Catherine E. Coulson

The Log Lady

After having corresponded with Catherine E. Coulson (1943-2015), I called her up in March 2015, stoked that none other than The Log Lady from Twin Peaks wanted to talk with me. This would be one of the last interviews to ever be included in TV Peaks: Twin Peaks and Modern Television Drama (University Press of Southern Denmark, 2015), and little did I know that Catherine Coulson would pass away only seven months later. Ever since The Amputee (1974) and Eraserhead (1977), Coulson has been a crucial part of “The Lynch Mob,” and The Log Lady was one of the most emblematic and iconic characters in the world of Twin Peaks. Coulson agreed to talk with me, even though she was working on a play, and had I known that she was ill at the time, I would have never contacted her for an interview. Minutes after coming in the door, she called me back and talked with me, and the interview itself was brief, but very interesting – and it illustrated her amazing generosity and genuine warmth. A bright and sensitive person, Coulson was a stage, film and television actor in a league of her own, and her character, The Log Lady, will be sorely missed when Twin Peaks returns in 2017. Coulson will be missed by anyone in the Twin Peaks family, and fans of the show will remember her emblematic character, but they will also remember Coulson’s friendly and generous spirit, attending Twin Peaks Festivals and willingly talking to everyone who was (is) interested in her work.  

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AH: Before you were a part of Twin Peaks, you worked with David Lynch on The Amputee and Eraserhead. How did your collaboration start, and could you say a few words on David Lynch as a director? How is he unique as a director or an auteur, if you will?

CC: I’ve known him since my twenties, and I’ve seen him evolve as an artist.

David Lynch was always interested in wood because of his father’s business – his father was a botanist – and we were doing a scene with pencil erasers in Eraserhead, and I was taking notes. And he got this idea that there would be a young girl going around with a log, learning what people did. We came upon this idea that my character should go around saying, “I’ll test my log with every branch of knowledge.” We were kind of joking about it, and I had my glasses on every night and a pleated skirt, and 20 years later he chose to do this television show. He pitched it to Robert Iger, and he was very daring, saying “Yes, let’s try it,” and David called me up saying, “Are you ready to do the Log Girl.” I said, “Yes, but I don’t think she’s a girl anymore.”

Ever since Twin Peaks came on Bravo, it seems, they have been showing the Log Lady introductions as a kind of loop.

AH: You mention the famous episode introductions by The Log Lady. Could you say a few words on those, i.e. how and why they were produced?

CC: David was trying to help people with the puzzle. The show was brought to Bravo, an art channel over here, and they scored a real coup by getting it. David asked them whether he could make some introductions, and he was in Wisconsin where there’s a lot of wood, and he wrote them really quickly. I got the scripts, and they built a little set with a fireplace, and we shot them all in one day. I was leaving town, having to do a play, so I was really tired. I think they remastered them for the DVD that came out some years later. They were meant to help people with the puzzle, but, as is typical of David, they were also strange and puzzling.

 

An example of the Log Lady introductions which were made when Twin Peaks was syndicated on Bravo:

AH: How would you describe The Log Lady? It seems to me that she is rather skeptical of other people, perhaps because she has lost her husband in the fire, or because she understands or sees things that other people cannot. I am thinking in particular of the scene in which she spits out her gum in the diner, followed by Norma saying that she shouldn’t do that.

CC: She’s the only normal girl in the town. She says the truth. I didn’t trust Agent Cooper at first, but I saw that he was a stand-up guy, and then I started to trust him.

As for the “bear claw”-scene, I think that Norma irritated her. Norma was a little judgmental. Maybe the Log Lady was a little resentful of Norma, knowing what was going on with Hank and Ed, and maybe she disapproved. So when she was reprimanded, she got really resentful.

And, yes, The Log Lady could see or understand things that other characters couldn’t.

AH: What role has The Log Lady had for your personally?

You mentioned the scene in the diner. I have had a lot of people challenge me to a spitting contest ever since, but I have never taken anyone up on it. Not yet… [she laughs].

“Are my spitting skills still as good as they were 25 years ago?” That could be an interesting question for David. That might give him an idea for a scene.

Being The Log Lady changed my career. Suddenly, I was recognized everywhere, and people were giving me logs to sign, and they still give me logs to sign.

 

The famous “spitting”-scene from Twin Peaks:

AH: Would you say that Twin Peaks has had any real impact on what we are seeing in television right now, and, if so, how has it influenced modern-day television drama?

CC: I think David changed the face of TV in many ways by being so unabashedly innovative, without really being conscious about it.

It is much more phantasmagorical. It is a combination of the fantastic and the realistic, in a way that I have never seen on TV.

To be honest, I can’t imagine how television would be, if there had been no Twin Peaks. It truly changed television in many different ways.

AH: In 2016 or 2017, then, Twin Peaks is returning, this time on Showtime. Have you heard anything, and do you think that The Log Lady will be a part of the new season?

CC: I know I’m doing it, and I know it’s 25 years later. And when I asked what I could say to people, David said, “Don’t play in the street, and learn more about sustainable forestry.” That was the line I was supposed to give people… [she laughs].

AH: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Catherine. I know that you have a lot to do these days.

CC: It was lovely to speak with you. Sorry I was a few minutes late getting in my door, but I did enjoy talking with you. Good luck with the book.

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A memorable scene with Catherine E. Coulson and Don S. Davis, two actors that will be sorely missed when Twin Peaks returns in 2017:

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