NEPAL -- The Raven Bar. Marion Ravenwood with her elbows on the table, sleeves rolled halfway up. That crooked grin. That careless ponytail, The crowd cheers as she drinks her competitor under the table. She gathers her winnings, but a shadow looms on the wall. A shadow larger than life, but not larger than memory .
"Indiana Jones! I always knew someday you'd come walkin' back through my door !"
The Wild Goose Chase Restaurant. Karen Allen with her elbows on the table, sleeves rolled halfway up. That crooked grin. That careless ponytail. She reaches for her glass, and her companion lurches back. A shadow aproximately the same size as life, and exactly the same size as the waiter. Because it is the waiter.
"May I have another iced tea?" she says, perplexed. "I seem to have knocked this one on the floor."
Marion Ravenwood, the kidnapprone, nightgowned lady buccaneer of the summer hit "Raiders of the Lost Ark," is currently a 30-foot-high vision of man-killing sass in 1,100 American movie theaters.
Karen Allen, however, is the girl next door. Or at least she was, if you happened to live in Glenn Dale, Md. Or went to DuVal High School, where she was a student officer in the class of '69. In those days she wanted to be a writer, and so naturally she went to design school in New York for a year and a half. This led naturally to her running a boutique on the campus of the University of Maryland. She had hardly ever seen a play, so of course she soon joined the Washington Theater Lab. Her first audition was for a play commissioned to mark the 100th anniversary of St. Columba's Episcopal Church at Tenley Circle. The play went to England, and she with it.
After 2 1/2 years of studying drama and living the artistic life, Dupont Circle style, she moved on the New York. Four months after that, she won a part in the movie "Animal House." That led to roles in "A Small Circle of Friends," "Cruising" and television's "East of Eden."
Nevertheless, Karen Allen is for some reason still 5 feet 5 inches tall. And while Marion is shouting her lungs out in a blood-spattered thriller, Karen is visiting her parents at the shore. Her father is Tom Allen, retired from the FBI; her mother is Patricia Allen, a schoolteacher in Prince Geroge's County. And Karen Allen is driving the family car, a '70s-vintage, sun-faded, two-toned American dinosaur.
Something is wrong right here in Ocean City.Where is the Mercedes convertible with the celebrity license plate? Where is the Hollywood herald, slipped five bucks to breathlessly precede her into the restaurant ("Miss Allen is about to arrive!")? No, she is demonstrably and unquivocally alone. Absent of escort, free of flack.
Yet she is the lead female in a motion picture that has grossed $50 million in its first three weeks. Therefore famous, and -- how to ask it delicately? -- extremely rich?
"Oh," she corrects gently. "I wouldn't say extremely." Her freckles, of which there are approximately 126, blink with her eyes.
But come now, surely Miss Allen concedes her fame?
"People do mistake me for Margot Kidder sometimes," she admits incredulously, her voice unconsciously dropping to a throatier register. She does not appear to be complaining. She appears to be aplolgizing. To Kidder. Recollections of 'Raiders'
In the middle distance around her, in this restaurant shaped like a Chesapeake lighthouse, patrons go about their luncheons, unaware of the celebrity among them. She is slender and happy and quietly ravishing. Marion, who ran around movie-Egypt in a progressively betattered peignoir, was thrown into a snake pit, kidnapped in a submarine, menaced by skeletons, lusted after by Nazis and repeatedly double-crossed by Harrison Ford, her lusty archeologist-hero.
Allen, perhaps seeing the confusion, blinks her eyes and laughs and simultaneously puts both hands on top of her head. That's all. But the earth moves underfoot, and suddenly all the red lights in Ocean City turn green. This is no regular grin, these are no regular eyes. This is -- What Steven Spielberg Saw at the Screen Test.
And then we are allowed to see what director Spielberg saw during filming.
"My first reaction when I saw the film was delight," she says. "It made me feel like a 5-year-old again. Of course, what I see in the movie is not the scene the audience sees. I see a series of memories. How hot it was that day in Tunisia, or how many takes we did. An I feel . . . helpless."
"Yes. In theater, you can take a little back with you the next night. But in film, there it is -- you can never improve it. The scene in the Raven Bar, for example, was twice as long as it come out in the film. So I see . . . certain lapses."
"Yes. For example, after I drink that guy under the table, I order everybody outside. Originally, I followed them out beacause I'm pretty drunk, too. I make two snowballs, and hold them to my temples like this. That's why I've got my hands on my temples when the shadow appears, and I throw them down and say 'Indiana Jones!'
"But in the final cut, you never see me go outside. You never see me go outside. You never see Marion react to all that liquor at all. Why am I standing there with my hands on my temples when he comes in? When I throw down my hands, they had to insert the sound of breaking glass, just so it would make some sense.
"Other parts of Marion's character never got explained. I was quite disappointed that getting the ark itself didn't seem very important to her. If her father had spent his life looking for it, you'd think she would care too, right?"
In the film, Marion seems motivated partly by a vengeful passion for her hero and former lover, partly by a desire to recover $5,000 he ownes her, but mostly be the filmmaker's need for a constantly imperiled heroine.
"What I wanted," Allen says, "was for Marion to join forces with Indiana -- they'd go after the ark together, as a team. But Steven was very protective of the script. We went a few rounds on that, Steven and I. But they had all just decided that the ark was Indy's thing."
Karen Allen pats her head again, arranging her bangs. A simple gesture, but one which in its charm and style manages to encompass pages 21 through 184 of this month's Vogue magazine.
That seems to be her natural style, but it isn't Spielberg's
"It's true that when I arrived, Steven said, 'Welcome to the Sam Peckinpah School of Action.' And I resisted a little, so it was a while before I knew what he meant. Harrison Ford was already very good at the action stuff, from doing 'Star Wars.' With Steven, you have to jump into a shot just right, and then say something, and then jump here and then dive over there. That was second nature to Harrison.
"But you know, in a 'relationship film,' the camera is supposed to be catching you unaware, and the director is always saying, 'Play it smaller, smaller.' But Steven wanted it bigger, bigger. 'Ten times bigger!' he'd say. Sometimes I'd play a scene so broad I thought it would be ridiculous, and he'd yell -- 'That's it! That's it!'"
Karen Allen can imitate a yell without even raising her voice. The part of Marion, however, called for almost nonstop yelling, especially when she was imperiled by skeletons, mummies and snakes.
"We got used to the snakes after three or four days," she says. "Steven would say, 'If you're not scared of the snakes, the audience won't be scared. You must react to the snakes!' So since Indiana Jones doesn't show much fear, I had to do all the reacting." Stage and SCREEN
She is just back from making a new film in Texas.
"It's called 'Captured,' and we just shot for two months. It can be kind of sad when a film crew breaks up. You work all those long days with a bunch of people, and you think you know each other so well, and then the movie's finished and you realize everybody's going home to a different place."
Surely, she does not come home to an empty place.
"Well," she says, her eyes downcast, "I'm really on my own these days, actually."
"Captured" is about a utopian religious cult led by Peter Fonda. Allen draws a young athlete (Michael O'Keefe) into the cult, and Elizabeth Ashley, as his mother, and try to get him out.
"Everybody in the cult is chaste," she explains.
Everybody in the cult is chased?
"No, everybody in the cult is chaste. They're so goal-oriented there isn't time for anything else. The movie is really about being an individual -- making a choice."
The success of "Raiders" has given Karen Allen a broad choice of what to do next. What she has chosen to do next is not a film.
"I have strong feelings about that," she says. "I want to get back on the stage, and I've found the most wonderful play. It's called 'Extremeties' by William Mastrosimone, and it was performed at Louisville and also for a week in Baltimore.
"It's about three women who are living together. Two of them leave and it comes to a man who says he's 'looking for a friend.' But in fact, he's there to harm her. He tries to rape her, and she squirts insect spray into his eyes, and he's quite badly hurt. She actually begins ; then to torture him, in strange ways. At first you root for her, and then you begin to root for him. But in the end, the audience becomes a sort of jury."
Now that she's a jury, she would naturally play the lead.
"No, not necessarily. I'd just like to be a part of the project, because I believe in it." The Producer and the Publicist
Back at DuVal High, she recalls, she cared not a whit for drama. Didn't even see the school play. "My parents took me to Shady Grove a couple of times, but that's about it." She did spend a great deal of time in the darkness of the Circle Theatre, watching movie after movie. However, after hooking up with Washington Theater Lab, and meeting other actors, she began "to devour all the plays I could find."
"I'd wanted to write, and I went to some meeting of Mass Transit [a Washington dicussion group] when I was living near Dupont Circle, and they published some pieces of mine, a poem and a long prose piece. I'm still friendly with Michael Lally and Terence Winch. I think I got to know Tony Abeson, the director of the Theater Lan, because we lived in the same building. But I was also terminally shy, and writing is an isolated task. Acting got me into a collaborative situation, which was much better."
Last spring, she produced a play off-off Broadway. It was called "Night of Pity," a surreal piece set in the 1920s by a playwright named De Gelerode.
Visions emerge of the grown-up Karen Allen, a phone at each ear, her freckles flashing as she shouts down David Merrick in a conference call with Joe Papp and Roger Stevens.
"No, no," she explains. "I just brought the people together, organized it, put up some money. I think my real contribution was going to see it.There were maybe 16 performances, and I must've been 12 of them. Also, the dressing rooms were pretty dirty, so I scrubbed them out. Stuff like that, that you couldn't ask anyone else to do."
Scrubbing dressing rooms is not a staple of movie-star life. She concedes that with a shrug and one of those indescriable lopsided smiles. Hers is the smile of a beautiful 17-year-old who doesn't know it yet. And those who try to wise her up don't get very far, it seems.
"I'm not very public relations-oriented," she says apologetically. "I had a person for a while who was supposed to do -- What do you call them? Press agents, right? I had a press agent, and the press agent kept coming up with all kinds of things I could do to speed up my career."
And which kind of thing did Karen Allen choose?
"Oh," she says, smiling that smile. "I chose a new publicist. Her name is Nancy. When Nancy hears those ideas to further my career, she says, 'Oh, you don't have to do that.' And I say, 'Really? I don't?'"
The price of this sort of fame and fortune is lunch at the Wild Goose Chase lighthouse-shaped reataurant in Ocean City, with no interruptions for autographs. For most movie stars, this turn of events would require a helicopter evacuation to the nearest shock-trauma unit. Karen Allen, however, needs no such assistance.
Well, she could use some assistance in backing up her father's full-power, family-sized automobile, behind the steering wheel of which she seems as lost as Marion in the catacombs.
A passer-by stops to help."Okay, bring it back, bring it back -- a little more. Turn the wheel. Okay -- all clear."
Say, who was that raven-haired young woman?
A cloud of sand and a girlish wave -- and she's off to the beach with mom and dad.