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Hello, Karen? It's Steven . . .

Actress Karen Allen answers the call: It's back to the screen for 'Indy.'

May 18, 2008|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

GREAT BARRINGTON, MASS. — She WAS Boone's girl Katy in "Animal House," and this was enough to cement her in the collective conscience of a certain kind of male. This male was 13 when the National Lampoon comedy was released, in 1978; what he has retained in his mind's eye about Karen Allen are the freckles and long brown hair and big eyes, at once inviting and a little cool.

So what happened to her? It as much to ask: What is the trajectory of a culture that has gone from Karen Allen to Jessica Alba?

Hers was a naturalistic beauty that seems synonymous with the 1970s and so missing these days, in what is advertised on screen as young and beautiful. She was simultaneously materially attractive and subtext: In "Animal House," when Boone catches her post-coitus with their English professor, it made sense; a girl like that would go off with older men, abandoning the boyfriend for needing his toga.

Did she quit Hollywood or did Hollywood quit her? We mean, after 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and that nakedly classical opening salvo: "Indiana Jones. I always knew someday you'd come walking back through my door." There was, less remembered now, 1984's "Starman," in which she played another loner tough girl -- this one visited by an outer-space creature (Jeff Bridges).

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, May 25, 2008 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Karen Allen: Last week's Sunday Calendar profile of actress Karen Allen said her ex-husband Kale Browne was a regular on the ABC soap "Another World." The show was on NBC. Additionally, the article said "King of the Hill" was Steven Soderbergh's second film. It was his third.

But at some point she went to go knit in the Berkshire Mountains. There was also a marriage followed nine years later by divorce, and single motherhood that would, in concert with the dwindling Hollywood career and the shock of 9/11, prompt her to quit Manhattan permanently for the Berkshires.

She had done summer theater in Stockbridge, Mass.; she felt at home there. With her Hollywood money she'd purchased an 18th century barn and remade it; the place came with its own beaver pond, and Allen added a hot tub. She cleared the attic of bats and made it into a master suite with its own sunken bath and office.

Here the former bohemian girl selling jewelry in Greenwich Village enrolled her son in a Rudolf Steiner school, drawn to its nontraditional methodology (Steiner, the Austrian philosopher and father of biodynamic agriculture, created the Waldorf educational method, with a varied, curriculum in which, for instance, math is "introduced through rhythm and song, and studies of the natural world," according to the school's website).

Allen would make news, but locally, in the Berkshire Eagle, under headlines like "Allen to Direct 'Batting Cage' " (she involved herself with local theater). The knitting thing grew to Karen Allen Fiber Arts, selling cashmere knitwear and accessories, with a store and a studio in quaint old buildings in crunchy, latte-inflected downtown Great Barrington.

And then one day, early last year, the phone rang in her studio, and it was Steven Spielberg, with whom she had not gotten along at all on "Raiders."

"He said, 'Karen?' " Allen recalled of coming to the phone that day.

He was asking her to return to the long-rumored "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," Allen reprising her tough-minded tomboy-fatale Marion Ravenwood.

What, no Alba?

She drove to Spielberg's Manhattan apartment and read the script, because she wasn't permitted to take it home. Just like old times.

"When I did 'Raiders,' I was working on a television miniseries of 'East of Eden,' and we were up somewhere in Napa [Valley]," she said. "And he sent a courier to my hotel room, who had to sit in my room the whole time I read the script, and then took the script away."

Her coronation came last summer at Comic-Con in San Diego, live via satellite from the "Indiana Jones" set in Downey. "Hello, Comic-Con," cast members Ford, Shia LaBeouf and Ray Winstone said. Then Spielberg went off camera and trotted out -- Creedence! Together again! -- the original Marion Ravenwood.

"Good God, what a moment," blogged Quint on, from Comic-Con, on seeing Allen again. "She looks exactly the same!"

Back in the saddle

Well, mostly. Allen, 56, appears to have left her face alone and kept her body trim with yoga (she used to run a yoga studio here in Great Barrington).

"People all want to know why I haven't been doing more films," she said, sitting over coffee at her country breakfast table several weeks ago and shooing away one of her cats with a spray bottle. "It actually feels exciting to be able to talk about it."

The house is redolent of earthy wealth; blues, folk and rock in rotation on the CD player, there are instruments out. The living room features two abstract paintings by actor Jeroen Krabbe, with whom Allen worked in Steven Soderbergh's second film, 1993's "King of the Hill." Her ex-husband, actor Kale Browne, formerly a regular on the ABC soap "Another World," recently moved back to the area, she said, to be nearer their son, Nicholas, who is attending the local liberal arts school Bard College at Simon's Rock.

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