×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Back to the Future's Jennifer is still as gorgeous as ever

Few science-fiction features from the 1980s are as memorable as Back to the Future. The movie, from legendary filmmaker Roger Zemeckis, launched a massive franchise filled with sequels, video games, all sorts of merchandise, and a pretty wild animated TV series

The first act of Marty McFly's (Michael J. Fox) time-traveling adventure introduces us to the zany residents of Hill Valley, California — the 1985 version. Aside from getting viewers acquainted with Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), Marty's eccentric father George (Crispin Glover), and the highly punchable Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson), the first portion of Back to the Future offered the initial introduction to Jennifer Jane Parker, Marty's girlfriend and future wife — a quintessential 1980s dream girl.

Although the role of Jennifer Parker would be played and voiced by several other notable actresses throughout the life of the franchise, any fan of Back to the Future will tell you that the real Jennifer Parker was and always will be Claudia Grace Wells. Wells only played the part in the original Back to the Future (Elizabeth Shue took over love-interest duties in the sequel), but she left a mark on the character that endures to this day.

Unsurprisingly, this Reagan-era starlet remains as radiant as ever, and she's actually been up to some pretty interesting things since starring in an iconic piece of American cinema.

Claudia Wells grew up in the entertainment industry

Although Wells was born overseas in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia she grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to Los Angeles as a young teen, where she immediately became interested in acting. She graduated from Beverly Hills High School and soon after started appearing on a number of popular TV series of the time. Wells landed guest spots on Family, Rise and Shine, and Strike Force, plus a five-episode arc on Herbie, the Love Bug as Julie McClane (via IMDb).

Wells' girl-next-door appeal served her well in the early years of her career, and as the TV roles continued to pour in, she finally got her big break in film — with Back to the Future, of course. It's amazing to think that her most identifiable role almost wasn't. According to Yahoo Entertainment, Wells almost had to bail on Zemeckis because a pilot she had recently joined for ABC got picked up, and she was contractually obligated to follow through on the shoot. The early days of Back to the Future's production featured a bizarro world version of the cast we know and love today. Actor Eric Stoltz played the role of Marty McFly and Melora Hardin was cast opposite him in the role of Jennifer. By the time Wells' was done shooting her pilot, Zemeckis had put a halt on filming Back to the Future and recast a young up-and-comer named Michael J. Fox in the leading role. With her calendar clear, Wells stepped in to claim the part she had originally been handed, and the rest is history.

Back to the Future launched Wells to the heights of teen stardom, and she seemed poised to conquer the industry. She appeared in one more major 1986 project — a short-lived television adaptation of Fast Times at Ridgemont High – and then promptly disappeared from the limelight. It was a stunning vanishing act — one hardly explained away by the cancelled series. So, where did she go?

Claudia Wells left showbiz to tend to a family tragedy

It's rare for a young star with an entire career ahead of her to simply walk away, but Wells made her premature exit for a noble cause. Shortly after the release of Back to the Future and the subsequent cancellation of Fast Times, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Wells immediately put her career on hold, and returned home to care for her ailing parent throughout the treatment process. She even walked away from the Back to the Future sequel, allowing Elizabeth Shue to take over Wells' character; Shue retained the role in Back to the Future III.

Wells' mother was intimately involved in her career, even serving in an official capacity as her manager. As Wells told People for a 2015 profile, "I just didn't have it in me to do anything but deal with the stress and the emotions that were going on as a result of my mom being in the process of dying. I just wasn't in a place to be able to think about my career or the film or anything other than what I was doing with my own life. Life was very, very difficult and stressful."

As for how she felt about Shue slipping into the role she made famous, Wells said, "When I found out she was cast, I was actually very flattered and honored because I think she's an amazing actress. And funny enough, [the lead role in] Adventures in Babysitting was between her, me, and Phoebe Cates. I have nothing but respect and praise for her — and I still have not met her."

Sadly, Wells' mother did indeed succumb to her disease, and the loss upended Wells' life to the point that she felt unable to return to acting for the better part of a decade. Fortunately, that isn't where Claudia Wells' story ends.

Claudia Wells is now an entrepreneur, and has returned to acting

In 1994, Wells took her talents to the San Fernando Valley, opening a high-end menswear shop in Studio City called Armani Wells. With Wells serving in the dual capacity of owner and manager, Armani Wells flourished. In service for almost 30 years, Armani Wells' success proves that its owner is much more than just a pretty face.

"I opened it partially because I wanted a financial base," Wells told People. "So I could go back to acting on my terms, where if a role isn't right or if it's not a project I want to do, I could say no — I wouldn't be desperate or hungry."

And go back to acting, she did. In 1996, Wells dipped her toe into the acting pond by starring in the indie film Still Waters Burn. She made her official return to Hollywood 15 years later, playing Eileen Daly in the 2011 sci-fi disaster film Alien Armageddon. Since then, Wells has enjoyed a successful second act — appearing on popular TV series like The Mentalist and in feature films including Groove Street and Vitals

Wells doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon, either. Her next film Quinn – from writer-director Andrew Cinclair — was already filming when the 2020 coronavirus pandemic hit, and she has three more follow-up projects in pre-production or early development. Once the industry gets back on its feet, we're sure we'll be seeing plenty of Marty McFly's original muse on the silver screen.