The recent death of baseball player Dorothy “Dottie” Kamenshek, one of the inspirations for the character of Dottie Hinson in Penny Marshall’s fine film A League of Their Own (1992), prompts me to ask, “What the hell happened to Geena Davis?” Since she, like David Lynch, has had the dubious honor of multiple screwings by ABC, first with her eponymous sitcom and then with the grossly mistreated Commander in Chief (despite her Golden Globe Award and Emmy nomination), I envision her lying in an alley somewhere with a big ol’ knife protruding from her shoulder blades. Her 2009 IMDb credits, Exit 19—a TV outing that featured Matthew Lillard (strike one!) and apparently didn’t even credit a director (strike two!)—and Accidents Happen, flew right under my radar, and that’s a damn shame, because Geena’s been one of my favorite contemporary actresses since…well, that requires some reflection.
Let’s not mince words here: she’s smart, she’s hot, she’s tall, she’s talented, she’s funny, she’s charming, and she’s an archer, so what the hell is not to like? It’s tough to pinpoint just when Geena showed up on said radar, but since I may not have caught David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) on its release, probably put off by his usual yuckiness, I’m guessing it was in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988), in which she was cast opposite the equally appealing young Alec Baldwin. I’m not normally a big TV guy, so I never saw Geena’s appearances on Knight Rider, Buffalo Bill, Riptide, Family Ties, Remington Steele, or Sara, and don’t remember her originally making a big impression on me in Tootsie (1982), even if she does now; of course, I forget an awful lot.
Two more dissimilar films than The Fly (in which Geena uttered the immortal line, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”) and Beetlejuice could scarcely be imagined, but each ranks among my favorite ’80s films and gave her a chance to shine. Having overcome my initial squeamishness, I now recognize the former as one of the best remakes around, and its gene-splicing premise strikes me as much more plausible than the head-switching one in the 1958 original, although that’s setting the bar pretty low. One of the reasons I like The Fly more than most Cronenberg films is its romantic relationship, rendered all the more affecting by the protagonist’s fate, and all the more believable by Geena’s on- and offscreen chemistry with leading man and future second husband Jeff Goldblum.
Since I love both Davis and Goldblum—who also co-starred in Transylvania 6-5000 (1985) and Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)—and they seemed so well suited to each other, I was always sad that they didn’t stay together, but hey, that’s their business. She then nabbed a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Accidental Tourist (1988), a film that appears on my mental “Need to Revisit” list, not least because it reunited William Hurt and writer-director Lawrence Kasdan from BOF favorite The Big Chill (1983). Along with Stephen Frears’s Hero (1992) on that same list is Cutthroat Island (1995), directed by soon-to-be-ex #3, Renny Harlin, who showed conclusively that Geena could kick serious butt in the superior spy thriller The Long Kiss Goodnight (1966).
I have vaguely favorable memories of Angie, Speechless (both 1994, the latter reteaming Geena with Beetlejuice co-star Michael Keaton), and Stuart Little (1999), which as I recall was significantly altered from E.B. White’s beloved book, but right before A League of Their Own—in which, thank God, she reportedly replaced the dreaded Debra Winger—she made two films that really stand out in my memory. Quick Change (1990) is a brilliant caper movie with an excellent cast headed by Bill Murray (who co-directed with Howard Franklin), Randy Quaid, and Jason Robards. And Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise (1991), which I believe was one of the first films I saw with my main man Gilbert Colon, is an inspiring, albeit tragic, tale of two beautiful women (Geena and Susan Sarandon, both justifiably Oscar-nominated) unexpectedly empowered but ultimately doomed by circumstances.