If you were a guy growing up in the 80s, you wanted to date her; and if you were a girl, you wanted to be her. Diane Franklin first lit up the silver screen in 1982 in the Boaz Davidson coming-of-age classic The Last American Virgin, playing conflicted transfer student Karen, whose complicated love triangle with good-hearted Gary and bad boy Rick took audiences on an emotional roller coaster ride all the way through to its punch-in-the-gut, surprise ending.
Landing the role was an impressive feat for the actress, as the part called for a typical American dream girl, which up until then, traditionally could be translated to mean long, flowing blond hair and blue eyes, neither of which Franklin possessed. “I had dark, curly hair, which was not in style,” said Franklin, in a conversation with Royal Flush. “I certainly wasn’t your typical American girl next door. But I was amazed at the reception. After the movie came out, I’d see girls going out, getting curls in their hair! The movie actually influenced culture.”
A major aspect of the movie, despite its title, was the fact that it was directed and produced by, respectively, an Israeli filmmaker and an Israeli film company. This little-known tidbit proved to be quite significant as it pertained to the film’s climax, which ultimately saw Karen betray Gary and end up with Rick, an atypical Hollywood ending, especially for teen comedies of their ilk.
“It’s called The Last ‘American’ Virgin and people were looking at it as an American film,” Franklin recalled. “So therefore, you think it’s going to have a happy ending. The sad ending was very European since other cultures’ views are much different and they tend to approach cinema in a more realistic ‘that’s life’ way. And it shocked everyone who saw it. So my biggest challenge was taking this character and making her likeable despite the ending – because if she wasn’t likeable, you wouldn’t have wanted her to end up with Gary, and it wouldn’t have worked.”
Franklin compares it to an anecdote from her personal life at the time. “I dated my first true love [when] I went to NYU, but I had to break up with him because I wanted to move forward with my career and he wanted to get married right away. So sometimes the timing just isn’t right. And that’s how I approached playing that role. The timing wasn’t right for Karen and Gary,” Franklin surmised.
While The Last American Virgin will always be remembered as the movie that introduced us to the former fashion model, it was the 1985 John Cusack romantic comedy Better Off Dead, in which Franklin portrayed a French exchange student, that catapulted the actress to new heights. The part, which called for Franklin to speak with a heavy French accent, came relatively easy to her, as she had actually already played a native French speaker in the lesser-known flick Second Time Lucky.
“I’ve always loved accents,” said Franklin. “The first one I learned was in Quebec when I went with my parents when I was 10 or 11. My parents had German and Austrian accents. I had a Long Island accent early on, and my manager told me ‘you can’t talk like that ‘ (imitating a Long Island accent). So I worked on my voice from an early age.”
It’s also Franklin’s favorite character she’s ever portrayed. “I loved playing Monique,” she remembered. “I made it my own and she’s my favorite, because she is such a girl role model. There were tomboys but there weren’t any feminine tomboys. Monique could fix her car, she could go skiing, but she would also dress up for dinner and display another softer side.”
Franklin grew up in suburban Long Island, NY, the only child of German and Austrian immigrants. Her parents, while fully supportive of her chosen career path, weren’t at all knowledgeable of the ins and outs of show business. But they were an essential part of her success by driving her to countless auditions and always encouraging her to follow her dream, even though it wasn’t as common at the time as it is now. “When I was growing up, my mom was always home,” Franklin explained. “It wasn’t the usual thing for a girl to go out and support herself. But I always wanted to work. And my mom never discouraged it. My parents never forced me to do anything and they allowed me to follow my goals.”
The actress also believes her childhood in the outskirts of New York helped shape the work ethic she still has today. “When you grow up on Long Island, you just want to get to the city,” said Franklin. “It’s a big trek. You really want it, because it’s a different way of life. California is more laid back. In New York, there’s more of a feeling of striving for perfection, which is admirable.” She added, “I grew from being a Long Island girl, but at the same time I didn’t forget my roots and I didn’t forget the people around me.”
Franklin started modeling at the age of 10 but as she grew older and discovered that her average height was a difficult obstacle to overcome for an adult, she eventually found her way into acting, doing commercials for Coca-Cola, Maxwell House coffee, and Jell-O, in addition to voiceover and theater work. In 1981, she scored a gig as an extra on Endless Love with Brooke Shields, who was already a household name at the time. It was working with Shields, who Franklin says couldn’t have been any nicer, that made her want to emulate that particular trait in her own career. “She was the nicest girl. People adored her,” Franklin declared. “And I found that so appealing.”
While Franklin is proud of the reputation she has built in the industry she has worked in nearly her entire life, she’s also been fortunate to have been treated with respect throughout her extensive career, something she doesn’t take for granted, especially in the midst of Hollywood’s seemingly never-ending sexual harassment allegations. In her case, although she’s had her share of encounters with men attempting to use their positions of authority in sexual situations, almost none have come from within the industry itself.
“First of all, I’m a very sexual person and I have no problem with my sexuality,” Franklin insisted. “I guess I have that European sensibility so I’m comfortable with it. And I know how to handle myself. But fortunately, I never had to deal with the casting couch. I never had anyone say to me that I wasn’t going to get a job unless I slept with them.” Franklin said that there was one incident with Italian director Sergio Leone, when she auditioned to play a young Elizabeth McGovern in Once Upon A Time In America— the role that Jennifer Connelly got. “It wasn’t at the audition itself,” she said, “but it definitely got inappropriate at the end.”
“I had my political science professor come on to me during my freshman year at NYU,” Franklin continued. “The biggest problem is the power tripping. But you also have to realize that many actors meet the ones they fall in love with on the set. When I did Charles In Charge, Scott Baio asked me out and there’s nothing wrong with that, on its own. So it’s a complicated issue.”
Franklin’s most controversial role was in the Amityville Horror sequel, Amityville II: The Possession. It featured an incestual storyline between her and her character’s brother, and while she definitely understands the peculiarity of it, she didn’t have a huge issue with doing it. “I never had a brother, so luckily, I didn’t have that association or the weirdness that went along with it,” Franklin recalled.
Shot in Mexico with no parents or chaperones at her side, the script called for the actress to appear topless, which she agreed to. But when producers tried to persuade her to go fully nude in one scene, she balked – and successfully stood her ground. “They said I was beautiful and they really wanted me to do it. I said thank you very much but no.” Franklin laughed. “They got around it by shooting me from the back, which I had no say in. And that was that.”
This year, 36 years since she appeared in the original sequel, horror fans are anxiously awaiting Franklin’s upcoming appearance in the latest in the Amityville franchise, The Amityville Murders. It’s a dream part for the actress, as this time around she’s tackling the juice role of Louise DeFeo.
“It’s based on real facts, but it’s done in a theatrical way,” said Franklin. “I haven’t had this great of an experience since I worked on Better Off Dead. I’ve always wanted to do a character based on a real person so I was thrilled. And the movie is very respectful to those who were murdered.” She added, “The writer and director, Daniel Farrands, did an Amityville documentary as well so he knew all the facts. He also knew the Lutz family very well. He also worked on The Haunting In Connecticut. It’s rare to find somebody who can combine the documentary aspect with the theatrical aspect.”
While no release date has been announced at press time, Franklin has a plethora of other upcoming projects as well.
“I have a film called The Final Interview, directed by Fred Vogel, that will be at art houses and film festivals. There’s Wally Got Wasted, which is like a Weekend At Bernie’s type of comedy, directed by Adam Ward. And then I have Waking Nightmare, in which Shelley Regner from Pitch Perfect plays my daughter and David Naughton plays a doctor. It’s a really interesting horror film, and I can honestly say it’s a role like you’ve never seen me in before,” Franklin promised.
If that isn’t enough, don’t be surprised to see Franklin pop up in her daughter Olivia DeLaurentis’ short films on occasion, including in Sugar Babies, DeLaurentis’ hilarious web series that she created with her equally-talented writing partner Sydney Heller, on the “Barely Legal Comedy” channel on YouTube. Franklin couldn’t be more proud of the young actress. “She’s so funny,” she beamed. “Her thing is comedy. My daughter’s generation was the first to have computers at home, so she was editing and learning and making little films and things when she was 11. I didn’t have that. So she’s taken advantage of everything and it shows in her work.”
“My husband Ray and I have been married for about 28 years,” continued Franklin. “He’s written for St. Elsewhere, Harry and the Hendersons, Scooby Doo, all kinds of animation. My son is a musician who plays the upright bass. We’re a fun family. My kids grew up in a creative atmosphere, and I’m really happy about that.”
Franklin still enjoys acting as much as she did when she started, and she makes it clear that she has no plans on slowing down.
“I still love acting,” she enthused. “I just think it’s so much fun. I’m very serious about it but I’m still having a blast and I just love it.”
Click here to purchase Diane’s book, “The Excellent Adventures of The Last American, French-Exchange Babe of the 80s,” on Amazon.
Click here to purchase Diane’s book, “The Excellent Curls of The Last American French-Exchange Babe of the 80s,” on Amazon.
For information on Diane’s next book, a tribute to Better Off Dead, and how you can be featured in it, click here