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
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.
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.
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.
Photo courtesy of Jane Curtin
(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.
Saturday Night Live
1978 What Really Happened to the Class
1984-89 Kate & Allie
1990 Working it Out
1996- 3rd Rock From the Sun
1982 Divorce Wars: A Love Story
1988 Maybe Baby
1990 Common Ground
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.
Proposition (comedy group), 1968-72; Pretzels, 1974-75;
Candida, 1981; The Last of the Red Hot Lovers.