It is an oft-told tale in Hollywood that too much too soon brings anguish—and for years Melanie Griffith, daughter of Tippi (The Birds) Hedren, seemed a classic case in point. Precociously beautiful, wild and by 15 a contender for stardom through sizzling roles in such films as Night Moves and The Drowning Pool, she was leading what she calls a “bleary” life of sex, drugs and booze. “I had the body of a woman, the feelings of a woman, but I was just a headstrong baby,” she says. “When you’re like that, people let you get away with a lot. But it all catches up with you.”
For Melanie, the classic ending seems to have been averted. Three years ago she met Steve “Rocky” Bauer, the young actor who scored big last year in Scarface. By the time they were married in May 1982, he had helped her face up to her life. “I spent a year and a half struggling with myself, saying I didn’t have a problem,” says Melanie, who first sought help shortly before meeting Bauer. “I’m really a recovering alcohol-drug addict,” she says with a dismissive laugh. Then she adds, dead serious, “If you get on the treadmill, it’s tough to get off. Few do. I was one of the lucky ones.”
At the advanced age of 26, Melanie Griffith is making a comeback. To be sure, she is hardly returning as Saint Joan. In the thriller Fear City, made last November, she plays a Manhattan stripper, a role that involves nudity. In Body Double, an almost assuredly X-rated opus from Brian De Palma, she plays a porn queen (having beaten out several “adult-film” actresses for the part); in that one, which just completed filming, she is called upon for a masturbation scene. Melanie knows all that may stir memories of her free-living past but, she says, “People have to look deeper than the surface. I’m nothing like what I am in the movies. I’m just acting.”
Only 4 years old when she arrived in L.A. with her mother, a former New York model discovered by Alfred Hitchcock, Melanie grew up in the rarefied atmosphere that Hollywood kids take for granted. Hitchcock, who frequently visited the house, gave Melanie a unique present on her 6th birthday: a tiny pine coffin in which a miniature of her mother was laid out. (“That was really sick,” says Melanie.) By then Tippi had long since divorced Melanie’s father, Peter Griffith (now a real estate man in the Virgin Islands). She soon married film producer Noel Marshall, and Melanie grew up on a 200-acre Acton, Calif. ranch with Marshall’s three sons, a sister and a small menagerie of lions, tigers and elephants.
In her teens Melanie harbored the notion that her real mother was Marilyn Monroe. She had been born in New York’s Doctors Hospital shortly after Marilyn had lost her own baby there and had actually been cuddled by Monroe. “I didn’t look like my mother then, so I fantasized that when Marilyn held me, God switched me over, and I was really her child,” she remembers. As a gorgeous 15-year-old, she began modeling. Nothing very advanced about that, she thought: “By 14 half of my girlfriends had had abortions.” She also started living with actor Don Johnson, seven years her senior, and soon was being singled out for films that showcased her as a wanton teenage siren. By the time she finally got a wholesome role—as a beauty contestant in Smile, at 16—it was too late to save her reputation. “I got libeled a lot,” she says. “I’d read things about this long-legged nymphet, and I couldn’t make sense of it all.”
Her relationship with Johnson burned out after four years, at which time they promptly got married. Recalls Melanie: “We thought if we were married and it still didn’t work, we’d divorce.” They did, the same year.
Melanie admits her life-style at that time was pretty fast: “Sure, I used to do drugs, I used to drink. I was wild. I could do anything I wanted, and I did.” After the divorce, her life got even faster. She dated Ryan O’Neal, among other Hollywood sex heavies, and made a string of Grade B films. Recalls Bruce Cohn Curtis, who produced her 1977 Joyride, “She was the Debra Winger of the ’70s—a man’s woman.” To develop her talent she enrolled in classes with Stella Adler but, she says, “She scared me to death. I didn’t want to be berated.”
Her life took on more ominous tones in 1977 when, while filming Roar, a jungle epic, in California, she was mauled by a 400-pound lion. Traces of scar tissue are still visible on her face. But then she also had emotional problems. “It was a tough period in her life,” says mom Tippi, who is now divorced from Marshall and is writing a book about big cats, which she still keeps on the ranch. “She needed consoling and to know she had talent.” Three years later Melanie was hit by a car at a crosswalk on Sunset Boulevard. She suffered a fractured arm and had amnesia for several days. That second brush with death brought some soul-searching. “Everything came crashing down,” says Melanie. “I thought of the accident as God’s way of telling me to slow down and figure out what to do with my life.”
It was during her recovery period, when she was playing a recruit in a TV film called She’s in the Army Now, that Melanie met Bauer, one of her co-stars. The Cuban-born actor, 27, got her thinking “more intellectually” about her craft, she says. Shortly after the relationship got serious, they took off together for New York to study with Stella Adler. This time Melanie was determined to take the criticism.
The couple, who were wed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, now live in West Hollywood and talk of having children once Melanie gets her career in hand. She recognizes that she must “go through a period of proving myself” to studio execs who recall her earlier flakiness, and she plans to enroll at UCLA to get the liberal arts degree she never tried for. “Everything happened very quickly to me,” she says, “and I just have to accept the fact I have had more experience than most 26-year-olds. But I’m in control of my life now, and I feel good about it.” She does not blame the town where she was raised for her trials. “I don’t know if Hollywood is a good or bad place—it’s up to the individual,” she says. “Rocky and I don’t plan to raise our kids here, though.”