"I am one of a kind," she said. "Ah, but what kind?"
February 3, 2020 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Catherine Burns: The Vanishing of an Oscar-Nominated Actress [Scott Feinberg and Scott Johnson, The Hollywood Reporter]
Burns was actually the oldest of the film's four stars, and her acclaim was all the more unexpected because she possessed, in her own words and others' lacerating estimation, "a funny face." Five-foot-1 and freckled, she was not Hollywood's idea of a starlet. Dick Kleiner, a syndicated columnist, wrote, "Twenty years ago, they wouldn't have let her inside a studio gate." Kleiner noted that she had a face "like an intelligent marshmallow," while The New York Times' Vincent Canby said her body was "shaped like a fat mushroom." But even those who used such cruel and sexist language couldn't help but admire her acting. Ebert's future partner Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune urged people to remember "the homeliest" of Last Summer's stars come Oscar time, and the photo accompanying his article read, "Cathy Burns: Not prettiest … but the most talented."

Last Summer trailer [Content warning: brief depiction of sexual assault]
posted by Atom Eyes (27 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
.
posted by Krazor at 9:37 AM on February 3


That was very interesting to read, but I also feel guilty for having read it.

I really wish that journalists who manage to track down people who quite clearly do not want to be tracked down would not write about them. It's not like there is some public interest aspect, it's just satisfying someone's 'what ever happened to...' curiosity. She's deceased now, so she can't personally be hurt by it, but why disregard her wishes anyway?

It seems like if you were ever a public figure in America, then you never, ever get to be not a public figure again, no matter what.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:03 AM on February 3 [21 favorites]


damn I was expecting quasimodo or something. she was cute!

.
posted by supermedusa at 10:08 AM on February 3 [4 favorites]


I like to see the exercise of the power of refusal - nobody gets "closure" or the "real story", nobody gets the tell-all, nobody gets to turn her into a motif or roll her back into the consumption machine. Good job her and her husband.

People aren't in general content just to hurt and exploit you; they want to hurt and exploit and then get to have a big feast of emotions and details and the inside scoop and the intimate detail. It's just another form of use.
posted by Frowner at 10:13 AM on February 3 [10 favorites]


That was very interesting to read, but I also feel guilty for having read it.

I feel that way as well--there was no compelling reason for bothering a grieving widower other than curiosity.

Unless someone is guilty of a crime, they should be left alone to disappear if they want.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:18 AM on February 3 [5 favorites]


I would suggest that if someone has paid their dues to society and not re-offended, they should be allowed to disappear, as well.

I read the end of the article after seeing a comment above and decided I don’t need to know the details of a life treated so shabbily by critics. Not like the author was much better, in my opinion.
posted by drivingmenuts at 10:31 AM on February 3 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine the passion and fortitude it took for Burns to even break into acting, let alone actually appear on film. Not because there was *anything* wrong with her appearance but because of the relentless dismissive cruelty with which she was clearly treated, even after proving her mettle. "A fat mushroom?" Fuck you, Vincent Canby. Steve Buscemi is infinitely weirder-looking and doesn't come in for 1/4 the kind of abuse the article (rather uncritically) repeats.

Her choice to leave the profession was obviously hers alone, and as such 100% legitimate. But it's frustrating to think of the art she could have made if we didn't collectively insist that women be immaculate sex dolls to be allowed to appear in public.
posted by TinyChicken at 10:43 AM on February 3 [32 favorites]


For those wondering about the Oscars moment.
posted by mykescipark at 10:49 AM on February 3 [7 favorites]


There was always a bit of pain in her performances. And clearly that extended to her real life as well."

I'm not sure Karaszewski is correct on this one. From one perspective it's a sad story (a dead-ended career and an anonymous death), but that's a very THR way to frame things. From the perspective of someone who just wanted to be out of the industry, maybe this friend tells the happier story:

"She was a very sweet woman with a huge heart. They traveled a lot. They lived a very minimalistic life. They were always together."

For me, I'd be pretty happy with that four sentence obituary.
posted by Think_Long at 10:50 AM on February 3 [43 favorites]


(No intention to diminish the immense misogyny and pain she was subjected to during her time in the industry)
posted by Think_Long at 10:55 AM on February 3 [4 favorites]


I would have preferred that the last few paragraphs were replaced by the message that she had been found, and out of respect for her privacy, no further details would be shared.

But given the shitty remarks about her appearance that comprise three-quarters of the piece (which, no, are not sufficiently counter-balanced by the compliments to her acting), I also wish I hadn't read it at all.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:06 AM on February 3 [12 favorites]


The Hollywood Reporter has a history of invasive profiles like this. As an example, I seem to recall we talked at length on Metafilter about the profile on L.A. icon Angelyne a few years ago with similar sentiments.

I think there could have been an interesting story here that could have honoured the work of women like Catherine Burns who have been victims of the destructive & misogynistic Hollywood system but instead it reads like, as does the story on Angelyne, an attempt by the authors to get a movie or TV series out of her life.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:26 AM on February 3 [11 favorites]


Her last acting credit from 1984.

Collectors have beat us to her children's book, which I'd love to read.
posted by rhizome at 11:29 AM on February 3


QFT:
But given the shitty remarks about her appearance that comprise three-quarters of the piece (which, no, are not sufficiently counter-balanced by the compliments to her acting), I also wish I hadn't read it at all.
posted by crush at 11:36 AM on February 3 [6 favorites]


instead it reads like, as does the story on Angelyne, an attempt by the authors to get a movie or TV series out of her life

That's a good observation, Ashwagandha, especially considering the person mentioned in the article who spearheaded the initial search is one-half of the screenwriting team behind several celebrity biopics, including Ed Wood, Man on the Moon, Big Eyes, and The People v. O.J. Simpson.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:36 AM on February 3 [5 favorites]


The reporter stumbled onto a coverup it seems.
posted by Brian B. at 11:45 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]


I think this is her book that can be borrowed from the internet archive
posted by mattamatic at 11:58 AM on February 3 [4 favorites]


Seconding Ashwagandha & Atom Eyes; considering Larry Karazewski & Scott Alexander* have made their careers curating a collection of what could be called 'oddballs' this article had a weird stink on it from the first paragraph.

*At first I thought Alexander co-wrote this piece, which made it extra hinky, but there's just a lot of Scotts involved
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:06 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


I don’t get the impression Karaszewski has been trying to exploit Burns’ life for a screenplay. He seems to be a genuine fan of her work and of the film Last Summer. He made an unsuccessful effort to contact Burns several years ago to do a public Q&A along with the other actors for a screening of the print that he’d managed to track down. The Hollywood Reporter writers are the ones who uncritically repeat the shitty remarks about Burns and who went to great lengths to invade her and her husband’s privacy, ostensibly because it’s the 50th anniversary of her nomination. As somebody mentioned above, this is a thing THR does.
posted by theory at 12:08 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


This was grotesque. I’m sorry I read it and contributed to the total invasion of Burns’ and her husband’s well earned privacy.
posted by 41swans at 12:08 PM on February 3 [4 favorites]


So I would like to honor the actor by seeing the movie.
I guess it was originally x-rated when it came out.
That's probably not the version they showed on TCM.
posted by notmtwain at 12:10 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


I'm not so sure about that. Midnight Cowboy was also rated X upon release and I know I've seen TCM run that film completely unedited in the past.
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:21 PM on February 3


He [Burns' husband] claimed that they had fended off a stalker years before and were highly wary of any inquiries.
did that stalker's name rhyme with Karry Laraszewski, by any chance

In 1989, 20 years after Last Summer, the Los Angeles Times found the 44-year-old Burns living in an Upper West Side apartment and reported that she had recently "emerged as a writer." In the intervening years, she had penned a children's book — The Winter Bird, about one bird who stays behind when all the others go south —
Auuugh, let's all feel guilty.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:22 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


Excited to learn there's a Last Summer movie!
posted by Cezar Golescu at 12:29 PM on February 3


The Evan Hunter who wrote the novel is better known as Ed McBain
posted by BWA at 12:49 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]



That poor girl.

"I am one of a kind," she said. "Ah, but what kind?"
posted by lon_star at 2:41 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


I think this is her book that can be borrowed from the internet archive

Thanks, I love it.
posted by Carouselle at 8:20 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


« Older All over the world it's the same, it's the same.   |   "It's not yucky!" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments