What the Hell Happened to Kathleen Turner?

Kathleen Turner

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?

Kathleen Turner on stage - 1977

Kathleen Turner on stage – 1977

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.

Kathleen Turner - The Doctors - 1979

Kathleen Turner – The Doctors – 1977 – 1980

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.

Kathleen Turner – Body Heat – 1981

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.

Kathleen Turner - Body Heat - 1981

Kathleen Turner – Body Heat – 1981

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 - man with 2 brains

Kathleen Turner – The Man With Two Brains – 1983

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.

Next: Romancing the Stone and Prizzi’s Honor

Posted on July 4, 2011, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 142 Comments.

  1. Name Some Of The Worst Hollywood Collapses

    https://www.datalounge.com/thread/16524226-name-some-of-the-worst-hollywood-collapses

    Correct – Kathleen Turner did manage a career in theater. But her film career as a leading lady was relatively short due to booze, weight gain and health problems

    —Anonymous

    reply 442 Last Saturday at 1:59 PM

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    • By the late 1980s, Kathleen Turner had acquired a reputation for being difficult: what The New York Times called “a certifiable diva.” She admitted that she had developed into “not a very kind person,” and the actress Eileen Atkins referred to her as “an amazing nightmare.” Turner slammed Hollywood over the difference in the quality of roles offered to male actors and female actors as they age, calling the disparity a “terrible double standard.”

      In 1990, Turner received unfavorable publicity when a deliberately lit fire at the Happy Land Social Club, located in a building managed by her husband, claimed 87 lives. The club was operating without a license and the building had been cited for numerous fire safety violations, but The New Yorker quoted Turner saying, “the fire was unfortunate, but could have happened at a McDonald’s.”[

      As a result of her altered looks and weight gain from her rheumatoid arthritis treatment, The New York Times published this statement in 2005, “Rumors began circulating that she was drinking too much. She later said in interviews that she didn’t bother correcting the rumors because people in show business hire drunks all the time, but not people who are sick.” Turner has had well-publicized problems with alcohol, which she used as an escape from the pain and symptoms of acute rheumatoid arthritis. Turner has admitted that owing to her illness, she was in constant unbearable agony and that as a result, the people she was closest to would suffer from it, as she was constantly drinking to relieve the pain and it made her a very difficult person. A few weeks after leaving the production of the play The Graduate in November 2002, Turner was admitted into the Marworth hospital in Waverly, Pennsylvania, for the treatment of alcoholism. “I have no problem with alcohol when I’m working,” she explained. “It’s when I’m home alone that I can’t control my drinking…I was going toward excess. I mean, really! I think I was losing my control over it. So it pulled me back.”

      —Anonymous

      reply 448 Last Saturday at 2:22 PM

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  2. Robert Spinello

    Time changes everything and everyone.

    Like

  3. off topic quesiton but since romancing the stone was on there. Was michale father kirk ever a list like mike

    Like

    • One indicator of A-list status, which I’ve referred to here in comments here before, is the annual Quigley’s list rankings of the top 10 box office stars. Kirk Douglas never made the Quigley’s top 10 list, even during the 1950s and early 60s when his stardom was at its peak. He was working hard in that era but not appearing in all that many big box office hits, and apparently even when he did (The Bad and the Beautiful, Spartacus), he was not seen as the factor getting people into the theaters.

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  4. so I guess his son had commercial success then he did.

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  5. Of course there are actors who have made few times there and never was a list. SO that ranking system cannot always be accurate. tommy lee jones was on there few times but he was never a list since most of hits where supporting roles. Duddley moore ,michael j fox and dan akyrod too and none of those guys ever really reached a list either.

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    • Of course–that’s why I said that the Quigley list was “one indicator” of A-list status, not “the last word on the subject.”:)

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  6. what does era have to do with being top draw.

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    • Lots; Kirk Douglas’ prime was when there was less media saturation and stars were marketed differently. I mean, the man’s practically 100 years old; he was around when the only way to view film trailers was to actually go to the theater, since TV didn’t become constant in American households until the late 1950’s (or so I’ve been told).
      I wouldn’t make this comparison with anybody, but since Kirk Douglas has a son that was in the industry when profiles where heightened, a comparison seems worthwhile.

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      • The numbers I’ve seen are that in 1950, Americans owned a little under 4 million television sets, and 9% of all US households owned one. By 1955 the figures were slightly over 30 million sets, and nearly 65% of households, and by 1960 it was over 45 million sets and about 87% of all households. I’m not sure when showing movie trailers on TV became a common marketing practice.

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        • Thanks for the figures, as I know the TV situation differed for people (my mother didn’t own a color TV until the mid-1960’s). Maybe the TV film trailer deal wasn’t a huge factor, it’s just that Kirk & Michael Douglas had completely different working environments during parts of their career for sure. Of course, so did John Barrymore & Drew Barrymore.

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        • Was there any particular event in the US that really boosted TV buying, as per the Queen’s coronation in the UK?

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        • From what I’ve learned, that 1960 JFK/Nixon debate was a real big deal as well, so maybe that event really gave the final push for TV’s to become a part of most every household by that time.

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  7. when douglas was at his peak in 80s there was more ways to market movies back then. I would say it is harder to have a hit movie now since people can stream them online now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s true, and I think a lot of people feel that makes films kind of easily digestible and disposable, like fast food, due to the easy access. I think streaming is a good thing though, but its been mentioned before on this site that the many ways that consumers can get their movie fix has changed the landscape of the industry permanently.

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  8. Not only that but it seems like comic book adaption ,reboots ,remakes and sequels have dominated the movie industry and movie companies put more effort promoting those movies because they think it will make then fast money. Hollywood has gotten lazy,.Studios just want to capitalize on a hit movie genre that require little work and imagination.

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    • Yeah, a big part of it is Hollywood being lazy and playing it safe, which is a bad combination. From my experiences so far, I’ve seen a lot of both in the year 2016 overall as well.

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  9. People complain hollywood is out of ideas but when a original ideal cranks open they avoid it

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    • Yeah, I think the general public tends to do that with new ideas. I think a lot of that stems from both wanting to fit in and not wanting to be wrong about something. I just think that when it comes to the creative arts that it’s important to keep an open mind, and that there’s room for every voice, but not for every echo.

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  10. true. some actors become a list latter in their career like pitt. He had some hits in 90s but he never fully reach a list untill 2000s. If you notice most of his hits in 90s where due to bigger stars.

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