Wendie Jo Sperber (September 15, 1958 – November 29, 2005) was an American actress, known for her performances in the films I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), Bachelor Party (1984), and Back to the Future (1985) and as well as the television sitcoms Bosom Buddies (1980–1982) and Private Benjamin (1982–1983).
Early life and career
Sperber was born in Hollywood and aimed for a performing-arts career from high school onward. She attended the summer Teenage Drama Workshop at California State University, Northridge, during the 1970s, and began her screen career at a young age when she was cast in the small role of "Kuchinsky," in Matthew Robbins' 1978 teen comedy Corvette Summer, alongside Mark Hamill and Annie Potts.
She appeared in Robert Zemeckis' period comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand, as the irrepressible "Rosie Petrofsky." Sperber was overweight, but was able to move quickly on screen (Entertainment Weekly described Rosie Petrofsky as "a screaming Beatlemaniac who, among other things, climbed through elevator shafts"), and her “girl-next-door” appearance helped her to overcome the stigma of her weight. Leslie Hoffman, stuntwoman, did the leap from the car.
She played the title role in the ABC Afterschool Special feature Dinky Hocker, which dealt with a teenager's attempts to hide her feelings by eating, and engaged in physical comedy in Steven Spielberg's 1941. Zemeckis, who also worked on 1941, brought Sperber back to the big screen in 1980 with a role in his comedy Used Cars, but it was on television that year that Sperber finally began to receive more serious attention. She was cast in the role of "Amy Cassidy;" a character that was funny, romantic, and exuberant— in the series Bosom Buddies, starring Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari. Following its cancellation in 1982, Sperber appeared in the comedy The First Time, and worked a year on the series Private Benjamin.
She then resumed her feature work in the Tom Hanks theatrical vehicle Bachelor Party, directed by Neal Israel. Israel used her again in Moving Violations in 1985. That same year, she appeared as Linda McFly in Zemeckis' highly successful Back to the Future.
Sperber's roles grew larger in the wake of Back to the Future, and over the next decade she starred in the series Babes (a comedy about three zaftig women; her costar Susan Peretz also lost her fight with breast cancer a year earlier). In 1994, Sperber was cast in a major supporting part in the CBS-TV series Hearts Afire. By this time, she had lost a lot of weight. As far as acting roles were concerned, she preferred comedy. As she told TV Guide in 1990, “I'm an actress who likes to say something funny—everybody laughs and your job is done.”
Involvement in social issues
In addition to her work on TV and movies, Sperber also was the founder of weSPARK Cancer Support Center, an independent organization formed in 2001 to advance and help support individuals and their families fighting various forms of cancer through free emotional support, information and social events/activities. In addition to being the founder, Sperber also served on the board of directors and wrote the quarterly newsletter. According to one of the last known interviews with Sperber by Terra Wellington, the weSPARK organization was her key cause and effort in the last year of her life with her stating "The whole idea of weSPARK's programming was that I didn't want people to walk into a room and have a therapist ask how they feel. I wanted peer support."
Each year, weSPARK has put on an extravagant benefit show called weSPARKLE to raise funds for the organization. The event has been attended by many of Sperber's friends and colleagues, including Tom Hanks, Bryan Cranston, John Ritter, and Eric McCormack. In 1998, Sperber also helped the United States Postal Service unveil and promote a breast-cancer stamp.
In 1983, Sperber married Richard Velasquez and had a son, Preston, in 1986, and a daughter, Pearl, in 1990. Pearl also goes by the name "Daphne." The marriage ended in divorce in 1994.
In 1997, Sperber was diagnosed with breast cancer, which seemed to go into remission following treatment. She revealed in April of 2002 that the cancer had reappeared and spread throughout her body, and by mid-2004 she had undergone experimental brain radiation therapy. She continued to work in television and movies during this period, including episodes of Unhappily Ever After, Home Improvement, Will and Grace, Grounded for Life, and the movies Desperate But Not Serious (1999) and Sorority Boys (2002).
She died on November 29, 2005 at the age of 47. Her last work was lending her voice to "Roger 'n' Me," an episode of American Dad! in 2006, which aired after her death. The producers of the show renamed her character as Wendie Jo in honor of the actress.
Sperber is the subject of the documentary The Show Must Go On, directed by Beth Murphy. The film follows the actress through her treatments to battle breast cancer during the production of the 2004 weSPARKLE event.
Year Title Role Notes
1978 Corvette Summer Kuchinsky
I Wanna Hold Your Hand Rosie Petrofsky
1979 1941 Maxine Dexheimer Dinky
Hocker Susan 'Dinky' Hocker Television Movie
1980 Used Cars Nervous Nona
1983 The First Time Eileen
1984 Bachelor Party Dr. Tina Gassko
1985 Back to the Future Linda McFly
Moving Violations Joan Pudillo
1986 Stewardess School Jolean Winters
1987 Delta Fever Claire
1990 Back to the Future Part III Linda McFly
The Image Anita Cox Television Movie
1994 Mr. Write Roz Love Affair Helen
1995 Mr. Payback: An Interactive Movie Woman With Kitten
The Return of Hunter Lucille Television Movie
1996 Big Packages
1999 Desperate But Not Serious Landlady
2000 Pissed Wendy
2002 Sorority Boys Professor Bendler
2003 My Dinner with Jimi Louella
2010 Take 22: Behind the Scenes of Sequestered Cece
Year Title Role Notes
1980 - 1982 Bosom Buddies Amy Cassidy
1982 - 1983 Private Benjamin Pvt. Stacy Kouchalakas
1987 - 1988 Women in Prison Pam
1989 Designing Women Estelle Rhinehart Episode - The Women of Atlanta
1990 - 1991 Babes Charlene Gilbert
1991 Married... with Children Sandy (Al's old girlfriend from high school)
Episode - I Who Have Nothing
1992 Parker Lewis Can't Lose Carol 2 Episodes
1992 - 1993 Hearts Afire Mavis Davis
1998 Murphy Brown Ann Episode - Bad Hair Day
1999 Will and Grace April Episode - My Fair Maid-y
2002 8 Simple Rules Alice 4 Episodes
2003 Touched by an Angel Tricia Episode - And A Nightingale Sang
2005 Grounded for Life Mrs. Robinson Episode - The Letter(s)
2006 American Dad! Old Lady/Wendie Jo (Voice) Episode - Roger and Me
As is often the case in Hollywood, Sperber's age was a matter of contention at the time of her death. Some reports stated she "died in her 40s." According to an Associated Press report on December 1, 2006: "Her publicist first said that Sperber was 46, but later said she was 43 based on an Internet resource. The Associated Press reported in September that Sperber was 47." Her year of birth was widely published as 1962, but her California birth record shows her birthdate as September 15, 1958, thus she was in fact 47 at the time of her death. In the Director's commentary of the DVD release of I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Robert Zemeckis states that Sperber lied about her age claiming to be 18 when she was 17.
1. "One Fun Babe". Entertainment Weekly. 1990-10-12.
2. IMDb at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0818274/?ref_=nv_sr_1
3. "Terra Wellington Biography". movie-stars.us.
4. Wellington, Terra (September–October 2004), Bosom Buddy Transforms Pain Into Hope, REAL Magazine, pp. 29–31