This lanky, down-to-earth leading lady, the daughter of film stars Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, made her film debut starring as a bookish suburban teen stalked in John Carpenter's landmark horror thriller, "Halloween" (1978), which--in the words of British film critic David Thomson--"drew on her iron-jawed air of integrity". Curtis' performance played an important role in making that film one of the most profitable ever made. Fittingly, she went on to star in a succession of films of that ilk ("The Fog", "Prom Night" and "Terror Train", all in 1980). Curtis reprised the role of Laurie Strode, a resourceful babysitter still having a very bad--and long--night in "Halloween II" (1981). Her early feature career suggested that she was a fighting modern-day successor to Fay Wray and Evelyn Ankers as Hollywood's resident horror heroine. Curtis' only previous acting experience had been a few bits on TV's "Columbo" and "Fantasy Island" and a supporting role as one of five nurses aboard a Navy submarine on the 1977-78 ABC sitcom "Operation Petticoat". (Coincidentally, her father co-starred with Cary Grant in the original 1959 Blake Edwards-directed film.)
Possessing neither the peaches-and-cream loveliness of her mother nor the sensuous, pretty-boy good looks of her father, Curtis had a sometimes gawky, somewhat androgynous look which combined an appealing ordinariness with a tomboy's formidably healthy sexiness. She gradually transcended her "scream queen" origins beginning with an affectingly romantic turn in "Love Letters" (1982) and especially her good-hearted prostitute in John Landis' Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd vehicle, "Trading Places" (1983). The latter revealed Curtis' flair for comedy as well as other impressive attributes. Consequently she had to live down the nickname 'The Body', referring to a slim but curvaceous figure which producers loved to exploit in scantily clad (or briefly nude) fashion. The TV-movie "Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story" (NBC, 1981) used this aspect of her persona appropriately and touchingly, but the major critical and popular failure of the mis-titled "Perfect" (1985) slowed her ascending career a bit.
Curtis kept busy in offbeat and interesting if little-seen fare like "Amazing Grace and Chuck" (1987) and a nice turn as Ray Liotta's love interest in "Dominick and Eugene" (1988) before comedy turned her career around again with her seductive con in "A Fish Called Wanda" (1988). She smoldered as the girlfriend of a crook (Kevin Kline) posing as a law student to get some valuable information out of his stuffy lawyer (John Cleese). As with Aykroyd, whom Curtis numbers among her favorite co-stars ("Trading Places"; "My Girl" 1991; "My Girl 2" 1994), she was a strangely apt choice to play opposite funnyman Cleese. (Despite her success with comedy, Curtis derides her abilities to deliver comic lines. She will only admit to being a good "reactor".)
In a vivid change-of-pace, Curtis proved a credible and impressively complex action heroine in Kathryn Bigelow's stylish cop flick "Blue Steel" (1990). Box office was disappointing but VARIETY (February 7, 1990) was duly impressed: "Curtis gives an eerily effective performance as Turner, getting across in palpable waves her shaky determination and an inner steeliness born of anger against her abusive father (Philip Bosco)."
Segueing to TV, Curtis also had a respected and enjoyable sitcom duet with Richard Lewis, "Anything But Love" (ABC, 1989-92). This somewhat cynical and neurotic look at yuppie love struck a responsive chord with viewers, especially females. The show never won great ratings but kept rebounding on ABC's lineup until some bright young exec at Fox Television decided it would tank in syndication. Thus this became an exceedingly rare instance in which the production company, rather than the network, was responsible for a series' cancellation.
Curtis has appeared in TV-movies from time to time as well, including the pilots "She's In the Army Now" (ABC, 1981) and "Callahan" (ABC, 1982), the title role in "Annie Oakley" (Showtime, 1985), with Bette Davis in the Southern drama "As Summers Die" (HBO, 1986) and the filmed version of Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer-winning comedy-drama "The Heidi Chronicles" (TNT, 1995). While some reviewers found her miscast in the latter--her portrayal was deemed insufficiently reflective--it is interesting to note that she had previously auditioned for that same title role for the NYC stage production.
Approaching her mid-thirties, Curtis gamely tried on bland but likable young mother and supportive girlfriend roles in "My Girl" and "Forever Young" (1992). Her 1994 work seemed to sum up her career to date with a turn in the deliberately over-the-top "Mother's Boys" which bizarrely revisited her horror roles of yore, while James Cameron's "True Lies" gave Curtis--rather surprisingly amid all the action pyrotechnics--a highly enjoyable showcase role encompassing her scream queen, pin-up, comedienne and mother roles. Reviewers remarked upon her rare ability to be simultaneously funny and sexy as she metamorphosed from mousy housewife to would-be sexpot to action heroine. Curtis' next two comedies failed to live up to her potential: she was an anal retentive Mom put under "House Arrest" (1996) by her resentful teen, and re-teamed with her old "Wanda" cohorts for the underperforming "Fierce Creatures" (1997). The following year, she helped fight a "Virus", made a cameo appearance in "Homegrown" and surprisingly reprised her best-know role as the terrorized Laurie Strode in "Halloween H2O", scripted by Kevin Williamson. Next up was a sort-of dual role in a big-screen remake of Disney's body-swapping comedy "Freaky Friday" (2003). with Curtis playing the fortysomething professional who magically switches bodies with her teenage daughter (Lindsay Lohan) and gain a newfound understanding of one another. The film proved extremely popular with family audiences and pumped fresh new life into Curtis' career. She next teamed with Tim Allen for the loud, raucous holiday comedy "Christmas with the Kranks" (2004) playing a couple whose planned vacation escape from the commerciality of Christmas is disrupted when a surprise last-minute visit from their college age daughter prompts them to scramble to create a special holiday.
Curtis is also devoted to her duties as an author of children's books. Since 1993, she has released five volumes filled with charming rhymes ("Today I feel silly. Mom says it's the heat. I put rouge on the cat and gloves on my feet.") and wise words.