DCPA actor Catherine Coulson, known for 'Twin Peaks,' passes away

Catherine E. Coulson, left, in the DCPA Theatre Company's world premiere 'Two Things You Don't Talk About at Dinner.'

Catherine E. Coulson, left, in the DCPA Theatre Company’s world premiere staging of ‘Two Things You Don’t Talk About at Dinner.’ DCPA file photo. Also pictured: Sala Iwamatsu and Caitlin O’Connell.

Catherine E. Coulson, best known for playing the enigmatic Log Lady on David Lynch’s cult hit TV series Twin Peaks but also a highly accomplished stage actor, died this morning of cancer. She was 71.

Coulson played Ginny in the DCPA Theatre Company’s world premiere staging of Lisa Loomer’s comedy Two Things You Don’t Talk About at Dinner in January 2012. That is the story of a woman’s annual multicultural Passover Seder, which threatens to explode as politics and religion hijack the dinner conversation.

“My cast is incredibly sad, and I am torn up about it,” Two Things director Wendy C. Goldberg said from the University of Michigan, where she is directing a production of All My Sons to commemorate alumnus Arthur Miller’s 100th birthday. “She was fighting the cancer, and last I heard, which was two weeks ago, she was winning. Catherine has always been a mentor and friend to me, and she will be dearly missed.” 

Catherine E. Coulson, right, with Philip Pleasants and Sam Gregory at the 2011 Colorado New Play Summit. Coulson helped create her character – an obliviously offensive Christian evangelist – first at a development reading at the DCPA’s 2011 Colorado New Play Summit, and the next year when the play was fully staged as part of the Theatre Company’s mainstage season.

“I’m just devastated. She was a wonderful person as well as a gifted actress,” said Two Things castmate Sam Gregory. “I am so heartbroken that I will never be able to work with her again.” BroadwayWorld, reviewing that show, said “Gregory and Coulson provide much of the comic relief as the two resident lushes at the dinner table.”

(Photo above right: Catherine E. Coulson, right, with Philip Pleasants and Sam Gregory at the 2011 Colorado New Play Summit reading of “Two Things You Don’t Talk About at Dinner.”)

The Two Things cast, which included Mimi Lieber, John Hutton, Caitlin O’Connell, Gabriella Cavallero, Ben Morrow and Nasser Faris, was previously touched by tragedy when actor Shana Dowdeswell died in December 2012 at age 23. “May her memory be a blessing as we mourn the loss of a wonderfully gifted and generous young woman we were privileged to know” Coulson said at the time.

Coulson was presently playing General Matilda B. Cartwright and other ensemble roles in a production of Guys and Dolls directed by the estimable Mary Zimmerman for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. She was called “formidable” in the role by a local theatre critic. That production continues to run through Nov. 1.

Coulson was born on Oct. 22, 1943, and was a working actor from the age of 15. She  grew up in Southern California. Her mother, Elizabeth Fellegi, was a ballet dancer and her father worked in radio and TV as a producer and public-relations executive. Coulson was trained as a classical actor in theater, earning her bachelors degree from Scripps College and her MFA at San Francisco State University.

For the past 22 years, she has been a year-round member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Among her roles there were the Stepmother (and others) in Into the Woods; Mattie Fae in August: Osage County; Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Catherine in By the Waters of Babylon, written by Robert Schenkkan (The 12, All the Way). Her film and TV appearances have included Portlandia, Psych and Calvin Marshall.

“She was an integral part of this company, not only as an actor, but as a passionate advocate for the arts, for theatre, for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and for the community of Ashland,” said Artistic Director Bill Rauch. “Her generosity of spirit was only matched by her vibrancy as an actor. She shone onstage in her every appearance. We will miss her with all our hearts.”

But despite a long and impressive theatrical resume that includes stops at the San Jose Repertory Theatre and Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, Coulson will forever be known as “The Log Lady.” She already had signed on to take part in Showtime’s recently announced Twin Peaks revival.

The Log Lady’s name on Twin Peaks was actually Margaret Lanterman. According to Coulson’s biography, she met Lynch in the 1970s and performed various behind-the-scenes functions during the four-year filming of his low-budget classic Eraserhead. Lynch said he and Coulson bonded when they both began to meditate together.

Coulson first appeared in Lynch’s short film The Amputee (1974), in which she played a woman with no legs. During the filming of Eraserhead, Lynch told Coulson he had an image in his head of her holding a large log. Fifteen years later, he created the role for her in Twin Peaks, on which she guest starred for 12 episodes through seasons 1 and 2. Coulson went on to reprise her role in the film prequel, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.

Coulson married actor Jack Nance, who played Henry Spencer in Eraserhead, and Pete Martell in Twin Peaks, in 1968; they divorced in 1976. Her second husband, Marc Sirinsky, with whom she has a daughter, Zoey (born 1987), is a rabbi in Ashland, Ore. 

News services contributed to this report.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Additional testimonials

Doug Langworthy, DCPA Theatre Company Literary Manager:

One of the best parts about my seven years in the literary office at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was getting to know Catherine. We grew quite close, and in fact bonded over the fact that we were both “card-carrying Libras,” ever seeking harmony in the world. Anytime one of us felt uncomfortable in a public situation, we would rate the experience in terms of its “squirm factor.” Catherine had a way of making you feel instantly at home, as if you were old friends even through you’d never met. She had a one-of-a-kind sense of humor that was both wacky and confidential—she made you feel like an insider. She took her status as Log Lady quite seriously, and would answer fans who wrote her with log inscribed stationary. She would always call me on my birthday and sing me a fast-paced birthday song (not “Happy Birthday”—copyright issues I’m guessing). We took a road trip one Christmas from Ashland to Los Angeles and listened to a book-on-tape called “How to Work a Room”, and ever since then we’ve joked with each other about whether we had a pocket full of business cards. I can’t believe that she’s gone. I’m sure wherever she is, she’s introducing people and making them feel comfortable. And making them laugh.

Rachel Ducat, DCPA stage manager:

I loved working with Catherine on Two Things! I’m so sad to hear of her passing, she was definitely the “mom” of the cast. What a great loss to our theatre community and an even greater loss since she is the second to pass from this cast!!! Small world just brings us closer.
Rachel Ducat

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