When "Saturday Night Fever" became a 1977 box-office smash, launching the disco craze, leading lady Karen Lynn Gorney was hailed by some as "an instant movie star."
So what happened?
"People didn't know what to do with Stephanie Mangano," says Gorney, who felt typecast as the movie's tough-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside Brooklyn secretary. "I think that what happened is that I was so vulnerable and scared, whatever people projected on me, I became. People thought I was that person in the movie, and I became that--instead of someone who was stable and whole and had some sense of herself."
Casting meetings went nowhere; at one point, she nixed an offer to star in a "Saturday Night Fever" TV series. In 1979, she headed for England--bolstered by some nightclub singing experience, and a stack of her own song compositions. "I fancied myself a rock star," recalls Gorney, whose father, Jay Gorney, wrote the Depression-era classic "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" She produced her own album, which EMI bought. Only one single was released, and Gorney returned to New York after a year. "I really don't mess around with music anymore," she says.
Now 44, she spent most of the past decade doing "play after play" ("Richard III," "Arms and the Man," "Dracula," etc.) in Off-Broadway and regional theater. Recently, she appeared in the cable-TV movie "The Dean's List."
Classically trained--a BFA from Carnegie Mellon and a master's from Brandeis--she got her first film role as a teen-ager in the 1963 drama "David and Lisa." She later snared the role of Tara in the ABC soap "All My Children," a seven-year stint that led to soap fame and, eventually, "Saturday Night Fever" for director John Badham, a close friend.
Of future film possibilities, she adds: "It was about 15 years between 'David and Lisa' and 'Fever.' Maybe I'll be one of those theater actors who does a film every dozen or so years, like Michael Redgrave."