Not since the role of Scarlett O'Hara was up for grabs have so many actresses tried to pounce on a role. When a pregnant Annette Bening dropped out as Catwoman in Tim Burton's Batman II, there was hardly an actress in L.A. whose whiskers didn't twitch, from the oh-so-desperate Sean Young (who pranced onto Joan Rivers' talk show in a leather Catwoman getup) to the ultimate winner, Michelle Pfeiffer. (Other rumored contenders: Raquel Welch, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Lena Olin, Ellen Barkin, Cher, Bridget Fonda, Susan Sarandon, and even Batman's Vicky Vale, Kim Basinger.)
Catwoman's appeal is obvious: A star turn in Batman II, sure to be seen by many millions, promises a nice boost to any career. Pfeiffer reportedly was even willing to shave her usual asking price. While she has pulled in a lot of good press over the years, she has yet to star in a major hit (her biggest so far: The Fabulous Baker Boys). ''We were looking for a proven actress,'' says a source close to the production. ''Michelle clicked with Tim. She's a great actress who is gorgeous and really sexy.''
But some in the industry consider Catwoman a real stretch for Pfeiffer. ''That's what made it a creative turn-on for her,'' Warner Bros. production chief Mark Canton says. ''Michelle's a chameleon. Just as Batman has two personalities, so does Catwoman.'' According to the working script (which sources insist has not been rewritten for her), the feline fatale will start off as Selina Kyle, a quiet girl in bifocals. Unlucky in love, Selina finds herself in the wrong place when her boss, Gotham City's leading exec, meets up with the Penguin (Danny DeVito); she's thrown out the window and left for dead. After being rescued by a covey of cats, she emerges as...you guessed it. Needless to say, Batman's alter ego, millionaire Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), finds the newly aggressive Selina strangely alluring.
Since Bob Kane created Catwoman in his Batman comic in 1940, a pride of felines has prowled Hollywood:
Julie Newmar was Catwoman on the '60s television series Batman, replaced by Lee Meriwether (who also appeared in the 1966 Batman film) and then by Eartha Kitt. In the '57 film Cat Girl, Barbara Shelley believes she has a psychic link to a leopard. Simone Simon starred in the '42 psychological thriller Cat People, which was remade in '82 with Nastassia Kinski. Linda Stirling plays a jungle crime fighter in the '44 serial The Tiger Woman; she prowls in real jaguar skin and tiger ears.