In 1985, a young actress named Claudia Wells catapulted to fame after starring as Marty McFly’s girlfriend Jennifer in the blockbuster Back to the Future. With her infectious charm and on-screen chemistry with co-star Michael J. Fox, it seemed Wells was destined for a meteoric rise in Hollywood.
But just as filming was set to begin on 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, Wells’ mother was diagnosed with cancer. The young actress made the difficult decision to withdraw from the sequel to spend time with her ailing mother. While Elisabeth Shue took over the role of Jennifer, Wells all but vanished from the public eye over the next decade.
In this article, we’ll look at what transpired after Wells walked away from a blockbuster franchise at the height of her fame. We’ll also chart her slow return to Hollywood through bit parts and explore how she rebuilt her career.
While born in the Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur, Claudia Wells’ family left the country for the United States only seven weeks after her birth in July 1966. Fleeing the political and civil unrest of the region at the time, her parents would eventually settle in San Francisco until Claudia Wells was fourteen when she would move to Los Angeles with her mother.
While she would start acting at the age of thirteen in the television drama Family in 1979, it would only be for a two-episode appearance before her star power would stall for a couple of years before a return in 1981 with drama Stike Force before landing a lead in the extremely short-lived adaptation Herbie, The Love Bug for television. The show didn’t last long before the old Volkswagon was unceremoniously dragged out behind the garage and shot. That counterfeiting ring in Mexico always gets its revenge.
While Herbie would be canceled in 1982, the same year it premiered, Claudia Wells wouldn’t let it slow her down and instead hopped around guest roles in television series and made for television movies Simon & Simon and Anatomy of an Illness before landing a lead spot in the series Off the Rack alongside Ed Asner, which also ended up canceled after one season, but that wouldn’t matter for Claudia as she landed the role of a lifetime in the 1985 instant classic Back to the Future.
Back To The Future
Her part in Back to the Future was truly a game of good luck for the actress who had originally been cast but forced to drop out due to scheduling, replaced by Melora Hardin of The Office fame as Mcfly’s girlfriend Jennifer Parker. Following Eric Stoltz being replaced after just a few weeks of filming, and recasting Mcfly also brought about a recasting of Jennifer, leading to Claudia Wells stepping into the role once again, now free of scheduling conflicts thanks to the film’s delays.
Claudia would see massive success with her relatively small part in Back to the Future, which became an instant classic after having the script rejected more than forty-four times initially (Does that mean I’m close?). Jennifer would rise to fame and also take part the same year in the anti-drug music video Stop the Madness, alongside David Hasselhoff and Whitney Houston, created by original Hollywood It Girl Nancy Reagan.
Her fame from Back to the Future would lead to a role in Fast Times, a television adaptation of the cultural icon Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Claudia would play Linda for the series seven episodes before it was canceled, like most other television adaptations of films throughout time. She would still ride the wave with the Back to the Future sequel in production when tragedy unfolded.
Stepping Away from Acting
Claudia’s mother was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer not long before filming began on the acclaimed second part of the trilogy, leading to the actress dropping out to help her family in the time of need and being replaced by actress Elizabeth Shue for both parts two and three. This wouldn’t just be the finish to her Back to the Future role either, as she would leave acting completely for her family commitments.
While she would open a boutique men’s clothing store in LA in 1993, it was a very exclusive and appointment-only style with fittings and stylings offered by Wells herself. The store is still open at the time of this writing in 2023 as well, boasting the chance to tell everyone your style was picked by Marty Mcfly’s girlfriend.
What is Claudia Wells Doing Now?
The prolonged absence and venture into another business don’t mean she’s out of acting though, with Claudia Wells making a return in 2008 for the feature film Still Waters Burn alongside longtime great Darren McGavin in his final role. She would come back to her Back to the Future role in 2010, voicing Jennifer Parker for the choose your adventure style Back to the Future: The Video Game, made by genre giant Telltale Games.
This would mark a somewhat full-time return to acting, as well as appearances for Back to the Future anniversaries for the twenty-fifth and thirtieth anniversaries of the film alongside Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Unfortunately, after being out of the business for over twenty years it’s not too easy to just book massive gigs right off the bat, and her films throughout the last decade are… well-intentioned at best.
Wells is relatively private with her personal life, with no relationships she’s known to be involved in, but it appears she’s still just living the fun single life all these years later.
Claudia Wells still takes up regular roles in various indie films, though her last mainstream appearance was in an episode of The Mentalist over ten years ago. Though it doesn’t seem she’s in too much of a hurry with a spaced-out acting schedule to split between appointments at her thriving LA boutique. She still makes time to attend fan cons and Back to the Future events though and actively keeps up with her fans on social media.