CURTIN, JANE

U.S. Actor

Comic actor Jane Curtin is a veteran of two very successful television series. Her first two series coincided with and participated in the revival and redefinition of two familiar televisual forms: live comedy-variety shows and situation comedies. The former resurgence was initiated by NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL) in 1975 when Curtin joined the troupe. The later rejuvenation developed with a number of new sitcoms in 1984, among them Kate and Allie, in which Curtin played Allie Lowell. Curtin's Third Rock from the Sun character continues some of qualities developed on these programs.

One of the original "Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players" on SNL, Curtin had the distinction of being the only cast member producer Lorne Michaels hired cold. Though she had, like other cast members, worked in improvisational theater ("The Proposition"), Michaels had not met her nor worked with her before as he had with the rest of the cast. Less facile with physical comedy than Chevy Chase, less disposed to creating the broad characters of Gilda Radner, with a less elastic face than John Belushi, Curtin's cool, classic countenance made her a fitting choice for many "straight" parts. While Curtin would do a fair share of absurd characters (e.g. the nasal Mrs. Loopner, the mother in the Big Butts family, Prymaat Conehead, the mother in a family from another planet), more often than other women in the cast from 1975 to 1980 she played the "serious" roles (e.g. weekend anchor, Shana Alexander-type political combatant to Dan Akroyd's James Kilpatrick). Where Gilda Radner would outrageously parody journalist Barbara Walters (as Baba WaWa) Jane Curtin would do a more deadpan imitation of commentator Shana Alexander. Yet, square jawed and stoical, she would sometimes intentionally abandon this sober persona using the apparent break in her control to comic effect. This style occasionally surfacing in Third Rock, is something of a trademark.

In an interview with James Brady years later Curtin was asked how she would rate her experience on SNL. She said on a scale of one to ten, it was a ten. Curtin was nominated for two Emmy awards for her work on SNL before she left the show in 1980. She next appeared in a television series as a regular on a sitcom at a time when situation comedy was on the wane. In 1982 and 1983 only two sitcoms were getting ratings in the top 25: Cheers and Newhart. But in 1984 the phenomenally successful The Cosby Show and a number of other domestic sitcoms (with varied family forms) appeared, signaling a decade of domination by this television type. Kate and Allie, premiering in March 1984, was a part of this resurgence. This family consisted of two divorced women, Kate McArdle and Allie Lowell, who rented a flat together and were raising three children between them. Once again Curtin played the more conventional character: abandoned traditional wife Allie.

During the program the Allie grew from a shy homebody to a woman returning to college and eventually running her own business through her domestic skills (cooking and organizing). Thus, Curtin was again playing a confident woman with an underlying vulnerability. She won two Emmy awards for her portrayals for the 1983-84 and the 1984-85 seasons. She stayed with the show until it ended in 1990.

Curtin appeared in a number of movies, both for the big screen and for television, during and after Kate and Allie, and tried another series that was not successful (Working it Out, 1990). It wasn't until January 1996 that she again "hit" with a program that drew on both a sitcom formula and the growing popularity of science fiction TV programs (e.g. all the Star Trek descendants, The X Files, etc.), Third Rock from the Sun. No doubt her role as the alien Prymaat Conehead in SNL and later in The Coneheads movie (1993) contributed to her hiring.

The premise of Third Rock is reminiscent of the Coneheads, as a group of aliens land on earth and live as a human family. The leader, played by John Lithgow, poses as a professor colleague of anthropologist Mary Allbright (Curtin). The interplay between the characters draws on much of Curtin's past style. Dr. Allbright is a conventional professional woman with a sober exterior who often breaks this pose to temporarily partake in the absurd behaviors of the aliens (e.g. breaking into showtune songs in a diner, getting aroused by a slap in the face). Perhaps the part was not written for Curtin, but it could have been. In this program she is once again playing it straight but only to a point.

-Ivy Glennon

 


Jane Curtin
Photo courtesy of Jane Curtin

JANE (THERESE) CURTIN. Born 6 September 1947 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Elizabeth Seton Junior College, A.A. 1967; attended Northwestern University, 1967-68. Married Patrick F. Lynch, 1975 one child: Tess. Began comedy career as company member of "The Proposition" comedy group, 1968-72; contributing writer and actor in off-Broadway production Pretzels, 1974-75; original cast member of Saturday Night Live, NBC-TV 1975-80; roles in several , stage productions, and TV programs. Recipient: Emmy Awards 1983-84 and 1984-85; Address: Creative Artists Agency, 1888 Century Park E., Suite 1400, Los Angeles, CA 90067.

TELEVISION SERIES

1975-80 Saturday Night Live
1978     What Really Happened to the Class of '65
1984-89 Kate & Allie
1990     Working it Out
1996-    3rd Rock From the Sun

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1982 Divorce Wars: A Love Story
1987 Suspicion
1988 Maybe Baby
1990 Common Ground
1995 Tad

FILMS

Mr. Mike's Mondo Video, 1979; bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda, 1979; How to Beat the High Cost of Living, 1980; O.C. & Stiggs, 1985; Coneheads, 1993.

STAGE

The Proposition (comedy group), 1968-72; Pretzels, 1974-75; Candida, 1981; The Last of the Red Hot Lovers.