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Piper Laurie Biography


Home > Actresses > L > Laurie, Piper > Biography


Birth Name: Piper Laurie
Born: 01/22/1932
Birth Place: Detroit, Michigan, USA


She was born Rosetta Jacobs in Detroit, MI on Jan. 22, 1933 Her parents - father Alfred Jacobs, a furniture dealer who came to American from Poland, and her mother, Charlotte Alperin, a Russian-American - moved the family to Los Angeles when she was six. Laurie was shy as a child, so her parents enrolled her in elocution and acting lessons, which sparked an interest in performance. The 17-year-old was discovered at an acting school by agents from Universal, and signed to a contract with the studio, which pressed her into perky, girl-next-door roles that emphasized her pixyish frame and physical charms - an image sold in part by ludicrous press releases that stated she took milk baths and dined on gardenia petals. Her debut came in the 1950 comedy "Louisa," with Ronald Reagan, who briefly became her offscreen boyfriend. For the next five years, Laurie slogged through countless comedies, lightweight dramas, and costume epics, many of which paired her with fellow up-and-comer Tony Curtis, like "Son of Ali Baba" (1952). By 1955, however, Laurie was fed up with the quality of projects, and despite her $2,000 a week salary, reportedly walked out on her contract to study acting in New York City. Her timing was excellent - Universal, like most of the major studios, was ending its contract player system, and after three more dismal pictures, Laurie was able to walk away from Hollywood unscathed.

She quickly immersed herself into the world of live television, where her talents blossomed at a spectacular rate. Laurie distinguished herself with immersive performances in "The Deaf Heart" (1957) for "Studio One" (CBS, 1948-1958), and as Cliff Robertson's alcoholic wife in "Days of Wine and Roses" for "Playhouse 90" (CBS, 1956-1961). The acclaim was a build-up to her first genuine star-making role as Sarah Packard, the alcoholic, self-loathing college girl who falls in love with Paul Newman's Fast Eddie Felson in "The Hustler" (1961). Her searing performance earned her an Oscar nomination, and vaulted her to the top of her profession - light years from where she was in the Hollywood market less than a decade before. However, Laurie's tenure at the top would be brief. In the years immediately following "The Hustler," she worked exclusively in television dramas, and when the anthology format faded, she transitioned to guest roles on television series like "Ben Casey" (ABC, 1961-66) before exiting the business altogether. While on the set of "The Hustler," Laurie had met New York Herald film critic Joseph Morgenstern, and the couple was married in 1962. By 1964, she had moved with Morgenstern to Woodstock, NY, where she concerned herself with raising their daughter, baking and working in various art mediums. She would not act again for another three years, until tackling the role of Laura in the 20th anniversary production of "The Glass Menagerie" on Broadway in 1967, and later in John Guare's "Marco Polo Sings a Solo" in 1973.

Three more years would pass until Laurie would venture back to Hollywood, and her return this time was an explosive one. Director Brian De Palma cast her as Margaret White, the fiercely religious and unbalanced mother of Sissy Spacek's "Carrie" (1976). The supernatural horror film was a major success at the box office, and Laurie's performance once again netted an Oscar nomination, as well as a nod from the Golden Globes. From that point on, Laurie's career went into overdrive, with exemplary dramatic turns in nearly every project she tackled - from the mother of a comatose girl in "In The Matter of Karen Ann Quinlan" (NBC, 1977) to the wife of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels in "The Bunker," which earned her an Emmy nomination. A fourth nomination came as a kindly woman who takes in Rachel Ward's pregnant Meggie in the monster hit miniseries, "The Thorn Birds" (ABC, 1983), and a fifth nod came in 1983 for a three-episode arc as a stroke victim opposite Alan Arkin on "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-86). She finally claimed the trophy in 1986 with "Promise," a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" (NBC/CBS/PBS, 1951- ) presentation as a former girlfriend of James Garner who aids him in taking care of his schizophrenic brother (James Woods) after the death of their mother.

The honors continued to roll in for Laurie in the mid-1980s; in 1987, she received her third Oscar nomination as Marlee Matlin's cold-hearted mother in "Children of a Lesser God," and from 1990 to 1991, she played perhaps her most eccentric character to date - the unscrupulous Catherine Martell on David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" (ABC, 1990-1991). The owner of the local mill, she planned to destroy the location for its insurance money, but was double-crossed and appeared to die in a fire at the end of the show's first season. But by season two, Martell was revealed to be the true identity of the mysterious Mr. Tojamura, who helped to bring her murder plotters to justice. For the episodes in which she played Tojamura, Laurie wore extraordinarily heavy makeup and was billed as "Fumio Yamaguchi." She received two Emmy nominations for her jaw-dropping performance on the series.

Laurie worked steadily through the 1990s, drawing respectable reviews for features like "Other People's Money" (1991), "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway" (1993), Sean Penn's "The Crossing Guard" (1995) and "The Grass Harp" (1995), which reunited her with Spacek, though this time as sisters. Television was a frequent destination as well, most notably in acclaimed movies like "The Road to Galveston" (USA Network, 1996), Horton Foote's "Alone" (Showtime, 1997), the 1997 remake of the Truman Capote-penned "A Christmas Memory" (CBS) and a 1999 adaptation of "Inherit the Wind" for Showtime, with Laurie as the wife of George C. Scott. She was also no stranger to episodic television as well; in 1999, she picked up her ninth Emmy nomination for an episode of "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004) as the terrifying estranged mother of a radio talk show shrink patterned after Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

Laurie's knack for finding challenging material went unabated into the new millennium. In the underrated black comedy "Eulogy" (2004), she was the matriarch of a large and highly dysfunctional brood who come together to memorialize their late father, while "The Dead Girl" (2006) cast her once again as a monstrous mother, this time to an unbalanced Toni Collette. She was the stern grandmother of underage rape victim Dakota Fanning in the controversial "Hounddog" (2007), and in the Sundance Film Festival favorite "Hesher" (2010), she portrayed the physically weak but wise grandmother to another malfunctioning brood. In the latter, Laurie's turn garnered some of her best reviews in years, most notably for a scene in which she peels away the tough protective shell of the title character (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an aggressive, anarchistic thug, by sharing a bong with him.