The Legacy of the Late Catherine Coulson, aka the 'Log Lady' of 'Twin Peaks'

Coulson, one of the most iconic characters from David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' series, passed away yesterday at the age of 71


Those who have exclusively disseminated Twin Peaks on Netflix have experienced a different show than the one I did. When Twin Peaks went into syndication on Bravo in 1993, he preceded each episode with unique intros from Catherine Coulson as the Log Lady. In the short, minute-or-less clips, Coulson recites cryptic axioms, impressions and imagery not directly related to the action of the episode, but which seems to reflect back on them obliquely — in a distinctly Lynchian way.

The “Log Lady Intros” certainly tremendously enhanced the experience for me when I watched Twin Peaks for the first time on DVD, where you can select to watch with or without them. One of the casualties of the streaming era has been the loss of Coulson’s haunting prefaces; however, you can still see them on the DVDs and Blu-Rays.

The Log Lady (whose real name is Margaret Lanterman) was not by any stretch of imagination a narratively important Twin Peaks character, but she certainly embodied what made the show unlike anything else on television. Essentially, Coulson understood the Lynchian way very well, and channeled it in her performance, in various sinister and charming moments that were generally tangential to the main “plot” of the show. How much did the whys and wherefores matter in Peaks anyway? It was the mood — the easily provoked feelings of dread and wonder, the constant quaking at demons visible or invisible, but never completely explained.

Coulson’s acute understanding of Lynch’s sensibilities, no doubt, dates back to her beginnings working with him when he was still a struggling art film director. She was married to actor Jack Nance until 1976, who, before his death in 1996, appeared in almost every Lynch project from Twin Peaks to Lost Highway. Coulson assisted the director during the harrowing, five-year production period of his first feature: 1977’s Nance-starring Eraserhead.

On a break from the project, Coulson starred in a Lynch short, The Amputee, as a legless woman. Lynch recalled that she began meditating with him during this time — a difficult one for him both personally and financially.

Coulson’s film and television resume is short, including Peaks homages on Portlandia and Psych, as well as independent film roles. But she was active as a theatrical performer, particularly in the last years of her life, at the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is held annually in Coulson’s scenic hometown of Ashland, Oregon.

She stayed connected to Twin Peaks throughout her life, and attended the annual fan convention in Washington state several times, including this past year. Coulson had been confirmed for the upcoming reboot of the show on Showtime, but it is unclear if any of her scenes had been shot (shooting was to begin this month).

In memory, Peaks fans, check out the complete Log Lady intros on YouTube (they’re all there) by way of remembering the actress who understood Lynchian better than nearly anyone.

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