Wendie Jo Sperber
Wendie Jo Sperber
Sperber in 1981
|Born||September 15, 1958|
Hollywood, California, U.S.
|Died||November 29, 2005 (aged 47)|
Sherman Oaks, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Breast cancer|
|Resting place||Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery|
(m. 1983; div. 1994)
Wendie Jo Sperber (September 15, 1958 – November 29, 2005) was an American actress, known for her performances in the films I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), Bachelor Party (1984), and Back to the Future (1985) and as well as the television sitcoms Bosom Buddies (1980–1982) and Private Benjamin (1982–1983).
Early life and career
Sperber was born in Hollywood, and aimed for a performing-arts career from high school onward. She attended the summer Teenage Drama Workshop at California State University, Northridge, during the 1970s, and began her screen career at a young age when she was cast in the small role of "Kuchinsky", in Matthew Robbins' 1978 teen comedy Corvette Summer, alongside Mark Hamill and Annie Potts. She appeared in Robert Zemeckis' period comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand, as the irrepressible "Rosie Petrofsky". Sperber was overweight, but was able to move quickly on screen (Entertainment Weekly described Rosie Petrofsky as "a screaming Beatlemaniac who, among other things, climbed through elevator shafts"), and her "girl-next-door" appearance helped her to overcome the stigma of her weight.
She played the title role in the ABC Afterschool Special feature Dinky Hocker, which dealt with a teenager's attempts to hide her feelings by eating, and engaged in physical comedy in Steven Spielberg's 1941. Zemeckis, who also worked on 1941, brought Sperber back to the big screen in 1980 with a role in his comedy Used Cars, but it was on television that year that Sperber finally began to receive more serious attention. She was cast in the role of "Amy Cassidy;" a character that was funny, romantic, and exuberant— in the series Bosom Buddies, starring Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari. Following its cancellation in 1982, Sperber appeared in the comedy The First Time, and worked a year on the series Private Benjamin. She then resumed her feature work in the Tom Hanks theatrical vehicle Bachelor Party, directed by Neal Israel. Israel used her again in Moving Violations in 1985. That same year, she appeared as Linda McFly in Zemeckis' highly successful Back to the Future. She reprised her role as Linda in Back to the Future Part III.
Sperber's roles grew larger in the wake of Back to the Future, and over the next decade she starred in the series Babes (a comedy about three zaftig women). In 1994, Sperber was cast in a major supporting part in the CBS-TV series Hearts Afire. By this time, she had lost a lot of weight. As far as acting roles were concerned, she preferred comedy. As she told TV Guide in 1990, "I'm an actress who likes to say something funny—everybody laughs and your job is done." In 1998 she guest starred as April the cleaning lady and Grace's muse on Will & Grace (Season 01/Episode 12).
In addition to her work on TV and movies, Sperber also was the founder of weSPARK Cancer Support Center, an independent organization formed in 2001 to advance and help support individuals and their families fighting various forms of cancer through free emotional support, information and social events/activities. In addition to being the founder, Sperber also served on the board of directors and wrote the quarterly newsletter. According to one of the last known interviews with Sperber by Terra Wellington, the weSPARK organization was her key cause and effort in the last year of her life with her stating "The whole idea of weSPARK's programming was that I didn't want people to walk into a room and have a therapist ask how they feel. I wanted peer support."
Each year, weSPARK has put on an extravagant benefit show called weSPARKLE to raise funds for the organization. The event has been attended by many of Sperber's friends and colleagues, including Tom Hanks, Bryan Cranston, John Ritter, and Eric McCormack. In 1998, Sperber also helped the United States Postal Service unveil and promote a breast-cancer stamp.
In 1983, Sperber married Richard Velasquez and had a son, Preston, in 1986, and a daughter, Pearl, in 1990. Pearl also goes by the name "Daphne". The marriage ended in divorce in 1994.
In 1997, Sperber was diagnosed with breast cancer, which seemed to go into remission following treatment. She revealed in April 2002 that the cancer had reappeared and spread throughout her body, and by mid-2004 she had undergone experimental brain radiation therapy. She continued to work in television and movies during this period, including episodes of Unhappily Ever After, Home Improvement, Will & Grace, Grounded for Life, and the movies Desperate But Not Serious (1999) and Sorority Boys (2002).
She died on November 29, 2005, at the age of 47. Her last work was lending her voice to "Roger 'n' Me," an episode of American Dad! that aired in 2006, after her death. The producers of the show renamed her character as Wendie Jo in honor of the actress.
Sperber is the subject of the documentary The Show Must Go On, directed by Beth Murphy. The film follows the actress through her treatments to battle breast cancer during the production of the 2004 weSPARKLE event.
|1978||I Wanna Hold Your Hand||Rosie Petrofsky|
|Dinky Hocker||Susan 'Dinky' Hocker||Television Movie|
|1980||Used Cars||Nervous Nona|
|1983||The First Time||Eileen|
|1984||Bachelor Party||Dr. Tina Gassko|
|1985||Moving Violations||Joan Pudillo|
|Back to the Future||Linda McFly|
|1986||Stewardess School||Jolean Winters|
|1990||The Image||Anita Cox||Television Movie|
|Back to the Future Part III||Linda McFly|
|1995||Mr. Payback: An Interactive Movie||Woman With Kitten|
|The Return of Hunter||Lucille||Television Movie|
|1999||Desperate But Not Serious||Landlady|
|2002||Sorority Boys||Professor Bendler|
|2003||My Dinner with Jimi||Louella|
|2010||Take 22: Behind the Scenes of Sequestered||Cece||(final film role)|
|1980||The Stockard Channing Show||Wendy Simon||Episode – "Life Begins at 30"|
|1980–1982||Bosom Buddies||Amy Cassidy|
|1981||Knots Landing||Ellie||Episode – "Step One"|
|1982–1983||Private Benjamin||Pvt. Stacy Kouchalakas|
|1985||Brothers||Connie||Episode – "Life's Too Short to Be Delicate"|
|1987–1988||Women in Prison||Pam|
|1989||Designing Women||Estelle Rhinehart||Episode – "The Women of Atlanta"|
|1990||Who's the Boss?||Lori||Episode – "Micelli's Marauders"|
|1991||Harry and the Hendersons||Leslie Worth||Episode – "George's White Light"|
|Married... with Children||Sandy Jorgenson||Episode – "I Who Have Nothing"|
|1992||Parker Lewis Can't Lose||Carol||2 Episodes|
|Dinosaurs||Wendy Richfield||Episode – "Hungry for Love"|
|1992–1993||Hearts Afire||Mavis Davis|
|1994||Fortune Hunter||Nadine||Episode – "Triple Cross"|
|1995||Kirk||Saleswoman||Episode – "S'Wonderbra"|
|1997||You Wish||Margo||Episode – "A Real Don Juan"|
|1998||Murphy Brown||Ann||Episode – "Bad Hair Day"|
|1999||Will and Grace||April||Episode – "My Fair Maid-y"|
|Unhappily Ever After||Ms. Snaylops||Episode – "The Artist and the Con Artist"|
|Maggie||Dr. Scott||Episode – "Don't Quit Your Day Job"|
|Home Improvement||Sue||Episode – "The Long and Winding Road (Part 1)"|
|2000||Bette||Penny||Episode – "A Method to Her Madness"|
|2002||8 Simple Rules||Alice||4 Episodes|
|2003||JAG||Landlady||Episode – "Standards of Conduct"|
|Touched by an Angel||Tricia||Episode – "And a Nightingale Sang"|
|2005||Grounded for Life||Mrs. Robinson||Episode – "The Letter(s)"|
|2006||American Dad!||Old Lady/Wendie Jo (Voice)||Episode – "Roger & Me"|
^1 As is often the case in Hollywood, Sperber's age was a matter of contention at the time of her death. Some reports stated she "died in her 40s". According to an Associated Press report on December 1, 2006: "Her publicist first said that Sperber was 46, but later said she was 43 based on an Internet resource. The Associated Press reported in September that Sperber was 47." Her year of birth was widely published as 1962, but her California birth record shows her birthdate as September 15, 1958, thus she was in fact 47 at the time of her death. In the Director's commentary of the DVD release of I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Robert Zemeckis states that Sperber lied about her age claiming to be 18 when she was supposedly 17. She was around the age of 20 according to the California birth record.
- California Birth Index, Name: Wendie J. Sperber, Birth Date: 09-15-1958, Mother's Maiden Name: Hirshon, Sex: Female, County: Los Angeles.
- "One Fun Babe". Entertainment Weekly. October 12, 1990. Retrieved 2016-02-17.
- "Terra Wellington Biography". movie-stars.us. Retrieved 2016-02-17.
- Wellington, Terra (September–October 2004), Bosom Buddy Transforms Pain into Hope, REAL Magazine, pp. 29–31