What the Hell Happened to Jennifer Grey?
In the mid-to-late 80’s, Jennifer Grey was a rising star. She had worked with top-tier directors like Francis Ford Coppola and John Hughes. After just three years in movies, Grey was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress. And then she vanished. Grey’s career went from hot to cold so fast she says she actually considered changing her name and starting over!
What the hell happened?
Jennifer Grey’s father is of course the Academy Award-winning actor, Joel Grey. Her mother was singer and actress, Jo Wilder. Her paternal grandfather was comedian and musician Mickey Katz. So it’s safe to say that Grey came from a show biz family. Grey attended the Dalton School, a private school in Manhattan. She studied dance and acting and became best friends with her classmate, Tracy Pollan.
After graduation, Grey took on another two years of training at Manhattan’s Neighborhood Playhouse. During that time she supported herself by waiting tables. At the age of 19, Grey got her first job dancing in a Dr. Pepper commercial.
Grey made her big screen debut in the romantic drama, Reckless.
Aidan Quinn starred as a teenage rebel who falls for a cheerleader played by Daryl Hannah. Hannah’s character comes from a well-to-do family and has a steady boyfriend played by Adam Baldwin. But she’s drawn to the broody bad boy. Grey appeared as one of their classmates.
Critics compared the movie unfavorably to teen rebel movies like The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause. It opened in third place at the box office behind Silkwood which had been in theaters for 8 weeks.
While Reckless was in theaters, Grey appeared in an ABC After School Special. Her best friend, Tracy Pollan, starred in The Great Love Experiment. Pollan played a popular girl who participates in an experiment to boost the social profile of a shy classmate. Grey’s part was minor. She played one of the cheerleaders on Pollan’s squad.
Later that year, Grey appeared in John Milius’ Cold War action movie, Red Dawn.
Red Dawn is based on the totally plausible idea *snicker*snicker* that the Soviet Union could successfully invade the United States. Naturally, a group of high school students led by Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen are America’s last line of defense against foreign occupation. When the teen militia goes to an old man for help, he asks them to watch over his granddaughters played by Lea Thompson and Grey. Because entrusting your granddaughters to Charlie Sheen makes about as much sense as anything in Red Dawn.
How crazy is Red Dawn? It opens with a high school teacher lecturing on Genghis Kahn. The teacher has a drawing of the Mongolian emperor which is actually a caricature of writer/director Milius. The infamous director was a big fan of the conqueror. The class is interrupted by the sight of Russian paratroopers landing right outside their classroom. Naturally, the invaders immediately open fire on the teacher and his students because the Colorado high school is of great strategic importance to their Communist plan.
To really understand Red Dawn, you have to understand Milius. He was a larger than life figure who prided himself on ruffling the feathers of liberal Hollywood studio execs. There are stories of Milius bringing his gun collection to studio meetings and brandishing his firearms as the execs were giving him notes. The original screenplay for Red Dawn was written by Kevin Reynolds (who was infamous for writing and directing Waterworld). The original script focused on the fractures within the group of teens as the pressures of war broke them apart. But Milius was more interested in the story of a militia saving America from a foreign power. You know, the “gun nut” fantasy.
Red Dawn was Sheen’s movie debut. The cast also included Swayze’s The Outsiders co-star, C. Thomas Howell. Harry Dean Stanton and Powers Boothe had supporting roles.
It’s easy to dismiss Red Dawn as a dumb 80’s action movie. But at the height of the Cold War, it was met with controversy. It was the first movie ever released with a PG-13 rating. And according to the Guinness Book of World Records, it held the record for the most acts of violence in a single movie at the time with a rate of 134 acts of violence per hour, or 2.23 per minute.
Despite mixed reviews and controversy, Red Dawn was a hit at the box office. It opened at #1 and grossed nearly $40 million dollars which was a good return on the film’s modest budget. In 2012, in what has to be one of the worst decisions ever, Red Dawn was remade with the Chinese as the 21st century villain. The original movie looked like a documentary by comparison.