one of the most popular actresses in Hollywood.  She starred opposite Al Pacino, Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Jack Nicholson.  The image of Pfeiffer cracking a whip as Catwoman is iconic.  And then, she disappeared for seveal years.  Recently, Pfeiffer has resurfaced.  But her days on the A-list appear to be behind her.

So, what the hell happened?

Michelle Pfeiffer - 1978 Miss California Beauty Pageant

Michelle Pfeiffer – 1978 Miss California Beauty Pageant

Pfeiffer started out as a pageant girl before moving into TV and movies. Pfeiffer was Ms. Orange County in 1978 and competed in the Miss California Beauty Pageant where she placed sixth.

After her sixth-place finish, Pfeiffer hired an agent and got into acting.

Michelle Pfeiffer - Fantasy Island - 1978

Michelle Pfeiffer – Fantasy Island – 1978

One of Pfeiffer’s earliest TV appearances was on the TV show, Fantasy Island.  Guest star Robert Morse played a sailor who visits an island populated by beautiful women.  Pfeiffer played one of the island’s inhabitants.

Pfieffer would return to the show a few years later.

Pfeiffer - Delta House

Michelle Pfeiffer – Delta House – 1979

In 1979, Pfeiffer landed a recurring role on the short-lived Animal House TV show, Delta House.  The show recast some roles while maintaining original cast members Stephen Furst, Bruce McGill, James Widdoes and John Vernon. Pfeiffer’s character was named “The Bombshell”.

Pfeiffer wasn’t impressed by the show’s scripts, but she needed the work:

It was a no-brainer, and I detested it. But it was exposure so I did the best I could with terrible scripts. I told myself: “There are so many unemployed actors around, you should be glad you’re working at all.”

Delta House got good ratings initially.  But after fights over content, the show was cancelled after only 13 episodes.

Michelle Pfeiffer - B.A.D. Cats - 1980

Michelle Pfeiffer – B.A.D. Cats – 1980

In 1980, Pfieffer landed a regular role on the car-themed cop show, B.A.D. Cats.  Asher Brauner and Steve Hanks starred as a couple of former race-car drivers who join the Los Angeles Police Department.

B.A.D. Cats lasted 10 episodes on ABC.

Next: Hollywood Knights and Falling in Love Again

Posted on October 7, 2011, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 172 Comments.

  1. i thought dark shaodws would be a hit it had her team up with burton but came up short. depp wasnt in the slump he was then dark shaodws was kind of the beginning of it. if keaton can make a comeback so can she

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  2. I re-watched Frankie and Johnny the other day. The 1991 movie holds up surprisingly well and is probably a good representative of Garry Marshall’s better works. He does more with less here – however did this director let himself get lost in the NYE 40-star cast stuff? He does a really great job building the intensity at a nice slow pace, but of course he has Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer to help that along. For those who don’t care for his later performances, I think you’ll find Pacino is more understated as Johnny. There was critical drama at the time about how they were both too impossibly gorgeous to play the lead characters but I never thought this criticism made any sense. Some of the buzz came about because Kathy Bates wanted to reprise her Broadway role on film, and it’s understandable she was disappointed. But the movie works. Of course, I love Pacino and Pfeiffer anyway, so for me this is an easy sell.

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    • It’s been a while since I have seen Frankie and Johnny. This may surprise you but I liked the movie. I just feel a little guilty about it.

      I agree that Frankie and Johnny is representative of Gary Marshall for better or worse. I am actually not a fan of Marshall. But as much as I would like to use the word “hack” I have to stop short. What Marshall excels at is taking the rough edges off of entertainment. He has said before that when he casts his leads, he casts pretty people he thinks the audience will want to see kiss. This worked very well for him when he turned a story about a prostitute into the fairy tale Pretty Woman. But most of the time, it’s less successful.

      I have seen local productions of Frankie and Johnny. In fact, I wrote a play that was my 20-something take on it. Mine involved a lot less nudity. But the actual play was about middle-aged people taking a last chance at something. The characters were flawed and not at all glamorous. Casting the most beautiful actors you can find is to completely miss the point of the play. A faithful adaptation would have starred Bates.

      Instead, Marshall takes away a lot of what made the stage play special. I still think there is some of the play’s DNA left in the movie and that is what raises it above the average Gary Marshall movie (along with a killer cast). But an adaptation of Frankie and Johnny could have been more than that.

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  3. Katie Couric pitching a morning news show comedy starring Michelle Pfeiffer:
    http://variety.com/2015/tv/news/katie-couric-pitching-morning-news-comedy-series-with-michelle-pfeiffer-exclusive-1201464325/

    Couric is teaming with Murphy Brown creator Diane English on a comedy going behind-the-scenes comedy of a morning news show, with Pfeiffer playing the lead anchor. Couric is expected to serve as executive producer.

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  4. I initially was going to hold off reading this again, but you had me at “her time in a cult.” I had never heard of that group before. You learn something new every day!

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    • You really do. Glad you got something new out of the updated article. Even having written about Pfeiffer almost 4 years ago, I was surprised how much new ground there was to cover. Back in 2011, I didn’t do the kind of deep dive research I do on the current articles. And Pfieffer didn’t start talking about her cult experiences until 2013. I did think it was crazy that her rescue from the cult came as a result of dating Horton who had a bit role in Split Image which I had just written about in the Karen Allen article. Sometimes the little movies that almost no one remembers have a bigger impact on people’s lives than anyone realizes.

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      • That was interesting! I had read a little about her and hadn’t heard about the cult before, but that makes sense if she’s only recently started talking about her experience in it.

        I’m not sure why, but the idea of James Woods as a de-programmer in Split Image amused me. Maybe because I just happened to catch those Family Guy episodes he’s in. The idea of that James Woods is fresh in my mind and envisioning that specific rendering of Woods as a de-progammer is hilariously wrong on so many levels.

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  5. “New Year’s Eve is the cinematic equivalent of an episode of The Love Boat.”
    It’s a good job I wasn’t drinking when I read this or that line would have caused a spit-take.
    Although it’s sad for me to see La Pfeiffer’s career come full circle, you’ve done a great job on the re-write!

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    • Terrific as always to see you! I was hoping the update would merit a visit, but I didn’t expect to see you so soon!

      I do think that Pfeiffer’s in a really good spot even if she’s not headlining major releases any more. She still gets to pick and choose projects that interest her and hasn’t had to resort to TV just to find work. How many actresses her age can say the same thing?

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  6. Rock the Casbah

    Hey Lebeau, when’s the Fisher Stevens WTHH article coming? I’m sure lots of folks are waiting in anticipation of that one.

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    • I’m not sure he had enough of a career to justify an article. He’s basically known for two things: Short Circuit and dating (and cheating on!)Michelle Pfeiffer. Between the Steve Guttenberg article, the eventual Ally Sheedy article and this one, I think we’ll get enough of Mr. Stevens.

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      • Well, My Science Project is pretty well-remembered.

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        • Before this Pfeiffer article I had never heard of Fisher Stevens. Yes, I saw Short Circuit, once, when I was a kid but all these years later he rings no bells. I think if Lebeau wrote up Fisher Stevens it shouldn’t be the usual “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO?…..”, but instead “WHO THE HELL IS?…..”, which is what 99% of people would probably be asking themselves.

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        • If you watched Letterman regularly in the late 80s/early 90s, he used to have Stevens on as a guest and then just talk about how he was the luckiest man in the world. It was a running gag.

          Stevens was apparently devastated when Pfeiffer left him. He protested that he hadn’t actually had sex with his underage co-star. He set a pretty low bar for himself considering how far out of his league he was dating.

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        • I had forgotten about it. ;)

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      • Rock the Casbah

        Ha! Thx Lebeau. I was actually being a bit snarky in my comment here. Like Craig said, Stevens would qualify for a WHO THE HELL IS HE? article instead of a WTHH one. Hmmm, maybe an idea for a future category. Actors/actresses that you might recognize their face, know something they starred in or vaguely heard about them in the news (usually in relation to more recognized celebrities), but never really got on the public’s radar in a major way. I’ll mention one that strangely interests me: Judie Aronson. Had a crush on her back in H.S. when I saw her in Weird Science. She’s one (the brunette) of the two girls that winds up with one of two main characters (can’t remember which one). Afterwards, she starred mostly in guest spots (often small) on T.V. shows. I think she dated a few famous celebrities (including George Clooney albeit before he became famous).

        Anyhow, not sure there would be potential (or much interest) for such a category but I’m just brainstorming here in the comments.

        BUT, what I am NOT being snide about is your good work on revising and updating this article. Your skill at unearthing little gems of your subject’s careers is NOT going unrecognized by us folks in the comment stream. The adulation that RB and Craig already have given you is well deserved on this one. Kudos.

        BTW, I just gotta ask: what the hell was Stevens thinking when he cheated (in whatever form) with an underage girl?! Man, if I was dating someone like Pfeiffer (with an almost ethereal beauty), you’d be damn sure I’d be on my best behavior.

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        • Well said Casbah, I said it before Lebeau but you continually impress with your level of skill and commitment to the site. I’m not the least bit famous (or even an actor for that matter) but I almost wish I was just so that I could get the Lebeau treatment!

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        • lol

          I think you guys over-estimate the level of skill involved. I sometimes feel like there is very little actual writing involved in these articles. Most of the time goes into the digging. But level of commitment, yeah, I’m committed all right! ;)

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        • I wondered if that was the case. But I have had WTHH requests for even more obscure actors. Sometimes, people ask for articles on people I have never heard of.

          Recently I came across an interview with Fisher Stevens in which he flatly blamed Short Circuit on Steve Guttenberg. The quote will appear in the revamped Guttenberg article when I get around to dusting that one off. But basically, Stevens said that the script for Short Circuit was terrific until they hired Guttenberg. Stevens is an okay character actor. Probably a better actor than Guttenberg. But Guttenberg merits a WTHH article and Stevens doesn’t.

          A while back, I was contacted by someone who said she was a friend of Steve Guttenberg and that he wasn’t too thrilled with having WTHH to Steve Guttenberg show up on the first page of his Google results. I explained to her that the series was meant to be complimentary despite the mild profanity in the title. This is an example of that. You have to be bigger than Fisher Stevens to qualify for the series.

          I doubt I’ll ever get around to covering Judie Aronson for that reason. We’ll call it the Stevens rule. But I will cover some Weird Science stars in the future. Kelley Le Brock is very high on my list as is Anthony Michael Hall. Time permitting, I’d like to get them both covered this year. I was looking at Bill Paxton for a while but he keeps showing up all over TV.

          You’re too kind with your compliments. But I’ll take them all the same. Thanks!

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        • Rock the Casbah

          I feel honored Lebeau that I played an integral role in developing (or at least the naming of) a rule here at Leblog: the Stevens Rule.
          I’ll look forward to the write-ups on A. Michael Hall and Kelly Le Brock and, of course, the revised Gute article (who woundn’t eagerly wait in anticipation especially of that one?), but it’s with a heavy heart that I realize Judie Aronson falls under the Stevens Rule.
          Judie, if you ever stop by this website, let me say that IMHO you’re the still best thing in Weird Science (except maybe for the Oingo Boingo song 😄) and you’re still as stunningly beautiful as when I first saw you in Weird Science back in H.S. And now you’ve been mentioned at Leblog. 😉

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        • I have to agree that Judie Aronson (then and now) is very lovely; in matter of fact, I mentioned her recent in the comments section of the “Weird Science” music video on YouTube.
          I forgot: what’s The Stevens Rule again?

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        • You have to be bigger than Fisher Stevens to qualify for WTHH. It’s a very specific rule.

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        • I did Google her. She is still a looker. Looks like she showed up in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (in a very small role). Great movie.

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      • Yeah, I last remember him in film from “Hackers” and on TV from one of VH1’s “I Love the -‘s” (I don’t remember if it was 70’s, 80’s or 90’s) shows. I guess he was thinking with his genitals when he was in his trailer that way. Oh well, his loss. I wouldn’t think he would be worth an article, since I don’t think he was ever considered a rising star.

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  7. Well you have been busy with this update Lebeau :) It really makes me appreciate once again, how much work you put into the WTHH series. I bet Pfeiffer hersel would approve!

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    • Thanks for the recognition. I won’t say that these articles are a lot of work, because I enjoy doing them. But they take a great deal of time. That is increasingly true as I get more and more detailed.

      Before I started, this article was a puny 5 pages long! It more than doubled in size.

      Since I started the series, I have continually raised my standards for the articles. I used to hit the highlights and lowlights and call it a day. I could crank out and article in 4-6 hours. But readers kept asking for more and more details. These days, I go to pretty great lengths to track down things like beauty pageant photos and Fantasy Island appearances. I still leave out minor things here and there, but the newer articles are much more comprehensive than the early articles. I don’t even know how many hours in total goes into the average article anymore. Even the Chris Tucker article took a couple of weeks.

      In the early days, I was covering some of the bigger stars. These days, I’m much more likely to cover a Karen Allen than a Michelle Pfeiffer. So you wind up with 12 pages on Judd Nelson and 4 on Kevin Costner which seems lopsided. When I started doing the birthday galleries, it seemed like an excellent time to touch up some of the old articles that aren’t up to my current standards. This has meant fewer new items as I am splitting my time between new articles and cleaning up the old ones. But I think it’s worth the effort.

      Most of the articles just get a few additional entries. Usually I’m just bringing them up to date. But for an article like this one where it is more than 50% new material, I am reposting them so readers know that this is almost the equivalent of a new article.

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      • Like RB said, good work on updating this article. You went above and beyond as quite honestly I would just expect a few more job entries listed and such to make it more current, but you added real meat to the article which is to be commended.

        One of the best additions was the Star Trek thing on Frankie and Johnnie, I had never heard that story before, I’m still wrapping my head around Al Pacino with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. I tried Googling it looking for an image but alas no luck. What a killer pic that would’ve made! I’m sure one exists somewhere in someone’s possession.

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        • I almost want to rewatch Frankie and Johnny just to see if I can spot the surprise reaction they were going for. It was a pretty cool story. I’ll see if I can track down a pic. You know they took one.

          This article got the redone because Pfeiffer has a birthday coming up. So there is a gallery ready to post on Wed. When I do the galleries, I have taken to reviewing all the pictures. I replace some, edit others. I check to see if there are any new pictures available I could find when I wrote the article. For Pfeiffer, I just kept finding more and more great stuff. There were also no trailers and very few clips because I just wasn’t doing that stuff in 2011.

          Uma Thurman also has a birthday on 04/29. (Both actresses share a birthday, appeared in Dangerous Liaisons and played Batman villains.) Her article was already a little more up to date so it just got a few additional entries. That’s typically what happens. I’m not going to call those out. But when an article is 50% or more new material like this one was, I’ll do a repost so folks know to check it out.

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  8. Why isn’t Michelle more popular?

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000201/board/flat/233051304?p=1

    Tue Aug 5 2014 11:07:01

    It’s a good question, I think. She doesn’t have nearly the amount of fans that Bullock or Kidman or others have, yet her talent is above her peers mostly. Even during her career best years, she didn’t seem to get the same amount of respect as others. Is it her own fault? As in, she didn’t like the spotlight, and can come off as aloof and cold in interviews(she has gotten MUCH better at this over the years though). I’ve always just been dumbfounded at the lack of following and respect Michelle gets compared to other actresses.

    Of course, it would help if she worked more. Bullock is still the highest paid actress in Hollywood, at the age of 50. If Michelle had made different career choices, such as doing Silence of The Lambs or Thelma and Louise, would it really be that much different for her today?

    Tue Aug 5 2014 14:04:27

    These days I think it is a mixture of Michelle’s film choices which have been pretty poor lately. I don’t think it helps when Michelle does take so long between projects either. Apart from attending a premiere we never really see Michelle attend any other events. In the last 20 years she has been at the Oscars once and always likes to sneak in the back door at these events.

    Michelle has not been the main star of a box office hit since What Lies Beneath 14 years ago. Sandra has had big hits with The Proposal, The Blind Side, Gravity, The Heat. Meryl has had plenty. I find it annoying though that she shares the same agent with Bullock, Streep, Kidman, Aniston but seems to be left with the scraps.

    Wed Aug 6 2014 06:09:05

    It’s hard to say. Some of it has to do with her admitted ambivalence about self-promotion and pubic appearances. It often appeared that she was under duress anytime she showed up on a talk show to promote a new film. Only in recent years has she seemed relaxed and confident enough to be herself in televised interviews, whereas more extroverted actresses like Bullock or Aniston can’t wait to get out there and trade quips with Jimmy Fallon or David Letterman. This is partly how they have gathered huge fan followings. People relate to them more readily than someone like Michelle who comes off as out of her element and stiff when she isn’t playing a character. However, when comes down to acting talent, I think she is light years above Bullock and Aniston (among others) and it baffles why she doesn’t get better film offers. I don’t know whether her recent string of bad films reflects poor judgement on her part or if these were the best or only jobs she was offered. Either way, there is a huge disconnect between her capabilities and what she is achieving in films. Sad to see her film career reduced to crap like NYE and The Family while the clock keeps ticking.

    Adding this comment to what I said above: fair or unfair, Bullock and Aniston, for example, get more attention because of their personal foibles: Bullock’s disastrous marriage to Jesse whats his name and the Aniston/ Pitt/ Jolie trifecta. In this celebrity crazed age, people eat that stuff up and it raises their personal profiles. Michelle, on the other hand, has been quietly married to the same man for 20 plus years with nary a trace of scandal or impropriety. This may make her a a more admirable human being, but it also contributes to the perception that she basically disappeared from public life. So in terms of popularity, her decision to live in relative obscurity in No Ca and put family first could have hurt her in the popularity sweepstakes. Personally, I respect her for making that decision and would hope it did not affect her film opportunities.

    Mon Feb 23 2015 13:57:38

    Perhaps Michelle doesn’t want to be known as a ‘high-profile’ actress. Some prefer to be ‘character’ actresses, not ‘always-in-the-limelight’ ones. I think that deserves a lot of respect because the ones who stay out of the limelight don’t seem to be stripped of their dignity.

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  9. Pfeiffer makes the list of WatchMojo’s Top 10 Hottest Blondes: Iconic.

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  10. Wow, great read; I especially liked the tidbit that Peter Horton was instrumental in getting Michelle Pfeiffer deprogrammed from that cult. It’s amazing that he did background work for the film that dealt with such a subject, and that information and connections to deprogrammer came in handy. That’s a real Knight in Shining Armor in my book.

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    • Yeah, that whole episode was crazy. It’s hard to believe someone could be convinced to pay money to be told that they can live on sunlight alone. But a young actress new in town can be very vulnerable I suppose. Even though Horton and Pfeiffer split, they still remain friends. He definitely came through for her there.

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  11. Why Michelle Pfeiffer Deserves a Career Comeback:
    http://moviemezzanine.com/michelle-pfeiffer-essay/

    Nearly every year brings news of a comeback or return-to-form for a major film actor. Last year’s Birdman brought renewed appreciation and a long-overdue Oscar nomination to Michael Keaton. Bruce Dern got a late-career highlight the year before with Nebraska. The past decade has seen career revivals for Mickey Rourke, Alec Baldwin, Robert Downey, Jr., and Matthew McConaughey. Each of these performers is more than deserving of their comebacks, but one can’t help but gripe that few actresses are joining them.

    Sure, Jennifer Jason Leigh will co-star with Dern in the new Tarantino film The Hateful Eight, and Patricia Arquette just won an Oscar and the lead on a new TV procedural, but their cases are far and few between. Actresses are rarely afforded the same opportunities for longevity as men, unless their last names are “Streep,” or, on television, “Lange.” Amy Schumer even parodied the media’s institutional ageism and sexism on the most recent episode of “Inside Amy Schumer,” pointing out the all-too-clear reality that top female stars of decades past are left sexless, negligible roles after a certain age. Never mind how joyous it would be to see resurgences for Geena Davis or Holly Hunter. The performer most deserving of a comeback, though? Michelle Pfeiffer.

    No actress can stay as emotionally open on screen while closing themselves off from other characters the way Pfeiffer can. No actress is as vulnerable when guarded. And few actresses can compare to Pfeiffer’s long and storied career of fervently feminist material, lack of vanity, and continuous ability to steal scenes or whole films from the charismatic likes of Kurt Russell, Al Pacino, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Keaton, and Daniel Day-Lewis without seeming like she’s just showing off.

    Pfeiffer burst onto the scene after a few false starts and TV movies with two films in 1983: Grease 2 and Scarface. The former tries to counteract the original Grease’s sexism while failing miserably to match its songs, dance numbers, ensemble, or technical facility. The latter is a delightfully gaudy epic remake headlined by one of Pacino’s most enjoyably ludicrous performances. Both demonstrated not only Pfeiffer’s star power, but her ability to take underwritten roles and make them sing. Grease 2 is all clumsy noble intentions and lousy songs when Pfeiffer’s off screen, but it feels infinitely more watchable whenever she’s the center of attention. In Scarface, meanwhile, she plays Robert Loggia’s and, later, Pacino’s trophy wife with an I-don’t-give-a-f*** demeanor that makes even the eternally cocksure Tony Montana seem small.

    Since then, Pfeiffer has made a career of playing women whose situations or past lives have forced them to be cagey, lest they be hurt again. In the otherwise lighthearted The Witches of Eastwick (1987), she’s abandoned by her husband because of her advanced fertility, and her good-humored nature can’t quite hide her dissatisfaction. In Robert Towne’s underrated Tequila Sunrise (1988), she’s torn between a cop with ulterior motives (Russell) and an honest ex-drug dealer (Gibson), and smart enough to know that she could be easily hurt by either or both of them. In her sublimely campy performance in Batman Returns (1992), the mousy secretary becomes femininity’s avenging angel against misogynists, all while falling for (and fighting) Keaton’s own haunted hero.

    Pfeiffer earned a trio of Oscar nominations in her golden age, starting with the 1988 adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons, where her reasonable suspicions of John Malkovich’s wolfish count fall by the wayside. She’s heartbreaking there, but a year later brought a more assured, “cool” damaged character with her work as singer Susie Diamond in The Fabulous Baker Boys. Her glamorous, sexy renditions of “Makin’ Whoopee” and “More Than You Know” give way to world-weariness offstage as she talks candidly about her past as an escort, knowing that Jeff Bridges’ self-destructive drunk is no good for her even as she falls in love with him (all without losing her frankness: “You look good.” “You look like shit. “I mean it, you look good.” “I mean it, too. You look like s***.”). Even the mediocre Love Field (1992), for which she earned her third nomination, is elevated by her mixture of flamboyance and hidden grace.

    Pfeiffer’s finest films from this period make her past, her relationship, and her need to reconcile the two the whole of the film. Jonathan Demme’s delightful Married to the Mob (1988) sees her ex-mob wife Angela reinventing herself as an independent working-class woman and shaking off the macho creeps that have plagued her (Baldwin, Dean Stockwell) for a warmer, kinder man (Matthew Modine, not quite up to task as an eccentric FBI agent). The film’s true climax is not the violent shootout but rather Modine apologizing for deceiving her, with her remarking that “everybody deserves a second chance…even you.” Married to the Mob works because neither Demme nor Pfeiffer condescend to Angela, making her a smart, good-natured woman who has every reason to be reserved with her emotions. It makes the film’s happy ending all the more hard-won.

    The hidden treasure of Pfeiffer’s golden age is 1991’s Frankie and Johnny, an uncharacteristically mature film from Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall, based on the play “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune” by Terrence Rafferty. Pfeiffer’s casting was criticized at the time for putting a beautiful movie star in a role originated by Kathy Bates, but Frankie is defined more by her emotional baggage than her looks. It’s one of Pfeiffer’s most charming yet reticent performances, her chilliness towards Pacino’s sweet and playful ex-con becoming clearer and more painful as she slowly warms to him and discloses her past. The film’s final scene, a quiet coming-to-terms moment set to Debussy’s “Claire de Lune,” is among the most elegant in a modern romantic comedy, a sequence of tiny gestures and grasps for shared moments that demonstrates how expressive both stars can be with just the slightest shifts. Again, it’s a hard-won romantic ending, a love borne from understanding and healing.

    That emphasis on kindred spirits finding each other is present in her best film, Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (1993), but to a far more devastating effect. Like in Married to the Mob, Pfeiffer plays a woman trying to break free of a constrictive society and an unhappy marriage, but things are complicated when Day-Lewis first advises her not to go through with her divorce and then falls in love with her (complicated further by his engagement to her cousin, played by Winona Ryder). The Age of Innocence is a master class of actors revealing their emotions to the audience while believably masking them from others. Scorsese’s glorious form complements all three leads, especially Pfeiffer, whose introduction is marked by a subtle shift from heavy shadows to light when Day-Lewis first sees her.

    It’s with reason: Pfeiffer is at her warmest and most radiant here, an unfettered soul who’s nevertheless bound to the society she rebels against. It’s easy to see how private rebel Day-Lewis falls for her, and difficult to watch as they’re both forced to endure an unhappy life, rarely given the chance to even express their love for each other, hiding their gazes and seeming like they’re about to implode in banked frustration. If it has competition as Pfeiffer’s best performance, it may be the canniest use of her screen persona, a role that pushes her to simultaneously be the most free-spirited person in the room and the one who’s the most successful at hiding what she wants when she needs to, to tear-jerking effect.

    The Age of Innocence comes at the end of Pfeiffer’s most fruitful period, but even with her misfires, she continued on the path of making movies about women, for women and giving better performances than many of the films she starred in deserved. Dangerous Minds is a deeply patronizing white savior movie, but Pfeiffer escapes with her dignity intact, never displaying the self-congratulatory qualities that won Sandra Bullock a pat-me-on-the-back Oscar for The Blind Side. Up Close & Personal neutered the story of troubled news anchor Jessica Savitch, but Pfeiffer gives a performance worthy of a smarter movie. A Thousand Acres turns the acclaimed “’King Lear’ on an Iowa farm” novel into a sudsy, simplistic version of the kinds of women’s pictures Pfeiffer made in her prime, but she and Jessica Lange both navigate their characters’ emotional trauma deftly. Even the rare stumbles for Pfeiffer as a performer (I Am Sam, The Story of Us) ultimately lie at the feet of the emotionally fraudulent material she can’t redeem.

    There are gems from this middle period, too, especially those that see the middle-age-entering Pfeiffer dealing with motherhood and lifetimes of disappointments. The underrated romantic-comedy One Fine Day is a lighter flipside to Frankie and Johnny, with romance borne out of mutual understanding among divorced single parents Pfeiffer and George Clooney. Robert Zemeckis’ Hitchcockian thriller What Lies Beneath shows Pfeiffer exploring the emotional minefield that is life after kids go to college, with Zemeckis emphasizing her isolation and volatility even before she begins to suspect the neighbor has murdered his wife and has to deal with her own dismissive husband (Harrison Ford, whose natural crotchetiness hasn’t been used half as well since).

    Pfeiffer earned a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for her work in White Oleander, an uneven but powerful adaptation that sees her damaging her teenage daughter (Alison Lohman) by trying to “set her free” (read; keep her bound to her and no one else). The explanation for her own lack of emotional attachment might seem too pat if not for the conviction Pfeiffer brings to her monologue and the way the role twists her caginess and vulnerability into something that could potentially harm others.

    Given the lack of bombs attributable to Pfeiffer, what’s with her relatively dimming star? The answer is a mixture of absence and age: she took a four-year break between 2003 and 2007 to spend time with her husband (“Ally McBeal” creator David E. Kelley) and children. It wasn’t that long of a hiatus, but it made a difference. While she gave a pair of enjoyably hammy performances in 2007’s Stardust and Hairspray, her two star vehicles, I Could Never Be Your Woman and Cheri, flopped, with the former going direct-to-DVD and the latter making back less than half of its $23 million budget. She’s since been underutilized or misused in films by collaborators both old (Marshall with New Year’s Eve, Tim Burton with Dark Shadows) and new (Transformers screenwriter Alex Kurtzman with People Like Us, Luc Besson with The Family).

    And yet, one could watch any of those films and see that Pfeiffer has still got it. Robert De Niro sleepwalks through The Family, but Pfeiffer does not. People Like Us is a noxious, falsely uplifting dramedy, but a scene between a pot-smoking Pfeiffer and son Chris Pine has an emotional truthfulness and frankness that the rest of the film sorely lacks. And while neither I Could Never Be Your Woman nor Cheri are perfect, both show her willing to explore the concept of being an aging woman, of being paired with younger men, and the difficulties that both circumstances bring that can only be described as brave (Pfeiffer’s phenomenal in both, to boot).

    With all of these, there’s no indication of a star who’s slowed down, fallen off, or become complacent. Pfeiffer herself commented in 2012 that she feels “my best performance is still in me” and that “I don’t ever want to lose that fire I have for it.” She may even have a chance for a revival with the morning news-set comedy series that Katie Couric is shopping to a number of networks with her attached to star. Whether it comes with that or something else, there’s only a need for smart producers and directors to realize that Michelle Pfeiffer never stopped being big, it’s just the pictures that got small.

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    • What was said in this article about “Tequila Sunrise” is one of the reason I like it: Mel Gibson’s Mac character is such a genuine character immersed in a shady business, while the majority of those on his tail are disloyal, corrupt, or glory greedy.

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  12. Flashback Friday: Michelle Pfeiffer is the best Catwoman and the best in general:
    http://www.joblo.com/hollywood-celebrities/gossip/flashback-friday-michelle-pfeiffer-is-the-best-of-the-catwomen-254?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

    Nowadays you’re likely to find more people praising the virtues of Anne Hathaway’s take on the much beloved Catwoman character. Anne did a fine job, but for my money, no one captured the character better than Michelle Pfeiffer. Totally crazy, totally hot, violent, playful and twisted, her patent leather pussycat is where my mind goes when I think of Batman’s on again, off again nemesis.

    image: http://i.imgur.com/vQlMLbj.gif

    image: http://i.imgur.com/mnCI6Dq.gif

    That’s a great Michelle Pfeiffer performance, one of two that stand as my personal favorites. She’s had a number of memorable roles over the years, working alongside some of the great leading men of the last 40 years. Most people probably saw her first in SCARFACE way back in ’83. Her role as Elvira, the titular character’s squeeze, was her big break, yet stands as my least favorite of the more well known Michelle roles. Sure, Tony Montana was a thoroughly despicable person, but at least he had personality. All Michelle’s character had were several addictions and an ever-present moodiness in almost every scene. She did look pretty hot in that early 80s Debbie Harry style, but man was she walking a fine line. I’m really surprised she didn’t get typecast as the bitch from that role.

    I’m sure Michelle’s looks were her saving grace there. An angel face like that makes her sympathetic. People want to root for her, idolize her, pine for her. I know I used to crush pretty bad on Michelle, thanks to that other favorite role I mentioned earlier. My fellow children of the 80s will join with me in hailing her role as Isabeau in LADYHAWKE as perhaps just as memorable as her time spent in patent leather.

    Such a precious slice of 80s nostalgia right there. You’re just not human if your heart doesn’t ache for Michelle and Rutger in that scene and then later in the happy ending. That’s one of those “remote droppin'” movies. If I see it’s coming on, I gotta watch it. It’s like a duty. Michelle is a big reason for that. Even with the 80s short hair, she’s still a vision of beauty unparalleled

    All these years later, Michelle’s looks are still there, even as she approaches 60. She’s still a beautiful woman. Unfortunately she doesn’t show up in things as much as she used to (her last role was in 2013’s THE FAMILY). Some of that Hollywood ageism, perhaps? Or maybe just Michelle feeling like she’s done what she came here to do. Whatever her absence is about, Michelle’s place as one of the great beauties of my day, or anyone’s day, is fully secure.

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    • I think Michelle Pfeiffer was a fantastic Catwoman. Actually, I like most of the Catwoman turns (I really like cats regardless; we seem to have a natural bond). I have to say, my favorite Catwoman line is from “Batman: The Animated Series” and by Adrienne Barbeau (no relation to Lebeau): “Never trifle with the affections of a woman”. Words to live by:-)

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