I’m not going to lie. The temptation to use an image from her appearance on Remington Steele was strong. I’ve even seen the episode. It’s been a while, but as I recall, she’s a tennis pro they’re supposed to be keeping an eye on for some reason while at the same time solving a case involving a no-calorie chocolate chip cookie. If I remember correctly, she even provides them with some help in solving the case. Certainly I don’t recall that she was presented as stupid, though a little bit bewildered by the episode’s events. And let’s face it, it’s usually easy to be bewildered by the events in any given episode of Remington Steele.
Certainly Davis as a person gives the lie to the idea that all athletes are dumb. She’s an Olympic-caliber archer and a member of Mensa. She’s also a talented actress, with an Oscar win and an Oscar nomination under her belt as well as any number of other awards. She’s also a tireless advocate for equality behind and in front of the camera, including having created a foundation to advocate for equity in male and female roles in children’s programming.
And honestly, she has played an incredibly varied array of roles that don’t get enough attention. She won an Oscar for playing a sort of Manic Pixie Dream Girl for the lettered set in The Accidental Tourist, a movie I admired without quite liking, and of course she was nominated for Thelma and Louise. But of course there’s The Fly, and her intense and nuanced performance as Dottie in A League of Their Own, and I’ll even stump for Earth Girls Are Easy, a film that’s practically forgotten these days despite having a sexy Jeff Goldblum role. I’ll admit I couldn’t get through Cutthroat Island.
I suspect the experience of making it also made her slightly more particular about scripts, though I can’t say for sure. Certainly she hasn’t made as many movies as you’d expect given her fame. Though she’s also done a lot more TV than many movie actresses, apparently never having seen it as beneath her. Which I admire, really; I think there can be as much work or more in appearing in even a half-hour sitcom as appearing in a feature. Okay, so I haven’t actually seen a lot of her TV work; I also haven’t seen something like half of her movies. (I have seen Transylvania 6-5000, though long enough ago that all I remember is not liking it.) I feel like more people should be talking about her.
And, of course, Beetlejuice. Where she’s one of the few characters to exhibit genuine warmth, honestly. It is not Tim Burton’s strong suit. But as Barbara, she is fierce and determined and also genuinely concerned for Lydia’s personal emotional state. You can understand why someone might be willing to spend an afterlife with her; it seems a lot more restful than spending any length of time at all with anyone else in the movie.