She was just partway through her first big Hollywood lead when British actress Jenny Agutter found herself highballing toward stardom at flack-speed. MGM pitched her as its most blinding discovery since Liz Taylor, no less, and its president, Daniel Melnick, made her the kind of major-studio multimovie offer that hadn’t happened in a decade. What compelled him, declared Melnick, was “her individual attractiveness, her superb handling of individual scenes, the sheen of her professionalism…that, and our belief that she’s gonna be a very big star.”
Beverly Hills snickered. Not at Agutter’s acting—she is perfectly fine in the new MGM picture, Logan’s Run, a sci-fi potboiler that this week becomes the first blitz release of the summer. But rather at Melnick, 42, who had been dating Jenny, 23. Agutter snickers right back. “I’ve been out with Dan Melnick a few times, but it wasn’t that kind of thing. I’ve stayed away from involvements—permanent ones anyway. I’ve chosen to work,” she reiterates, convincingly, “and be independent.”
If the truth be known, Jenny lives in an unmodish apartment above the Sunset Strip, and her permanent roommate is an American model struggling toward starletdom. Agutter hasn’t even bought a car yet (she rents). Indeed, MGMs investment aside, Jenny insists, “the trappings of stardom don’t appeal to me at all. When I was 13 I played Julie Andrews’ daughter in Star! Whenever Julie was off the set she was surrounded by so many people—acolytes, hangers-on and menials catering to her every whim—I thought, ‘This has nothing to do with being an actress. It’s all so phony.’ I vowed I’d never allow those sycophantic goings-on in my life.” Jenny must mean it. Otherwise, why didn’t she change her name, of which she says, “the accent’s on the first syllable—and it usually gets a titter.”
A child of showbiz (her father books entertainment for the British armed forces), Jenny has been working almost steadily since her debut at 11 as a ballerina in a Walt Disney TV show. Subsequently, she won an Emmy in Paul Gallico’s bittersweet drama The Snow Goose; got smashing notices in Nick Roeg’s Australian film Walkabout; and qualified for the esteemed National Theatre of England.
Currently she’s back in London filming The Eagle Has Landed, about an attempted World War II kidnapping of Winston Churchill, and visiting her family. “She’s a marvelous actress, so good we can’t always tell how she feels,” her mum observes, adding perhaps wishfully, “sometimes I wonder if she wouldn’t rather settle down with a nice husband.” Her ambitious daughter kicks that one in the head. “The only positive thought I’ve had about marriage,” says Jenny, “is that I’d rather marry a director than an actor. There’s something unnatural about a man who tries to look beautiful and seeks compliments. Actors’ egos are even worse than actresses’. An architect or a lawyer would be preferable to an actor. Let’s face it, anything would.”