What the Hell Happened to Melanie Griffith?
Melanie Griffith is the daughter of Hollywood icon, Tippi Hedren, an Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner. She rose to the A-list in the 80s working with directors like Brian De Palma, Mike Nichols and Jonathan Demme. But after a promising decade, she stumbled and fell off the a-List in the 90s.
What the hell happened?
Griffith was born into show business. Her mother, Tippi Hedren, is best known for the films she made with Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds and Marnie. Hedren suffered numerous indignities at the hands of the legendary director. Griffith was a child at the time and remembers a strange gift from Hitchcock.
“It was, like, a coffin box… and I opened it up and in it was a doll of my mother from The Birds… It was, like, made by the studio. Can you imagine the psychological effect (of that)… He was a very weird guy.”
That’s for sure. Later in her career, Griffith would go on to appear in an episode of the TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in the 80s.
Griffith’s biological father was also in “the biz” as an actor and producer. Her parents divorced when she was only four years old. Her father re-married a model/actress and her mother re-married an agent/producer. Given this upbringing, it is no surprise that Griffith started doing commercials at age 12.
At age 14, Griffith began dating her mother’s 22-year-old Harrad Experiment co-star, Don Johnson. Griffith had an uncredited cameo in the film. Griffith and Johnson were married in 1976. The marriage lasted only six moths.
In 1975, Griffith started getting her first credited film roles. She appeared in three films that year. The Drowning, co-starred Paul Newman. Smile starred Bruce Dern. Her most significant role was in the neo-noir detective drama, Night Moves which starred Gene Hackman.
Night Moves was not a success when it was released, but it has gained critical support over time. Many now consider it the last great film by director Arthur Penn. Night Moves is perhaps best known for Griffiths many nude scenes. She was reportedly only 17 when she filmed them.
At the time, Griffith was living the show biz lifestyle. Actress Tatum O’Neal has claimed that, she and Griffith had a sexual encounter in a Paris hotel room while high on opium and hashish. O’Neal was only 12 and Griffith was 18.
Throughout the late 70′s, Griffith worked on TV movies, mini-series and small roles in film. She appeared in the movie Roar with her mother in 1978.
In 1982, she married her second husband, actor Steven Bauer (best known as Manny Ribera in the Brian De Palma’s Scarface.) The couple had a son together in 1985 and divorced in 1987.
Griffith’s big break came in Brian De Palma’s 1984 thriller, Body Double.
De Palma was a “student of Hitchcock” which is sort of a polite way of saying that he ripped off the master of suspense shamelessly. Body Double borrows liberally from Hitchcock classics, Vertigo and Rear Window.
Griffith played a porn star who, you know what, I’m not going to explain the plot. It’s silly and anything I can tell you about it would constitute a spoiler. She played a porn star, okay?
Originally, De Palma intended to cast an actual porn star in the role. But you have to imagine the idea of casting Tippi Hedren’s daughter was too much for the Hitchcock-obsessed director to resist.
Body Double was mostly panned by critics. And understandably so. It’s hard not to laugh at the film’s excesses. It’s hard to tell whether or not De Palma intends this as a Hitchcock satire or an homage. While most critics dismissed the film, many singled out Griffith for praise.
The movie flopped at the box office. But it developed a cult following on video.
It is seriously ridiculous. Just watch Vertigo instead.
In 1984, Griffith starred opposite Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams for the geek-impaired) and Tom Berenger in the sexy thriller, Fear City.
Griffith played a stripper. Are we sensing a trend here?
In 1986, Griffith starred opposite Jeff Daniels in Jonathan Demme’s quirky comedy, Something Wild.
Griffith plays a variation on the manic pixie dream girl who turns Daniels’ life upside down. Daniels plays an uptight banker who Griffith catches in the midst of a dine-and-dash. Griffith’s Lulu is intrigued by this relatively mild rebellion and takes Daniels’ Charlie on a series of adventures.
The great thing about Something Wild is that it takes an unexpected dark turn in the film’s final act. Usually in these movies, the hero learns to loosen up through the irresponsible and self-destructive behavior of a beautiful stranger.
That’s true here too, but the couple’s actions have real life repercussions when Lulu’s violent ex boy friend Ray, played by a never-scarier Ray Liotta, arrives on the scene.
Something Wild is sexy, scary, romantic, dark, funny and appropriately enough wild. Critics responded to its quirky charms even if mainstream audiences didn’t know what to make of it.
Griffith, Daniels and Liotta were all nominated for Golden Globes for their performances. And Something Wild has developed a cult following.
In 1987, Griffith divorced for the second time. She later admitted that this caused her to abuse liquor and cocaine. ”What I did was drink myself to sleep at night. If I wasn’t with someone, I was an unhappy girl.”
Every “What the Hell Happened” article includes at least one “big year”. In Griffith’s case, that year was 1988 which included the direct-to-video release of the sci-fi flick Cherry 2000 in which Griffith had really, really red hair.
Cherry 2000 is about a future in which there are sex robots. Amazingly, Griffith does not play one. The movie was filmed in 1986 and released to video after Griffith became a star.
Seriously, how was she not a sex robot in this thing?
Later that year, Griffith appeared in a small role as a trophy wife in Robert Redford’s The Milagro Beanfield War.
Later that year, she appeared in Mike Figgis’ directorial debut, Stormy Monday opposite Sean Bean, Tommy Lee Jones and Sting.
Stormy Monday was yet another sexy neo noir thriller. This time, Griffith played a waitress which I suppose is a step up from the strippers and prostitutes she had been playing up to this point in her career.
Griffith’s career changed completely when she starred opposite Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver in Mike Nichols’ comedy, Working Girl.
Griffith, of course, plays a prostitute. I mean, the movie is called Working Girl and it stars an actress who has specialized in strippers and prostitutes up to this point. Wait! She isn’t a prostitute? Well, she sort of is, but not literally.
First Griffith doesn’t play a sex robot in Cherry 2000 and now she’s not a prostitute in Working Girl. My world makes no sense any more.
Griffith played Tess McGill, a Staten Island secretary who rises through the ranks of the business world by posing as her boss when she is laid up after a skiing accident. Soon, she has entered into both a business and romantic relationship with Ford’s character.
In the film’s most famous line, Griffith says, “I have a head for business and a bod for sin.” I was shocked by how often this quote was mangled on the internet. It’s “bod” people. Not “body”. What the hell!
Working Girl featured a number of actors who would go on to great success in their careers including Oliver Platt, Kevin Spacey, and Alec Baldwin. It also co-starred Joan Cusack who would score an Academy Award nomination for the film.
Reviews were mostly positive and Griffith was once again singled out for praise. She was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe. The movie was a huge hit at the box office.
This was the high point. It’s all downhill from here.
During her big year, Griffith checked herself into rehab and sobered up. In 1989, she reunited with her ex-husband, Don Johnson. Which is a really bad call after sobering up. The remarried when Griffith was 5 months pregnant with their daughter, Dakota. The on-again/off-again couple separated for good in 1995.
Until we reach that point, just assume they are making up and breaking up over and over again. I’m not going to try to keep track of these two.
In 1990, Griffith starred in a not-so-sexy thriller, Pacific Heights.
Griffith co-starred with Matthew Modine as a couple that gets taken in by a psychotic tenant played by Batman (the Michael Keaton version). Griffith’s mom also has a cameo role as a wealthy woman taken in by Keaton’s con man.
Pacific Heights got mixed to negative reviews, but managed to be a modest success at the box office.
Later that year, Griffith co-starred with Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis in Brian De Palma’s comedy, Bonfire of the Vanities.
Where to start with the appropriately titled Bonfire of the Vanities? Books have literally been written about what went wrong making this movie. Most famously, Julie Salamon’s The Devils’s Candy chronicles the making of this notorious flop.
The movie was based on Tom Wolfe’s cynical satire of the same name. In the book, Sherman McCoy is a Wall Street investor who refers to himself as a “Master of the Universe. He’s built more like Arnold Schwarzenegger than Tom Hanks. He was not a sympathetic guy as is evidenced by the plot which centers around a racially charged trial over a hit-and-run in which Sherman is complicit.
It’s tricky material to adapt into a big budget Hollywood movie with a Christmas release. And yet, that is what Warner Bros decided to do.
De Palma himself would later summarize what went wrong with Bonfire:
“The initial concept of it was incorrect. If you’re going to do The Bonfire of the Vanities, you would have to make it a lot darker and more cynical, but because it was such an expensive movie we tried to humanize the Sherman McCoy character – a very unlikeable character, much like the character in The Magnificent Ambersons. We could have done that if we’d been making a low-budget movie, but this was a studio movie with Tom Hanks in it. We made a couple of choices that in retrospect were wrong.”
How screwed up were the filmmaker’s priorities? They spent $80,000 for a 10 second shot in which the setting sun lined up with the a runway at JFK air port. That’s an expensive back drop!
According to Salamon, Tom Hanks dismissed Uma Thurman’s audition for the part eventually played by Griffith as “high school”. (Maybe he’s not such a nice guy after all.) Lena Olin also auditioned for the role and told the crew she had never heard of Hanks (this was before he was a beloved Hollywood icon). And the crew bitched about how hard it was to make Griffith look attractive on film.
Perhaps as a result of comments from the crew, Griffith made a rash decision during the film’s Christmas break. Without telling anyone associated with the film, she went out and got a boob job. When she returned to continue shooting, she grabbed De Palma by the head and shoved his face in her new boobs.
Oh, also Bruce Willis is an asshole no one got along with. But I think we already knew that.
I could go on all day about Bonfire of the Vanities. But since the entire disaster has already been well-documented, I will just say that the reviews were terrible and the movie flopped in spite of Griffith’s newly enhanced rack.
Griffith was also nominated for a Golden Raspberry.
In 1991, Griffith starred opposite her first and third husbands (both of whom were Don Johnson) in the little seen country drama, Paradise. The film also features future hobbit, Elijah Wood and future What the Hell Happened subject, Thora Birch.
In 1992, Griffith returned to mainstream movies opposite Michael Douglas in the World War II drama, Shining Through.
I don’t know what they are watching in that picture, but the theater is empty and they don’t seem to be enjoying themselves. Hey! Maybe they are watching Shining Through!
Roger Ebert summarized critical reaction with this quote:
“I know it’s only a movie, and so perhaps I should be willing to suspend my disbelief, but Shining Through is such an insult to the intelligence that I wasn’t able to do that. Here is a film in which scene after scene is so implausible that the movie kept pushing me outside and making me ask how the key scenes could possibly be taken seriously.”
Reportedly, Griffith learned a little history while making Shining Through. Apparently, up until this point, Griffith had been unaware that the Nazis “did bad things” to the Jews during World War II. Griffith was outraged by this news and spoke out on it decades after the fact. This earned her the nickname “Brainiac” in Toronto-area press for years to come.
Shining Through won Worst Picture and Griffith won Worst Actress at the 1992 Razzie Awards.
Later that year, Griffith starred in A Stranger Among Us.
Griffith played an undercover cop in what I can only assume was meant to be Witness with Hasidic Jews instead of the Amish and Tess McGill instead of Harrison Ford.
A Stranger Among Us was directed by Sidney Lumet and was entered in the Cannes Film Festival. But it got terrible reviews and bombed at the box office.
Proving that Griffith did not learn from past mistakes, she made another movie with hubby, Don Johnson in 1993.
This one was Born Yesterday which co-starred John Goodman. The business comedy failed to repeat the success of Working Girl and earned Griffith another Golden Raspberry award.
In 1994, Griffith returned to prostitution (or playing prostitutes in movies anyway) for the supposed comedy, Milk Money.
Griffith plays a hooker named V who flashes a kid for money. The kid then invites V to live in his tree house and hooks her up with his dad (played by Ed Harris who should know better).
Milk Money was nominated for a Golden Raspberry for Worst Screenplay. But Griffith was passed over.
Later that year, Griffith had a small role in the comedy-drama, Nobody’s Fool which starred Paul Newman and the asshole from Bonfire of the Vanities, Bruce Willis.
Although her role was small, Griffith still found time to flash her boobs.
Nobody’s Fool was actually a good movie. Newman was nominated for an Oscar. Reviews were good and the movie was a modest hit.
In 1995, Griffith starred opposite Angelica Huston in the TV mini-series, Buffalo Girls. I mention it merely so I can offset some of those Golden Raspberries with the Golden Globe nomination Griffith received.
Later that year, Griffith appeared as part of the ensemble cast of Now and Then.
Now and Then told the story of four friends in childhood and played by different actresses in adulthood. Griffith co-starred with Demi Moore and Rosie O’Donnell as the grown-up friends. Her younger self was played by her Paradise co-star, Thora Birch.
Despite bad reviews, Now and Then was a modest hit.
Griffith capped off the year by starring in the screwball comedy, Two Much, opposite Antonio (“Too Sexy”) Banderas and Daryl Hannah.
On the subject of Two Much in What the Hell Happened to Daryl Hannah, I wrote: “I can’t possibly be expected to read the synopsis of this thing. Did it involve twins? Let’s just assume Banderas played twins, shall we?”
Friend of the Blog, Paul (of the wonderful Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies) saved me the trouble of watching Two Much by confirming my suspicion that Banderas did in fact play twins. Twins by the names of Art and Bart no less! Apparently Banderas distinguished between the characters by wearing glasses.
Thanks again, Paul!
The movie was panned by critics and bombed at the box office. Pretty much everyone involved was nominated for a Golden Raspberry. Both Griffith and Hannah won. Apparently the glasses saved Banderas.
On the upside, Griffith and Banderas started a romantic relationship. Griffith dumped long-time husband and drug addict, Don Johnson for the latin hunk. The couple was married the next year after their respective divorces were finalized. They had a daughter together and in 2002 received the Stella Adler Angel Award for their charity work.
So, at least something good came out of Two Much. Poor Daryl Hannah came away empty-handed.
In 1996, Griffith co-starred opposite Nick Nolte and Jennifer Connelly in the neo noir crime thriller, Mulholland Falls in which no one played a pair of twins. Which is a shame because Nolte would have rocked the glasses.
All kidding aside, Mulholland Falls (which was not directed by David Lynch) got mixed to negative reviews and bombed at the box office).
In 1997, Griffith starred opposite Jeremy Irons in Adrian Lyons’ ill-advised remake of Stanley Kubrick’s classic, Lolita.
The remake was controversial in the US. Not because the director of Flashdance and 9 1/2 Weeks has no business remaking Kubrick. But because Americans are a puritanical bunch who get their panties in a twist over sex in movies.
Reviews were mixed, but the movie bombed so badly that Griffith is pictured doing a face palm.
In 1998, Griffith appeared in a Woody Allen movie as every actress must. In this case, it was Allen’s dud , Celebrity which co-starred everyone in Hollywood including Winona Ryder.
She also starred opposite James Woods in Another Day in Paradise which co-starred Vincent Kartheiser who would go on to success in TV on Angel and Mad Men. Apparently, Another Day in Paradise is NOT a sequel to the farm drama Griffith made with ex-hubby Don Johnson.
In 1999, Griffith appeared in two films. The first was Crazy in Alabama which was directed by her husband, Antinio Banderas. The second was RKO 281 about the making of Citizen Kane.
Alabama got bad reviews. RKO 281 got good reviews. Neither movie was a hit. Griffith earned another Golden Raspberry nomination for Alabama.
In 2000, Griffith starred in the John Waters-directed black comedy, Cecil B. Demented.
Like Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom, starring in a campy Waters comedy is a pretty sure sign that an actress’ sex symbol days are behind her. Reviews were mixed. The movie did about what you would expect from John Waters. And Griffith got another Golden Raspberry nomination.
She also starred in Forever Lulu which costarred Patrick Swayze and Penelope Ann Miller.
Gentle readers, I tried to sit through this movie for this article. But I could not make it. What I got from it was that it was a melodrama in which Griffith plays another crazy lady and for reasons I don’t remember Swayze takes her on a road trip. I also remember the acting was horrible.
From there, Griffith more or less disappeared from the big screen. She did a voice in Stuart Little 2 in 2002. She has done some TV work including a sit-com called Twins which ran from 2005-06. Her show, Viva Laughlin was cancelled after only two episodes aired in 2007. And she has done guest spots on Nip/Tuck and Hot in Cleveland.
She checked herself into rehab in 2000 and again in 2009. She has also been treated for skin cancer.
So, what the hell happened?
Griffith’s early career was fueled by her sexuality. She made the jump to respectability with Working Girl, but failed to capitalize on it. Bonfire of the Vanities stopped her career momentum dead. And most everything she has done since has been embarrassing. When her looks faded due to drug and alcohol abuse, the roles dried up.
But, she did manage to land one of the most sought-after hunks of the 90s as her fourth husband (counting Johnson twice, third if you only count him once).
Kim Basinger Thora Birch Matthew Broderick Nicolas Cage Chevy Chase Kevin Costner Geena Davis Bridget Fonda Brendan Fraser Mel Gibson Cuba Gooding Jr. Heather Graham Melanie Griffith Steve Guttenberg Daryl Hannah Helen Hunt Michael Keaton Nicole Kidman Val Kilmer Jude Law Jennifer Jason Leigh Penelope Ann Miller Demi Moore Rick Moranis Eddie Murphy Mike Myers Michelle Pfeiffer Molly Ringwald Meg Ryan Winona Ryder Arnold Schwarzenegger Steven Seagal Elisabeth Shue Alicia Silverstone Christian Slater Mira Sorvino Wesley Snipes Sharon Stone Mena Suvari Uma Thurman John Travolta Kathleen Turner Robin Williams Debra Winger Sean Young Renee Zellweger
Posted on January 5, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened? and tagged antonio banderas, brian de palma, don jonson, melanie griffith, something wild, tippi hedren, working girl. Bookmark the permalink. 78 Comments.