Artowrk by JJUSTINE DEVINE
EDITOR’S NOTE: Just found out the sad and shocking news that Katherine passed away today. In tribute, we present a reprise edition of this very in-depth interview we did with her last October in advance of her talk at the Pennsylvania Academy Of The Arts, which was part of PAFA’s David Lynch retrospective, The Unified Field. She was very generous with her time — this was probably the most in-depth interview she ever did — and flattered that we would devote so much time and space to the discussion of her life and career. As you might expect of the Log Lady, she went through the interview with a fine tooth comb checking facts and sent back two extensive lists of corrections. I know she was very pleased with how it turned out. The resulting interview is a wide-open window onto Katherine’s fascinating life and career. She will be missed. Good night, Miss Coulson, wherever you are.
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Catherine Coulson, aka Twin Peaks‘ resident Log Lady, will be giving a sold-out talk
at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on Saturday about all things David Lynch, with whom she has collaborated creatively since production commenced on Eraserhead back in 1971. Like everyone else in the cast and crew, from star down to cameraman, she was paid $25 a week. When money ran low — as it often did over the course of the six years it took to complete the film — her weekly salary was halved to $12.50. But true to his word, Lynch cut everyone in on the proceeds when Eraserhead became a cult smash. “Eraserhead helped put my daughter through college,” Coulson told me a few weeks ago when we spoke on the phone. She still gets a check every year. Back in the lean years, Lynch and Coulson brainstormed a character called The Log Girl — kooky, clairvoyant, and always cradling heavy lumber. She would have to wait more than a decade to bring the character to life as cast member of Twin Peaks. By then, The Log Girl had blossomed into The Log Lady — a role she will be reprising next year when the Twin Peaks franchise reactivates after going dark for 25 years, with Lynch and Mark Frost back at the helm. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, that gum we all like is finally back in style.
DISCUSSED: Doing experimental theater naked in Haight-Ashbury in the Summer Of Love; meeting David Lynch @ The American Film Institute; being assistant director of Eraserhead and earning $12.50 a week for six years; being married to Jack Nance, aka Henry from Eraserhead; doing Jack Nance’s Eraserhead hair style; The Unified Field; The Amputee; Bertolt Brecht; Hamburger Hamlet; Jean Genet; Anne Bancroft; Ellen Burstyn; Mel Brooks; The Elephant Man; Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts; Jack Fisk; Sissy Spacek; why David Lynch always wore three ties while making Eraserhead; the Lady In The Radiator; Bob’s Big Boy; Agent Cooper; Major Briggs; the prevalence of Log Lady tattoos on the internet; Roseanne Barr; Russ Tamblyn; Richard Beymer; Piper Laurie; Mark Frost; Kyle MacLachlan; Fire Walk With Me; the return of Twin Peaks.
PHAWKER: Tell me about your life before David Lynch comes into the picture. Where are you from?
CATHERINE COULSON: Oh, gee. I don’t even remember life before meeting David. I was a young woman then. I met him at the American Film Institute in Beverly Hills, right after he moved there from Philadelphia. He was a student at the American Film Institute, and he heard about our theater company, which was in San Francisco, where I had been working. I was married to Jack Nance, who went on to play Pete Martell on Twin Peaks, and Henry in Eraserhead. David heard about the two of us in a workshop that we did at the American Film Institute teaching acting to director fellows. He asked Jack to come over and work a little bit on his script for Eraserhead. He cast Jack, and then he asked me if I would be a nurse in Eraserhead. He had a kind of outline. I had graduated from Scripps College in Claremont, California, and then moved to San Francisco for grad school. Met Jack Nance, got married. Came down to Beverly Hills on tour with our theater, and that’s when I met David. I really spent the next four or five years of my life working on Eraserhead, because Jack was playing Henry. I kept waiting to shoot my scene, but by the time we got to it, it seemed like overkill to do the scene where the nurse gives Henry and Mary the baby. I was helping to raise money for the film, by that time. David decided not to shoot it, which I’ll always regret, because it would’ve been fun to be in it. I am in an outtake — which unfortunately, I think is lost — where I’m strapped to a bed tied with battery cables. It’s in the room next door to Henry’s. During this time, working together on the film, we became very good friends and collaborators. I always felt like I was the handmaiden to genius. I did everything from styling Jack’s hair to making grilled sandwiches for the crew. We also made The Amputee, is that in the show, do you know? Have you seen it?
PHAWKER: No, do tell.
CATHERINE COULSON: Oh, OK. It’s an interesting piece, When the AFI executives wanted to test two kinds of videotape ‘stock’ for use in the students’ projects they asked Fred Elmes to shoot something twice on the two different kinds of tape. (I think they were expecting a color chart or grey scale). David heard about it and he and Fred decided to shoot a scene which David wrote about a woman writing a letter. I played the woman — an amputee — and David played the doctor who tended to her bandaged stumps. We shot it twice on two video tape ‘stocks’ and used voice over only. The short was called The Amputee and when it was screened by the AFI executives for the two video tape companies, I remember one of them saying, “LYNCH. LYNCH HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THIS!”
I guess they weren’t prepared for blood spurting out of an amputated limb.We just called it a simple little love story, Eraserhead. But it seemed really normal to us, at the time. When people would ask what Eraserhead was about, we would just say it’s a simple love story. So that’s pretty much my history. I was an actor, and I worked for David, and then I went on and worked in film as a result of working on Eraserhead. I did camera work, and then I went back to acting full-time, and that’s what I’m still doing. We’re going do Twin Peaks again, so I’m excited about that.