Movies: Whatever Happened to Karen Allen?

I can't wait for the return of "Indiana Jones" this week. I've been looking forward to this installment in the serial not, like all you pathetic groupies, because Harrison Ford's in it or because I loved the first three movies during the 1980s, but because of the return of Karen Allen. I don't have this affliction with—or affection for—any other actress, despite how many adorable, cute or merely beautiful ones I've seen at theaters over the years. And why would I? I'm happily married and altogether rational, knowing full well that the image projected by celebrities on the screen and in the media likely has little to do with who they really are.

Yes, but then there's Karen Allen! Those beguiling freckles, the radiant blue eyes, the husky voice, the enchanting smile—and the white dress she wears as Marion Ravenwood in the first of the "Indy" movies. If you didn't have a crush on her from early on in the movie when she drinks men under the table and then decks Indy with a right to the chin, or when she escapes a harrowing pit of snakes, then that dress surely would have been enough. Billowing in the desert breeze as she fakes the seduction of the evil Dr. Belloq, that dress apparently did it for countless other weak-kneed lads. I've learned that fact from others over and over, though my forlorn crush began even earlier. Before "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and then opposite Jeff Bridges in "Starman" (1984), she was Jessica in "A Small Circle of Friends" (1980) and Katy in "Animal House" (1978). John Belushi's nonpareil portrayal of an exploding zit can't compare to Allen's outcharming Donald Sutherland.

When "Presumed Innocent" was being filmed on a soundstage in Queens in the late 1980s, I spent an afternoon interviewing Ford, who was playing the lead. He was articulate, thoughtful, witty. As we were finishing up, I couldn't resist an irrelevant question. "Can I ask you just one more thing?" I said.

"OK, which movie?" he answered.

"But I haven't even told you the question."

"Which movie?" he again replied.

"The first 'Indy' movie," I said, and before I could say more, he offered, "Sorry, I don't have much to tell you," he said. "She didn't do that much for me."

I expressed shock that he could anticipate my crush and perhaps a silly question of what she was actually like, if her personality matched her the appeal of her smile, whether the reality could live up to the ideal. "You and so many others," he said, with a smile and a tsk-tsk. "I understand about the voice and everything, but …" And the 'Indy' director Steven Spielberg didn't seem to be a big fan either. He cast Kate Capshaw in 'Indy' 2 and then married her, and we never saw Marion Ravenwood again.

A few years later, when I was living in Greenwich Village, I heard the voice, an epiphany to my ears. Standing in line at the drugstore, there Allen was—taller than I'd imagined, but just as mesmerizing as I could hope. She was with a much taller handsome guy with an Italian accent who was clearly trying to pick her up. The nerve! They walked down 10th Street—OK, I clumsily followed along with my groceries—until they exchanged phone numbers or something, while I reduced my pace to a crawl. Now I knew I probably shouldn't be doing this, but I was entirely harmless—toting about with my two-wheel "granny cart," wearing a furry winter parka, mittens, earmuffs and L.L. Bean mudders—and I lived on the next block and it was on the way!

At the corner of 10th and Broadway, she clearly sensed that someone was behind her. I had a moment to decide whether to say something and invite her to the malt shop—or forever be telling this tale. I didn't, so I am. Anyway, I got home and told my then girlfriend, who's now my wife. "You wuss!" she said, clearly confident either of her own appeal, my lack of it or Allen's good judgment. When we chose our ketubah (Jewish marriage certificate) a few years later, I asked in jest if we could include an "Allen exception clause"; that's pretty much where she lost her sense of humor.

In 1997 I spent time with Spielberg on the set of the second "Jurassic Park" movie in Kauai, Hawaii. (Really, I don't write a lot of movie features, but I admit there does seem to be an unintentional thread here.) Over the course of a dinner, I told him the story of Karen Allen and me on the street corner. (It just happened to come up during the conversation.) "Wuss!" he said. Honestly.

Around that time, I read that she had permanently left Greenwich Village for the Berkshires, where she's gone on to run a yoga center, teach acting and open a knitting store. The store's address is listed on her Web site and she encourages folks to stop by and say hello. I'm not likely to be one of them—it seems too direct, too final and too embarrassing, impossible to live up to expectations. I'm happy to see her again, simply as Marion Ravenwood in the movies, if only in a few scenes. But just the same, I'll always wonder what an afternoon at the malt shop might've been like.

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