A braless Jamie Lee Curtis, clad in a skintight, scarlet minidress and a Phyllis Diller fright wig, stares down the befuddled guest standing in her living room. Jamie is trying hard to be nice, but she’s had a lousy day at work and is in no mood to explain why she dresses like an East Village Bride of Frankenstein. “This is not Shakespeare,” she announces. “All I’ve got going for me in this whole, big, wide world is this body” — she points to her breasts — “this face” — she points to her cheeks — “and what I’ve got up here” — she taps her head.
Rewind the VCR a few seconds, play this terrific scene between Jamie and Dan Aykroyd again. One more time. Yes, here it is, no question. This Trading Places scene, wherein we see there is a person inside Ophelia, the Philadelphia street whore, is where Jamie Lee Curtis proves she is an actress. Not an “actress,” like the sitcom bimbos who talk about “acting” on Entertainment Tonight. No, an actress, the kind they used to have back in the days when weasels like Walter Winchell and Hedda Hopper could still pull Hollywood strings with their typewriters.
True, a handful of the tens of millions who heard Jamie’s five-minute aria of shrieks in her 1978 film debut in Halloween immediately figured out that Janet and Tony’s kid already knew her way around a soundstage. The Washington Post‘s Gary Arnold, for one, got so excited by Jamie’s first performance that he flooded one sentence of his review with as many unctuous adjectives as Rex Reed uses in an entire week. “The 19-year-old daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis,” Arnold wrote, was “more suggestive of a melancholy, ungainly, young Lauren Bacall.”
America has long since learned that Jamie Lee Curtis has gained her gainliness and a solid reputation as an actress. In her latest film, Perfect, a story about a mercurial reporter-stud working for Rolling Stone (John Travolta), Curtis portrays an Olympic swimmer turned Los Angeles aerobics instructor who unexpectedly becomes the reporter’s friend, lover and source. In Perfect, Curtis acts out a classic torch song that even Lauren Bacall sometimes had trouble pulling off: the one about the world-weary siren who decides to trust a man one more time — and gets burned again. This babe, the world should know, can act.
A MONTH BEFORE PERFECT OPENS, JAMIE LEE CURTIS leads a tour through the four-room, top-floor West Hollywood apartment she shares with her husband, Christopher Guest, of Saturday Night Live and This Is Spinal Tap, and Clark, her barkless dog. Chris, the only man in world history able to expertly imitate both Bob Dylan and an aged Negro League baseball star, briefly diverts the tour into a walk-in closet, where he pulls out the single best piece of baseball memorabilia outside of Cooperstown: a genuine Tokyo Giants uniform once worn by Sadaharu Oh. On a shelf is a note from Ronald Reagan saying how happy he is that Chris and Jamie got married. Chris, pissed off about Bitburg, says the note is coming down pronto. From the Curtis-Guest bathroom window, one can spy Jamie’s agent, who is lying alongside the apartment-house pool with aluminum panels under his chin. Half a block away on Sunset Boulevard is the Château Marmont, where John Belushi played his final rendition of “Tears of a Clown.” A few yards from Bluto’s haunted bungalow stands a monstrous strip-side billboard for Perfect. The ad shows a Godzilla-size Jamie Lee Curtis wrapped in a Danskin and John Travolta, whose chin dimple must be measured in feet. “Weirdness,” says Jamie about her billboard. “Yippy-yahoo weirdness.”
To get in Perfect shape, Jamie spent several months grunting through a four-hour-a-day regimen of aerobics, weight lifting and swimming. About two months into training, she began giving aerobics lessons at the Beverly Hills Sports Connection, the Wailing Wall of the West Coast fitness religion. Jamie’s pain was Perfect‘s gain. “It is very important in this movie,” she explains, “that people buy that I’m an aerobics instructor.” After Jamie toughened up, Bridges spent about a month filming all of Perfect‘s workout scenes. These hyperkinetic shots — all of which carry the electricity of Busby Berkeley with a backbeat — are the movie’s best. Then came several months of drama shoots. Finally, it came time to shoot the credit sequences, which would be filmed as a frenetic workout scene. Jamie had lost ten pounds of muscle in the intervening months — a weight loss that is noticeable in the final cut. Though this gaffe doesn’t rank with the shot of the Los Angeles Freeway sign in Spartacus, it does provide one more excuse for filmgoers to keep their eyes on Perfect‘s lead actress.