Jennifer Beals strolled into a Gold Coast bistro wearing large eyeglasses with light-colored frames that subtly obscured her famous face. It was late morning and the place had just opened; only one patron, drinking a Bombay Sapphire martini, sat by the windows up front.
Though a public personality who recently served as celebrity grand marshal of Chicago’s annual State Street Thanksgiving Day Parade, Beals is an intensely private person who’d rather rap in semi-seclusion than amid a swirl of strangers.
And so she breezed past the host stand, heading straight for a tucked-away table in a far corner. Doffing her specs and stylish winter apparel, she settled in for an hourlong chat shortly after her 47th birthday in mid-December. She’d spend the upcoming Christmas holiday with family in Chicago before heading home to Vancouver, where she lives with her second husband, Canadian entrepreneur/film technician Ken Dixon, and their 5-year-old daughter. Beals has
two older stepchildren, as well, from Dixon’s previous marriage.
The Chicago-born-and-bred actress – whose profile has risen considerably in recent years thanks to six seasons as well-dressed lesbian art curator Bette Porter on Showtime’s hit show “The L Word” – chose the meeting spot because she’d been there once before with an associate of hers on “The Chicago Code.” Scripted and executive produced by Rockford native Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”), the political/cop drama premieres Feb. 7 on Fox and features Beals as Chicago’s first female chief of police. It shot here for more than 100 days this past spring and summer.
A ‘different’ kind of girl
About an hour before our scheduled rendezvous, Beals’ publicist helpfully texted some interview topics and guidelines. Among them: “Stay away from anything real personal, just not her thing.”
For instance, she prefers not to dwell on her spouses: ex-husband and film director Alexandre Rockwell, whom she wed in her early 20s, and Dixon, with whom she exchanged vows roughly 12 years ago in Chicago. She speaks glowingly of motherhood but never names her daughter. Even her pets’ names are kept confidential. Queries about Beals’ Chicago childhood, however, elicited some colorful memories – albeit several recycled ones.
Before rocketing to international renown as sexy welder/stripper Alex Owens in the 1983 film “Flashdance,” Jenny Beals (as she is known more familiarly) was a smart girl from the South Side who liked to read and make daily to-do lists; who was fascinated by horses and dreamed of being a jockey; who was, she has said, “acutely aware that I was different.”
As the light-skinned daughter of a black father, grocery store owner/businessman Alfred, and a Caucasian mother, public school teacher Jeanne, Beals endured taunts of “whitey” in her predominantly African-American neighborhood at the corner of 82nd and Indiana in working-class Chatham.
“It was very odd to have somebody who was white coming into the South Side neighborhood,” Beals said of growing up there in the ’60s and early ’70s, when so-called “white flight” was escalating.
She expounded on the evolution of her racial identity during a 2004 award acceptance speech in Los Angeles.
“As I got a little older, and I was more aware of television and magazines, I searched for images of girls that looked like me. As a biracial girl growing up in Chicago, there wasn’t a lot there, positive or otherwise. I mean, I had Spock. And that was kind of it.