Everything has a beginning and for a self-confessed anglophile in love with British women, the beginning of my obsession with those beautiful ladies started with Jacqueline Bisset. Watching her play a hot mom ushering teens into manhood in movies like CLASS, or introducing the whole world to the concept of the wet t-shirt in THE DEEP, were early bucket list entries for me. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to be deflowered by a friend's mom and I'm still working on going diving with hotties in sheer clothing. No point in bothering with either of these pursuits anyway, as such experiences could ever be as good in real life as Jacqueline made them look on the big screen.
Winifred Jacqueline Fraser Bisset entered this world on the 13th of September 1944 in Weybridge, Surrey, England, the daughter of a doctor father and a French lawyer turned housewife mother who crossed France on a bicycle to escape the Nazi invasion a few years before her daughter's birth. Jacqueline and her brother grew up in their London suburb, very much a product of their parents' distinct nationalities. Jacqueline was taught to be fluent in French by her mother. She learned her mother's native tongue so well that many people later assumed she was from France originally. It was Jacqueline's mother who sent her to the prestigious, French-based Lycée primary and secondary school in London, where she received even more refinement in her dual ancestry.
As a teen, Jacqueline's mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, requiring her to spend a significant amount of time at home to care for her mother - especially after her father abandoned the family following the diagnosis. Even later in life when her career as an actress was exploding, Jacqueline still made regular trips home to assist in her ailing mother's care, doing so right up to her mother's death in 1999.
Without a father to help pay her tuition, not to mention the family's expenses, Jacqueline began to do modelling work to help pay the bills. This naturally led to acting work, initially in bit parts during the mid 1960s with movies like Richard Lester's THE KNACK AND HOW TO GET IT and Roman Polanski's CUL-DE-SAC. That led to a somewhat larger, barely speaking role in the Peter Sellers James Bond spoof CASINO ROYALE, playing the appropriately named character Miss Goodthighs. While making a good showing of her obvious beauty, this rather shallow role unfortunately set a precedent for many eye candy heavy roles to follow.
From there the roles started to get bigger. She replaced Mia Farrow in 1968's THE DETECTIVE, assuming the role thanks to Mia and lead actor Frank Sinatra's pending divorce. Yet Jacqueline's true breakout role came with her casting in that year's now legendary action epic BULLIT, starring herself and Hollywood tough guy Steve McQueen. Playing the girlfriend to the Mustang-driving, kimino-wearing, San Francisco cop, her beauty paired with McQueen's gruff demeanor created the perfect chemistry, giving her the juice necessary to stand out amidst some of the greatest car chases ever put on film.
After BULLIT, Jacqueline's star was definitely on the rise, making the 1970's essentially her decade. She starred as Dean Martin's pregnant mistress in the big-budget disaster film AIRPORT in 1970, laying the groundwork for the greatest spoof movie of them all in the form of AIRPLANE 10 years later. By this point Jacqueline was essentially building a career out of playing the beautiful love interest opposite some Hollywood's greatest leading men. She starred alongside Alan Alda in THE MEPHISTO WALTZ in 1971, the following year with Paul Newman in THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN, next with Ryan O'Neal in THE THIEF WHO CAME TO DINNER in 1973 and Anthony Quinn in THE GREEK TYCOON, playing obvious allusions to the relationship of Jackie Kennedy Onassis and her husband Aristotle.
For many of us, familiarity with Jacqueline and her career truly began in 1977 when she starred alongside Nick Nolte in the classic and theretofore unprecedented SCUBA-centric actioner THE DEEP. Once again the beautiful love interest to a legendary leading man, this time around it was more than just her pretty face making tongues wag. The wise choice to put Jacqueline in a thin white t-shirt for the film's opening diving scene was instant cinema magic. Though a memorable and beloved scene to many, Jacqueline later came to resent the movie and its makers, claiming the overtly sexualized aspect of the scene wasn't clear to her during filming. Not sure how she missed the fact that her goods were plainly obvious through that shirt. No doubt everyone else in sight was fully aware of it.
Playing the love interest in so many films proved lucrative for Jacqueline's career. However, her ambitions as an actress often languished under these relatively straightforward roles. Hollywood has a longstanding reputation for being short on really juicy parts for women, both then and today. For those reasons, Jacqueline spent just as much time across the pond in European productions during these, her peak years. There she worked with some of the greatest directors in film history, such as Francois Truffaut in the 1973 drama DAY FOR NIGHT, where she played a British actress running on the ragged edge of burnout. She followed that with Sydney Lumet's 1974 Oscar-winner, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and German director Maximilian Schell's 1975 thriller END OF THE GAME with co-star Jon Voight. Jacqueline and director Schell became the godparents to Voight's new baby girl that year. We know that baby as Angelina Jolie today.
By the 1980s, Jacqueline was a full-fledged star and thus able to make a play for the most interesting roles. Reaching her 40s meant her days of playing the young girlfriend were over. However, her time as a sexy, older seductress was just beginning. Her performance as a hot cougar (way before they were called that) romancing Andrew McCarthy in the classless CLASS was a memorable role for many a child of the 80s and stands as her most well known role of that decade. While Jacqueline never again achieved the same box office as previous decades, she did spend the 80s working with the biggest names in her industry, using the clout she earned from years of girlfriend roles to get the more important roles she always craved.
While never married, Jacqueline has had a few high profile relationships, the most well known being her time with the late ballet dancer, actor and psychopathic terrorist Alexander Godunov. Their relationship only lasted 3 years, but did elicit the rather bizarre People magazine cover below. Just, wow...
Though movie roles continued to find their way to her, the 90s saw Jacqueline move into TV as well - a medium she still works in to this day. Starting out with roles in various mini-series based on historical and biblical epics, she eventually moved into recurring roles on shows like Nip/Tuck, playing the leader of a black market organ ring. Jacqueline continues to split her time between American and European productions, remaining a regular fixture on TV & movie screens on both sides of the Atlantic.
Now 68, Jacqueline has slowed down to match the pace of her lengthening years. She hasn't gone away though, as evidenced by her regular TV and film work for which she still receives praise and acclaim 50 years on. She also looks pretty good for someone near 70 now, retaining much of the beauty that once made her the woman everybody wanted for their love interest.