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Karen Allen Biography


Home > Actresses > A > Allen, Karen > Biography


Birth Name: Karen Allen
Born: 10/05/1951
Birth Place: Carrollton, Illinois, USA


Born Karen Jane Allen in Carrollton, IN on Oct. 5, 1951, her parents were school teacher Patricia Allen and Carroll Thompson Allen, who worked for the FBI. Allen and her two sisters spent the better part of her first decade in transit, moving throughout Tennessee and Pittsburgh before settling in Washington, D.C. Allen was a restless soul after graduating from high school in 1969; she moved to New York to study art and design at the Fashion Institute of Technology before traveling extensively through Mexico, South America and the Caribbean.

Allen's primary interest was writing until she saw a performance by a Polish theater troupe and became fascinated with acting. She studied with the group for a while, and later landed roles in touring companies that took her across the U.S. and U.K. Allen returned to the States to perform with the Washington Theatre Laboratory Company and work with the Washington Project for the Arts, which brought theater companies from around the world to the nation's capital. Allen also made her film debut during this period in a short film called "The Whidjitmaker" (1976), which captured several awards. During this period, Allen dated writer Terence Winch, who later wrote about their relationship in his book, Contenders.

The following year, Allen moved to New York City to pursue her acting career in earnest, studying extensively with some of the best teachers in the business, including Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, but found little work aside from menial jobs to pay her bills. Her big break came when John Landis cast her as Katy, the free-spirited girlfriend of Boon (Peter Riegert) in "National Lampoon's Animal House." The raucous comedy was one of the biggest hits of the year, and though Allen - and most of the cast, save for John Belushi and Donald Sutherland - were paid $3,000 for their performances, the picture put her on the Hollywood map. She later dated Stephen Bishop, an actor and pop singer-songwriter who appeared in the film, shuttling between New York and Los Angeles for several years.

Shortly after the completion of the film, Allen was diagnosed with epidemic keratoconjunctivitis, a viral infection that caused vision loss. She recovered after a short period, but the disease left her with scarred corneas and imperfect vision. Not letting illness hold her back, Allen rallied and managed to land significant roles in "The Wanderers" (1979), "Cruising" (1980) and "A Small Circle of Friends" (1980), though none had the box office impact of "Animal House." Her second blockbuster, however, was just around the corner and would eclipse the success of even that toga-touting classic.

After seeing her in "Animal House," Steven Spielberg invited Allen to audition for an action-adventure film that he and producer George Lucas were planning as a tribute to the cliffhanger serials of the 1930s. Allen was cast as Marion Ravenwood, the spunky film's heroine and love interest to its dashing hero, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), earning a Saturn Award for her performance in the global hit. Though a difficult shoot that required long filming hours in Tunisia - including some not-so-pleasant days spent on set with thousands of snakes while barefoot and clad only in a dress - the picture endeared her to a generation of younger movie fans, many of whom were confused as to why she did not appear in the film's two sequels, "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1984) and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989). In fact, so beloved was Allen's performance as Ravenwood, Indiana's next two leading ladies, Kate Capshaw and Alison Doody, were almost collectively dismissed from the memories of most rabid fans.

After "Raiders," Allen concentrated primarily on theater work, making her Broadway debut in "The Monday After the Miracle" (1982), for which she won a 1983 Theatre World Award. Her film appearances during the 1980s, however, grew more sporadic, though she managed to land a few choice parts, including Albert Finney's mistress in "Shoot the Moon" (1982) and a young woman under the influence of a cult leader (Peter Fonda) who must undergo intense deprogramming (by James Woods) in the harrowing "Split Image" (1983). In 1984, she gave a warm and winning performance as a woman who is contacted by and falls in love with an alien who has taken the form of her dead husband (Jeff Bridges) in John Carpenter's romantic adventure "Starman" (1984). The picture would be her last substantive box office hit.

Allen was a heartbreaking Laura in Paul Newman's acclaimed 1987 film adaptation of "The Glass Menagerie," earning a 1988 Independent Spirit Award nomination for her efforts. The following year, she played the long-lost love interest of heartless TV tycoon Bill Murray in the lackluster comedy "Scrooged" (1990), but by then, Allen's interests lay outside the film industry. In 1987, she met actor Kale Brown, a popular actor on daytime soap operas. The couple was married in 1988 and had a son, Nicholas, in 1990. Both decided to scale back their careers to devote more time to raising their son. Brown was a regular on "Another World" (ABC, 1964-1999), and Allen split her time between independent features and stage work. The two appeared together as astronaut Christa McAuliffe and her husband Steven in "Challenger," a 1990 TV movie about the 1986 space shuttle disaster that drew fire from the crew's family members.

Allen continued to take small and supporting roles in features in the 1990s, most notably in "Malcolm X" (1992); "The Sandlot" (1992), as the hero's mom; and Steven Soderbergh's underrated "King of the Hill" (1993), as Jesse Bradford's teacher. A rare leading role came with "Ghost in the Machine" (1993), a horror picture about a suburban mother (Allen) pursued by the spirit of an executed criminal who can travel through electrical lines and use machinery for his own devices. By this point, Allen and her family had relocated to Massachusetts, where they renovated a 19th century barn on a 22-acre plot in the Berkshires. Allen also owned and operated her own yoga center from 1990 until 2000.

As the 1990s drew to a close, Allen discovered that she was losing the desire to maintain a Hollywood career. She was landing roles in features like "Til There Was You" (1997) and "The Perfect Storm" (2000), but the work was sporadic and frequently uninteresting. Her marriage to Brown was coming to an end (they divorced in 1998) and she was developing a passion for knitwear, producing it at a low but steady rate. Realizing that perhaps the time had come for a career change, she returned to the Fashion Institute of Technology to study machine knitting technology. She soon launched her own line of cashmere scarves, shawls and sweaters and in 2003, opened her own textile company, Karen Allen Fiber Arts in Great Barrington, MA. She kept a foot in performing by teaching acting and directing at Simon's Rock College of Bard in the same town.

Allen remained away from the film business until it was announced in 2007 that she would reprise her role as Marion Ravenwood in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." The picture - her first in four years - would reunite her with director Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford, and explain her absence from the Jones chronicles by introducing a son, Mac (Shia LeB uf), who may or may not be Indy's offspring - much to the relief of die-hard Indy fans.