What the Hell Happened to Phoebe Cates?
In the early 1980’s Phoebe Cates was one of the hottest rising stars in Hollywood. After memorable roles in two Hollywood blockbusters, her career cooled off. In the early 1990s, she went into retirement and has rarely been seen or heard from since.
What the hell happened?
Cates got her start as a dancer. However, an injury ended her dancing career at a young age. Next, Cates went into modeling. Although she was successful, she did not find it to be fulfilling. According to Cates, “It was just the same thing, over and over. After a while I did it solely for the money.”
In 1982, Cates made her film debut in the tropical romance, The Blue Lagoon. No wait, that’s not right. It was a Blue Lagoon rip-off called Paradise which co-starred Scott Baio’s sidekick, Willie Aames.
At the time, Aames was a relatively popular TV actor having appeared in the long-running series, Eight is Enough. The producers were looking for an attractive young actress to cast opposite Aames in a role that required quite a bit of nudity. Cates was 17-years old at the time. Her modeling career prepared her for the requirements of the role.
During the production, Aames and Cates decided the movie didn’t require as much nudity as the script called for. The producers responded by shooting additional nude scenes with body doubles. Cates wasn’t happy when she saw the final film, “They weren’t in the version of the film they showed us for approval. When I finally got to see the final print months later, I flipped.”
In spite of his reservations, Aames agreed to promote the movie. Cates refused to have anything to do with Paradise. Probably a wise move. Aarmes was nominated for a Golden Raspberry for Wost Actor for Paradise. His movie career stalled out and he ended up playing second banana to Chachi on Charles in Charge. Eventually, he became the writer, director and star of the direct-to-video Christian super hero series, Bibleman which does not include nude scenes performed by body doubles.
Later that year, Cates appeared as part of the ensemble in Amy Heckerling’s classic high school comedy, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Cates played Jennifer Jason Leigh’s best friend and the object of Judge Reinhold’s fantasies. The famous “pool scene” in which Reinhold’s character imagines Cates removing her red bikini is one of the funniest and most memorable scenes in the movie. Over thirty years later, it’s still memorable.
Fast Times was written by Cameron Crowe. Crowe went undercover as a high school student and wrote a tell-all book which he adapted into a screenplay. The result is a comedy that is edgier and more true-to-life than your average high school comedy.
The success of Fast Times resulted in a wave of knock-offs. For a time, every teen comedy was required to include a certain number of nude scenes in hopes of duplicating its success. But most of these teen sex comedies fell far short of the standards set by Fast Times. Most of the copycats have long since been forgotten.
A TV spin-off was also attempted. Cates’ role was played by Claudia Wells, the actress who originated the role of Michael J. Fox’s girl friend in Back to the Future before being replaced by Elisabeth Shue in the sequels.
In 1983, Cates starred opposite Matthew Modine in another teen sex comedy, Private School.
Private School was one of those forgettable Fast Times rip-offs. The cast also included Ray Walston who memorably played Sean Penn’s teacher in Fast Times. But the presence of two Fast Times alumni couldn’t save Private School. It is the kind of sex comedy in which the jokes come from characters reacting orgasmically to the sight of a girl in her under wear, boys dress in incredibly unconvincing drag in order to sneak into the girls’ dormitory and the girls play pranks on each other by pulling off their tops in public.
Reviews were mixed to negative. While most critics disapproved of the movie, a few noted that it was better than the average teen sex comedy of the time. Which tells you just how bad most of these teen sex comedies were, because Private School is awful.
Posted on May 25, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged bridget fonda, drop dead fred, entertainment, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, gremlins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kevin Kline, movies, Phoebe Cates, shag. Bookmark the permalink. 117 Comments.