Kathleen Turner celebrates a special birthday today. A favorite of LGBTQ fans, she is talented and versatile, known for a distinctive voice, commanding presence, and memorable performances spanning five decades.
As for that tricky business of Turner taking on a certain controversial role on three episodes of Friends in 2001, well, “Helena Handbasket” is the character once described as the “father” of Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), who is presented as a drag queen, but we now see was probably a trans woman. But also, please remember, whatever the pronoun, Helena Handbasket is a fictional creation. Turner recently claimed:
“There was no question of casting a trans person or a drag queen, it was never considered. It never crossed my mind that I was taking a role from someone. Of course I wouldn’t do it now because there would be real people able to do it. How they approached with me with it, was ‘would you like to be the first woman playing a man playing a woman?'” I said yes, because there weren’t many drag/trans people on television at the time.”The Observer, May 2023
Marta Kauffman, Friends co-creator, said earlier this year that Helena was, in fact, trans, and that it was a “mistake” that she wasn’t referred to as trans, admitting:
“We kept referring to her as Chandler’s father, even though Chandler’s father was trans. Pronouns were not yet something that I understood. So we didn’t refer to that character as she. That was a mistake.”
She can currently be seen giving a jaw-dropping performance on HBO’s White House Plumbers as the real-life foul-mouthed Dita Beard, a lobbyist who became embroiled in the Watergate scandal that brought an end to the presidency of Richard Nixon in the summer of 1974. The series is a funny look at E. Howard Hunt (Woody Harrelson) and G. Gordon Liddy (Justin Theroux), two bumbling members of a covert White House special investigations unit, who were there to protect the presidency, but ended up bringing it down.
“She was the one that blew the whole damn thing open, then tried the most fantastical ways to get around it. She’s the only one who ended up well, with a horse farm in Virginia, where she lived happily ever after with her daughter. As opposed to everyone else, who pretty much ended up in jail.”
Turner has two Golden Globe Awards in her trophy case, in addition to nominations for an Academy Award, a Grammy Award, and two Tony Awards.
To celebrate her 69th birthday, I am offering up 11 of my favorite Turner film performances; from steamy noir to classic comedies to dynamic dramas, Turner has proved her versatility, and we love her for it.
Here she explains her acting technique: