Elizabeth Berkley Lauren
The second child of two, Berkley was born in Farmington Hills, MI, where she spent her youth. Although a Michigan native, she graduated from Calabasas High School in Calabasas, CA (though some sources site Farmington Hills as her site of graduation). Defying later critics of her intellectual prowess, she earned a degree in English Literature from UCLA in 1995. Portentously, Berkley's parents enrolled her in dance classes at the age of five. Her interest in dance eventually led her to musicals, which in turn led her to dramatic acting. After a brief stint as a teen model, this statuesque blonde made her TV debut in an episode of PBS' "Wonderworks." Berkley first appeared on network television in "Gimme a Break!" (NBC, 1981-87) and "Silver Spoons" (NBC, 1982-86). A few other small roles, mostly on TV, followed, before Berkley was cast in "Saved by the Bell" in 1989. Allegedly, the producers could not decide between her and Tiffani Thiessen for the role of Kelly Kapowski, so they created the role of Jessie Spano in order to have both women on the show.Cashing in on the whole "Beverly Hills, 90210" (Fox, 1990-2000) craze, "Saved by the Bell," was the very definition of a teen sitcom, made specifically for teens. Written in broad, predictable strokes, with frequent, ham-fisted attempts at discussing "real teen issues," the show and the school it encompassed was populated essentially by stereotypes: the jock, the prom king, the pretty girl, the nerd, etc. Berkley's Spano was the brainy, feminist/activist girl. Much like her character would have done, when the network doubled its order of episodes during the show's final season, Berkley refused to sign a new contract, instead opting to pursue a career in film.Although she did appear in several other films that appeared at around the same time - including her feature acting debut as an uptight teenager in "White Wolves II: Legend of the Wild" (released direct to video, 1995) - none of them earned anything approaching the notoriety of "Showgirls" (1995) - the film by which she would forever be measured. She played a young stripper named Nomi Malone who, although lacking in the intellectual and morals department, was somewhat less so in the physical department. The film, written by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Paul Verhoeven - the team responsible for the titillating hit film "Basic Instinct" (1992) - chronicled the various obstacles that Malone confronted while trying to become a Las Vegas showgirl. For its graphic violence, sex (both hetero- and homosexual) and near-constant nudity, the film received an NC-17 rating, which it flaunted boldly and unconventionally for that period of time.Due to the laughingly wooden acting and a misogynistic plot barely up to porn flick standards, "Showgirls" was savaged by critics and bombed in theaters. It earned a record 13 Golden Raspberry Award nominations - awarded to the worst films of the year - and "won" seven times. Nevertheless, it eventually found a place as a cult favorite and the subject of a hilarious drinking game. Although her reputation was unjustly damaged far more than the men actually responsible for putting the trainwreck of a film on screen - her agent even dropped her - Berkley's career managed to weather the storm, even if "Showgirls" did not catapult her to the A-list as "Basic Instinct" had done for Sharon Stone.Despite the Hollywood backlash she received post-"Showgirls," she continued to find work on stage, on television and in films, albeit in smaller roles and/or productions. With new representation, she landed a role as Victor Garber's actress-girlfriend in "The First Wives Club" (1996) and the lead in Tom DeCillo's "The Real Blonde" (1998). She earned praise for her stage performances in a 1999 London production of "Lenny" as the stripper Honey opposite Eddie Izzard in a stage play about comic Lenny Bruce and in the 2005 off-Broadway production of "Hurlyburly," as well as in several independent films including Woody Allen's "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" (2001) and the critical darling, "Roger Dodger" (2002). Berkley also appeared on Broadway in "Sly Fox," but reviews of her performance were unfavorable. Despite these setbacks, it was a test of her character and determination that, even with the unshakable "Showgirls" stigma surrounding her at all times, she managed to press on and find work.Although she had a recurring role in the third season of the comedy "Titus" (FOX, 2000-02), her interest in comedy went the way of "Saved by the Bell" eventually, considering her following efforts were of a slightly more dramatic nature, with guest appearances on "CSI" (CBS, 2000-15), "Without a Trace" (CBS, 2002-09) and "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" (NBC, 2001-07; USA, 2007-11).