Sunday, January 16, 2022

Wendie Jo Sperber


"I'm an actress who likes to say something funny.  Everybody laughs and your job is done."

Wendie Jo Sperber was born in Hollywood, California on September 15, 1958.  During her high school years, she developed an interest in the performing arts, later attending drama workshops at California State University, Northridge. 

She began her acting career in 1978, appearing in the Robert Zemeckis film I Wanna Hold Your Hand (see Trivia below).  Of her performance, Entertainment Weekly said she was "a screaming Beatlemaniac who, among other things, climbed through elevator shafts."  That same year, she had an uncredited role as a dancer in the John Travolta blockbuster Grease.  Most impressively that year however, she starred in the title role of the ABC Afterschool Special (remember those) Dinky Hocker.  You can watch the episode in its entirety on YouTube.  This blogger gives the film two thumbs up.

In 1979, Sperber appeared in the Steven Spielberg film 1941.  Although the movie was a theatrical flop, Sperber became close friends with Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, who would later cast her in the 1980 comedy Used Cars.

After the film, Sperber was cast in her first role of note, that of Amy Cassidy on the sit-com Bosom Buddies (right).  The series starred a relatively unknown Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari, and ran for two seasons on ABC.  Following its cancellation, Sperber joined the cast of the series Private Benjamin, before returning to feature films.

In 1984, Sperber reunited with Hanks for the comedy blockbuster Bachelor Party.  The following year, she appeared in one of her signature roles, that of Linda McFly in Back to the Future. The film was a huge success and she'd return to the role, albeit briefly, in Back to the Future Part III (1990).

The success of the film led to more roles for Sperber.  In 1987, she headlined a sit-com on the new FOX network entitled Women in Prison.  Curious?  Check out the intro on YouTube.  Like most FOX shows of the time, it only ran for 13 episodes.  But the network had a slew of crummy scripts laying around, and they cast her again in the 1990 sit-com BabesDespite having pop culture juggernaut The Simpsons as its lead-in on Thursday nights, it too was destined for cancellation.

In 1992, Sperber took her last role of note as a recurring character on the John Ritter/Markie Post sit-com Hearts Afire.  Following its cancellation in 1995, she'd spend the remainder of her career making one-off appearances in a variety of series, including Murphy Brown, JAG, and Married With Children.  Her final role was as a voice actor on the sit-com American Dad!.

In 1997, Sperber was diagnosed with breast cancer.  For the first few years, it was in remission, and during that time, she founded the WeSPARK Cancer Support Center in Sherman Oaks, California (left).  It offers a variety of courses and services to cancer patients and their families.  Signature events include Jason Alexander's Annual Celebrity Poker Tournament, an annual 5K run to raise awareness, and a series of drag queen bingo nights.  As of this posting, the Executive Director is actress Nancy Allen of RoboCop fame.  

By 2002, the cancer had returned with a vengeance, spreading through most of Sperber's body.  It would ultimately take her life on November 29, 2005.  She was just 47 years old. 

Wendie Jo Sperber was laid to rest at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

Location: Garden of Ramah, Map E, Space 3A

Rest in peace.

  • Sperber's headstone declares her a "Woman of Valor" in both English and Hebrew.  This is a reference to the Book of Proverbs, 31:10-12.  "An accomplished woman who can find?  Her value is far beyond rubies.  Her husband's heart trusts in her, and he lacks nothing valuable.  She brings him good and not harm all the days of her life."

  • Along with her co-star Marc McClure, Sperber appeared in four films directed by Robert Zemeckis: I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), Used Cars (1980), Back to the Future (1985) and Back to the Future Part III (1990).

  • During her final years, Sperber hosted an annual celebrity golf tournament and a mah jongg tournament in Santa Barbara.

  • In 1998, Sperber helped the U.S. Postal Service unveil a stamp promoting breast cancer awareness.

  • Upon her passing, Tom Hanks said this of his former Bosom Buddies co-star: "The memory of Wendie Jo is that of a walking inspiration.  She met the challenges of her illness with love, cheer, joy, altruism through weSPARK, and an unstoppable supply of goodness.  We are going to miss her as surely as we are all better for knowing her."

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