At the tender age of 17, Phoebe Cates appeared naked in what was her first ever movie.

While the 1982 film Paradise (a Blue Lagoon rip-off) was controversial at the time, given Cates was considered a minor, it certainly put her name on the map, with viewers bewildered by her beauty.

Her very next film, released only two months later, would then skyrocket her status as Hollywood’s ultimate fantasy woman.

The scene would eventually be described as
The scene would eventually be described as “the most memorable bikini-drop in cinema history”. Photo / Supplied

Emerging from the water in a fire red bikini, Cates’ jaw-dropping scene in the teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High would eventually be described as “the most memorable bikini-drop in cinema history”.

Playing the loveable Linda Barrett in the successful movie, which also starred Nicolas Cage, Sean Penn and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the film ranked 29th among US releases in 1982, ultimately earning more than $US27 million, six times its $US4.5 million budget.

Over the years it has gained cult status, and with it, has helped Cates keep her title as one of tinsel town’s favourite pin-up girls.

But it’s that alone that has helped the brunette stay somewhat relevant.

Most recently, she was referred to in Stanger Things season 3, when Dustin is describing his new girlfriend, Suzie. “Think Phoebe Cates, only hotter.”

The fact she’s still mentioned in modern popular culture is a testament to her enduring popularity and timeless good looks, despite quitting acting back in 1994.

After Fast Times launched her status, Cates graced the cover of a slew of magazines including Seventeen, Tiger Beat, Teen Beat and several others.

Cates then played Christine Ramsey, a desirable high school girl, in the reasonably successful 1983 movie Private School. After that she was cast in the leading role of the television miniseries Lace in 1984, yet again as a sex symbol, Lili, who scours the country in search of her birth mother.

Playing sexually charged roles, and appearing nude in many of her films, didn’t seem to bother Cates, who spoke like a true feminist ahead of her time.

“I was only 17 when I did my nude scenes in Paradise. They were serious and more difficult because they were not easily justified. But the topless scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High was funny, which made it easy,” she said in a 1982 interview.

“In this business, if a girl wants a career, she has to be willing to strip. If you’ve got a good bod, then why not show it?”

While she had no issue stripping down, it did unfortunately see Cates become typecast and affect her ability to diversify her career.

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Photo / Supplied
Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Photo / Supplied

When Steven Spielberg was casting for the 1984 classic Gremlins, there were concerns among his colleagues that Cates shouldn’t be cast as Billy’s girlfriend, Kate, because she was too risque to play a more wholesome character.

But the veteran director pushed for her casting because of her electric chemistry with unknown actor Zach Galligan (Billy).

Spielberg said when Galligan was doing a screen test with Cates that “he’s in love with her already”, which in turn helped them both score their respective parts.

In a 2014 interview, Galligan said he was in love with “dreamy” Phoebe but she was only ever interested in “older guys”.

Even in a more modest role, Cates couldn’t shake her sexual appeal.

While the role marked an obvious transition into less sexualised parts, it also proved the beginning of the end of her acting career.

Aside from a Gremlins sequel in 1990, which tanked at the box office, and the reasonably successful comedy Drop Dead Fred in 1991, Cates only appeared in a handful of movies, most of them forgettable, until her last hoorah in 1994, with the movie romantic comedy, Princess Caraboo.

Sadly, it received mixed reviews and didn’t do great at the box office.

After that, Cates seemed to shift her priority to being a mother, after having two children with fellow actor Kevin Kline, who she married in 1989.

The couple, who have a 16 year age gap, are still together, and live in New York City with their kids, Owen, 27, and Greta, 25.

Cates has never really given any clarity about why she quit acting, with her Oscar winning actor husband shedding a bit of insight to Playboy in 1998 that it initially wasn’t her intention to quit.

American actors Phoebe Cates and Zach Galligan on the set of Gremlins. Photo / Getty Images
American actors Phoebe Cates and Zach Galligan on the set of Gremlins. Photo / Getty Images

“We have agreed to alternate so that we’re never working at the same time … (but) whenever it’s been her slot to work, Phoebe has chosen to stay with the children,” Kline revealed.

She did however make a small comeback in 2001, but only as a favour to her Fast Times co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh, starring in her directorial debut The Anniversary Party.

But that’s the only time she’s ever tested her acting chops.

In 2005, Cates opened a women’s clothing boutique in New York.

When asked why she went into retail and wasn’t returning to the screen, she told NBC’s The Big Idea “acting wasn’t really an option for me”.

And at a Gremlins reunion in 2015, she seemed annoyed at Hollywood’s reliance on computer generated imagery.

“Movies aren’t really made that way anymore,” she sighed, referring to Gremlins.

Her daughter Greta Kline has managed to make a name for herself in the music world, under the name Frankie Cosmos.

In a 2017 interview, Kline seemed to reveal her mother didn’t enjoy being a “celebrity”.

“She had a normal job, so I never really viewed it as being that special,” the 25-year-old said of her upbringing.

“I didn’t really understand how fame works until I’d gotten my own little taste of it. Now I’m thinking more about what it means to be in the public eye. My parents really weren’t ever, like, into celebrity culture.”

Cates, who also works with various charities, is known to dedicate a lot of her time to finding a cure for type 1 diabetes, as her son suffers from it.



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