Jennifer Grey: After Dirty Dancing, people thought I will unlock all my dreams, but it didn’t go down that way

In her memoir, Out of the Corner, the Dirty Dancing star Jennifer Grey opens up about rhinoplasty gone wrong, the implosion of her career and why she’s telling her story now.

By: Elisabeth Egan
Jennifer Grey arrived at a recent breakfast at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills in a flurry of regrets about the state of her shirt and her hair (both were impeccable). Before the waiter had a chance to pour coffee, the star of Dirty Dancing asked a question that would be an apt subtitle for her memoir, “Out of the Corner,” which Ballantine will publish on May 3.
“Why do I think everything has to be perfect in order to be enough?”
Some actors play it coy in their autobiographies, forcing readers to bushwhack through anodyne childhood memories and tepid revelations about fame before “opening the kimono” (Grey’s term) on the subjects they are best known for. Grey doesn’t roll this way in person — she is forthcoming, warm and hellbent on connection — or in her book, which begins with a 17-page prologue about her nose and the plastic surgeries that derailed her career and (almost) robbed her of her identity.
At 62, Grey is ready to take control of a narrative that has been in the public domain for so long, it has achieved mythological status. As recently as 2007, The New York Times referred to “Jennifer Grey syndrome” — the phenomenon of too-aggressive plastic surgery — as if everyone is in on the joke. How long must one woman pay for a personal decision? Why should any human being be boiled down to a punchline?
Before we delve into the significance of “schnozzageddon,” as Grey called it, let’s rewind a bit for readers who are too young to remember the significance of the event.
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In 1986, Grey landed a breakout role as “Baby” Houseman in Dirty Dancing, a movie about an awkward teenager who falls in love with a hunky dance instructor (played by Patrick Swayze) during a vacation at a Catskills resort called Kellerman’s. Made with a budget of $6 million, the movie earned $214 million at the box office and, as the Times’ film editor wrote on its 10th anniversary, “quickly became a phenomenon in a way that no one associated with it quite understands, even to this day.”
Swayze’s line, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” became a rallying cry for disaffected Generation Xers — who, it turned out, craved rumba, romance and nostalgia just as much as anyone else. Cuffed, cutoff jean shorts and white Keds became the official summer uniform of every adolescent whose Sun-In and perm didn’t quite achieve Grey’s honey-coloured waves. At 27, having been paid $50,000 for her work, she became a household name.