Dharma & Greg
Golden Globe award winning American television and film actress and professional dancer Jenna Elfman first came to the attention of TV audiences with her auspicious, scene-stealing debut as Shannon Canotis in the ABC failed sitcom “Townies” (1996). True stardom arrived the following year with the popular sitcom “Dharma & Greg” (ABC, 1997-2002), where she starred as the free-spirited Dharma Finklestein Montgomery. The role won Elfman her Golden Globe Award, in addition to a Golden Apple Award and two TV Guide Awards. She also took home many nominations, most notably Emmy nominations. More recently, she starred as Alex Rose in the short-lived CBS sitcom “Courting Alex” (2006). On the wide screen, the actress is probably best known for playing Anna Riley in the hit comedy Keeping the Faith (2001), opposite Edward Norton and Ben Stiller. She has also acted in various vehicles, including Krippendorf's Tribe (1998), Can't Hardly Wait (1998), Edtv (1999), Town and Country (2001) and Looney Tunes: Back In Action (2003), and done voice over work in films like Doctor Dolittle (1998) and Clifford's Really Big Movie (2004).
Off camera, Elfman is married to actor Bodhi Elfman, the son of director Richard Elfman and nephew of noted composer Danny Elfman, and they now live in Los Angeles. In January 2007, they announced they are expecting their first child together. The statuesque blonde actress is a member of the Church of Scientology. She appeared at the Church of Scientology’s affiliated Citizens Commission on Human Rights' controversial “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death” museum grand opening in 2005. On what Scientology has done for her, she said, “It's a new religion that's very practical and spiritual, simultaneously. L. Ron Hubbard addresses the mind, the spirit, the body, literacy, drug abuse, criminal reform and social betterment. It's helped me to gain an understanding of myself and life and I suggest you find out about it for yourself.”
Childhood and Family:
Daughter of Richard Wayne Butala, a Hughes Aircraft executive, and Sue Grace, a homemaker, Jennifer Mary Butala, professionally known as Jenna Elfman, was born on September 30, 1971, in Los Angeles, California, but was raised in San Fernando Valley, California. Her parents married in the 1950s and had children, daughter Debbie (born 1957) and son Rick (born in 1961), before the future star was born. Jenna had ambitions to become a nun when she was young. But, when her parents discovered Jenna's talents in entertainment, they put her in a classical dance class. At the time, Jenna was five. A dynamic young girl, her math teacher once sealed her mouth with electrical tape so that she would pay attention to the lessons instead of entertaining her peers. After graduating from Los Angeles High School, where she majored in Arts, Jenna attended California State University in Northridge, California, but dropped out to try her luck in Hollywood. She later studied acting with renowned coach Milton Katselas at The Beverly Hills Playhouse.
Green-eyed Jenna met actor Bodhi Elfman (born on July 19, 1969) at a Sprite audition in early 1991. They got married four years later on February 18, 1995. Jenna and her husband are expecting their first child, a son, in summer 2007.
Keeping the Faith
Jenna Elfman got her start in the entertainment business as a ballet dancer before making the switch to acting in the early 1990s. It was a dance ensemble on the annual Academy Awards telecast in 1991 that launched Elfman's career as a dancer for television and film productions. After a brief appearance in an episode of “Murder, She Wrote” (1992), she decided to become an actress. A student of Milton Katselas of the Beverly Hills Playhouse, she began appearing in TV commercials for clients such as AT&T, Sprite, Clearasil, and Honda. These gigs led to her early series jobs in episodes of such shows as “Roseanne” and “The Monroes” (both 1995), as well as “NYPD Blue,” “Murder One” and CBS' sitcom “Almost Perfect” (all 1996). She also made her TV film debut as a drug counselor in NBC's drama Her Last Chance (1996).
However, Elfman did not get her big breakthrough until she landed her first regular role in the short lived ABC sitcom “Townies” (1996), starring Molly Ringwald and Lauren Graham. The charismatic actress' supporting role as the boy-crazy Shannon made her an instant star and won her attention from ABC executives who gave her an opportunity to star in her own sitcom.
“Dharma & Greg,” a playful romantic account of an unusual couple's happy marriage, debuted on September 24, 1997, to good respond and went on to become one of the network's higher rated shows. Costarring with Thomas Gibson, who played Greg, her blueblood lawyer-husband, she offered a brilliant performance as the impossibly energetic and bubbling daughter of hippies, Dharma Finklestein Montgomery, and picked up a Golden Globe in 1999 for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Comedy/Musical for her performance in the show. She also won a 1998 Golden Apple for Female Discovery of the Year and two consecutive TV Guide awards for Favorite Actress in a Comedy in 1999 and 2000, as well as collecting numerous award nominations, including three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1998-2000), three Satellite nominations for Best Performance by an Actress in a Series, Comedy or Musical (2000-2002), and a 1999 American Comedy nomination for Funniest Female Performer in a TV Series (Leading Role) Network, Cable or Syndication. The long-running high profile stint ended in 2002, when the show came to its demise.
Despite her small screen success, Elfman, who had had her first taste in front of the film camera with a cameo in the hailed John Cusack black comedy Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), wanted to further her career in film. She starred as an objectionable graduate student in the comedy misfire Krippendorf's Tribe (1998), opposite Richard Dreyfuss, had an unaccredited part as a straight-shooting stripper in the teenage comedy Can't Hardly Wait (1998), starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, and lent her vocals for the Owl in the remake of Doctor Dolittle (1998), which starred Eddie Murphy. Elfman next had the titular role in 1999's Venus, costarred with Matthew McConaughey in the Ron Howard directed Edtv (1999) and played a woman who becomes the object of affection to best friends, a priest and a rabbi (played by Edward Norton and Ben Stiller respectively), in Norton's directorial debut, Keeping the Faith (2000). The latter brought Elfman a Golden Satellite nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical, and a Blockbuster Entertainment for Favorite Actress-Comedy/Romance. She also voiced Phig in CyberWorld and Lorelei in The Tangerine Bear (both in 2000) and supported Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton in the marriage and midlife crisis-themed comedy Town and Country (2001). While gaining ground in film, she could also be seen on the stage starring with Miguel Ferrer in a 1999 play staged by her tutor Milton Katselas called “Visions and Lovers.”
After “Dharma & Greg” left the airwaves, Elfman found herself in a bright dramatic performance as an apparently clever and charming woman named Ellena Roberts in the made-for-TV film Obsessed (2002). It was followed by a prominent turn as an executive of Warner Brothers studios who makes the heartbreaking error of discharging Daffy Duck in the animated/live-action hybrid Looney Tunes: Back In Action (2003), and a brief return to series TV with a two-episodic part in the CBS comedy “Two and a Half Men” (2004), as a crazy woman who comes between Charlie and Allen. She then provided the voice of Dorothy in the animated film Clifford's Really Big Movie (2004), based on Norman Bridwell's series of children’s books.
Following a starring role opposite Randall Batinkoff in the romantic drama Touched (2005), which she also executive produced, Elfman received a lead role as a single, workaholic attorney in the CBS sitcom “Courting Alex,” where she also served as the producer. Premiering in January 2006, the show was canceled after eight episodes. On April 15, 2007, Elfman guest starred as Lizzie Jones-Baker in an episode of the 2006 drama series “Brothers & Sisters.”
TV Guide: Favorite Actress in a Comedy, “Dharma & Greg,” 2000
TV Guide: Favorite Actress in a Comedy, “Dharma & Greg,” 1999
Golden Globe: Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Comedy/Musical, “Dharma & Greg," 1999
Golden Apple: Golden Apple, Female Discovery of the Year, 1998