Karen Allen: The Girl Who Had Indiana Jones' Number, Then And Now

Entertainment | June 25, 2019

Left: Karen Allen in 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' (1981). Right: Allen with Bill Murray in 'Scrooged' (1988). Source: IMDB

We met Karen Allen as the sweetheart, much-too-nice girlfriend of Boon in Animal House (1978), but it was really with Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) that audiences fell in love with her. In the Indiana Jones movies she was as cute as ever, but displayed a grit that suited her more than expected. Allen stood out in many other films -- including Cruising, (1980), Shoot The Moon (1982), Starman (1984), and Scrooged (1988) -- but she was at her unforgettable best as Marion, the take-charge woman with the girl-next-door good looks who goes shot for shot with a Nepalese drunk in Raiders.

No wonder Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones couldn't get over her.

The readers of Harper’s Bazaar voted Karen Allen one of the most beautiful women in the world in 1983. With her freckles, long brown hair, and big eyes, she specialized regular, believable characters, rather than glamorous roles. Karen Allen inspired many a crush, although she never seemed interested in the sex-symbol game.

Karen Allen Did Not Begin Acting Until Her 20s

Karen Allen in 'The Wanderers' (1979). Source: IMDB

Born in 1951, the daughter of a teacher and an FBI agent, her family moved constantly during the first 10 years of her life. At 17, she moved to New York to study art and design at Fashion Institute of Technology. She did not discover acting until she was in her 20s. She moved to Massachusetts in 1974 to work with Shakespeare & Company, where she was for three years before moving back to New York. She enrolled at the Actors Studio and trained as a classical actress and studied at the Lee Strasburg Theater Institute.

A Big Break In A Groundbreaking Comedy

Karen Allen in 'Animal House' (1978). Source: IMDB

In 1976, she had her first film appearance in The Whidjitmaker. She was considered for the role of Princess Leia in Star Wars: Episode IV in 1977 (and a Leia played by Allen instead of Carrie Fisher is an interesting alternate reality, isn't it?. Her first film was followed in 1978 by her first major role, Katy, in National Lampoon’s Animal House. Shortly after the film, she developed a rare condition called keratoconjunctivitis which led to temporary blindness. It subsided, and she continued to have lead roles in smaller films and a small role in Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979). In 1980, Allen played opposite Al Pacino in Cruising, sharing the screen in a meaningful way with a big name actor for the first time.

Allen Won The Heart of Indiana Jones, And the Audience

Karen Allen in 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' (1982). Source: IMDB

Allen caught the attention of Steven Spielberg and was cast in Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981. Her performance as strong, no-nonsense Marion Ravenwood became essential -- revealing the human side of Harrison Ford's swashbuckling archaeologist. She did not appear in the next two Indiana Jones films, replaced by two blondes: a showgirl and a scholar. Neither blonde had the same connection to the audience and to Indiana Jones himself, as Allen’s feisty Marion did. Marion would reappear in the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise, after a long hiatus.

Life After Indiana Jones

With Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Source: IMDB

Also in 1982, Allen co-starred in Shoot The Moon, an acclaimed film that featured Oscar-nominated performances by Diane Keaton and Albert Finney. 

Allen then spent two years out of the spotlight, before returning in 1984 in Until September and Starman. She again left the limelight for a period, resurfacing in 1988's Scrooged. The modern retelling of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, featuring Bill Murray in the curmudgeonly lead, is a staple of holiday movie marathons. Also in 1988, she married Kale Browne, who was also an actor, and they had one child, Nicholas, in 1990. She has worked almost constantly since her return, both on film and in roles on television.

Living A Joyful Life

Working in her studio. Source: (karenallen-fiberarts.com)

Allen moved to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where she ran a yoga studio for a period of time. She also opened a shop in Great Barrington, Karen Allen Fiber Arts, a nod to her first passion as a child: textiles. The store sells the items she creates and she now holds an honorary Master’s from Fashion Institute of Technology. In addition, she teaches acting at Bard College at Simon’s Rock.

Karen Allen Has Never Really Retired From Acting

She also returned to play Marion Ravenwood in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008. In 2016, she starred in Year by the Sea. Allen also adapted Carson McCullers’ short story, "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud," and directed the film. The short film was released in 2017.

Tags: Karen Allen | Ladies | What Did She Do?... | Raiders Of The Lost Ark

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Cyn Felthousen-Post


Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!