Annette O'Toole

Active - 1973 - 2020  |   Born - Apr 1, 1952 in Houston, Texas, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy

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Biography by Nathan Southern

Woefully underappreciated American actress Annette O'Toole combined intelligence, wit, and delicate, often teasing allure with a girl-next-door magnetism that served her impeccably, both during her ingenue years and well into adulthood. Born in 1953, the scarlet-haired Houston native followed the lead of her dance studio owner mother by practicing her footwork with stunning determination. Annette's family moved to the City of Angels before her 14th birthday, where she shifted gears from dancing to acting, enrolled in drama courses, and landed guest roles in such series as The Partridge Family and Hawaii Five-O.

In 1974, O'Toole tackled her first major feature role -- that of sweet-hearted beauty pageant contestant Doria Houston (otherwise known as Miss Anaheim) in Michael Ritchie's legendary satire Smile (1975). She did stellar work opposite Robby Benson in the romantic comedy One on One (1977), which premiered to favorable critical reviews, but a similar effort with Gary Busey a few years later, called Foolin' Around (1980), failed to display like chemistry. For better or worse, O'Toole's big break arrived in 1982, when she was cast opposite Christopher Reeve as Lana Lang in Superman 3; the film, of course, clocked in as an enormous stinker, overbloated to the point of absurdity, with O'Toole providing its only saving grace.

That film imparted bittersweet undercurrents to O'Toole's life; it brought her the greatest character identification of her career, to be certain, but (along with an ill-advised appearance in Paul Schrader's awful 1982 movie Cat People), may have contributed to keeping her offscreen for several years. She rebounded with force in Armyan Bernstein's outstanding sex comedy Cross My Heart, as one of two romantic leads opposite Martin Short. The late 1987 release displayed the wit, charisma, and intelligence of both of its stars (and incorporated a hilarious nod to Superman 3, suggesting that Bernstein and Gail Parent may have written the role specifically for O'Toole), but for some unascertainable reason, failed to connect with an audience.

O'Toole then signed for roles in the Alan Rudolph comedy-mystery Love at Large (1989) and the horrific Stephen King telemovie It (1990), which found the actress, along with John Ritter, Richard Thomas, and others, squaring off against homicidal clown Pennywise (Tim Curry). Her next major feat came in the late '90s, when she played Lisa, the spunky ex-wife of the police detective title character (Don Johnson) on the series Nash Bridges (1996-2001). She then achieved recognition by playing a different Superman role than the one previously essayed -- that of Clark Kent's mother, Martha -- on the popular prime-time series Smallville (2001). At about the same time, O'Toole made headlines by marrying her second husband, comedian and actor Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley, This Is Spinal Tap), in 1999. The two co-authored a song for the Christopher Guest mockumentary A Mighty Wind (2003), entitled "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow," in which McKean co-starred sans O'Toole. In a particularly memorable bit, the couple performed that number together on-stage at the 2004 Academy Awards ceremony.

Movie Highlights

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  • At age 3, started taking dance lessons at her mother's dance school in Houston.
  • Joined The Danny Kaye Show as a professional dancer when she was 16.
  • First acting gig was a guest-starring role on a 1970 episode of Gunsmoke.
  • Made feature-film debut as a scheming beauty-pageant contestant in the 1975 comedy Smile.
  • Played country singer Tammy Wynette in the 1981 TV movie Stand by Your Man.
  • Was cast as Clark Kent's high school sweetheart Lana Lang in 1983's Superman III opposite Christopher Reeve; and then as Clark's adoptive mother Martha Kent in the 2001 TV series Smallville.
  • Landed guest-starring roles with husband Michael McKean in a number of TV series, including a 1999 episode of Boy Meets World and a 2000 episode of Law & Order.
  • Cowrote, with husband McKean, an Oscar-nominated song (the second they had ever written together) for the Christopher Guest musical mockumentary A Mighty Wind (2003).
  • In 2011, starred in Southern Comfort, a musical based on a Sundance award-winning documentary about Georgian transgender friends; the New York Times praised her "moving performance."
  • Appeared on The Finder in 2012 as Eileen Sherman, Walter's mother.