The lady with the log: Catherine E. Coulson’s golden legacy
As the woman behind the enigmatic and mysterious Log Lady from Twin Peaks, Catherine E. Coulson remains a cult figure. To fans of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s groundbreaking drama, the actor represents a guiding force full of sage wisdom. To anyone who’s only ever experienced Twin Peaks from the outside, Coulson represents all of the Lynchian weirdness they’ve never quite had the imagination to understand.
Either way, the role of the Log Lady has come to define who Coulson is to the public when there is a great deal more to her than just a character with a psychic connection to a log. Authorized documentary I Know Catherine, The Log Lady raised funds to complete the film on Kickstarter with $292,000 pledged of its $250,000 goal. There’s a lot more to know about Coulson that deserves to be celebrated with a movie.
For instance, Coulson was one of the first ever women to join Hollywood’s prestigious camera union, having forced her own way in a male-dominated field. When she started out as an assistant director on Lynch’s Eraserhead after the two met at the AFI, there were no female camera assistants or focus-pullers in the industry at that time.
Coulson was a pioneer, striding through the boys’ club of film crews at a time when it simply wasn’t the done thing for women. She worked behind the scenes as a camera assistant on films including The Toolbox Murders, Albert Brooks’s Modern Romance, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, completing her final work in such a role in 1992 on the documentary Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann.
While in front of the camera and on stage in the numerous theater productions she was a part of, Coulson also had a deep presence, one that was certainly celebrated with her defining role as the Log Lady. Coulson enjoyed an unprecedented 22 seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and performed more than fifty productions with the company across the course of over twenty years.
Coulson was so dedicated to the stage, in fact, that she was performing Guys and Dolls at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival up until a week or two prior to her death. That sort of devotion to acting and to character is evident in how Coulson continued to talk so adoringly about the Log Lady and in how the character was originally conceived by Lynch and presented to her as an acting opportunity.
Lynch came up with the idea of the Log Lady while himself and Coulson worked together on Eraserhead. Coulson told Uproxx in 2015, “Years later (Lynch) called me, I think it was like 12 years later, and said ‘Are you ready to do the Log Girl?’ And that’s when I said I don’t think she’s really a girl anymore. So we called her the Log Lady.”
Described rather astutely as being “the only really sane person in Twin Peaks” by the star in the same interview, the Log Lady was such a potent character – and Coulson the only possible person who could depict her – that she existed in Lynch’s consciousness all that time. According to the filmmaker, the Log Lady was originally going to lead a show called I’ll Test My Log with Every Branch of Knowledge:
The idea was that Catherine would go with the log to various experts; a dentist, a doctor, a physicist. And they would talk only to the log and we would learn information as an audience. I pitched that idea one time to somebody, but that was the last time.
The idea died, as it should have. But when we were working on the pilot of Twin Peaks, the idea resurfaced in a different form. I didn’t know quite how it would go, but I knew that I wanted Catherine to fly up to Seattle from Los Angeles and work that light switch in that auditorium holding a log.
Considering the tenderness and compassion with which Coulson approached the offbeat character, it’s no surprise to also discover her work as the Log Lady led to her becoming a passionate advocate for the environment, speaking out about the devastating effects of deforestation. Coulson was even a spokesperson for an organization that plants trees in memory of people who have died of AIDS.
Like the forests of Twin Peaks, Coulson herself had a lot of depth, mystery, and hidden dimensions to her that many fans of the show may not have been altogether aware of. With I Know Catherine, The Log Lady, audiences may finally get to know a little more about the woman Lynch called “solid gold” in his tribute to the late star and celebrate her in a way she truly deserves.