Making her feature acting debut in John Landis's comedy "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978), Karen Allen struck gold in 1981 when she snagged the female lead role of Marion Ravenwood, the feisty heroine and love interest to the dashing hero Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford), in the Steven Spielberg-directed and George Lucas-produced blockbuster, "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
Since then, Allen has starred in such films as "Shoot the Moon" (1982), "Starman" (1984), "The Glass Menagerie" (1987), "Scrooged" (1988), "Malcolm X" (1992), "The Basket" (1999), "The Perfect Storm" (2000), "In the Bedroom" (2001), and "Poster Boy" (2004). She recently reprised the role of Marion Ravenwood in the sequel, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008), in which she aided Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones with their son (played by Shia LaBeouf).
Trained at the Washington Theatre Laboratory and Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, Allen made her Broadway debut as Helen Keller in Arthur Penn's "Monday After the Miracle" (December 1982), which won her a Theatre World Award for Best New Actress.
This 5' 7" actress, who was voted one of the “Most Beautiful Women in the World” by the readers of Harpers Bazaar Magazine in 1983, dated writer Terence Winch in the mid 1970s and lived with actor and pop singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop during the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was married to actor Kale Browne from 1988 to 1998 and has one son with him.
Childhood and Family:
Born in Carrollton, Illinois, on October 5, 1951, to school teacher Patricia Allen Howell and FBI agent Carroll Thompson Allen, Karen Jane Allen and her two sisters spent 10 years moving throughout Tennessee and Pittsburgh before their family settled in the Washington, D.C. area in 1962.
"My dad joined the FBI when I was born as he had gone to school at Washington University in St. Louis and wanted to be near that city. Next we moved to Chattanooga, Tenn. My grandparents lived in Carrolton, Illinois, so I remember many summers visiting them." Karen Allen.
After graduating from Du Val High School in Glenndale, Maryland, in 1969, Allen moved to New York to study art and design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She also attended the University of Maryland before traveling extensively through Mexico, South America and the Caribbean.
In 1974, Allen joined the Washington Theatre Lab, in Washington, DC, and studied at George Washington University from 1974 to 1976. She moved back to New York in 1977 and studied with the Lee Strasberg Institute. She overcame temporary blindness caused by Kerato Conjunctivitis in 1978.
When she lived in Washington, D.C., one of her boyfriends was writer Terence Winch, who wrote about their relationship in a story called “The Age of Transition” in his book “Contenders.” From 1978 to 1983, she lived with actor and pop singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop (born on November 14, 1951), whom she met during the filming of "National Lampoon's Animal House" (1978).
On May 1, 1988, Allen married actor Kale Browne (born on June 16, 1950), but they divorced in 1998. They have one son, Nicholas Browne, who was born on September 14, 1990. Allen and Browne played husband and wife in the film “Till There Was You” (1997) and the TV movie “Challenger” (1990).
Monday After the Miracle
Initially interested in writing, Karen Allen became fascinated with acting after watching a performance by a Polish theater troupe. She studied with the group for a while and later landed roles in touring companies that took her across the U.S. and U.K. Returning to the States, she performed with the Washington Theatre Laboratory Company and appeared in a stage production of "Saint" in 1974. She also worked with the Washington Project for the Arts, which brought theater companies from around the world to the nation’s capital.
“I loved living and breathing theatre so much that I decided I had to find a way to bring my desire to act and my ability to support myself together. I'd run through the possibilities in Washington, so that meant moving to New York." Karen Allen
Allen soon graduated to the big screen and made her film acting debut in the award winning short film "The Widget Maker" (1975). After appearing in the short film "The Aftermath" (1977), she moved back to New York City where she studied extensively with Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg. She also worked as a waitress, house painter, bookstore clerk, and sandwich maker in a wine-and-cheese shop to help pay her bills.
In 1978, Allen made her feature acting debut as Katy, Boon's (played by Peter Riegert) free-spirited girlfriend, in John Landis's comedy "National Lampoon's Animal House," with John Belushi, Tim Matheson, John Vernon, Verna Bloom, and Tom Hulce. After recovering from Kerato Conjunctivitis, she scored meatier roles in Philip Kaufman's film adaptation of Richard Price's 1974 coming-of-age novel, “The Wanderers” (1979), William Friedkin's thriller loosely based on the novel by New York Times reporter Gerald Walker, “Cruising” (1980), and Rob Cohen's powerful drama “A Small Circle of Friends” (1980), playing one of three radical college students alongside Brad Davis and Jameson Parker.
1981 saw Allen land her breakthrough role, that of Marion Ravenwood, the feisty heroine and love interest to the dashing hero Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford), in Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which was produced by George Lucas. Allen, who was considered for the role of Princess Lea in Lucas' “Star Wars” (1977), was invited to audition for the film after Spielberg was impressed by her performance in “Animal House.” Her work in the top grossing film won her a Saturn Award for Best Actress in 1982.
About being directed by Steven Spielberg, Allen commented, “It’s a blast. He’s a very, very fun person. I had a lot of fun with him this time as the first time we were from very different backgrounds based on my training. Also, during this most recent film we were much more relaxed. We are older and don’t have so much to prove.”
Allen subsequently made her Broadway debut as Helen Keller in Arthur Penn's "Monday After the Miracle" (December 1982), which won her a Theatre World Award for Best New Actress. That same year, she played Albert Finney's mistress in Alan Parker's Golden Globe-nominated family drama "Shoot the Moon" (1982).
After headlining a production of William Mastrosimone's play "Extremities" (March 29, 1983 - May 31, 1983), Allen co-starred with Jeff Bridges in John Carpenter's Oscar-nominated science fiction and fantasy film "Starman" (1984), which earned her a Saturn Award nomination for Best Actress. She also played a beautiful, young American tourist in Paris who has an affair with a married French banker (played by Thierry Lhermitte), in Richard Marquand's romantic drama set in France, "Until September" (1984). Three years later, she portrayed Laura Wingfield, the shy, reclusive and (supposedly) mentally ill daughter of a strong-willed single mother (played by Joanne Woodward), in Paul Newman's film version of Tennessee Williams' 1944 play, "The Glass Menagerie" (1987). Her performance in the film handed her nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards (for Best Supporting Female) and Sant Jordi Awards (for Best Foreign Actress). Allen spent the rest of the 1980s acting in a production of "The Miracle Worker" (April to June 1987) and portraying Bill Murray's long-lost love Claire Philips in Richard Donner's Christmas comedy "Scrooged" (1988), a modernization of Charles Dickens's novella, “A Christmas Carol.”
Entering the new decade, Allen played crew member Christa McAuliffe in the controversial ABC movie based on the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, "Challenger" (1990), and headlined a staging of Clifford Odets' play "The Country Girl" (January 1991). She was also featured in Spike Lee's Oscar-nominated biographical film about the African-American activist and nationalist, "Malcolm X" (1992; starring Denzel Washington), and played the mother in the short-lived CBS drama series "The Road Home" (1994).
Allen next had a supporting role in the Lifetime movie "Hostile Advances: The Kerry Ellison Story" (1996), starring Rena Sofer and Victor Garber, and returned to the big screen to co-star as the sympathetic farmer's wife Bessie Emery in Rich Cowan's independent family drama feature set in the midst of World War I, "The Basket" (1999).
Hitting the new millennium, Allen had a featured role as Melissa Brown, a crew member on the Mistral, in Wolfgang Petersen's take on Sebastian Junger's non-fiction 1997 book, "The Perfect Storm" (2000), starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and John C. Reilly. The following year, she appeared in Todd Field's Oscar-nominated crime drama film based on Andre Dubus' short story "Killings," "In the Bedroom" (2001; starring Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, and William Mapother), and returned to the New York stage in "Speaking in Tongues" (October 26, 2001 - January 20, 2002). 2004 saw Allen co-star as the senator's wife in the drama film "Poster Boy" and as the wealthy, indulgent mother of a femme fatale for the 21st century (played by Neve Campbell), in James Toback's thriller "When Will I Be Loved."
Recently, moviegoers could catch Allen reprising the role of Marion Ravenwood in the sequel, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008), the fourth film in the Indiana Jones franchise in which she aided Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones with their son (played by Shia LaBeouf).
While busy acting, Allen also founded Berkshire Mountain Yoga in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in June of 1995. She also started her own textile company, "Karen Allen Fiber Arts," in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 2003. Additionally, she teaches acting at Bard College at Simon's Rock, which is located in Great Barrington.
"I’m at this place of curiosity. I just want to see what comes my way. Being realistic, I’m in my mid-50s and I’m not convinced that there is a real career to be had. I want to play it by ear and see where it goes. I’m not buying an apartment in Los Angeles just yet and I’m not sitting next to the phone waiting for it to ring. I’m just going to go on with my life up in western Massachusetts." Karen Allen
Saturn: Best Actress, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," 1982
Theatre World: Best New Actress, "Monday After the Miracle," 1983