Whatever Happened to Phoebe Cates?

Updated on March 9, 2019
Rachelle Williams profile image

I'm a digital content creator, obsessed with Generation X related pop-culture. I'm also a tech geek, Internaut, and book nerd.

80s Teen Queen, Phoebe Cates
80s Teen Queen, Phoebe Cates

Phoebe Cates was all over the screen in the 1980s! The svelte, dark-eyed girl girl with the fresh face and cute smile started out as an actress in a film that even she describes as a shameless "rip-off" of another popular film that featured nearly the same premise and the exact same leading character types.

She then went on to co-starring in two defining films of the 80s, then another defining film of the 90s, married a Hollywood movie star, disappeared from acting altogether, and is now conquering entrepreneurship. Stay with me as we explore the answer to the question, whatever happened to Phoebe Cates?

We first met Phoebe Cates when she burst onto film screens everywhere as Sarah, the shipwrecked nymphet in the 1982 film, Paradise. The film starred Cates and Willie Ames of Eight is Enough fame, and it tells the story of two shipwrecked teens who crash land on an island and discover the things that two teens of the opposite sex would discover if they were abandoned on an island "paradise" for an extended period of time.

The premise of the film was interesting, but the only problem is that we'd seen it before two years prior. Nearly the same story was told in the film The Blue Lagoon in 1980. That film featured Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, and it was a major Hollywood success.

Even though it was clear to see Paradise (1982) was a clone of The Blue Lagoon (1980), teen audiences didn't seem to mind, because Phoebe Cates was stealing hearts, much like Brooke Shields, but on a slightly smaller scale.

Phoebe Cates and real life best friend, Jennifer Jason Leigh (before Jennifer Jason Leigh went all dark and moody) in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Phoebe Cates and real life best friend, Jennifer Jason Leigh (before Jennifer Jason Leigh went all dark and moody) in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Later that same year, Cates would go on to star in the first of two defining films of the 1980s. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) was basically a story about the typical wild and crazy antics of American 80s high school teens.

In the film, Cates played the role of Linda Barrett, who wasn't exactly the innocent girl next door, but she probably didn't deserve a scarlet letter either... Wait, now that I'm remembering the film better, maybe her character was a tad bit whoreish... But, I digress.

With Cates prancing around in red two-piece bathing suit, and long shots of her lounging around and emerging from the pool, this is the film that squarely established her as a bona-fide sex symbol.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) featured an ensemble cast that read like a "who's who of 1980s teen stars," so Phoebe Cates was cast alongside Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn, and Judge Reinhold. Although Cates was never officially part of the 80s Brat Pack, this sort of big name ensemble casting was a hallmark of the decade.

Which one of you b!tches is my mother?"

The next highlight for Phoebe Cates would come a few short years later, when she was cast in the leading role of the television mini-series event, Lace in 1984. In this role, she played Lili, a sex symbol who scours the country for her birth mother, who gave her up for adoption when Lili was a newborn.

In this role, Cates is all grown up and acting alongside established actors, like Bess Armstrong, Brooke Adams, and Hollywood legend, Angela Lansbury. In one memorable scene, Lili gathers three women into a room for a confrontation. One of the women is her mother, but still yet unnamed. After Lili delivers a scathing ultimatum, she finishes out the tongue lashing with the question, "Which one of you bitches is my mother?"

The miniseries was wildly popular, and the line uttered by Cates what went on to be named the best line in television history by TV Guide in its 1993 issue celebrating 40 years of television.

Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates in Gremlins (1984)
Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates in Gremlins (1984)

Next up for Cates, is a co-starring role in the second of the two defining 80s films in which she appeared, and it is probably her biggest role to date. Gremlins (1984) told the tale of a young man's father who had gone off to China and brought home a furry creature as cute as button, but with a horrifying consequence when the rules for its care are not strictly followed.

Of course, the rules of care aren't followed, cuteness turns to horror, and the rest is history. In this film, Cates played the role of Kate Beringer, the protagonists sweet, hard-working, wholesome girlfriend. This role was a marked departure from her overly sexualized roles, and it was refreshing to see her as the proverbial "good girl."

As you probably already know, Gremlins (1984) was a smash hit. And, yet again, Phoebe Cates delivers another infamous monologue... This time it was a tale about the night she found out there was no Santa Claus. It was a bit dark for the mostly cutesy/family film, but it was starkly memorable and it messed up Christmas for a whole lot of the younger members of Generation X.

After Gremlins (1984) Phoebe Cates spent the remainder of the decade in mostly forgettable roles, with the exception of a 1987 follow up movie, Lace II.

Then three years later, she starred in Drop Dead Fred (1990), which was a defining film of the 1990s. In this film, she has a childhood imaginary friend named "Drop Dead Fred." The only problem with this "imaginary" friend is that he's not exactly imaginary...but she's the only one who can see him.

She banishes Fred as she grows into adulthood, and she seems to have a perfect life. But when her perfect life begins to unravel, Fred shows up again, and a wacky set of circumstances soon follows...

In early 1983, Phoebe Cates auditioned for a role in the hugely successful 80s film, The Big Chill. She lost the role to actress Meg Tilly, but she met actor Kevin Kline and the two eventually began dating.

Sometime between the filming of Gremlins (1984) and Drop Dead Fred (1990), Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline got married. Although Kline is 15 years her senior, the two are a strong couple and seem perfectly paired.

Phoebe Cates and her husband, actor Kevin Kline
Phoebe Cates and her husband, actor Kevin Kline

After she filmed Drop Dead Fred in 1991, Cates was a squarely bona-fide Hollywood star, and most of us thought she'd go on making films and television appearances throughout the rest of her life.

However, she made three more films, including the mildly successful Princess Caraboo in 1994, and then she seemed to drop off the face of the planet. As far as the entertainment world goes, Cates stayed off the radar from roughly 2001 until 2015, when she voice acted her previous Gremlins role in the video game, Lego Dimensions.

Although she's stayed off the acting radar, she has been otherwise engaged. Cates and her husband, Kevin Kline, moved to New York City and had two children. The couple had a son, Owen, in 1991, and a daughter, Greta, in 1994. The actress sites the fact that she retired from Hollywood to raise her children, and she never really enjoyed acting.

In 2005, Cates opened a boutique called Blue Tree, on Madison Avenue in New York. Blue Tree is a hip and funky general store concept that sells everything from olive oil to clothing. All of the items are hand picked by Cates, and the store is super successful, having been in business for more than 13 years.

Phoebe Cates states that sometimes a customer will stop in and tell her that she looks like that actress from the 1980s, to which she replies "I get that a lot."

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