It didn’t take long for Jamie Lee Curtis to be named “Queen of Scream”. Between 1978 and 1981, the rising young actress starred in six horror films: Halloween (1978), Fog (1980), prom night (1980), road games (1981) and Halloween 2 (nineteen eighty one). After that time, however, Curtis – the daughter of screen greats Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh – was done.
“I walked away from horror back then,” said Curtis, who won his first Oscar in March for Everything everywhere all at oncetold us during a Role reminder interview (see below). “The only decision I’ve ever made in my life, literally, in terms of a career, was [when] I literally just said, ‘After Halloween 2, I finished.’ Because I knew show business pretty well. And I understood that if I didn’t try something else, his career would suffer.
Still, it was Curtis’ horror cred that led to his first big break outside the genre: the 1983 comedy Stock exchanges, directed by John Landis and starring Dan Akyroyd and Eddie Murphy as a posh investor and street hustler, respectively, who swap lifestyles. The film was released in theaters 40 years ago on June 8, 1983.
Landis, best known at the time for directing the comedies animal house (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980) as well as the 1981 horror hit An American werewolf in Londonwas enlisted to lead Coming, a 55-minute documentary highlighting scenes and trailers from Universal’s extensive catalog of monster movies. Landis needed someone to narrate the doc and thought of Curtis due to her role as the scream queen at the time.
It was on the Universal Studios backlot that Landis got the full Jamie Lee Curtis experience.
“I’m kinda smart, I’m a flirt,” she says. “You know I’m inappropriate every second of my life.
“I spent three or four days with him on the Universal backlot cracking up, and being who I am — plus doing this kind of boring storytelling in this documentary. So he spent four days with me. And at the end of that, he was the one who gave the role in Stock exchanges volume.”
That part was Ophelia, the shrewd prostitute who helps Louis Winthorpe III of Aykroyd try to regain his elite status.
Curtis says Landis had to fight the movie studio to cast her. “[Paramount] didn’t want me,” she said. “Nobody else wanted me. I guarantee you, John Landis was the only person who said, ‘She’s going to play this part.’ And without that moment, I wouldn’t have the career I have now.
Curtis has the receipts to back up that claim. After seeing Stock exchangesJohn Cleese called her to join the 1988s A fish called Wanda – another defining moment in her career and another role that proved she had so much to offer beyond the screams.
“You know, Halloween gave me a movie career,” she says. “Stock exchanges gave me the extensive film career that I had. And that’s because John Landis saw something in the four days we were on the Universal backlot. He felt that I could be Ophelia in Stock exchangeswhich then changed everything.