What the Hell Happened to Kathleen Turner?
She started her career as the 80’s answer to a femme fatale. She quickly became an international sex symbol. At the peak of her career, Turner was a well-respected Academy Award nominee as well as a box office draw. But the big parts slowed down and then she seemed to disappear from movie theaters entirely.
What the hell happened?
Turner started her career as a stage actress. She moved to New York City in 1977 and took over the female lead for the off-Broadway play, Mister T. I pity the fool that didn’t give her a standing ovation! Future space man, Jonathan Frakes, co-starred.
Later that year, Turner made her Broadway debut opposite Danny Aiello in the play Gemini. At the same time she was appearing on Broadway, Turner made her TV debut on NBC’s soap opera, 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.
The movie is set during a hot Florida heat wave. Not the sticky, gross kind they have in real life but the kind they have in movies where everyone glistens and looks fabulous. Hurt played a seedy lawyers who gets caught up in the sex tornado that was Turner. The only problem is she’s married to a rich old man played by Richard Crenna. All Hurt has to do is knock off the old man and Turner will be all his. Not to mention she stands to inherit a fortune. Mickey Rourke and Ted Danson appeared in supporting roles.
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”.
In order to make the crew feel comfortable during the filming of Body Heat’s many steamy sex scenes, Hurt and Turner personally introduced themselves to every member of the crew. When they did so, they were completely naked.
In her autobiography, Turner remembered Hurt’s hard-parting lifestyle:
In those days, he was pretty wild. He drank a great deal and took a lot of recreational drugs – he loved those magic mushrooms. He loved women, too; I don’t know how many he went through during filming. Bill always wanted to stay in character . . . [He] thought I wasn’t taking my acting seriously enough.
Although the movie was supposed to take place during a heat wave, it was actually shot in freezing cold. The actors had to pretend to be sweltering when actually they were chilled to the bone. In order to prevent their breath from fogging in the cold, Turner and Hurt would suck on ice cubes before speaking. They also had to be sprayed down with water to simulate sweat.
Kasdan used a Steadicam for the famous scene in which Hurt hurls a chair through a window. The Steadicam was still relatively new and it presented technical problems. According to Turner, it kept breaking down:
We hear, ‘Cut! Wrap! The sun’s up.” We lost the whole night trying to get the shot. So at the height of passion, at the height of tension… we had to pick it up the next day. Talk about a cold shower.
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. At a medical conference, Martin meets a colleague played by David Warner. Warner has a collection of living brains he has treated with an experimental technique. Martin discovers he can communicate telepathically with one of the brains in Warner’s collection (voiced by Sissy Spacek). 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.