Wooden Perf Pays Off

NAME: Catherine Coulson

DESCRIPTION: The Log Lady on “Twin Peaks.”

LAST SEEN: In the stage production of “The Elephant Man.”

In the mid-’70s a young actress named Catherine Coulson auditioned for a wannabe auteur named David Lynch at the American Film Institute. Lynch cast her as a nurse in his student film, “Eraserhead,” the cult pre-cursor to his more acclaimed works “Blue Velvet” and “The Elephant Man.”

As they became closer friends that year, Lynch vowed that he would one day cast Coulson in one of his favorite yet-to-be-written roles, the Log Lady, a near-mute gnome who would lug a log wherever she went. As Josef Von Sternberg created “The Blue Angel” for Marlene Dietrich, Lynch invented the Log Lady for Coulson.

“David was always eccentric. When I met him he was wearing three ties and a Panama hat. And that was right around when he told me that he had this idea for the Log Lady,” Coulson recalls. “You see, his father did his doctoral thesis on Ponderosa pine.”

Almost two decades later, Lynch had one of the hottest shows on television, “Twin Peaks,” and plucked Coulson from obscurity by casting her as the Log Lady, which garnered the actress wide notice.

But Lynch’s show faded quickly, and though Coulson still gets stalked by fans, she’s faded from the Hollywood scene. The former Log Lady now lives with her husband, Marc Sirinsky, a screenwriter-turned-rabbi, on a two-acre plot of land in Ashland, Ore., where she is active in the local theater.

Coulson’s short-lived notoriety has helped her career. “‘Twin Peaks’ fans are so ardent and faithful that they still follow me everywhere,” explains Coulson, who, ironically, is now in San Jose preparing for the stage production of “The Elephant Man.”

“Even now in downtown San Jose I get stopped for autographs. People also bring logs to my house and ask me to sign them,” she marvels.

Coulson’s role as the Log Lady was even the subject of a “Jeopardy!” question this year. Fans also track her career in the “Twin Peaks” fan magazine, Wrapped in Plastic, and on the “Twin Peaks” bulletin board on the Internet. And Coulson hosts reruns of the series on the Bravo channel.

The actress also says that playing a character “of such unique depth” has changed the tenor of the roles she’s offered. “The Log Lady, as you know, was a very wise kind of soothsaying character, so since then I have gotten to play people with more wisdom,” she says.

In addition to her upcoming role in “The Elephant Man,” Coulson, now 48, also just finished a season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, where she played Penny Sycamore in the 1936 classic “You Can’t Take it With You.” She is also featured in the upcoming Disney cable picture “The Four Diamonds.”

Coulson and Sirinsky have been married since 1986, and though the couple still have an apartment in Los Angeles, they spend most of their time in Ashland, where the congregants like having a semi-famous person in town. “They were especially excited about ‘Jeopardy!’,” Coulson notes. Indeed, she’s grateful for her stint with Lynch. “Who would have thought that by carrying a piece of wood so much would happen?”

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