On July 16, 1963, Cates was born in New York City to a family of professionals in the Broadway and television industries. The sisters of Phoebe Cates are Valerie and Alexandra.
She is the daughter of Lily and Joseph Cates, a prominent Broadway producer and television pioneer who worked on The $64,000 Question and contributed to its creation.
Joseph Katz was the first name given to Joseph Cates. Cates attended both the Professional Children’s School and the Juilliard School.
Cates started modeling when she was ten years old, and since then, she has appeared in Seventeen and other teen-oriented magazines. Later, she made the decision to pursue a career in dance.
She eventually received a scholarship to the School of American Ballet, but due to a knee injury she had to leave at the age of 14.
She then began a brief but successful modeling career. Cates stated that she disliked the industry: “It was always the exact same thing. I eventually began doing it purely for financial gain.”