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10 Things You Don’t Know About Jamie Lee Curtis

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Jamie Lee Curtis launched her film career with the immortal 1978 horror classic Halloween.  In Halloween, Curtis created a heroine in Laurie Strode who would become the prototype for the ultimate scream queen.  Subsequent roles in horror films like The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train, Road Games, and Halloween II would cement Curtis’s status as cinema’s undisputed scream queen.  It’s a title Curtis holds to this day.  Here are ten little-known anecdotes from Curtis’s scream queen career, between 1978 and 1981.

1) Like Laurie Strode, Curtis was very socially awkward when she was in high school.  In the fall of 1975, Curtis’s mother, Janet Leigh, enrolled Jamie at Choate-Rosemary Hall, a prestigious boarding school, which is located in Wallingford, Connecticut.  At the Choate school, Curtis felt ostracized because of her famous last name.  “High school was a fucking killer,” said Curtis.  “I only had two friends at Choate.  One was a Jewish girl, one of the few Jews at the school, and the other was an exchange student from Iran named Ali.  I was singled out as much as they were for being Iranian and Jewish.  I was from Hollywood, the daughter of Bernard Schwartz [Tony Curtis’s real name] and Janet Leigh.  I was totally out of place at the school from the first day I arrived.”

2) Even though Halloween was a big hit in 1978, Curtis’s career languished in the period after the film’s release.  “I couldn’t get a job for seven months after I did Halloween,” recalled Curtis.  “Halloween was out, and it was doing such great business, and when Halloween eventually spread across the country, I thought I would get more movie roles.  But nothing happened in terms of my career.  People were congratulating me about the success of Halloween, and I was eating at McDonald’s.”

3) Curtis was asked to audition for Prom Night by director Paul Lynch and producer Peter Simpson.  The audition consisted not of acting but rather disco-dancing.  “I really wanted to see if she was a good dancer, because we were doing a prom-themed movie, and I wanted to do a big dance sequence,” recalls Lynch.  “Peter and I took Jamie to a dance studio down on La Cienega in Los Angeles, and we asked her to do some dancing, and she just danced her head off.  She was a great dancer, unbelievable, and that’s what finally convinced us that she was perfect for the film.”

4) Curtis displayed a phobia of cemeteries during the filming of Prom Night.  “Jamie’s first scene in the film was the scene at the cemetery, where she stares at the grave of her dead sister,” says assistant director Steve Wright.  “I shot most of that scene because Paul Lynch was busy with something else.  I remember that I looked at Jamie and asked her ‘Do you think we got it?’ She said, ‘Yes, we got it.  Let’s move on,’ and I said, ‘Well, I think we should wait for Paul Lynch to decide, because he’s the director of the movie,’ and then she said, ‘Let’s go.  I don’t want to do this anymore.’  Later on, I found out that Jamie was scared of cemeteries, and that’s why she was so uptight, because for the rest of the shoot, she was fine.”

5) Curtis’s co-star in Prom Night, Casey Stevens, struggled with the dancing in the film.  As a result, Curtis had to pull him through the film’s climactic dance sequence.  “Casey and Jamie worked for two weeks on the dancing,” recalls cinematographer Robert New.  “Jamie was really into the dancing and really burned it up on the dance floor, whereas Casey wasn’t that much into it.  Jamie pulled Casey around the dance floor and carried him through the scene.”

6) During the filming of Terror Train, Curtis formed an instant friendship with co-star Sandee Currie, who played Mitchy.  “They were very close during filming,” recalls co-star Derek McKinnon.  “Jamie helped Sandee out a lot with her scenes because Sandee was very nervous and inexperienced.  They had a similar sense of humor.  They were inseparable on the set.”

7) Curtis celebrated her twenty-first birthday in Montreal during the filming of Terror Train.  To mark the occasion, Tony Curtis sent Jamie a very unusual birthday present.  “We had a birthday party for Jamie at the hotel, and it was a lot of fun, and Tony Curtis sent a birthday present for Jamie,” recalls co-star Timothy Webber.  “When Jamie opened up her present, it turned out to be stock from MGM.  We all laughed.  You could tell they weren’t close.”

8) When Curtis arrived in Australia for the filming of Road Games, she received a hostile reception from the local press, who were upset that an American actress had been cast in the female lead role, instead of an Australian actress.  Curtis was given the female lead role in Road Games instead of Australian actress Lisa Peers.  “When I found out I’d lost the part in the film to Jamie Lee Curtis, I complained to the union because I was really devastated and upset about it,” says Peers.  “I feel bad about any controversy that Jamie Lee had to deal with because I wasn’t angry with her.  She’s a great actress.  I thought it was silly to have a film that’s set in Australia and to cast an American actor, Stacy Keach, as a truck driver and then cast an American actress as a hitchhiker in Australia.  It didn’t make sense.”

9) In 1981, Curtis formed a production company, Generation Productions, for the purpose of developing film projects for Curtis to star in.  Curtis wrote a twenty page treatment for a proposed horror film project, entitled The Myth, which Curtis hoped to either produce or star in for the fledgling, short-lived company.  “It’s my idea and my horror film,” said Curtis at the time.  “I wrote a horror film.  In fact, I wrote a wonderful horror film.  It’s absolutely fabulous.”

10) The $100,000 Curtis was paid for Halloween II was more than twice the salary of Donald Pleasence, who was paid $45,000 for the sequel.  “Jamie was in a much better negotiating position than Donald was for the sequel,” recalls Pleasence’s agent, Joy Jameson.  “Jamie was the star of the film.  I think there was a feeling that they could do the sequel without Donald if they had to.  Donald always needed money because he had so many children and ex-wives to support, so he took what they offered.”

For more information about Jamie Lee Curtis and her scream queen career, read the book Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen, which is available in paperback and through kindle.