Her Obvious Assets Pay Off (The Record/Jul 10/1981/US) By Lou Lumenick


Adrienne Barbeau plays a gun-toting criminal in Escape From New York, an apocalyptic vision of Manhattan as a maximum-security prison in the not-too-distant future. As Maggie, the mistress of an evil electronics genius who lives in the ruins of the 42nd Street public library, she wears a low-cut lavender gown that shows off her generous physical assets.

Hardly surprising, since her d├ęcolletage has been the focus of her career since she gave up her role as the sharp-tongued daughter on the Maude TV series. A poster showing Barbeau oozing out of a corselette sold 300.000 copies. Yet she shrugs off the contention of some  critics that she often acts with her chest.

"It's necessary for Maggie to look attractive to control the men, even though she's a convict and  killer," said Barbeau, who wore a low-cut, flower-print dress during a recent round of interviews in Manhattan. "If she's going to survive in this kind of world, she's going to have to make herself necessary. She does it by being a companion to Harry Dean Stanton (who plays the electronics genius). If she didn't she'd be out on the streets. I like Maggie. She's a survivor.

Barbeau acknowledges she has a lot in common with Maggie, although "I'm not sure I would do anything to survive." Barbeau, however, is definitely a survivor. Years of career struggles - including a stint as a go-go dancer in North Jersey - seem to be finally paying off with a string of movie roles. She recently completed two other films and can currently be seen heading the supporting cast of The Cannonball Run, and auto-racing comedy starring Burt Reynolds that grossed a whopping
$30 million in two weeks. She has a form-fitted role as a racer who unzips her jump suit whenever she's stopped by a traffic cop. The officers promptly put away their ticket books.

This same Adrienne Barbeau is an ardent feminist who ran a gynecological clinic during hiatuses from Maude and has made speeches on the Equal Rights Amendment
. She insists that there's no contradiction between her political activities and roles that exploit her physical endowments.

"The ERA doesn't say that someone cannot make themselves as attractive as possible," says the petite actress, "That's my work, and hopefully it will put me in a position where my views will be heard. In the beginning of the movement, there was a feeling on many  women's parts that we had to go way overboard and make ourselves unattractive. I can't take credit or blame for the way I came out of the womb."

Barbeau (her real name) was raised mostly in San Jose, Calif., the daughter of a Armenian-American woman and a French-Canadian who were divorced when Adrienne was 12. After a troop tour in the Pacific with the San Jose Light Opera, she moved to Manhattan's Greenwich Village in 1964 to study acting. Every night, the 19-year-old hopeful boarded a bus at the Port Authority terminal or the PATH train and went to work as a go-go dancer in the Garden State.

"I worked in some real dives - the Camelot Lounge in Harrison, the Lu-Mal in Elizabeth, places in Newark, the Oranges, Secaucus. It was just something that had to be done. Those were the days before topless; I worked in a leotard. I just tried to be the best I could, and tried to avoid drunks and the satyrs. I would go into the ladies' room and read a book between shows. Eventually, I got booked into neighborhood clubs, with a nicer crowd.

"But there were always guys who assumed we were there to make money on the side as well. I wasn't. There was one night when I didn't think I was going to get home. The club owners were responsible for getting us to the bus station. One night, an owner in East Orange, I think, said that these two friends of his would take care of me and a fellow worker. Well, they weren't at all interested in taking us to the station. It was 4 o'clock in the morning and it was snowing. I did a lot of fast talking. I never worked there again."

After some dinner-theater work in Michigan and off-Broadway roles, Barbeau turned up on Broadway in 1967, as one of Tevye's daughters in Fiddler on the Roof.  Three years later, she copped a Tony nomination for creating the part of tough-talking Rizzo in Grease and was signed by Maude creator Norman Lear.

For five years the brunette actress played Carol, Beatrice Arthur's wisecracking, divorced daughter. Barbeau says now that she's proud of the controversial, socially oriented brand of humor pioneered by Maude, but she chafed at her comparatively minor role on the sitcom.

Game shows and TV films

I didn't enjoy the repetition, doing the same thing week after week. I certainly wouldn't want to do another series."

During the run of Maude, Barbeau became a popular game-show guest and began appearing in made-for-television films. While playing a lesbian murder victim in Someone Is Watching Me, she met, fell in love with, and married the director, John Carpenter.

It was a classic case of opposites attracting. Barbeau is mostly a vegetarian who eshews liquor and stimulants, while Carpenter, who directed Escape From New York, is addicted to junk food and coffee. He abhors the Broadway she adores, and Barbeau sneers at his fascination with old movies.

Even worse, the wife of the man who directed Halloween - a
$300.000 thriller that has grossed more than $50 million, the most successful independent film of all time - doesn't even like horror movies.

"I have enough tension in my life, and I would never go and see one, although I can appreciate when they're well made. I saw Halloween only once, and I kept beating on John's legs, asking him 'What's going to happen next?'"

Barbeau has no compunction about appearing in thrillers and science-fiction films, however. Last year, she made her movie debut as a sexy disc jockey in her husband's ghost thriller, The Fog. She's been away from their Laurel Hill Canyon home in the Los Angeles suburbs most of this year. In The Next, which was filmed on the Greek island of Mykonos, she plays an astronaut's widow who becomes involve with Keir Dullea, a mysterious stranger from the future.

Love and horror

Barbeau most recently completed The Swamp Thing, playing an electronics expert hired to protect a scientist who becomes a monster when he's accidentally sprayed with a secret formula.

"It's a love story between me and the swamp thing. We filmed it on location in South Carolina and things were pretty messy, and the swamp was really foul and brackish. The crew thought it was a great joke to take a king snake and put it around my neck. But I love playing strong women. I like action-adventure films much more than comedy. I'd like to play a country-western singer and a female agent in an espionage film."

The Next and The Swamp Thing were directed by Nico Mastorakis and Wes Cravens (Last House on the Left), respectively. Barbeau will appear in neither her husband's upcoming remake of the 1950 sci-fi classic The Thing (which has an all-male cast) or in the sequel to Halloween, which Carpenter is producing but not directing. But Adrienne says she would love to work with her husband again.

"It's a marvelous experience, really nice. He's calm and always in control, and best of all, I get to see him every day. He'd love to do a remake of Gentlemen Prefer Blonds with me and Dolly Parton.

The Carpenters differ markedly, however, over their attitude toward New York. (Escape From New York was actually filmed in St. Louis because of technical problems.)

"I love the city," says Barbeau. "I remember calling home when I was living in the Village. It was the first time I had seen snow. I love the cold and I love the winters and I love to walk. California is so boring."

Manhattan of 1997

Carpenter was so dismayed by the decay and crime that he saw on his first trip to Manhattan that it provided the inspiration for his current film. Taking his impressions to the limit, he and co-writer Nick Castle see Manhattan of 1997 as a walled-in prison housing three million convicted criminals.

"I love the city, but it frightens John," says Barbeau. "He's always certain he's going to be mugged. He's constantly wary of the people around him."