Lots of stuff can you qualify to be a potential gay icon. Are you a funny lady? A kickass songwriter who has officiated at gay weddings? An astounding actor who never messes up? These are traditional conduits for gay iconography, if the posters in my living room are any indication.
Today — in honor of Halloween week — I’m nominating one of the great icons of All Hallow’s Eve, the onetime scream queen and all-the-time fantastic-looking Jamie Lee Curtis. Why? While I’ve loved many of her films and enjoy reading her on the Huffington Post, my main reason is pretty simple: I think she’s cool as hell. Her interviews are always frank and sincere, she’s extremely charitable, she writes children’s books that are actually great, and you can’t compare her to anyone else. In that way she’s like Cher or Kathy Griffin, but unassuming in her casual honesty.
Plus, let’s not forget these fives reasons.
1. Has there ever been a horror protagonist as relatable and human as Laurie Strode?
I watch Halloween every year, and it’s mostly because the ’78 Carpenter caper is so chilling in its unadorned presentation. But the underrated appeal of Halloween is that Laurie Strode, Curtis’ character, is an unusual heroine whose glum, intelligent personality is commanding even during the movie’s un-horrifying moments. Laurie is mildly unpopular and a bit melancholic, but she’s a trustworthy, adult-seeming teen who makes a great babysitter and voice of reason. The characters in Scream would argue that virgin types always survivor horror movies, but Laurie isn’t defined by her sexual relationships in Halloween. She’s an honor roll-achieving tagalong friend to some prissier girls who remains self-possessed even when she’s uttering her dialogue in an unglamorous drone.
There is something compelling about a teenage protagonist who seems believable, responsible, and exudes no desire to be cool. Though Laurie becomes a proper hero when she defends the kids she’s babysitting from Michael Myers’ killing spree, I’d almost rather watch a movie where we just hang out with her and trust her rational attitude. Not kidding! Why do movies need conflicts when they have such relatable protagonists? Laurie’s the kind of character you’re indifferent about being paired up with for an English project, yet you slowly realize she’s the smartest person in the class.
For a genre that is defined by histrionic prom queen types (and yes, I haven’t forgotten Prom Night), Laurie Strode is a refreshingly authentic character you’d really find in Haddonfield, IL. While her pals (like the PJ Soles character) would mistake themselves as the types of “fabulous” people who’d attract gay friends, Laurie is the droller type who actually would. Jamie Lee Curtis brings Strode to life with understated confidence — like a nervier, more focused Sissy Spacek character.
Also worth noting: She is fantastic in Halloween: H20 as an adult Laurie dealing with motherhood and Michael Myers’ scary-ass return.
2. She’s Hollywood royalty, and she’s cool about it.
Though Curtis’ mother Janet Leigh passed away in 2004, it’s clear they had an awesomely down-to-Earth relationship. Jamie Lee would later speak up about how her father Tony Curtis, who divorced from Janet in 1962, “did what he was supposed to do from a financial standpoint, which was honorable of him, but he was not an involved father.” In the above clip, you see Janet, Jamie Lee, and her sister Kelly discuss growing up with the specter of celebrity looming — and not a moment of it is strange or forced in a showbiz way. It’s trite, but it’s actually disarming to see movie stars seem like real people. Hollywood royalty fun fact: When Jamie Lee was married, she had her biological father Tony walk her halfway down the aisle, and then Janet’s next husband Robert Brandt — who really raised Jamie — walked her the rest of the way.
3. Oh, and she’s actual (pseudo-)royalty!
This rules and must be mentioned: For some reason it’s easy to forget that Jamie Lee Curtis’ husband Christopher Guest is known properly as the Fifth Baron Haden-Guest, a title in the peerage of the U.K., and therefore Jamie is known officially as Lady Haden-Guest. So she’s a descendant of a Hitchcock blonde and a noble? Call me when she takes off for Monaco!
4. She was right to speak up after Seth MacFarlane’s ill-conceived Oscars song.
Though Seth MacFarlane received some positive feedback after hosting the Oscars, his choice to sing the comic tune “We Saw Your Boobs” — even as a way to joke about juvenile humor and the kinds of things 14-year-old boys remember about movies — was misguided and too glib about how many popular actresses have been topless on film. He wanted the song to be cheeky, but he essentially indulged the perverted 14-year-olds watching at home and excused it weakly. The strongest celebrity voice of dissent after that ceremony came from Jamie Lee Curtis, who was not afraid to speak up about the message of his song, as well as her own past on the big screen.
“I am an actress who has bared her breasts in films to satisfy the requirement of the role I was asked to do — lucky to do, for in my case, those films were significant in my career,” she said in this Huffington Post piece. “I didn’t like doing it. I didn’t ask if I could do them topless. I did what was asked of me for the part I was playing. Mostly asked by men.”
In other words: Maybe MacFarlane’s half-hearted stab at “satire” is actually just another self-impressed voice mocking actresses for having to tolerate chauvinism in order to do their work. As an Oscar snob, it’s nice to be able to reflect on this important thought instead of MacFarlane’s backfired gag when recollecting the 2013 ceremony.
5. She was awesome in Dustin Lance Black’s play 8 as lesbian Prop 8 plaintiff Sandy Stier.
Jamie Lee Curtis is always effective as mother characters. That’s why I love her in Halloween H20 as well as the pretty-awesome-all-things-considered Freaky Friday remake. But it was especially cool to watch her in the live reading of Dustin Lance Black’s star-studded Prop 8 play 8 with Christine Lahti as wife Kris Perry. Love the strictness and levelheaded conviction she lends to the role, which could be a nod to her own strict and levelheaded mother.
Other things I love about Jamie Lee Curtis: She’s a recovered addict, a celebrity who uses her fandom to earn big bucks for charity (She just attended a horror convention in Indianapolis, met with diehard Halloween fans, and raised $150,000 for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles), a killer performer in A Fish Called Wanda, True Lies (which earned her a Golden Globe), and even the somewhat-forgotten ’81 thriller Roadgames. In general, nothing is more glamorous to me than someone who is realistic and cool about aging. Make your Activia jokes, but someone’s got to be mature enough to sell it, no?