What the Hell Happened to Linda Hamilton?
There are very few actresses who have played iconic roles in action movies. Linda Hamilton is one of them. But immediately following the biggest success of her career, Hamilton put her career on hold. When she did work, it was usually as a guest star on a TV show. She basically terminated her movie career at its peak.
What the hell happened?
Like most actresses, Hamilton paid her dues on television. Hamilton had a small role in a 1979 TV movie called Night-Flowers. In 1980, she had a guest spot on Shirley Jones’ sitcom, Shirley. She also appeared in the TV movie, Reunion and starred opposite Mickey Rourke in another rape-themed TV movie, Rape and Marriage: The Rideout Case (pictured).
In 1980, Hamilton got a regular gig on the short-lived nighttime soap, Secrets of Midland Heights. Hamilton played a teen who gets mixed up with a college jock played by Lorenzo Lamas. The show was intended to be Peyton’s Place for the 80’s.
Secrets of Midland Heights was cancelled after only 8 episodes. At the time, it was announced that the show would return in a retooled format. Instead, a new show emerged.
King’s Crossing featured some of the same actors as Secrets of Midland Heights when it debuted in 1982. But the two shows were unrelated. Like Secrets, King’s Crossing was quickly cancelled.
In 1982, Hamilton made the leap to the big screen in the thriller, TAG: The Assassination Game.
The movie was about a group of college students who play a game in which competitors pretend to kill each other with toy dart guns. Bruce Abbott played the top-ranked contestant who takes the game too seriously. When a loser drops his gun and accidentally “kills” him, Abbott’s character goes off the deep end and starts killing his victims for real.
Hamilton played one of Abbott’s intended victims. The two actors met while filming and later married.
Later that year, Hamilton appeared in a TV movie called Country Gold.
Loni Anderson starred as a buxom, blonde haired country singer. I wonder who that could have been based on? Hamilton played Anderson’s younger rival.
Holy crap what the hell is that horrible thing! It’s called Wishman. And believe it or not, this thing was the star of a failed TV pilot on ABC in 1983.
Wishman was some kind of genetic experiment. Joseph Bottoms played a scientist at the lab who decides to take the scary freak home to his wife played by Hamilton. They put a hoodie on it and decide to raise it as their own.
You can sort of see the logic at play here. Clearly ABC was trying to capitalize on the success of E.T. which had been a hit at the movies in 1982. Except instead of a loveable alien, they had a creature that will haunt my dreams for as long as I live. Seriously, I though Alf was disturbing. E.T. was ugly cute. Wishman is pour bleach in your eyes disturbing. Unsurprisingly, it was not picked up to series.
1984 was a very big year for Hamilton. First, she landed a four-episode role on the hit TV show, Hill Street Blues. She also had a minor role in the Glenn Close/Robert Duvall family drama, The Stone Boy. Which is sadly not about a boy made of stone.
Later that year, Hamilton starred opposite Peter Horton in the big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s short story, Children of the Corn. Hamilton and Horton played a couple who happen upon a farm town filled with murderous children. Around this time, everything King had ever written was being made into a movie. Unfortunately, what works on the page doesn’t always translate to film. Children of the Corn really tries to make a town full of kids scary. But the best it ever achieves is “creepy”. More often than not, it is unintentionally funny.
Despite negative reviews, Children of the Corn did well enough at the box office to start a franchise. A sequel was released theatrically in 1993 followed by several direct-to-video sequels and a TV movie.
Oh yeah. I almost forgot. Hamilton also starred in a science fiction movie called The Terminator. You may have heard of it.
Arnold Schwarzenegger played a cyborg sent from the future to kill the mother of the man who would go on to lead a human resistance against the machines. Hamilton portayed Sarah Connor, the mother of humanity’s only hope. And Michael Biehn costarred as the man sent back in time to protect her from the Terminator. Of course, you already knew all this.
James Cameron originally wrote The Terminator with Bridget Fonda in mind to play Sarah Connor. Had Fonda agreed, The Terminator would have been her movie debut. When she passed, several actresses were considered. Debra Winger was cast but changed her mind before filming started.
Hamilton was finally cast, but she broke her ankle one week before filming started. To accommodate her injury, all scenes that required her to run were rescheduled as late as production would allow.
According to Hamilton, she and Cameron didn’t get along very well at first:
“Oh my god, he made me so mad on the first Terminator film where he was on the side of the technology, not the people. Just after we shot the film’s memorable moment – “You’re terminated f****r”, where I had a 250lb arm that grabbed my throat and was exhausted from working the ninth day in a row stuck in a machine – I asked to look at the playback of the scene.
But Jim said: “No time, got to move on.” I went bonkers and I took him off the set to shout at him. But there was no ceiling, so everybody could hear us anyhow. I screamed at him: “If you want to see a human being on that set, treat me like a f*****g human being.” He tried to calm me down, apologised, gave me a bottle of Champagne and got me back on set.
Then he told the crew that he’d made me work up that rage to get a better performance from me. Bull! So the apology didn’t mean a thing. I thought: “You creep!”
I took the Champagne home and just outside my front door the bottle spontaneously exploded. It must have had such bad vibes in it because I later cut my foot on the broken glass and thought: “Oh, God, he’s even got the last word!”‘
The Terminator received mostly positive reviews. It was a hit at the box office, but it was not the blockbuster some people might assume. The Terminator was a low-budget science fiction movie that grossed less than $40 million dollars in the US. To put its box office performance in perspective, it was pushed out of the top twenty highest-grossing movies of 1984 by Red Dawn.
In 1985, Hamilton starred opposite Sally Kellerman and Geena Davis in the cheesy Cold War-themed TV movie, Secret Weapons.
Hamilton and Davis played young, impressionable Russian girls. They are enlisted into a sex school by Kellerman and her husband. After being trained as prostitutes, they are sent out to seduce visiting Americans so they can blackmail them.
As you can see, The Terminator didn’t exactly launch Hamilton to stardom.
In 1986, Hamilton starred opposite Tommy Lee Jones in the low-budget action movie, Black Moon Rising.
Jones played a thief who works for the government. He has been hired to steal a cassette with incriminating data from a corrupt company. But when he is nearly caught, he stashes the cassette on board a prototype car called the Black Moon. Hamilton played a car thief who steals the Black Moon along with the cassette. Eventually, Jones and Hamilton team up to recover the car and the evidence.
Black Moon Rising was co-written by John Carpenter. It co-stars Bubba Smith as the government agent who hires Jones. I think that tells you everything you need to know about Black Moon Rising.
By 1986, Hamilton was back on television. Two years after The Terminator, she starred in a TV movie called Club Med. Hamilton also appeared on an episode of Angela Lansbury’s long running TV show, Murder She Wrote. Bonus points to anyone who can guess the identity of the actor pictured with her.
That’s a young Bryan Cranston breaking no so bad.
Hamilton capped off 1986 by starring opposite a guy in a gorilla costume in Dino De Laurentii’s sequel to his infamous 1976 King Kong remake, King Kong Lives. As the title suggests, the big ape somehow survived his fall from the World Trade Center, but he has been in a coma for the last 10 years. Hamilton played a scientist who has the brilliant idea to revive King Kong with a blood transfusion from another giant ape. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?
De Laurentii’s Kong remake was a box office hit in spite of bad reviews. The sequel opened to even worse reviews. Roger Ebert wrote “The problem with everyone in King Kong Lives is that they’re in a boring movie, and they know they’re in a boring movie, and they just can’t stir themselves to make an effort.” This time, the big ape couldn’t overcome the critics. King Kong Lives flopped.
The following year saw Hamilton cozying up to another furry costar. On the fantasy TV show, Beauty and the Beast, Hamilton played and assistant district attorney rather than a princess. She encounters a man-beast named Vincent played by Ron Perlman. Vincent lived in an underground labyrinth among a secret society of outcasts. Over the course of the series, Hamilton’s character falls in love with Vincent and he becomes her protector. Although apparently he wasn’t quite up to the task. Hamilton’s character was killed off in the show’s abbreviated third season.
Beauty and the Beast was well-received by critics. Hamilton was nominated for both an Emmy and two Golden Globes. In 1987, she lost the Golden Globe to Susan Dey. The next year, she lost to Jill Eikenberry. Both winning actresses appeared on the courtroom drama, LA Law. She lost her one Emmy to Dana Delany for China Beach.
Beauty and the Beast was never a mainstream hit. In it’s highest-rated season, it ranked 49th in the Nielsen ratings. But it developed a very devoted cult following.
Hamilton decided to leave the show during its third season due to her pregnancy. The network decided to retool the show in an attempt to attract more male viewers. Things took a violent turn as a mobster killed off Hamilton’s character after she gave birth to Vincent’s son. Vincent spent the third season on a quest to save his son and avenge Hamilton’s death. The new direction alienated the show’s fanbase and it was cancelled in 1990.
In 1989, Hamilton was pregnant and leaving her cult TV show. Meanwhile, her marriage was dissolving. According to Hamilton, her husband (actor Bruce Abbott) left her while she was carrying his child. But Hamilton, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, takes a lot of the blame:
“My first husband had talked me out of it. He loved me when I was the life and soul of the party and even when I was the tragic lost girl. But I was a bully and would throw plates at him. If I was down he would have to be miserable, too. Eventually it became too much and he left me, though he’s my best friend now.”
In 1990, Hamilton returned to the big screen opposite James (don’t call me Jim) Belushi in the romantic fantasy, Mr. Destiny.
Belushi played a guy who believes that if he had hit a baseball in a big game as a kid, his whole life could have been improved. He tells this to a mysterious bartender played by Michael Caine and before you can say “It’s a Wonderful Life”, history has been rewritten. Belushi hits the ball as a child and somehow this transforms him into a rich man married to Rene Russo. Hamilton played Belushi’s wife from his previous life whom he tries to win back in his new one
The late 80’s/early 90’s were an odd time. For whatever reason, Hollywood seemed convinced they could make the late John Belushi’s little brother into a movie star. During this time, Belushi signaled he was a serious actor by insisting on being billed as James. Eventually, everyone came to their senses and relegated the lesser Belushi to TV sitcom limbo.
Mr Destiny was Belushi’s bid to be taken seriously as a romantic leading man. His more famous brother attempted to make the leap to romantic comedies unsuccessfully with Continental Divide. Mr. Destiny suffered a similar fate. It was a critical and commercial disappointment.
Next: Terminator 2
Posted on June 15, 2014, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged beauty and the beast, children of the corn, entertainment, james cameron, linda hamilton, movies, the terminator. Bookmark the permalink. 84 Comments.