Meg Ryan.

Occupation: Actress, Producer
Date of Birth: November 19, 1961
Place of Birth: Fairfield, Conn., USA
Sign: Sun in Scorpio, Moon in Aries
Relations: Husband (separated): Education: University of Connecticut


NOT since silent screen star Mary Pickford has the title of America's Sweetheart been given such a workout as it has in application to Meg Ryan. Other words often invoked to describe the disarming blonde actress: bubbly, screwball, perky, ethereal, charming, sparkling, whimsical, petite, and that attribute to end all attributes, nice. While other contenders for the sweetheart crown  say the Julia Robertses and Sandra Bullocks of Hollywood  have had their golden-girl images tarnished by sensationalized accounts of their off-screen conduct or by just plain bad career moves, Ryan has maintained her hallowed girl-next-door appeal by brandishing her fetching personality on-screen, and by living beyond reproach away from it. Well, for the most part.

Born Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra in Fairfield, Connecticut, Meg, or Peggy, as she was then called, didn't exactly have an effervescence-inducing upbringing. When she was 15, her homemaker mother Susan abandoned the family to become an actress, leaving father Harry, a high school math teacher and coach, to raise their four children. It was Meg, of course, who would become the actress  her and her mother's shared love of emoting wouldn't prove enough to ameliorate their shattered relationship. A popular, charismatic, and academically successful student at Bethel High School, Meg enrolled at the University of Connecticut to study journalism following graduation. Her mother helped her secure a Screen Actors Guild card under her maiden name  Ryan  and Meg was subsequently able to pay her tuition in large part with the money she earned from appearances in television commercials.

Two years into her degree, Ryan had the boon to earn an auspicious feature-film debut in the supporting role of Candice Bergen's daughter in George Cukor's Rich and Famous (1981). Encouraged by the experience, the then-20-year-old dropped out of school and turned to the realm of television for acting jobs, first appearing in an ABC Afterschool Special titled Amy and the Angel, and then in the recurring role of Betsy Montgomery on the daytime drama As the World Turns. Departing the world of soapy intrigue after the 1984 season, Ryan relocated to Los Angeles to film the short-lived series Wildside. Undismayed by the failure of the small-screen effort, Ryan decided to stay on and make a bid for movie stardom. An appearance in Amityville III: The Demon (1983) did little to recommend her to the moviegoing public at large, but she gained good notice for her next assignment, a solid supporting turn in the jingoistic Tom Cruise actioner Top Gun (1986), in which she was cast as the wife of Cruise's naval fighter co-pilot, played by Anthony Edwards. Ryan and Edwards' ultimately tragedy-tinged fictional romance translated into a short-term real-life relationship.

In 1989, Ryan's winsome ways were showcased to best advantage in her very first leading role, in Rob Reiner's definitive late-'80s romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally . . ., which demolished box-office barriers, thanks in no small part to Ryan's now-famous simulated-orgasm scene. The sudden cinematic sensation had found her stock-in-trade characterization: the slightly befuddled, occasionally daffy, endlessly adorable, and always endearing comic-romantic heroine. Her own private romantic life solidified when she married Dennis Quaid, whom she had first met during filming of the 1987 sci-fi flick Innerspace; the two subsequently became a couple when they re-teamed for the botched 1988 noir remake D.O.A. Quaid willingly underwent a stint in rehab for cocaine addiction prior to their 1991 nuptials, and by all accounts Ryan made him a much happier man. The couple's son, Jack Henry, was born in 1992. One of the best examples of marriage, Hollywood-style, Ryan and Quaid's summer 2000 announcement that they were separating took many by surprise. As did tabloid rumors that one of the primary reasons for the unraveling of their marriage was Ryan's alleged romantic entanglement with her Proof of Life co-star, Russell Crowe.

Professionally, the former high school homecoming queen reigned again in Nora Ephron's unabashedly gimmicky button-pusher Sleepless in Seattle (1993), in which her hopelessly romantic Baltimore journalist discovers fated love with continent-divided kindred Tom Hanks he a Seattlite widower. Despite creditable supporting and leading dramatic roles  like her performance as a trampy drifter in the disturbing true-life tragedy Promised Land (1988); her portrayal of Jim Morrison's druggy girlfriend in The Doors (1991); and her gut-wrenching turn as a charming alcoholic wife in When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)  audiences have come to prefer Ryan in romantic comedies, and her riskier, darker screen efforts tend to be eclipsed by the sunny attractions of her more popular lightweight screen persona. Not that all of her sentimental turns have made for blockbuster successes: 1990's chimerical fable Joe Versus the Volcano, in which she played three different characters, missed the mark; 1992's fantasy-romance A Prelude to a Kiss, despite its admittedly fine performances by Ryan and co-star Alec Baldwin, was a strained effort in the final analysis; and 1994's I.Q., in which Ryan starred as a egghead professor estranged from the more romantic pursuits of life, fell decidedly flat.

Ryan made a strong stake in the business side of filmmaking in 1993, when she established her own Fox-based production company, Fandango Films (now Prufrock Pictures). She returned to her screwball comedy roots for her feature producing debut, 1995's only modestly entertaining French Kiss, which partnered her with a roguish Kevin Kline. Following a captivating supporting turn in the hip period piece Restoration (also 1995), the slight, prepossessing actress convincingly portrayed a medevac helicopter pilot in Courage Under Fire (1996), a soldierly drama that teamed her with Denzel Washington and a then-unknown Matt Damon. Though she slightly tarnished her sweetness-and-light reputation with her darkly waggish performance as a jilted girlfriend with revenge on her mind in Griffin Dunne's feature-directorial debut Addicted to Love, Ryan reaffirmed her standing as a cinematic sweetheart nonpareil by voicing 1997's most comely animated damsel in distress, Anastasia. The next year, she starred as a heart surgeon who discovers unearthly romance with a beatific Nicolas Cage in City of Angels, a film loosely based on the Wim Wenders classic Wings of Desire; reunited in romance with Tom Hanks in the Warner Bros. comedy You've Got Mail, about a pair of co-workers who unwittingly fall for each other via an online correspondence; and joined the A-list cast of director Anthony Drazan's film adaptation of the David Rabe play Hurlyburly. Next up for Ryan: a remake of the 1939 classic The Women that will partner her in on-screen back-biting and off-screen producing with Julia Roberts.

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