From Broadway to sitcoms to HBO to off-Broadway in a few short decades.
Though she’s best known as a buxom horror-film action babe and as Maude’s daughter on the long-running Norman Lear sitcom, Barbeau delves into far more interesting subject matter here than the usual warmed-over showbiz anecdotes. Half French-Canadian and half Armenian, she grew up in California during the 1950s. She started acting in high school, then moved to New York and entered the off-Broadway/waitress grind. Barbeau seems lackadaisical about her career; more than once, she dryly laments opportunities missed because she just wasn’t paying attention. So it’s even more surprising than usual that fairly early on she landed a lucky break—originating the role of Tevye’s second daughter Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof. That led to originating Rizzo in Grease, after which she decamped for Hollywood to spend six years with Bea Arthur on Maude. Barbeau chronicles romances along the way with ’70s icon Burt Reynolds and the surprisingly decent-sounding John Carpenter, who directed her in Escape from New York and The Fog. Her career was hit-and-miss for a while but has perked up in recent years, with roles on HBO’s Carnivale and in an upcoming off-Broadway show about Judy Garland. Barbeau’s style can be off-putting, as she jumps around in time and leavens her narrative with scraps from the journals she’s kept since childhood. But the refreshing directness of her approach keeps things moving even when the subject matter is less than enthralling. She also has a nice way of introducing characters: “I played a whore in a bordello who’s in love with a legless man. Alex was the legless man.”
Far from a classic, but better than the standard actor bio.