Films: The Fog, Swamp Thing, Creepshow, Terror in the Aisles, Terror at London Bridge, Two Evil Eyes, Burial of the Rats, The Convent, Ring of Darkness, Unholy, War Wolves
Adrienne Jo Barbeau (pronounced AdriENNE BarBO, born June 11, 1945) is an American actress and the author of three books. Barbeau came to prominence in the 1970s as Broadway’s original Rizzo in the musical Grease, and as Carol Traynor, the divorced daughter of Maude Findlay (played by Beatrice Arthur) in the sitcom Maude. In the early 1980s, Barbeau was a sex symbol, starring in several horror and science fiction films, including The Fog, Creepshow, Swamp Thing, and Escape from New York. During the 1990s, she became known for providing the voice of Catwoman on Batman: The Animated Series and subsequent Batman cartoon series. In the 2000s, she appeared in the HBO series Carnivàle as Ruthie the snake dancer.
Barbeau was born in Sacramento, California, the daughter of Armene (née Nalbandian) and Joseph Barbeau, who was a public relations executive for Mobil Oil. Barbeau’s father was French-Canadian and her mother Armenian-American. She has a sister Jocelyn and a half brother on her father’s side, Robert Barbeau, who still resides in the Sacramento area. She attended Del Mar High School in San Jose, California. In her autobiography, Barbeau says that she first caught the show business bug while entertaining troops at army bases throughout Southeast Asia, touring with the San Jose Civic Light Opera.
1960s to 1989
In the late 1960s Barbeau moved to New York City and worked “for the mob” as a go-go dancer. She made her Broadway debut in the chorus of Fiddler on the Roof, and later took the role of Hodel, Tevye’s daughter; Bette Midler played her sister. She left Fiddler in 1971 to play the leading role of Cookie Kovac in the off-Broadway nudie musical Stag Movie. Barbeau appeared nude along with character actor Brad Sullivan. She has since starred in more than 25 musicals and plays, including Women Behind Bars, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Grease. She received a Theater World Award and a 1972 Tony Award nomination for her portrayal of tough-girl Rizzo in Grease.
During the 1970s Barbeau starred as the daughter of Bea Arthur’s title character in the comedy series Maude, which ran from 1972 to 1978. In her autobiography, There Are Worse Things I Could Do, she remarked: “What I didn’t know is that when I said [my lines] I was usually walking down a flight of stairs and no one was even listening to me. They were just watching my breasts precede me.” During the last season of Maude, Barbeau did not appear in the majority of the episodes, because she was busy guest-starring on other TV shows. In a 2009 Entertainment Tonight TV interview, Barbeau mentioned that she had good on- and off-camera chemistry with Arthur; she said that the two stayed close until Arthur’s death on April 25, 2009. Barbeau and Arthur reunited on camera during a 2007 taping of The View, reminiscing about their long-running friendship and their years as costars on Maude.
Regarding the character of Maude, Barbeau has said: “Thousands of people came up to me and said, ‘I’ve got an aunt who’s just like Maude, my mother is just like Maude.’ I think many, many people related to Bea’s character, in that way. There were others who found her too abrasive who didn’t like the character, and that big woman with a low voice, saying those things.” Regarding Bea Arthur’s desire to entertain the audience of Maude, she said: “I at least was; and I’m sure that Bea was very proud of being something that was socially significant that was entertaining people, and making them laugh, at the same time, slipping her philosophy.” Regarding Bea Arthur’s decision to leave the show, Barbeau said: “I think she was tired, but I also knew she wanted to go out strong, yet, we were still in the Top 20, right through the sixth season, but I think she was probably feeling, ‘How many more scripts are there’?, and you know, where we can be as good as we’ve been!” Of her overall experience on Maude, she said: “It was wonderful, all the way through, and so much of that was because of Bea, because, we had such a great group of people that we were working with, who, we were like a family.” For more than 35 years, until Bea Arthur’s death in 2009, she and Barbeau continued to be good friends, long after the cancellation of Maude. The death of Arthur’s mother in 1986 drew her and Barbeau even closer.
Barbeau was cast in numerous television films and shows such as The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Valentine Magic on Love Island, and Battle of the Network Stars. In her autobiography she claimed: “I actually thought CBS asked me to be on Battle of the Network Stars because they thought I was athletic. My husband clued me in: who cared if I won the race, as long as I bounced when I ran?”
The popularity of Barbeau’s 1978 cheesecake poster confirmed her status as a sex symbol. Barbeau’s popularity stemmed partly from what critic Joe Bob Briggs referred to as the “two enormous talents on that woman,” and her typecasting as a “tough broad.” Despite her initial success, she said at the time that she thought of Hollywood as a “flesh market”, and that she would rather appear in films that “explore the human condition” and “deal with issues”.
Barbeau was cast by her then-husband, director John Carpenter, in his 1980 horror film, The Fog, which was her first theatrical film appearance. The film was released in on February 1, 1980, and was a theatrical success, grossing over $21 million in the United States alone, and establishing Barbeau as a genre film star. She subsequently appeared in a number of early-1980s horror and science fiction films, a number of which have now become cult film classics, including Escape from New York (also from Carpenter), Creepshow, and Swamp Thing. Of her screen work with Carpenter, Barbeau has stated: “John is a great director. He knows what he wants and he knows how to get it. It’s simple and it’s easy [working with him].”
She also appeared in the high-grossing Burt Reynolds comedy The Cannonball Run (1981) and as the shrewish wife of Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School (1986). Barbeau also starred along with talk show host Bill Maher and Shannon Tweed in Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (1989).
1990s – present
In the 1990s, Barbeau mostly appeared in made-for-television films such as Scott Turow’s The Burden of Proof in 1992, as well as playing Oswald’s mother on The Drew Carey Show and gaining new-found fame among animation fans as Catwoman on Batman: The Animated Series and Gotham Girls. Coincidentally, Barbeau’s on-screen son on The Drew Carey Show, Diedrich Bader, would go on to perform the voice of Batman on the animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
She also worked as a television talk show host and a weekly book reviewer for KABC talk radio in Los Angeles. In 1999, she guest starred in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” as Romulan Senator Kimara Cretak. In 1994, she also appeared in the Babylon 5 episode “A Spider in the Web” as Amanda Carter.
In 1998, Barbeau released her debut album as a folk singer, the self-titled Adrienne Barbeau. She starred in the cartoon series Totally Spies! doing the voice of villainess Helga Von Guggen in seasons 1, 2 and 4.
From 2003 to 2005, she starred in the HBO series Carnivàle. From March to May 2006, she starred as Judy Garland in the off-Broadway play The Property Known as Garland.
Barbeau played a cameo role in Rob Zombie’s Halloween, a “reimagining” of the 1978 film of the same name, written and directed by her first husband, John Carpenter. Her scene was cut from the theatrical version of the film but is included in the DVD version.
Barbeau’s autobiography There Are Worse Things I Could Do was published in 2006 by Carroll & Graf, rising to #11 on the Los Angeles Times best-sellers list. In July 2008, her first novel, Vampyres of Hollywood, was published by St. Martin’s Press. The novel was co-written by Michael Scott. The sequel hits bookstores in 2010.
In 2009, Barbeau was cast as “The Cat Lady” in the family comedy The Dog Who Saved Christmas, as Scooter’s Mom in the 3D animated feature Fly Me to the Moon and as a hospice patient in the love-story “Reach For Me” .
Also in 2009, Barbeau has guest-spots in the first episode of Showtime’s hit series Dexter (season 4), as well as on Grey’s Anatomy.
She voiced the Greek goddess Hera in the video game God of War III released for the PlayStation 3 in March 2010. In August 2010 she began a role on the long running ABC daytime drama General Hospital.