BACK TO THE FUTURE was one of my favorite films of the 1980's. I saw it many times theatrically, even more on video. I spent the summer it came out on a skateboard (which I bought because of the film), listening to the Huey Lewis filled soundtrack on my Walkman.
However the sequels never really had much impact on me. Part 2 was kind of fun, but I didn’t care for Part 3.
It wasn’t just the films themselves not being as good as the original, there was something off about them.
Part of it was because of an unanswered question I always had.
Why did Michael J. Fox have a different girlfriend?
Elisabeth Shue replaced Claudia Wells, who played Jennifer in the first film. It had nothing to do with Shue or her performance. In 1989, when Part 2 came out, Elisabeth Shue was a favorite of mine. If I was to name my top ten films at the time it would include BACK TO THE FUTURE as well as two of Shue’s films, KARATE KID and ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING.
But Claudia originated the role. It wasn’t the same without her. Seeing the final scenes in Part 1 recreated in Part 2 with a different actress was wrong.
Before the internet, and before ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, we just had to guess as to why the change in actresses. It became equally mysterious as, since BACK TO THE FUTURE, I haven’t seen Claudia Wells all that often.
I always wondered what happened. I decided to look into it.
Before BACK TO THE FUTURE, Claudia did a lot of episodic TV work. This led to her starring in a pilot for an Ed Asner sitcom in 1984 called OFF THE RACK.
According to one report, Claudia was then cast in BACK TO THE FUTURE during its first incarnation. This was when Eric Stoltz was to play the lead. After being cast, her sitcom OFF THE RACK was picked up for six episodes. So, she had to drop out of the film.
Actress Melora Hardin, today best known as Jan in THE OFFICE, took over her role.
As well all know, the producers decided they didn’t want to go with Stoltz after beginning filming. They cast Michael J. Fox instead. Then it was thought that Hardin was too tall to play opposite Fox. By this time, OFF THE RACK had been canceled so they brought back Claudia.
The rest is history. BACK TO THE FUTURE came out and was a smash hit. It was loved by critics and audiences alike. As Marty’s girlfriend, Claudia had a few important scenes in the film, especially the finale, flying off to the future with Marty and Doc.
Claudia went on to star in a few more TV shows, including the TV version of FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH.
She played Linda, the Phoebe Cates role.
In 1989, the first sequel came out. Only, Claudia wasn’t in it.
Why she wasn’t there has been the subject of much speculation. If you read various websites, you will hear all sorts of different reasons. It wasn’t even mentioned on the first DVD release of the films.
The real reason, according to Claudia herself in an internet posting (that I was able to confirm by emailing her) was a sad one.
Claudia was asked to return to the sequels, but sadly, her mother was sick with cancer. She couldn’t go and film with that going on in her life. Some things were just more important than movie roles.
They then went with Elisabeth Shue.
So, What Ever Happened to Claudia Wells?
Claudia left the business and has gone into retail.
Since 1991, she has owned Armani Wells, a “stylish, high-fashion men’s apparel” store in Studio City CA, selling clothes for “60% to 80% below retail value”. You can visit their website here.
In an internet posting in 2008, she wrote the following.
I am very blessed and happy with a 12 year old- almost 13- son, named Sebastian. I have a thriving men's resale shop in Studio City, California, called Armani Wells. in Studio City. This week marked was our 17th year at the same location. www.armaniwells.com. I still have a love for acting and haven't closed that door. In Febuary, a film I starred in with Ian Hart, called 'Still Waters Burn' comes out. Bottom line, I love my life, it's turned out beautifully, even without having done the sequels! Family is very important to me and God has always taken care of me and my son.
Here is a current photo of Claudia and a DeLorean from her website.
In an email, to make sure the above posting was really from her, she responded that it was. She added "I own a woman's resale shop in Studio City called Claudia Wells at 11288 Ventura Blvd, SC, CA 91604. 818-985-5855...My men's store is now 18 years old and my son is a straight A, remarkable young man, who's 14!"
She hasn't completely given up her former career. In addition to starring in the independent film STILL WATERS BURN (which is available on DVD and at Netflix), she has appeared at fan conventions. In her new role as a fashion consultant she appeared on the VH-1 reality show AMERICA’S MOST SMARTEST MODEL.
When you think about it, raising a family and running a business, that has been in the same location for almost twenty years, especially in this economy, is more difficult than a film career.
Not to mention it is also more rewarding.