Thelma & Louise actress Geena Davis was one of Hollywood’s most beloved leading women throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Then, she suddenly vanished from our screens and it looked like she had retired from the spotlight. So, what exactly happened that made this Hollywood starlet disappear. As it turns out, there was a quite tragic reason she lost her A-list status.
It may come as a surprise that Davis became a star by chance. She was actually working as a model when she was cast in her first movie: 1982’s Tootsie. Fortunately, for the inexperienced actress, the comedy flick was a success. In addition to becoming the second highest-grossing movie of the year, it was also nominated for ten Oscars!
Virginia Elizabeth Davis
Virginia Elizabeth “Geena” Davis was welcomed into the world on January 21, 1956. The starlet was born in Wareham, Massachusetts to her teacher assistant mother and her father William F. Davis who worked as a civil engineer and was also a deacon in their local church.
She has one big brother named Danforth. Davis got into music at a young age and learned how to play the flute and piano. She was also skilled on the organ and even served as an organist at her church. In high school, she joined an exchange program in Sweden. She eventually graduated from Boston University in 1979, which a bachelor’s degree in drama.
A Rising Star
After the success of Thelma and Louis, Davis was given the part of Wendy Killian in the ‘80s show Buffalo Bill, and even wrote some of the episodes. Unfortunately, the critics didn’t love the sitcom, and people at home just weren’t tuning in. The show for canceled after only two seasons.
During that same time, Davis also experienced struggles in her personal life. She tied the knot with restaurant businessman Richard Emmolo back in 1982, but the pair split up just one year later. During a 2001 interview with the Daily Record, Emmolo revealed that Davis’ success with Tootsie, was partly the reason for their divorce.
Taking Hollywood by Storm
Emmolo said, “After Tootsie, Geena’s agent sent her to Hollywood. She got a co-starring role in the TV sitcom Buffalo Bill, and I moved out to L.A. to be with her. I loved her but I hated Los Angeles, and I wanted to go home to New York. Eventually, Geena said, ‘I want to stay out here… without you.’”
But after meeting Jeff Goldblum on the set of Transylvania 6-5000, Davis found love once again. The dream team partnered up again for 1986’s The Fly. Just months after the horror movie hit theaters, Goldblum and Davis exchanged vows.
Award Winning Actress
Davis’s career was skyrocketing during that time. In 1991, she landed a lead role in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, which was a commercial and critical success. She then landed a starring role in The Accidental Tourist which led her to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. At this point, Geena Davis had made it in Hollywood.
Then, in 1991, the actress’s most famous movie, Thelma & Louise, hit the screens. The road trip movie was highly praised and earned Davis another Oscar nod. This time, it was for Best Actress. Davis, who is a feminist herself, discussed the movie’s message with People that year.
The actress revealed to People magazine, “99 percent of all other movies are about women either having shallow, one-dimensional caricature parts, or they’re being mutilated, skinned, slaughtered, abused and exploited with their clothes off.” So, even if Thelma and Louise was “man-bashing,” she explained that “it couldn’t even begin to make up for all the anti-woman movies people don’t even talk about.”
Davis continued and opened up about her divorce from Goldblum. Supposedly, the ex-couple are still good friends. The pair talk on the phone and meet up “occasionally.” She added, “I’m sure we’re both pretty sad. We certainly had high hopes, every good intention. It’s upsetting.”
The Peak of Her Career
When it came to her career, Davis continued to shine. In 1992, she added A League of Their Own to her resume. She didn’t disappoint and the movie was a box office smash! The movie ended up in the top 10 highest-grossing films of 1992. She also got more award nominations after already being recognized as Best Actress at the Golden Globes.
Shortly after that success, the bright spotlight Geena Davis had on her began to dim. First, in 1993, she walked down the aisle with hubby number three, Finnish film director Renny Harlin. Then, she started acting in his movies. Unfortunately, the second decision was a huge career mistake.
Power Couple… Not Really…
1995’s Cutthroat Island was the first film that Davis and Harlin worked on together. However, production for the film was pretty much doomed from the start. Michael Douglas was initially cast alongside the actress.
Despite landing a starring role, it didn’t take him long to quit. Apparently, he wouldn’t stop complaining about how Davis’ character was getting much more attention and screen time. Considering she is married to the director, it’s not much of a surprise. Douglas was eventually replaced with Matthew Modine.
But things did not get better when filming started. In fact, everything seemed to be going wrong. At one point, the tank where the actors’ film water scenes was flooded with sewage. It wasn’t fun and more problems kept occurring.
Harlin fired his chief camera operator during another incident, which led to multiple people deciding to walk off set and protest. The director also wanted his actors (including his wife) to perform their own stunts. Apparently, Davis got injured as a result.
It Made It Into the Guinness World Records
Crucially, after its release, Cutthroat Island underperformed. It was considered so bad that the film made it into Guinness World Records for the biggest box-office bomb. The adventure film was such a disaster that Hollywood stopped greenlighting pirate movies for a long time.
As you can imagine, the next Davis/Harlin production didn’t do much better than the first one. This time, it was 1996’s The Long Kiss Goodnight. Samuel L. Jackson starred alongside Davis and the reviews for the thriller were relatively good. Unfortunately, the film was a flop with the public.
So, even though the actress seemed to have had a flourishing career, it seemed to be affected by the commercial fails she made with Harlin. At this point, she was sadly no longer considered a “bankable” actress by Hollywood. For the next two years, she was basically gone from the big screen.
Davis looked back at this troubling time during a 1998 interview with The New York Times: “I don’t go back and second-guess my choices. It’s all about making endless choices – large and small. You have to keep moving on. The only thing I had planned for my next parts was definitely not doing action.”
Playing a Mama
Then, when 1999 rolled around, Geena Davis appeared in a role quite different from her previous ones. She portrayed a sweet mother and housewife in the classic film, Stewart Little. The audience was used to seeing her as a pirate or a gun-wielding woman on the lam, so this change was refreshing.
Davis played the part beautifully, but she blamed Hollywood for the change of pace. We know that aging is a scary thing in the entertainment industry, and according to Davis, after she turned 40, it became more and more difficult to land good female roles.
In 2016, Geena Davis did an interview with Vulture, where she explained, “Film roles did really start to dry up when I got into my 40s. If you look at IMD, up until that age, I made roughly one film a year. In my entire 40s, I made one movie, Stuart Little… I was getting offers, but for nothing meaty or interesting like in my 30s.”
Unfortunately, that’s the sad truth of Hollywood. The good female roles will likely go to a young fresh face, as opposed to an aging actress, no matter how talented they are. Luckily, Stuart Little was a massive hit and her age helped her depict the beloved mother.
During her time off-screen, Davis took on other hobbies to keep her busy. She decided to take on archery (which is so cool), and she even brought her bow to the Stuart Little set so that she could practice. As it turned out, the actress got pretty good at the sport.
In 1999, she was good enough to compete to get into the U.S. Olympic archery team. Unfortunately, she didn’t end up making it. The actress said she believes the weather impacted her performance. And the 50 photographers watching her definitely didn’t help either.
Thing Are Looking Up
Despite not making the Olympic team, there was still some happy news on the horizon. In 2001, Davis tied the knot for the fourth time. This time she married a surgeon named Reza Jarrahy. You know what they say, fourth time’s the charm!
The happy couple wanted to expand their family and had a baby girl, Alizeh, in 2002. Then, in 2004, they had twins, Kian and Kaiis. Davis’ family life was wonderful, but she wanted to get back into showbiz. Now, as a working mom, Davis decided to look for small-screen roles.
First Woman President
So, the movie star was now looking at television for jobs. It seemed like she started off smooth and found a part that would show her off her range as a talent as an actress. In 2005, she got to play the first female President of the United States in the ABC show Commander in Chief.
Her incredible performance even earned the actress a Golden Globe. Even though the show got great reviews when it first debuted, the ratings quickly declined. So, unfortunately for Davis, Commander in Chief was canceled before Season 2.
Davis spoke out about Commander in Chief getting canceled during her 2016 interview with Vulture: “I was devastated. I still haven’t gotten over it. I really wanted it to work. It was on Tuesday nights opposite House, which wasn’t ideal. But we were the best new show that fall.”
The actress continued and expressed her disappointment: “I put a lot of time and effort into getting [Commander in Chief] on another network, too, but it didn’t work.” But things have a way of working out at the end…
Her Personal Passion
Davis had other goals and ambitions and was already been working on another project behind the scenes. The purpose was to expose the gender imbalance in children’s entertainment, which is a pretty interesting topic that many people don’t really think about.
The actress sponsored a research study at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, and it revealed some interesting results. The survey showed that there are way more male characters than female ones on television.
The Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media
So, the actress partnered up with a non-profit called Dads and Daughters in an attempt to increase the number of female characters on kid’s television. The star even launched her own venture in 2007: The Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media.
As you might have guessed, its goal is to work toward better representation of women in the entertainment industry as a whole, but specifically in productions that target children. It’s important for kids to see strong, powerful women depicted on screen.
Women in the Media
Davis spoke about how women are depicted in the media and pop culture in 2017, during an interview with The Los Angeles Times. While the actress was filming A League of Their Own, apparently members of the media came to set to speak with the cast.
Davis said, “I noticed immediately that [the reporters] all asked as some point, ‘Do you think this is a feminist movie?’ sort of conspiratorial, like, ‘I’m not really saying this out loud’ sort of a thing, and like, ‘Wouldn’t it be weird if you actually said yes?’”
The Life of an Actress
Davis continued, “Are things much better now? No, although I don’t think they’d whisper the question. But as far as the perception of [A League of Their Own] – when it came out, I noticed there was so much prognosticating that this would change everything.” The star noted that it didn’t turn out to be the case.
When it came to her own career, the actress admitted, “I even felt some compunction to not complain about not having enough parts, saying, ‘Oh, I’m just taking a vacation or a break’ or ‘I’m just really fussy.’ Which I am, but don’t ever admit that there aren’t enough parts, or you might seem unpopular.”
Landing Award Winning Roles
In more recent years, it looks like Geena Davis’s career has gotten back on track. In 2016, she landed a major role, the television version of The Exorcist. The reviews seemed positive enough to put the actress back on Hollywood’s radar.
She was also singled out for her incredible performance in the critically acclaimed 2017 sci-fi movie Marjorie Prime. Most notably, Vanity Fair acknowledged the starlet in its movie review saying, “Lois Smith, Tim Robbins, Jon Hamm and especially Geena Davis shine in an artsy meditation on life and technology.”
#MeToo and Hollywood
In 2019, Davis was back in the limelight, this time for her documentary This Changes Everything, which highlights the work done by her institute. Around the same time the documentary debuted, the actress sat down with The Daily Beast to discuss women in Hollywood.
She also spoke about the #MeToo movement as well. We know sexual harassment is not uncommon in Hollywood, but, thankfully, people are more willing to speak out about it now. She strikingly mentioned an uncomfortable situation she had to endure in her past involving director Sydney Pollack.
The Director Said So
Davis revealed that most of her screen time in Tootsie involved her being “in her bra and underwear.” She said that at one point on set, she was asked to rehearse a scene while sitting on Pollack’s lap. Gross.
Even though this uncomfortable request wasn’t relevant to a specific part of the movie, Davis still believed that there was absolutely “no way to say no.” He was her director, and, at the time, she didn’t know “what [was] allowed or not allowed.” Thanks to the #MeToo movement, those standards have become much clearer.
Still a Working Actress
The actress told The Daily Beast during that same interview that she was still unhappy with the number of parts available for her. She added, “I’ll tell you something, though: I wish I was getting more. I wish I was still getting parts like that, or somebody was. That would be my favorite legacy, if they said, ‘She played a lot of important parts all the way to her 90s.’ It’s just not there.”
But when she sat down with Vogue in 2019, Davis mentioned the roles she’s been landing. She was recently cast in Glow, the female-focused wrestling show. The star was absolutely delighted about the popularity of her character.
Movies Starring Women
During her conversation with the magazine, Davis said that back when she was starting out, there seemed to be a “wave” of female actresses. She explained, “When Thelma & Louise came out, the press all said, ‘This changes everything now. We’re going to see so many more movies starring women about women.’ And I was sure that would happen… until it didn’t.”
“Everybody seems very eager to think we’re done, but it absolutely isn’t,” she added. As we know, gender equality has been a problem in Hollywood and the rest of the world for a while.
The award-winning actress continued, “The reason I started this whole research institute is because I found out that people absolutely had no idea that kids’ media was so gender-biased. And before I watched it with my daughter, I was sure it was fine. I was appalled to learn the truth, and I decided I was gonna bring it up in my daily life in Hollywood.”
The more people speak openly about the situation, the sooner equality will happen. It’s important for children to have female role models on screen, and even though there has been some improvement in recent years, it still isn’t perfect.
She went on to explain the risks of speaking out in the entertainment industry: “I think my peers and I always felt like you shouldn’t complain… you can think of some examples of people whose careers really suffered when they became outspoken.” Now, people are finally starting to pay attention.
In October 2019, Geena Davis won the JEAN Hersholt Humanitarian Award – an honorary Oscar – in recognition of her work relating to women in the film industry. Then, the Casting Society of America announced that the actress would receive the Lynn Stalmaster Award for Career Achievement, thanks to her contribution to gender equality.
After Geena married her fourth and final husband, Reza Jarrahy, it seemed like she had found her happily ever after. The couple settled down, started a family, and appeared to be very happy together. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to last forever.
Jarrahay reportedly filed for divorce from Davis in May 2018 and listed their separation date as November 15th, 2017. The actress responded by filing a petition where she claimed that she was never even legally married to the plastic surgeon. Yikes! It sounds like a pretty messy divorce.
Geena Davis Now
Geena has been extremely focused on her activism in recent years. In addition to gender equality, the actress supports the Women’s Sports Foundation and Title IX, an Act Of Congress which focuses on equality in sports opportunities.
With all her philanthropy work and raising her children, Davis is still working in Hollywood and continues to appear in movies here and there. Her most recent role was her portrayal of Bobbi in the 2020 action thriller, Ava. We can’t wait to see what movie this talented actress will appear in next.