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Adrienne Barbeau: 'Swamp Thing' Scream Queen, Then And Now

Entertainment | April 30, 2019

Adrienne Barbeau in 'The Fog' (1980) and 'Swamp Thing' (1982). Source: IMDB

With a string of early-'80s movies like The Fog, Escape From New York, The Cannonball Run, Swamp Thing, and Creepshow, Adrienne Barbeau established herself as a tough, sexy dream girl of young male movie junkies, appearing in exactly the movies young men liked. Horror, suspense, comic books, screwball comedy -- Barbeau's films weren't going to get a Best Picture nod, but these are films fans loved. And in fact, fans still love these movies, and continue to flock to Barbeau, as her packed convention schedule demonstrates. Before she became the first lady of cult classics, Barbeau attracted attention as a supporting character on Maude, the Bea Arthur sitcom, and in the years since her heyday she has appeared on various successful TV shows. But it's those endlessly re-watchable early '80s movies that will forever be her claim to fame.

"It's wonderful at this point in my career to realize there are pieces of work that have sustained themselves all this time," she told TV Guide in 2010. "I'll run into people who say, 'We watch Swamp Thing once a month!'"

Barbeau Was A Broadway Actress In The Early '70s

Adrienne Barbeau (center right) on stage in the original Broadway production of Grease.' Source;: Houston Public Media

Barbeau's career began when she toured Pacific military bases with the San Jose Civic Light Opera in 1963. She headed to New York, where she briefly worked as a go-go dancer. She landed the role of Hodel in the Broadway musical Fiddler On The Roof. She left the show in 1971 to take the lead role in a nudie off-Broadway musical, Stag Movie. She only performed the role of Cookie Kovac from January to March 1971, when the show closed. Barbeau was cast as a naïve actress hired for an X-rated movie and sang naked in many of the 13 numbers she performed.

Her next role was the character of Rizzo in the original 1971 Broadway production of Grease. For that role, her portrayal of a tough, no-nonsense teenager, she was nominated for a Tony Award in 1972 and won a Theater World Award.

Barbeau On 'Maude' And Her Mentor, Of Bea Arthur

The cast of 'Maude,' 1976. Source: CBS via IMDB

After he read reviews of Grease, Norman Lear cast her as Carol in Maude. Barbeau has often said that working with Bea Arthur was one of the great experiences of her career:

She was fantastic... It was a great experience, all six years. Wonderful people to work with and something to be so incredibly proud of, which I took for granted at the time because I came from stage, so I didn't know television at all. I didn't even know what was on. I didn't know Norman Lear's reputation or anything like that. It took me awhile to realize that I had fallen into such a fantastic work situation. And most of that was because of Bea - because she's such a professional, such a great woman to work with. We had a great time.

Poster Girl

Adrienne Barbeau's '70s 'cheesecake' poster, recycled for the cover of her 2006 memoir. Source: IMDB

By the late 1970s, Barbeau was considered a sex symbol. It was the golden age of pinup posters, and Barbeau was no exception -- in 1978, she appeared on a cheesecake poster wearing a purple corset in 1978. Joe Bob Briggs, a film critic, noted her voluptuous chest.

From TV To Movies

Left: Adrienne Barbeau taking directon from husband John Carpenter on the set of 'The Fog.' Right: Barbeau in 'Escape From New York.' Source: IMDB

During the 1970s, Barbeau appeared on multiple television shows, from The Love Boat to Fantasy Island. In 1976, she appeared in a made-for-TV movie, The Great Houdini. The film, a fictional story of Houdini’s that featured elements of the supernatural. Barbeau starred as Houdini’s mistress in the film. She continued to work on made-for-TV films, including Someone’s Watching Me, a movie influenced by Hitchcock. On the set of this film, she met director John Carpenter.

She then worked on The Darker Side of Terror, a fantasy/sci-fi film.

Becoming Barbeau

Adrienne Barbeau in 'Swamp Thing.' Source: IMDB

John Carpenter, whom she married in 1979, created the character Stevie Wayne for her in his film The Fog. She also appeared in Carpenter’s Escape From New York before she was cast in George A. Romero’s Creepshow. Her first love scene came in Swamp Thing, but it was a love scene with a monster. The nude scene was only made for European audiences and was censored in the U.S.

Barbeau's early '80s career was majorly boosted by the quality of directors she worked with, all of whom have their own cult followings. Swamp Thing was directed by horror master Wes Craven (of Nightmare On Elm Street fame), while George A. Romero is king of the zombie movies with his Night Of The Living Dead franchise, and Carpenter has been an acclaimed master of suspense for several decades. 

From Scream Queen To Laughs

Adrienne Barbeau (center) and Tara Buckman using their feminine wiles to escape justice in 'Cannonball Run.' Source: IMDB

Although she was well known for her appearances in horror films, in the ‘80s she also had roles in comedies such as Cannonball Run and Back to School.

She divorced John Carpenter in 1984. In 1992, she married Billy Van Zandt who is 12 years younger than her. At 51 she gave birth to twins. They divorced in 2018.

Recent Television, And Beyond

Adrienne Barbeau in 'Carnivale,' and in a recent publicity photo. Source: IMDB

Barbeau has continued to appear on television shows and in movies and has more than 450 screen credits to date. Her credits in the '90s and 2000s include General Hospital (66 episodes) and Carnivale, as well as voice acting as Catwoman/Selina Kyle on Batman: The Animated Series and Gotham Girls.

Beyond acting, she has recorded music and is the author of an autobiography, There Are Worse Things I Could Do. She has also written fiction, including Vampyres of Hollywood and Love Bites, two books that are Barbeau’s humorous take on the vampire genre in Hollywood.

Two current projects are bringing Barbeau back to her roots: She will be appearing on an episode of the revived Creepshow series, and she plays Dr. Palomar on a Swamp Thing series. Both of these projects have yet to be released.

Tags: Adrienne Barbeau | Childhood Crushes | Escape From New York | John Carpenter | Ladies | Swamp Thing | The Cannonball Run | The Fog | What Did She Do?...

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Terry Claypoole

Writer

Terry is a lover of the beach, history, politics and has a passion for social media and technology. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach (of course) enjoying the sand and sun and listening to music from the groovy era.