After shooting to stardom during the ’80s in a string of youth-orientated movies, former model Phoebe Cates hit her stride in the ’90s as a featured player in ensemble films. Born Phoebe Belle Katz on July 16, 1963 in New York City, Cates is the daughter of television producer Joseph Cates (The $64,000 Question) and the niece of film director Gilbert Cates (1970’s I Never Sang for My Father). Joan Crawford was her godmother. While growing up in Manhattan, Cates attended New York’s prestigious Professional Children’s School. An exceptional dancer, she studied with the School of American Ballet until a knee injury forced her to quit in 1977. At the suggestion of the family for which she babysat, she began modeling in teen magazines and commercials. A few years later, director Stuart Gillard saw Cates dancing with friends at New York’s Studio 54 and offered her the lead role in his Blue Lagoon (1980) knock-off, Paradise (1982). She then gave a standout performance as Jennifer Jason Leigh’s sexually mature best friend in Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), before starring in Private School (1983). Besides appearing in the film’s infamous “mooning” scene (during which the cast flashes the audience), Cates recorded two songs for Private School’s soundtrack, “Just One Touch” and “How Do I Let You Know.”
In 1984, with her star on the rise, Cates portrayed a young actress bent on destroying her deadbeat mother in the notoriously tasteless television film Lace (1984). That same year, she signed on to play the love interest in Joe Dante’s horror-comedy Gremlins. Written by Chris Columbus and produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, the bizarre, special effects-laden film about a group of strange and violent creatures was a colossal success — despite premiering only two weeks after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and on the same day as Ghostbusters (1984). After returning for Lace 2 (1985), Cates appeared as Michael J. Fox’s model wife in Bright Lights, Big City (1988) and as a young bride-to-be in the coming-of-age film Shag (1989).
Cates began the ’90s at a personal low, starring in the sequel to Gremlins, Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1991), and in Ate de Jong’s disastrous Drop Dead Fred (1991). She quickly revived her career opposite Bridget Fonda, Eric Stoltz, and Tim Roth in the Generation X comedy Bodies, Rest & Motion (1993), before earning rave reviews for her performance as the mysterious title character in Princess Caraboo (1994). The film also starred Cates’ husband, actor Kevin Kline. The actress appeared as herself in Scratch the Surface (1997), a documentary about teen fashion models in the ’80s, and then opted to take a short break from show business in order to care for her children. After a four-year hiatus, Cates returned to the screen in The Anniversary Party (2001), an ensemble film co-written and co-directed by her friend and Fast Times at Ridgemont High co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh and actor Alan Cumming. Acting opposite Kline (who portrayed her fictional husband in the film), Cates played none other than an actress who has left show business to raise a family.