The Tart-Tongued Daughter from 'Maude' Works on a New Image with a New Husband's Help
‘I like to cook,’ says Barbeau. ‘I like to take care of the house. I don’t see this as unliberated’
Ah yes, they remember it well—sort of. He proposed after eating a bologna sandwich on white bread. She accepted on Aug. 26, 1978. In the years to come, the memories of their life together will never lack for crucial details—she seems to remember the date of everything, he remembers precisely what he ate.
In that and other matters, Adrienne Barbeau, 33, best known as Maude’s daughter for five TV seasons, and her writer-director husband, John (Elvis, Halloween) Carpenter, 31, run on parallel tracks. She won’t touch meat, coffee, liquor or coke (with an upper-or lowercase “C”). He “drinks a couple of pounds of coffee before he starts writing,” she marvels, and gobbles junk food, washed down with beer. He smokes; not she. He collects old movies; she doesn’t even like black-and-white cinematography. She is deeply into a self-improvement system called bioenergetics; he prefers plain psychiatry. She crusades for the ERA and abortion choice; he sneers at activism. “Everybody in Hollywood has a cause except John,” sighs Barbeau.
One thing they agree on is that it’s time for Barbeau to rid herself of the shrewish image she developed on Maude. To that end, she released a poster last September—a pouty Adrienne oozing out the top of an aubergine corselette from Frederick’s of Hollywood. It has sold 200,000 copies, putting it in third place behind Farrah and Tiegs. Adrienne will also appear in the August issue of Oui (clothed) and is just about to pose for another poster in a low-cut T-shirt.
Her sexy new image hasn’t dazzled Hollywood yet (“They’ve offered me a 17-year-old girl and Andy Kaufman’s mother in Taxi as roles,” she says), but husband John is enthusiastic. He remembers Howard Hawks’ and John Ford’s heroines, played by such actresses as Carole Lombard and Maureen O’Hara, as “total women.” “I specifically chose in my acting career to stay away from that sex-symbol sort of thing,” Adrienne sniffs, for the moment ignoring her three-month nude stint in the raunchy 1971 New York revue Stag Movie. But she feels strongly that even a pinup can be a feminist. “There’s nothing in the ERA that says a woman can’t be attractive,” she declares. “I am a feminist, but I enjoy certain things that a staunch feminist might associate with a non-feminist. I like to cook. I like to take care of the house. I like to take care of somebody. I don’t see this as unliberated.”
Barbeau’s parents were divorced when she was 12, and she grew up in San Jose, Calif., where her mother is still a bookkeeper for the school district. She spent summers on her Armenian grandparents’ grape farm near Fresno “in 106° weather,” she remembers. “That’s one of the reasons I don’t drink wine.”
She lost her scholarship to San Francisco State University when she overextended a summer tour entertaining troops in the Pacific with the San Jose Light Opera. After saving up $1,000 as office manager for an exterminator, she began acting lessons on the side. In 1964 Barbeau moved to New York, bunking first at the Y, then with two roommates, “a hooker and an alcoholic,” while she worked as a New Jersey go-go girl and a Times Square barmaid. “I was the only 19-year-old virgin in the neighborhood,” she says. Though befriending the customers wasn’t recommended, a platonically friendly Armenian gave her $600 to improve her life. She used it to join Actors Equity and land a job in stock.
Her first brush with success came with Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof in 1968, in which she and Bette Midler played two of Tevye’s daughters. Next Barbeau won a Tony nomination as the original gum-chewing Rizzo in Grease. Norman Lear snatched her away from Broadway after six months for Maude, and she has lived in California since.
Carpenter grew up in Bowling Green, Ky., where his father headed the music department at Western Kentucky University. John produced his first film at 8, using his dad’s home movie camera. “In Bowling Green there wasn’t much call for someone who wanted to be a director,” he says, “so I talked my parents into letting me come out here.” While at the University of Southern California, Carpenter won the Best Short Subject Oscar in 1970 for The Resurrection of Bronco Billy. Leaving school, he began churning out spooky thrillers: the 1975 sci-fi cult hit Dark Star (still revived occasionally), Assault on Precinct 13 and last year’s sleeper Halloween, which cost $300,000 to make and has grossed $14 million. He also co-scripted The Eyes of Laura Mars and directed the TV movie Elvis, which beat out Gone With the Wind in the ratings last February.
During his first made-for-TV movie, Someone’s Watching Me (starring Lauren Hutton), he met Barbeau. Having admired her work on Maude, he wrote in a part for her and asked her to read it. “I walked in,” she recalls, “and thought, ‘Oh, this is a good-looking man. I wonder if he’s married?’ ” During their 18 days of filming in early 1978, they fell in love but never mentioned it because both were involved (though not living) with other people. On the night of April 11, she says (over chicken enchiladas, he recalls), “He told me that he had been in therapy, that he thought he knew himself pretty well, that he had examined his feelings, and what he was about to say was the truth. Then he told me he had fallen in love with me.” Barbeau confessed in turn that she had been “very attracted to him, but when I found out he was seeing someone else, I had done everything in my power to make him unattractive to me.”
After clearing away the other involvements, he moved into her Laurel Canyon home. Barbeau recalls that when he showed up June 15 he brought his typewriter with him; nobody was making any commitments, but it looked serious. Though she was basically anti-marriage, he proposed anyway. Their wedding took place on New Year’s Day 1979, in Bowling Green, in a wedding ceremony they wrote themselves. The down-home 15-course nuptial dinner for eight people at a local inn set them back only $36. After they honeymooned 10 days in Switzerland, Barbeau’s mother tossed another wingding at the Armenian General Benevolent Union Hall in Fresno.
They live in one of the few movie-land houses with book-lined walls—and keep his Malibu house for weekends. So far they have managed to avoid what Carpenter describes as “a major-milestone fight.” Adrienne has been putting together a singing act and doing game shows ($20,000 Pyramid) and TV movies, including Crash: The True Story of Flight 401 (ABC) and the upcoming Charlie’s Balloon (NBC). She and John are also working on his next horror film, The Fog, in which Barbeau co-stars with Janet Leigh and Hal Holbrook, Jamie Lee Curtis (Leigh’s daughter and a Halloween starlet) and John Houseman.
At night Adrienne and John make occasional attempts to work out a compromise in their loving if mismatched lives. So far they have agreed to have babies sometime and play Parcheesi now. She has also persuaded him to switch from white sugar to honey.