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Projecting a deceptively straight-laced, girl-next-door appeal, comedienne Jane Curtin participated in some of television comedy's edgiest moments in a laudable career that spanned more than three decades. For the latter half of the indulgent 1970s, she was a founding cast member and integral part of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), a show which would redefine television comedy. In the conservative 1980s, she represented a new breed of independent woman on the Emmy-winning sitcom, "Kate & Allie" (CBS, 1984-89). The dependably relevant Curtin also made her television mark on the 1990s when she lent her trademark "straight-man" genius to the offbeat sitcom, "Third Rock from the Sun" (NBC, 1996-2001). Alternating between artistically appealing projects and work-for-hire jobs, she returned to Broadway as an ensemble member of "Our Town," featuring Paul Newman in 2002, then signed on for a small guest spot on the successful TV-adventure franchise which began with "The Librarian: The Quest for the Spear" (TNT, 2004). Enduring the common plight of the "straight man" (or woman), Curtin was seldom given the full credit she was due, but her solid contributions to some of television's most memorable comic...
Projecting a deceptively straight-laced, girl-next-door appeal, comedienne Jane Curtin participated in some of television comedy's edgiest moments in a laudable career that spanned more than three decades. For the latter half of the indulgent 1970s, she was a founding cast member and integral part of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), a show which would redefine television comedy. In the conservative 1980s, she represented a new breed of independent woman on the Emmy-winning sitcom, "Kate & Allie" (CBS, 1984-89). The dependably relevant Curtin also made her television mark on the 1990s when she lent her trademark "straight-man" genius to the offbeat sitcom, "Third Rock from the Sun" (NBC, 1996-2001). Alternating between artistically appealing projects and work-for-hire jobs, she returned to Broadway as an ensemble member of "Our Town," featuring Paul Newman in 2002, then signed on for a small guest spot on the successful TV-adventure franchise which began with "The Librarian: The Quest for the Spear" (TNT, 2004). Enduring the common plight of the "straight man" (or woman), Curtin was seldom given the full credit she was due, but her solid contributions to some of television's most memorable comic moments could not be denied.
Giving off a "to the manner born" vibe from the start, Jane Curtin was born near Boston, MA on Sept. 6, 1947. She was raised in Cambridge, first attending Catholic school and then going on junior college at Elizabeth Seton Junior College in New York City. After receiving a two-year degree from Seton, she returned to Boston and began taking drama classes at Northeastern University. She left college in 1968 when she landed a $40 dollar a week acting job with "The Proposition," a topical, politically-oriented comedy show in Cambridge which also included future actors Fred Grandy of "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986) fame and Josh Mostel from "Billy Madison" (1995). Prior to that, Curtin had plenty of experience as a theater audience member, but practically no stage time, making her four-year stint with "The Proposition" essentially her comedic training ground. At one point the group relocated to New York, and Curtin followed, appearing in other theatrical productions. In 1972, she and Grandy co-wrote an off-Broadway musical and comedy revue called "Pretzels."
In 1974, the comedic actress found herself up for consideration for roles on two upcoming new TV shows. The first was called "Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell" (ABC, 1975-76) - a traditional prime time variety show, inexplicably hosted by sports announcer Cosell and featuring family-friendly guests like Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow, and the Rockettes. The second program in development was an as-yet-defined sketch comedy and music show to be helmed by Lorne Michaels, and was to be called "NBC's Saturday Night." The cast were young unknown comics and the show's style was contemporary, edgy and completely unlike any of the Carol Burnett-type sketch comedy that had been on TV before. Producer Michaels courted Curtin for her cool demeanor, her skills as a straight man, and her look - which was uniquely square among a cast of mostly wild, downtown bohemian types. After some consideration, Curtin decided to risk joining this ragtag group in the making - which included John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase - rather than the more established but less exciting Cosell outfit that was being assembled at ABC. In light of the fact that "Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell" was canceled after 18 episodes and remembered by its director as "One of the greatest disasters in the history of television," it proved to be the best decision of Curtin's young career.
As a member of the cheekily named "Not Ready for Primetime Players" - Cosell's supporting cast had been dubbed "The Primetime Players" - Jane Curtin made her TV debut on "NBC's Saturday Night" on Oct. 11, 1975. For the next five years, the show would literally invent itself on the air, altering its structure and adopting a new name - "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) - throughout all of which, Curtin remained a popular and hard-working cast member on the iconic show. Her onscreen persona as the calm and collected straight-man, often brought to the breaking point by others' lunacy was not far from the truth off the stages of studio 8H. Married and commuting from Connecticut, Curtin was cut from a different cloth than her hard-partying cast mates like Belushi and Bill Murray, who found themselves in trouble with drugs and round-robin affairs. She later explained in interviews that her goal was to have a steady job doing something she loved, so she treated "SN." as a great job, with no thoughts of abusing her unexpected fame or clawing her way onto the next bigger opportunity.
A "SNL" mainstay, she earned Emmy nominations in 1978 and 1979 for her work. Some of her most memorable roles included Mrs. Lupner, the kindly mother of uber-nerd Lisa Lupner (Gilda Radner); Prymaat Conehead, the matriarch of an alien family undercover in suburbia; and as co-anchor of Weekend Update. Curtin originally took over the legendary news anchor seat for Chevy Chase in 1976, and during subsequent seasons, was paired with co-anchors Murray and Aykroyd. The "Point-Counterpoint" segments between Curtin and Aykroyd - which were a take-off on a liberal/conservative feature on "60 Minutes" (CBS, 1968- ) - elicited howls, as Aykroyd launched into his defenses with the wildly inappropriate line, "Jane, you ignorant slut." The smartly-dressed, pearl-wearing figure of authority also calmly endured the ravings of Roseanne Roseannadanna (Radner), meandering editorials by John Belushi, and unintelligible contributions by Dominican baseball star Chico Escuela (Garrett Morris). She was the only female news anchor until Tina Fey took over the desk 20 years later in 2000.
Curtin and the remainder of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players - sans Belushi and Aykroyd who had abandoned ship in 1979 - left the show in 1980 after a regime change and the departure of producer Lorne Michaels. Many of them like Aykroyd, Belushi and Bill Murray headed to Hollywood with their sights set on feature films, but Curtin had enjoyed the stability and creative environment of her television experience. As was her way, she was on the lookout for her next steady acting job. After a 1981 Broadway run in the drama "Candida" with Joanne Woodward and a 1983 TV adaptation of the same play, Curtin landed a role on the new sitcom "Kate & Allie" (CBS, 1984-89). Curtin played opposite Susan St. James in this semi-feminist but sweet scenario of divorced mothers who decide to share a household with their kids in New York's Greenwich Village. The role of a likeable, shy, but increasingly independent mother was a departure from Curtin's association with cutting edge comedy - a genre the humble actress admitted she had never truly been comfortable with. The show was part of a growing trend towards domestic sitcoms and female lead characters, lasting five seasons and earning Curtin a pair of Emmy Awards in 1984 and 1985.
During the last season of "Kate & Allie," she also appeared in an "American Playhouse" presentation of Alfred Hitchcock's "Suspicion" (PBS, 1988) as well as the made-for-TV movie "Maybe Baby" (NBC, 1988) with Dabney Coleman. Curtin returned to the stages of Broadway following the cancellation of "Kate & Allie," taking part in a mounting of "Love Letters" and, later, the comedy of errors "Noises Off." Her work on "Love Letters" was followed by an impressive dramatic turn in "Common Ground" (CBS, 1990) a Mike Newell-directed miniseries about desegregation in Curtin's hometown of Boston.
Curtin dusted off her old Conehead in 1993 for an oddly-timed film version of the classic "SNL" sketch, but struck series television gold again with the wildly popular "Third Rock from the Sun" (NBC, 1996-2001). The "aliens among us" theme was reminiscent of the Coneheads, but this time Curtin played the unwitting human - Dr. Mary Allbright, a college anthropology professor and the object of alien John Lithgow's affections. As in the "SNL" days, Curtin's comedy was brilliant, with that cool exterior prone to cracking under the total insanity around her. She stayed with the show until it ended in 2001 and she was tapped to perform in a summer production of "Our Town" for the Westport Country Playhouse. The revival received substantial press, as it marked Paul Newman's return to stage, and the cast consisted of all local Westport talent, adding another layer to the meaning of the title.
Following her stint in "Our Town," which had moved to Broadway's Booth Theater in 2002, Curtin returned to periodic television and film work. Among the more high-profile projects was the made-for-TV adventure "The Librarian: Quest for the Spear" (TNT, 2004) in which she played Charlene, the doleful, bureaucratic employee of the mysterious Metropolitan Public Library, which houses the legendary artifacts of history and mythology. The following year she was seen opposite Danny Aiello in the independent comedy-drama "Brooklyn Lobster" (2005) as the wife of a seafood restaurateur struggling to keep the family business afloat. On "Crumbs" (ABC, 2006-07), Curtin's return to sitcoms, she played the mentally-unstable mother of failed screenwriter Fred Savage. Unfortunately, the show was canceled after a mere five episodes. She did, however, revive the role of Charlene for two more entries in the popular television adventure franchise with "The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines" (TNT, 2006) and "The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice" (TNT, 2008).
More feature film work included a supporting role as the mother of Paul Rudd and Andy Samberg in the bromantic-comedy "I Love You, Man" (2009) opposite character actor J.K. Simmons. On May 7, 2010, Curtin donated $250,000 to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF after she placed second in the Jeopardy! Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational. Inspired by her travels abroad in her youth, Curtin had been a devoted fundraiser and spokesperson for the international charity for decades. The following year, she returned to screens with another brief turn in the critical and commercial disaster "I Don't Know How She Does It" (2011), starring Sarah Jessica Parker as a busy executive trying to juggle a marriage and motherhood with her busy career.
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Recalling the desegregation of Boston schools as one who grew up in the area: "We were afraid. Not of being hit on the head. But afraid of change. That's how Alice McGoff felt. I've gotten to know Alice--a delightful, small woman whose children are now all grown. her big concern was, 'Will I come off as a bigot?'" --Jane Curtin in PARADE MAGAZINE, March 25, 1990
About "SNL": "It was simply the best job I ever had. Parts of the job were sheer joy; parts, a nightmare. On an excitement level, a 10. And oh, the adrenaline flow." --Curtin to PARADE MAGAZINE, March 10, 1996
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