Trained at the Washington Theatre Laboratory and Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, Karen Allen was primarily a stage actress when she began to accept small film roles in such productions as National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) and Manhattan (1979), although her most celebrated film assignment was as the plucky Marion Ravenwood in Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Spielberg reportedly acknowledged his appreciation of Allen's performance by gallantly kissing her hand after each take, also preferring roles for Allen that allowed her to appear without makeup, with her generously freckled face in full view. Among her more notable post-Raiders films were Starman (1984), The Glass Menagerie (1987), Malcolm X (1992), and In the Bedroom (2001). Temporarily blinded by conjunctivitis shortly before launching her film career, Allen was able to draw from life while portraying the adult Helen Keller in the mid-'80s Broadway play Helen and Teacher. Allen's TV roles included a portrayal of the ill-fated civilian astronaut Christa McAuliffe in Challenger (1990). The actress reunited with Harrison Ford in a reprisal of her role as Marion in 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Allen continues to be active in film and television.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Cocreator and codirector of the theater program at the Washington Project for the Arts in 1976.
- Considered for the role of Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars (1977).
- Garnered critical acclaim for portraying blind characters in the plays The Monday After the Miracle (1982) and The Miracle Worker (1987); Allen herself experienced temporary blindness from atopic keratoconjunctivitis (AKC) in 1978.
- Landed her first major film role in National Lampoon's Animal House, a role advertised on a bulletin board at the Lee Strasberg Institute.
- An accomplished singer, songwriter and musician, once played in a band with Kathleen Turner; and recorded a duet with Jeff Bridges for the Starman soundtrack album.
- Played the wife of her real-life former husband Kale Browne in two films: Challenger (1990) and 'Til There Was You (1997).
- Received an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2009.
- Has taught acting at Bard College at Simon's Rock.
- Designs and knits sweaters, hats and scarves for her own clothing label.