What the Hell Happened to Elizabeth Berkley?
In the early 90’s, Elizabeth Berkley was a rising star. After several years on television, she was ready to make the leap to the big screen. Showgirls was a huge opportunity. The script was written by one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood and the director was A-list. The last time Paul Verhoven and Joe Eszterhas collaborated, they made a star. But this time, things worked out differently. Instead of becoming an A-list actress, Berkley’s movie career went down in flames.
What the hell happened?
Berkley started dancing at a young age. When she was ten, she auditioned for the lead role in the movie version of Annie. She didn’t get the part, but she began travelling to New York to train. By 1983, she had appeared in several ballets and stage musicals.
As a teenager, she began modeling. She worked for Elite Model Management.
Berkley made her TV debut in 1986 with a bit part on the sitcom, Gimme a Break. In the fifth season episode, Getting to Know You, Nell Carter agrees to babysit some adopted children. She is surprised when she ends up watching over a dozen children (including Berkley) and a dog.
Later that year, Berkley appeared on an episode of Silver Spoons. In Ricky Moves Out, Ricky Schroder’s character decides to move to the guest house to get a little more privacy. Instead, he finds himself playing host to his friends who want to use the house for parties. Berkley appears as one of many guests.
In 1987, Berkely appeared in her first TV movie, Frog. It starred Shelley Duvall, Elliott Gould, Paul Williams and a young Hal Sparks. The talking frog movie was followed up with a sequel titled Frogs! in 1991.
In 1988, Berkley appeared in an episode of the TV show Day by Day titled Girl Wars. She also had a role in a TV movie called Platinum Blonde.
In 1989, Berkley was cast on the kids’ show, Saved By the Bell. The show was about a group of six high school students at the fictional Bayside High School in California. Mark-Paul Gosselaar played Zach, the charming schemer. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen played Kelly, the popular cheerleader. Mario Lopez played A.C. the jock. Berkley played Jessie, the brainy crusader. Dustin Diamond played Screech, the dorky kid. And Lark Voorhies played Lisa, the gossip.
Saved By the Bell was a spin-off from a Disney Channel show called Good Morning, Miss Bliss. The original version of the show focused on a high school teacher named Miss Bliss played by Disney legend, Haley Mills. Gosselaar, Voorhies and Diamond played students on the show which was set in Indianapolis.
Miss Bliss was cancelled by Disney after 13 episodes and the rights reverted back to NBC. They repackaged the show as Saved By the Bell. The three students and the principal character all relocated to California.
Berkley auditioned for the role of Kelly. She lost the part to Theissen. But the producers liked her well enough to create the role of Jessie for her. At 17, Berkley was the oldest member of the cast. Diamond was only 12 years old. The rest of the cast was 15 at the time.
Saved By the Bell became the highest-rated show on Saturday mornings. The show ran through 1993. NBC doubled the order for the final season but Theissen and Berkley did not sign on for the extra episodes. They were included in the final graduation episode which was filmed before they left. After the final season, Saved By the Bell inspired several spin-offs..
In 1990, Berkley continued making guest appearances on other TV shows while working on Saved By the Bell. She appeared in a two-parter on Valerie (aka The Hogan Family). She also appeared on the short-lived sitcom, Married People. And finally she did an episode of Life Goes On.
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