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Then & Now: Bernadette Peters

Feb. 22, 2013by: Salacious Crumb

Time: The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole. Last week, the legendary Steve Martin announced that he is now a first time father at age 67. That's right, the dude whose transition into maintstream comedy was thanks to films like FATHER OF THE BRIDE, PARENTHOOD and CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN has never actually raised a child. Now that he and his wife Anne Stringfield have brought a baby into their lives, I wonder what sort of childhood the kid's going to have. Will they teach him to play banjo? Will they give him nightmares by showing scenes from ROXANNE when he misbehaves? The news of Martin's newborn had me thinking about one of my all-time favorite comedies, THE JERK. And that got me thinking about how insanely gorgeous his co-star Bernadette Peters was back then. I wonder how she's doing in the looks-department these days...

I'm going out on a whim here by assuming that many of you used to find Bernadette as smokin' hot as I did, and if you didn't, then I'm hoping to sway you opinion by the end of this column. Bernadette Peters was the whole hottie package. She had a one-of-a-kind beauty, talent, and a keen eye for humor that made her one of the most influential actresses to enter the world of comedy in the '70's. Sure, she may have looked a little like a shopping mall mannequin, but I'd rather spend my time with a woman whose skin complexion looks slightly phony than a woman who is slightly phony, and that didn't seem to be a trait of Bernadette's. Besides, she was naturally beautiful, so you can hardly blame her for the amount of hearts she stole.

So where do we get started? Oh yes, she was born to an Italian-American family as Bernadette Lazzara, and was raised in Queens, New York. While her dad was delivering bread, her mother was pushing her into showbiz at age three-and-a-half, when she appeared on "Juvenile Jury" (that's Hollywood parenting for ya'). At age 5, she appeared on "Name That Tune", and several times on "The Horn and Hardart Children's Hour". in 1958, she obtained her Actor's Equity card under the name "Bernadette Peters". That same year, she took part in a series of stage productions, taking the New York stage at age 10 as Tessie in the New York City Center revival of The Most Happy Fella (1959). Throughout the '60's, Bernadette performed in dozens of Off-Broadway productions, and received honors such as a Theatre World Award, a Drama Desk Award, and a Tony Award for her work in the 1971 production of On The Town. It was about this time Bernadette decided to quit d*cking around, and move to Hollywood to focus on television and film, and be taken more seriously as an actress...

Bernadette's first break in the industry came when she landed a part in ACE ELI AND RODGER OF THE SKIES. Never heard of it? No one has, but the story was co-written by Steven Spielberg, so it might have some potential. She probably got more attention the next year, playing the warden's big-haired secretary, Miss Toot, in THE LONGEST YARD (1974; the version that didn't suck). That got audience's curiosity, but her appearance in Mel Brooks' SILENT MOVIE (1976) got their attention. The film (which is indeed silent) follows Brooks as an famous director names Mel Funn who wants to make the first silent motion picture in forty years (sounds a bit like THE ARTIST, don't it?). Bernadette plays voluptuous nightclub sensation Vilma Kaplan (pictured above), who is hired to break Funn's heart in order to stop him from making his film. Love is silent but deadly. Luckily, like every movie ever made, she winds up falling for him by accident, and all ends well. In fact, Bernadette received a Golden Globe nomination for the part. I wonder what it was about the role that got critics' attention...

Oh, right...

1976 was also the year Bernadette starred alongside Kris Kristofferson in VIGILANTE FORCE, as "Little Dee". (I love the funny names movie-makers gave her in the beginning; "Miss Toot" is just too hilariously perfect). The movie didn't perform well, but Peters was noted by critics for making the film somewhat watchable. She also starred in the 24-episode run of a lost show called "All's Fair" (1976-77). Though the show didn't pull in the ratings the network had hoped, it did earn Bernadette yet another Golden Globe nomiation. With the critics' her love, her cutesy characteristics, and her talent for performing onstage, it was about time Bernadette moved up in the world, and did something she and her family could be proud of… by hosting "The Muppet Show".Actually, Bernadette's appearances on "The Muppet Show" gained quite a lot of attention from audiences and actors alike. So much so, that Steve Martin was eyeing her out for the role of the leading lady in a project he was working on...

I was pretty young when I first saw THE JERK (1979), and while I didn't understand all the jokes at the time, the movie stuck with me as a romance more than a comedy. That may sound odd, but I'm pretty sure this is due to having my breath taken away the moment I saw Bernadette as Marie Kimble. If you don't know, THE JERK follows Navin Johnson (Steve Martin) who leaves the comfort of his family home to experience the real world, despite having no knowledge of it whatsoever. His goal is to make use of his "special purpose", whatever that may be. The movie really seems to kick in when Bernadette shows up and puts a romantic twist on the whole thing. While the film is overflowing with ridiculous gags, it also has a very simple, but effective love story. This is possibly because of their actual off-screen romance that lasted from 1977 to 1981. Their duet performance of "Tonight You Belong to Me" made me want to learn to play a ukulele to pick up chicks (and it totally worked [like, seriously, bra]).

I don't think I need to continue remeniscing about this film, since most of you have probably seen it, and if you haven't, quit neglecting yourself. THE JERK was the 9th highest-grossing movie of 1979 ($73 million), and was recognized by AFI's 100 Years… 100 Laughs, making #89 on the list. In 1984, there was a TV-movie sequel titled THE JERK, TOO starring Mark Blankfield as Navin. It was intended to turn into a series if it was well received, and it wasn't, for obvious reasons. On the other hand, Bernadette and Martin didn't wait long before working together again...

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (1981) is a movie I just recently found out about, and couldn't understand why it hadn't been shoved in my face like some of Steve Martin's other films. Set in 1934, this comedy-musical uses oldies lyrics as a tool to describe the characters as well as move the story along. If it were released today, other film-makers would be amazed just by the amount of effort put into this movie. I was impressed with all the elaborate dance-sequences, which are creatively done and remarkably well-shot for a comedy. It does a swell job paying homage to classic 1930's choreography (including plenty of long tap-dancing sequences), as well as early-era film and even has some shots that resemble famous pieces of art, like realist painter Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks". Speaking of the dance-sequences, one of the best scenes of all comes from Christopher Walken, who lures Eileen into the world of prostitution by performing a singing striptease that would put Magic Mike to shame. Seriously. It's no wonder Fatboy Slim decided to put him in a music video.

Bernadette gives one of the hottest performances I've seen her attempt (especially during the dance sequences), so if you're a fan of this hottie, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN is a must-see. It's got laughs, tears, music, Christopher Walken stripping, and Bernadette Peters' jiggly, dancing disco balls. It also earned Peters her first Golden Globe win for Best Motion Picture Actress! Sure, this kind of thing might not be everyone's bag, but if you're looking to get into the better, earlier Steve Martin films, I can say with certainty PENNIES FROM HEAVEN should be on the list.

In preparation of these "Then & Now" columns, I usually like to introduce myself to a couple movies I haven't seen that star the hottie in question. When I heard that Bernadette starred in a robo-romance movie called HEARTBEEPS (1981) with Andy Kaufman, I immediately left my kid's soccer practice and watched it via Amazon. That's right, before Hollywood was trying to convince us that even zombies and vampires could fall in love, they tried the same formula with robots. It's a tough movie to recommend, but it is at least… interesting.

Set in a near future, where Coors Light comes in a Capri Sun-type bag, a human companion robot named Aqua Com 89045 (Peters) gets stored away in a robot repair shop with a business droid named Val, played by Kaufman (who uses his eventually irritating "foreign man" voice). The two work off of each other well, but Bernadette completely steals the show with her comedic timing and mannerisms. There's a lot of clever dialogue, not to mention it's all beautifully scored by John Williams, and the special make-up effects are done by Stan Winston (the TERMINATOR series, JURASSIC PARK, IRON MAN). Bernadette already looked like she could be one the Stepford Wives, and Winston's metal make-up catapulted her right on into the uncanny valley.

My pleasure center is starting to malfunction.

As far as the story goes, well, unfortunately the script is about as dull as WALL-E's armpits. The adventure is initiated when the two droids decide to just up and leave the factory, for no reason other than to "obtain information" about the world. It mostly takes place out in the woods, where they develop a bond through exchange of conversation, since Aqua functions best with "maximum input". There's a depressing moment towards the end, where they both run out of battery out in the middle of nowhere, but minutes later the film cuts away to Aqua and Val living happily in a junk yard. Oh yeah, and they have a robot baby together. It's clearly a movie for kids, but I feel it could've stood the test of time better if it had a better director, and a better story. It also pretty much tanked at the box office. Still, if you're looking for an obscure, ridiculous '80's movie to weird up your evening, you can't go wrong with HEARTBEEPS.

If you think that was the sad ending to Bernadette's hotness streak, you're way off. By this time, Bernadette had become so popular, she was asked to be on the cover of December issue of Playboy magazine (the photo at the top of this column is taken from the issue). The next year, she famously played the petty-theiving girlfriend Lily St. Regis in ANNIE (1982). She was also incredibly hot in the miniseries "The Martian Chronicles", and even in the strange Clint Eastwood "vehicle" PINK CADILLAC (1989). She also continued to perform on broadway throughout the late '80's and '90's, and became quite a success in that industry. In fact, she received two more Tony Awards; one in 1985 for Song and Dance, and one in 1999 for Annie Get Your Gun, the play where little orphan Annie flails her semi-automatic weapon around town (No? Oh shit, I must be thinking of THE NEW ADVENTURES OF PIPPI LONGSTOCKING again. Goddamn night-terrors).

Am I crazy, or did she look like a ginger Shakira back in the '90's? I can honestly say that before I picked her for this week's "Then & Now" column, I had no idea what Bernadette Peters had been up to over the past decade or so. Perhaps I lost track of her when she ditched the blonde hair. For all I knew, she could've been giving senior citizens an "early bird" discount at Denny's to support her addiction to crystal meth and scratcher tickets. Let's see how wrong I was...

Well, damn, I wish she actually was a robot built to serve mankind, cause I'd certainly give her my "maximum input". She's making my special purpose feel extra special, if you catch my drift. Since 2000, Bernadette has appeared as special guest in a shitload of TV shows including "Law and Order: SVU", "Boston Legal", and consistent roles on "Ugly Betty" and most recently, "Smash". She hasn't appeared in a lot of mainstream films over the past 10 years, however, she will be lending her voice to the upcoming animated film DOROTHY OF OZ, as Glinda the good witch. She can cast a spell on me anytime she wants. Bernadette's mostly kept herself busy in the successful endeavor of putting on solo-performance concerts. A few years ago in New York, she hosted a beneficial concert called "Bernadette Peters: A Special Concert for Broadway Barks Because Broadway Cares" (care to think of a shorter title?). Hey, look, boobs.

Peters has also made an effort to release children's books, usually with an accompanying CD with sing-along songs she's recorded. The first one was inspired by her dog Kramer, and is titled Broadway Barks, published by Blue Apple Books in 2008. It reached #5 on The New York Times Children's Best Sellers: Picture Books. Her next book was Stella is a Star, about a pit bull, and the latest one she's released has the most coherent title of all: Dewey Doo-it Helps Owlie Fly Again!

Next week, on February 28th, Bernadette will be turning 65-years-old (which is shocking, because her breasts don't look a day over 25). If ups were downs, and I really did have a time-traveling Deloreon, Bernadette would absolutely be towards the top of my list of hotties I'd like to go back and visit in their hayday. I'd try to win her affection before she got on the big screen and completely obliviated mine. Not only does she have the comedic chops and doll-like beauty, but a true passion for performance art. She always keeps herself busy, singing and dancing, which has proven to do quite well for her physique over the years. This is a big thumbs up, in my opinion. Hopefully I've been able to enlighten some of you in the ways of Bernadette Peters' hotness. If not, well… screw you. Who needs you? I don't need you! I don't need anything! Except this. [picks up an ashtray] And that's the only thing I need is *this*. Just this ashtray... And this paddle game. The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need….. And this remote control.

Extra Tidbit: Bernadette Peters sang the title song for BARNEY'S GREAT ADVENTURE in 1998.

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5:36PM on 02/23/2013

YES!

Bernadette Peters will never stop being gorgeous.
And "quite a success in that industry" (Broadway) is a *major* understatement; she's one of the biggest Broadway stars of all time (and one of the highest earners).
On top of that, her career's thriving more than ever; she received her THIRD Tony Award last Spring for her charity work with Broadway Barks/Broadway Cares (Equity Fights AIDS), which she co-founded with Mary Tyler Moore. She also was just in two critically-acclaimed Stephen
Bernadette Peters will never stop being gorgeous.
And "quite a success in that industry" (Broadway) is a *major* understatement; she's one of the biggest Broadway stars of all time (and one of the highest earners).
On top of that, her career's thriving more than ever; she received her THIRD Tony Award last Spring for her charity work with Broadway Barks/Broadway Cares (Equity Fights AIDS), which she co-founded with Mary Tyler Moore. She also was just in two critically-acclaimed Stephen Sondheim revivals on Broadway: "A Little Night Music" and "Follies", both of which earned her praise (she's Sondheim's favorite performer), as well as box office. She is also on this season's "Smash" (and on the soundtrack).
This woman is my absolute favorite actress.
For anyone doubting, find her rendition of Sondheim's "Losing My Mind" (from FOLLIES), it's the definition of wrenching.
Also, at 65, she looks better than 95% of people half her age.
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4:26PM on 02/23/2013

a part of my childhood

She may have a fantastic career but she will always be this character first to me...
[link]
[link]
She may have a fantastic career but she will always be this character first to me...
[link]
[link]
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+2
11:32PM on 02/22/2013
Favorite Bernadette Peters movie was Pink Cadillac. She was so damned cute
Favorite Bernadette Peters movie was Pink Cadillac. She was so damned cute
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7:56PM on 02/22/2013

HOLY SMOKES!!!

She's aged beautifully! I can't believe how good she looks now! That's amazing!
She's aged beautifully! I can't believe how good she looks now! That's amazing!
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+10
12:41PM on 02/22/2013

wow-- seriously...

...as with most people I dont see for a long time, I was expecting a more dramatic example of time passing...but she looks great! Rock on:) SHow them all how its done:)
...as with most people I dont see for a long time, I was expecting a more dramatic example of time passing...but she looks great! Rock on:) SHow them all how its done:)
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+4
11:58AM on 02/22/2013

oh she would catch it...

Oh she would definitely catch it.....
Oh she would definitely catch it.....
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+10
11:53AM on 02/22/2013
This woman DOES NOT AGE. It's ridiculous.
This woman DOES NOT AGE. It's ridiculous.
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-2
11:35AM on 02/22/2013
"1776 was also the year Bernadette starred alongside Kris Kristofferson in VIGILANTE FORCE, as "Little Dee"."

They made movies back then? :D
"1776 was also the year Bernadette starred alongside Kris Kristofferson in VIGILANTE FORCE, as "Little Dee"."

They made movies back then? :D
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11:34AM on 02/22/2013
She kinda reminds me of Helena Bonham Carter.
She kinda reminds me of Helena Bonham Carter.
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9:59AM on 02/22/2013
Hotter now, no question.
Hotter now, no question.
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9:42AM on 02/22/2013
She has aged extremely well. Nice rack.
She has aged extremely well. Nice rack.
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+2
9:08AM on 02/22/2013
Check her out in "Into The Woods" as well.

[link]
Check her out in "Into The Woods" as well.

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+7
8:42AM on 02/22/2013

Nice

Would then, still would. Was gobsmacked by her when I first saw The Jerk.
Would then, still would. Was gobsmacked by her when I first saw The Jerk.
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