Elizabeth Arlen is an American actress and writer who was born on October 31,1955. An ageless beauty with the face and figure of a woman decades younger, on-screen and off, it doesn't take long to find yourself under her spell. She possesses an intensity, sharp wit, a penchant for bucking traditional gender roles, and a wild spark of passion for life that's evident in her every action. An empathetic, self-aware woman with a compelling personality and a strong voice; Arlen is all this, and more.
Arlen was born Elizabeth Faye Arlen on the Camp Lejune Marine base to a Jewish father and Catholic mother, who met in New York at Syracuse University. Her parents moved to Los Angeles when Elizabeth was three. She was raised on North Amalfi Drive in Pacific Palisades, where her next door neighbor was Leonard Freeman, creator and producer of the original Hawaii Five-0 series. In the neighborhood lived Norman Felton, Jerry Paris, director Martin Ritt, and around the corner resided her father's best friend, Rod Serling. Despite growing up in the presence of Hollywood elite, Arlen didn't consider becoming involved in the entertainment industry until her college years.
She credits her parents for her well-rounded sensibilities and education. Her father, Harold Arlen, was a prominent psychoanalyst, who was once portrayed by Karl Malden in Patty Duke's autobiographical film Call Me Anna. Her mother, Mary Arlen, was an accomplished and talented painter and sculptor. Her parents encouraged her to seek knowledge and experience activities she was interested in from a very early age. Never coddled, she was taught to fight her own battles and solve her own conflicts even as a child. Several times in her teens and early college years, talent scouts attempted to recruit Arlen, but her father refused to let her sign any contracts. She was raised on the principle that a college education was more important than anything else.
In addition to being a great student, Arlen enjoyed athletics from a young age. She played basketball in elementary school and went on to become a sprinter in high school. It was much earlier in life, however, that her interest in both sports and acting would appear. Arlen started ballet at four, and was on stage at age six, when she performed in a ballet recital at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. In elementary school she would often re-enact scenes from movies for her friends on the playground at recess. Arlen was a natural performer from the start.
The first time she thought she might enjoy acting was at age fifteen, when Arlen and her parents attended a production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It" with The Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-Upon-Avon. She was captivated by the performance, and thought, "I can do that."
As a teen, however, she most wanted to follow a career path in law or psychology. Though she would soon fall into acting as a hobby, Arlen initially never intended to pursue it professionally. She was elected student body president in high school, and was very interested in politics. Arlen dreamed of fighting for human rights in her work. That strong sense of right and wrong, just and unjust, is still a vital and overt component of her personality today.
She began her studies at UCLA at the age of sixteen to major in Psychology. In the summer after her first year of college, at seventeen, Arlen was chosen for the lead role of Lisa in a production of David and Lisa, whose character suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder (split personality). It was in that production she met David Madden, who was playing a supporting role. She would later marry Madden and spend the next twenty-eight years with him.
Arlen had such a great experience with David and Lisa, and received such rave reviews, that she decided to apply to the drama department at UCLA. Her earliest inspiration, and the actor whose work most influenced her to pursue acting professionally, was Al Pacino. She was mesmerized by his iconic performances in Serpico, The Godfather sagas, and Dog Day Afternoon. While attending UCLA, Arlen appeared on Days of Our Lives, and studied acting in earnest for many years at the university, the Lee Strasberg Institute, and with teachers Joan Darling, Milton Katselas, and the legendary stage director, Jose Quintero. Quintero once said of Arlen, "She's a bottomless well of emotion, you can pull and pull and pull from her and she will never tire." Even today, Arlen becomes passionate when she talks about how exhilarating it was to work with Quintero. She graduated from UCLA with a BA in Theater Arts and a minor in Psychology.
Arlen approached acting as an opportunity to explore the psyches of the characters she would inhabit. "From a psychological standpoint," she once said, "you're on the outside, looking in. As an actor, you immerse yourself until you become the character, and are on the inside, looking out." "It's fascinating how your rhythms organically change while you're preparing for a role. As you start to transform into the character; you begin to walk differently, your speech patterns alter, you start to unconsciously dress the way the character would. It's this subtle process of morphing that overtakes you in the most natural form."
Elizabeth Arlen describes herself as a method actor who took the task of becoming the character very seriously. In his personal blog, writing about the filming of The Kid, director Jon Turteltaub said of Arlen, "She's a fantastic actress, but she's not really onscreen that much. However, what she was doing off-camera was everything. Her off-camera performance carried Bruce [Willis] through. He relied really heavily on her to bring him to whatever emotional place he wanted to go. Again, it shows that no matter how small the role, a great actor can make a huge contribution."
After graduating college, Arlen began her acting career wholeheartedly in the theater. In addition to performing in various Los Angeles-based theater productions, she also joined Theatre West, an internationally acclaimed non-profit arts organization in Hollywood, whose members have included Richard Dreyfuss, Carroll O'Connor, Harold Gould, Beau Bridges, and Martin Landau. While working in the theater, she enjoyed alternating between dramatic and comedic characters. It wasn't long before Arlen got her first film role, which was a small scene with Dudley Moore and Albert Brooks in Unfaithfully Yours (1984).
Following Unfaithfully Yours, she scored a series of progressively larger roles in films such as Bachelor Party with Tom Hanks (1984), and in the same year, Amy Heckerling cast Arlen as Michael Keaton's teenage girlfriend in Johnny Dangerously. She went on to play Rochelle, a rape victim in the somber film The Ladies Club. She followed this with a silly role in Moving Violations, after which Joel Schumacher cast her as Libby, Mare Winningham's sister, in St. Elmo's Fire. She was again picked by Amy Heckerling to play Mrs. Garland, the amorous newlywed in National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985). Arlen was next cast as the harried, overwhelmed E.R. nurse with Richard Pryor in Critical Condition (1987).
Her talent eventually led to more significant roles. She was cast in an ensemble comedy for Paramount called The Whoopee Boys, which centers on a group of misfits attending a charm school to learn manners (directed by John Byrum). She played Shelley, the flipped-out ex-acid-head and semi-reformed ax-murderess. Arlen felt strongly about the shortage and insignificance of women's roles, so she occasionally requested to audition for parts that were originally written for males. Shelley was supposed to be a man, but Arlen pushed to read for the part at her audition. She was positively reviewed for the role. Duane Byrge of the Hollywood Reporter Film Review wrote, "Arlen gives off a softly perfect loony glint as the Lizzie Borden etiquette learner."
From her slew of comedic roles, Bernie Brillstein's company suggested Arlen for a regular on Saturday Night Live. Arlen was flown to New York and put up at the Berkshire to audition. Having fallen in love with making movies and married to a man who had to remain in Los Angeles, she was very hesitant about moving to New York. She "threw" her audition, and still considers that moment to be one of the biggest mistakes she made in her acting career.
Soon after this, Arlen went in to read for a female supporting role in a comedy called Traxx, written and produced by the late Gary DeVore. While she was there, she requested to audition for the role of a male character: an out-of-control lawyer representing the scum of the town for the ACLU; bigger-than-life, broad and bombastic. They laughed so hard at Arlen's audition, DeVore practically fell off the couch. They gave Arlen the role, altering nothing but the character's name -- from Malcolm to Madeline. Though her character was ultimately cut due to a change in story line later in filming, DeVore called Arlen after the film was released to tell her he thought her performance was magnificent, and was saddened she was not in the final version.
After Traxx, Arlen won the coveted role of Elaine Wells in the dramatic DOA for Touchstone, playing the doctor and friend of Dennis Quaid who gives him the dreaded news he has less than forty-eight-hours left to live.
Later that year, she was cast by Anthony Perkins to play Arlene, Joe Alaskey's best friend in Lucky Stiff, and in 1990 she co-starred in the gritty supernatural thriller, The First Power, starring Lou Diamond Phillips. She played Sister Marguerite, the nun who teams up with Phillips to capture a serial killer who's come back from the dead, and in the process ends up getting possessed, herself. While shooting The First Power, the cinematographer of the film, Theo Van de Sande suggested Arlen for the lead in his wife, Michele Ohayon's, first American short film called Salamander. Arlen gave a gripping dramatic performance about a wallflower who finds her strength and power through her sexuality.
Her versatility as an actress, and her excellence in both true-to-life dramatic roles and far-out comedic characters, allowed her to land a wide range of characters, and she played each of them with equal skill and intensity.
In 1994, Arlen starred in an Interscope movie released on Lifetime that was directed by David Madden called A Part of the Family. The story revolves around a woman with a repressed past who brings her husband home to meet her family for the first time. Madden cast his wife in his directorial debut because, knowing her capabilities as an actress, he was confident he could rely on her to deliver what he needed. This proved to be a wise decision. At Madden's request, Arlen ended up looping (dubbing in ADR) the five-year-old child who plays her character in flashback throughout the film. She also improvised a gut-wrenching monologue, the climax of the film, on the last day of shooting to replace footage Madden shot the night before without her in it, that didn't work. It was one of the few scenes in the movie that she originally wasn't scripted to be in.
Working again with Madden, she had a cameo playing Jim Belushi's close friend, Dee Harris, the ballistic specialist in Separate Lives.
In 1999, Arlen played one of the leads in the TV movie for Showtime, In The Company Of Spies, with Tom Berenger and Ron Silver; about a group of brainy specialists in the CIA think tank who are brought together to help retrieve a captured agent in North Korea and obtain the vital information he gathered. The film was written by Roger Towne and directed by Tim Matheson. The premiere for the film was held at the CIA headquarters in Langley, and was the first (and currently only) film the CIA has ever approved about the Agency.
In 2000, Jon Turteltaub offered Arlen the part of Bruce Willis's young, thirty-something mother in The Kid, who was dying of cancer in the flashback sequences in the film. While she was filming, her father died of terminal cancer, and The Kid was the last film Arlen did before her life took a sharp turn. After landing a succession of roles and garnering highly positive reviews that gave every indication of a long, vibrant acting career, she seemed to disappear.
Though she stopped acting altogether, Arlen was only absent from the public eye. During this period, she continued working with various screenwriters and producers in script development, which allowed her the time she needed to focus on the tumult in her personal life.
Day-to-day existence took center stage as she struggled through a string of personal tragedies. The death of her father moved to the forefront of her life, even as she found herself hospitalized with a nearly fatal case of Peritonitis. In a very Hollywood-esque "eleventh hour" scenario, the doctor on call performed emergency surgery and managed to save her life, against the odds. It was during her recovery that she and her husband separated. The heartbreak of her divorce from Madden was followed closely by her mother's death and years of a difficult and lengthy probate litigation around her parents' estate, which resulted in estrangement from her family.
As Arlen came to terms with her losses, she began to see a shift in her perspective. She reconsidered what it meant to be an actress, a lover, and an intelligent, dynamic woman in today's world. She began to write, and as her thoughts flowed, she found her grief gave strong focus to the things that mattered most.
From her well of insights and observations, Arlen created a book she hopes will help other women find fulfillment in love. Through this highly personal work, Elizabeth Arlen emerged, transformed and renewed.
In her upcoming book, (Title TBA), Arlen channels the knowledge and emotion borne of her own obstacles and experiences into an enlightening, humorous, and cathartic journey to better understanding what makes relationships work.
When asked what the future holds, Arlen says, "When you have come close to dying, you're reminded how short life is, and inevitably want to do something purposeful. I'm focused on moving forward with my book, because I really hope it will inspire women to pursue satisfying relationships and bring genuine love back into their lives."
Whatever Elizabeth Arlen chooses to do, one thing is certain: like she, it will be memorable.