Nipped in the Bud

It's the oldest story in Hollywood, the tale of an unfulfilled promise. "I coulda been a contender," wails Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront--and so, it seems, the following eight actresses coulda been stars but had to settle for a spot far further outside the winner's circle than was initially predicted. By no means down for the count, all nevertheless share the experience of missing the moment that might have made all the difference. We asked four writers to tell us how they did it.


It's harder for women, nowadays. In their hit Risky Business, Rebecca DeMornay and Tom Cruise demonstrated enough sexual chemistry to leapfrog over the competition and become overnight stars. They also became an item. With all of Hollywood courting them, both picked very badly, choosing to demonstrate their range, lest anyone mistake them for sex objects: Cruise played a sprightly forest-dweller in Ridley Scott's lamebrained Legend, and DeMornay portrayed a rock-singing newlywed in the Hal Ashby/Neil Simon rock 'n' roll dramedy, The Slugger's Wife.

Facing his-and-her mega-flops, the couple broke up around this time. In an era dominated by projects with starring roles for males, Cruise got another shot at carrying a big studio picture, but DeMornay did not. Had they stayed together and remained the paparazzi's darlings, his continued heat might easily have helped her at this crucial career juncture. Without Cruise, she became just another beautiful blonde actress in a town filled with them, and at a time when there are ever fewer roles for women, even the slightest slip gives the all-important edge to the competition. Kim Basinger and Michelle Pfeiffer grabbed the spotlight and DeMornay found that it's tough to get back on top. Even her about-face as a demure ingenue in The Trip to Bountiful failed to get the excitement going again. One project that might have helped was Roger Vadim's remake of his own And God Created Woman--he had, after all, made sex stars out of Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda--but the resulting bomb, instead of raising eyebrows and/or temperatures, showcased DeMornay's far-from-memorable rock 'n' roll singing.Lately she's made films you're likely to find on video shelves, such as Dealers and Feds.

Kevin Hennessey


At age 18, she had the irresistible face of a wise, gorgeous baby and when the world got a look at her in 1980's Ordinary People, Robert Redford's wrenching saga of suicide in the rich suburbs, she had her pick of choice parts for a few years there. It wasn't just her looks, either. She serenely held her own opposite Tim Hutton's turmoil in Ordinary People and went on to win a supporting actress Oscar nomination for her role as the loose and lovely Evelyn Nesbit in Milos Forman's Ragtime. So what if the 1983 Lovesick bombed? It wasn't her fault her lines weren't funny or that there was something inherently sleazy about the story of a crazed psychiatrist (Dudley Moore) courting a pretty patient less than half his age (writer/director Marshall Brickman glossed over the malpractice aspects of the story by making it clear she didn't really need a shrink).

McGovern's terrific likability could have survived all that, but not what followed: Sean Penn. In 1984 she made Racing With the Moon, a lyrical, period love story that got a lot of added press when McGovern and co-star Penn fell madly in love in a too-public affair. The movie's failure (thanks partly to Richard Benjamin's instinct-free direction), was compounded by a painfully public disengagement from Penn (who quickly took up with Madonna), and the just-blossoming actress went into an eclipse from which she's never fully emerged. Though she got some good reviews in theater, it was 1987 before she made another major film--The Bedroom Window, an indifferent thriller in which she played Steve Guttenberg's girlfriend while Isabelle Huppert stole the show. Then John Hughes cut her role in She's Having a Baby to shreds--she was having the baby, but Kevin Bacon was having the movie. When she played Mickey Rourke's good girlfriend last year in Johnny Handsome she was lit so ruthlessly it was impossible not to meditate mid-film on the cruelty of time. But in the little seen bizarro-socio-sci-fi The Handmaid's Tale, McGovern showed a tough brassiness that just might herald a new direction. The dew's definitely off the rose, but she's good, and hell, her career's not much worse off than Seans's. Maybe there's justice.

Barbara Ann Mitchell


This actress alone constitutes an argument for director Peter Weir's absolute genius with actors. Forget all those inexperienced kids in Dead Poets Society from whom Weir drew shining performances. It's McGillis who's the proverbial silk purse of Weir's career. Just conjure up any of McGillis's performances of the last six years and try to understand how Hollywood hype once tagged her as the next Grace Kelly/Ingrid Bergman. It was Weir's Witness that did it. As the Amish widow who falls for cop Harrison Ford she had one of the best parts an actress ever got and she was luminous and funny and profound in it. Since nobody had to act in Top Gun, her next picture, it wasn't apparent that McGillis wasn't, and the big box office in Tom Cruise's wake benefitted her tremendously.

But next came a series of films that began to build a substantial counter-argument to the notion that McGillis was the next anything. The witless Hitchcock imitation The House on Carroll Street had enough problems without taking into consideration McGillis's performance, but suffice it to say she came off, at best, as a witless Grace Kelly. Then, as the predestined love of Tim Hutton in Alan Rudolph's charming, if flawed, little fantasy, Made in Heaven, McGillis, obviously cast for her Witness-like radiance, came off as dully ethereal. The killer, though, was Winter People, an Ozark soap opera housing a host of worst-of-career performances. It was in this picture that her overall tendency toward facial chubbiness was disastrously married to the tendency of her face to swell up when she weeps, which she does throughout the story. Nobody saw Winter People, so it can't be said to have hurt McGillis's career all that much. What has hurt her is her failure to follow up Witness with even one performance that hints of the early promise. Most recently, in The Accused, McGillis was little more than a springboard for Jodie Foster's Oscar triumph. All this is not to say that Kelly McGillis absolutely cannot act. She's just one of those actresses that needs a really good director to avoid embarrassing herself, and a genius director to shine.



Though she bears a physical resemblance to Candice Bergen and Julie Christie, both leading ladies of the '60s and '70s, Kate Capshaw has yet to exhibit their level of style or staying-power, despite the dream-hype surrounding her breakthrough film, 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Capshaw had three small films to her credit (including A Little Sex and Dreamscape) when BOOM! Spielberg picked her, Indy loved her, and she got the cover of Life magazine. But hype is just what Webster's says it is: "artificial stimulation," and Indiana Jones proved both a beginning and an end for Capshaw. In her one and only hit film, she made a grand entrance over the opening credits as a blowzy blonde American cabaret singer in Shanghai doing a knockout number with sophisticated, Carole Lombard-esque comic grace.

Unfortunately, for the rest of the film, her shrieks set one's teeth on edge, and Spielberg, no actor's director, did little to reign her in. But in any case, this broad comic potential was not capitalized on in Space Camp, or Sidney Lumet's gloomy Power (in which she was ill-advised to play second fiddle to Julie Christie). After laying low for a couple of years, Capshaw returned to the screen last year in Black Rain, playing yet another blowzy American nightclub girl stuck in the Orient. But unlike Indiana Jones, the hero of this film (Michael Douglas) left her behind when he went on his adventures. Having recently given birth to her child with Spielberg, Capshaw is reportedly raring to come back to the big screen, but word also has it that she doesn't want to have to audition for parts--a privilege usually reserved for really big stars. Truth is, she hasn't had a major film role since 1986. And after all, being the mother of Steven Spielberg's child doesn't guarantee carte blanche on Hollywood's screens (see following on Amy Irving).

Jemmy Stone


Amy Irving was just another pretty, dewey-eyed actress with a few TV credits to her name when Brian De Palma cast her in Carrie in 1976, and then The Fury in 1978. But De Palma did more than that for her: he set her up on a blind date with Steven Spielberg. She and Spielberg were together for a couple of years, but split up around the time she was making Voices, the first of several nothing movies that included The Competition and Honeysuckle Rose. And then, two pivotal events occurred: she was cast by Barbra Streisand in Yentl, the role for which she won an Oscar nomination, and she got back together with Spielberg. It was at this point that she could have parlayed her position into a solid career. Plenty of actresses who marry powerful filmmakers have no qualms at all about soliciting their mates' help, and Irving was the live-in lover of the most powerful player in Hollywood, the mother of his son, and soon to become his wife. A juicy role in any prestigious movie might have given Irving the necessary quantum boost.

But, perhaps to her credit, she was determined to make her career on her own terms, and she refused even to talk about the Hollywood wunderkind in interviews. So she began doing TV movies like "Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna" and pictures like the Cannon fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin. She was praised for her portrayal of a sophisticated Jewish girl who falls for a pickle maker in Crossing Delancey, but few saw this small Joan Micklin Silver picture. And then she and Spielberg split up. Well, perhaps like her mother, actress Priscilla ("Dallas") Pointer, she'll have a perfectly satisfying career in the theater, doing TV and the occasional movie. During the shooting of Irving's most recent picture, the bomb A Show of Force, she became lovers with the director, Bruno Barreto, and has since had his child. What does this teach us?

Maggie Amberson

Pages: 1 2