Catherine Coulson…never forgotten
David Bushman and Arthur Smith, authors of Twin Peaks FAQ, to be published this spring by Applause Books, remember Catherine Coulson. Coulson worked behind the scenes on many features and independent films since the age of 15, but perhaps the most iconic role was her role as Margaret Lanterman in the TV series Twin Peaks.
Upon hearing the sad news of Catherine E. Coulson’s passing, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge her unique contribution to the brilliantly skewed tapestry that is Twin Peaks, as well as her status as one of the most beloved figures in Twin Peaks fandom, adored for her iconic performance as Margaret Lanterman—the fabled “Log Lady”—and for her warmth and generosity towards the show’s fans, many of whom she met and talked with at the numerous Twin Peaks fan events she attended with joyous dedication.
The Log Lady was an early point of reference for pundits and fans enumerating Twin Peaks’s intriguing eccentricities: a grave, forbidding figure whose distinguishing characteristic was her ever-present log, a sturdy branch she cradled to her bosom like a beloved child and with which she consulted on matters most troubling and mysterious. She served as the story’s Cassandra figure, dispensing gnomic nuggets of mystically obscure prophesy and insight derived from her log’s silent (to us) utterances. The absurdity of this idea, presented with such solemn gravity, perfectly encapsulates Twin Peaks’s ability to exploit the tension between narrative and aesthetic extremes to create a uniquely disorienting/seductive atmosphere.
Coulson’s deadpan, nearly affectless performance only deepens the strangeness (though she is possessed of a certain flinty, defiant streak: witness her slapping Cooper’s hand away from a tray of cookies, or her habit of leaving her pitch gum stuck to various surfaces in the Double R), and her physical appearance has from the start been one of Twin Peaks’s most recognizable visual elements. We had this to say about her look in the fashion chapter of our upcoming book on the series:
“Mrs. Lanterman definitely has some Earth shoes in her closet—she tends toward earth tones in general (they match her chief accessory, a log), and her eccentric art professor look, with oversized red spectacle frames, voluminous cardigans, severe bobbed haircut, and nature-referencing pins and brooches, suggests a hippy past. One of the series’s most visually iconic characters, the Log Lady is a popular choice for TP cosplayers.”
Coulson had known David Lynch long before the creation of Twin Peaks: she appears in his landmark feature debut, Eraserhead—starring Jack Nance, her husband at the time, who would also join the Twin Peaks cast as good-hearted fisherman Pete Martell. The story goes that Lynch had the Log Lady role in mind for Coulson before there even was a Twin Peaks; during the filming of Eraserhead, he pitched her on a project that would be called I’ll Test My Log with Every Branch of Knowledge, which would feature her as a widow who carried a log around after her husband’s death in a fire.
That show never made it past the idea stage, but clearly the Log Lady concept was an alluring one for Lynch, who recycled the character for Twin Peaks, included her in the series finale after not appearing in the shooting script, gave her an emotionally wrenching scene with Laura Palmer in Fire Walk with Me, and drafted her to present newly written introductions (written by Lynch himself) for Twin Peaks episodes when the series was rebroadcast on the Bravo network.
We get it. The Log Lady is terrific: funny, weird, distinctive, haunting, and sui generis. We will not see her like again . . . thank you, Catherine Coulson, for making television a place more wonderful and strange.