Friday, September 19, 2008

The Last Crush (Memories of Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks)

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Every teenager deserves at least one magical crush on someone whom will always be completely out of their reach. The intoxicating kind of crush that seems all consuming, and at times downright supernatural, is necessary for anyone’s most awkward and yearning years.
The first time I saw Sherilyn Fenn is forever etched in my mind. It was late on a school night of my sophomore year of high school, around 1989, and I was flipping around the television looking for another reason to stay awake. I came across a film set obviously in a humidity scorched South and, unable to find anything else worth watching, I settled on this mysterious offering to close out my night…
The film, an under-rated Tennessee Williams meets David Hamilton romp from Zalman King called Two Moon Junction, introduced me to the wonderful world that is one miss Sheryl Ann Fenn. Thinking on the film now, I honestly don’t even remember how much of it I watched that night, I just remember the effect her extraordinary face had on me. It was kind of like that feeling you get when you come up from air after you’ve been under water a bit too long…a mixture of relief and excitement and the feeling that you can finally…breathe…again.

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That face, those eyes and those slightly arched eyebrows, that seemed to be eternally in on a secret no one else would ever know, haunted me for months afterwards. This was before the internet and the IMDB, it was before information was so easily accessible. I managed to acquire who she was and according to a film book I found I realized I had actually seen a couple of the films she had made before (Just One of the Guys and The Wild Life) but I didn’t remember her. Essentially, for months after, she was just like a vision I had and I found my thoughts often drifting to her face during classes that year and wondering if I had just simply dreamed her.

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I discovered her again on a warm April night in 1990 when I tuned in for the Pilot episode of a new series from David Lynch called Twin Peaks. I didn’t know Sherilyn was in the show but I noticed her name in the opening credits and remembered my heart jumping. Watching that Pilot that night was extraordinary, it was as though David Lynch had a private view into exactly the kind of show I needed to see in that period and I just fell in love with it. To this day, I still include that initial entry into the strange and oh so beguiling world of Twin Peaks one of the great films of the nineties, never mind great TV...this was great art and that 100 minutes or so will stand as one of the most perfectly realized statements of intent of the decade.

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Sherilyn Fenn, of course, played the unforgettable Audrey Horne and she was just so exquisite in the role. Regardless of my fevered teenage crush on Sherilyn, I always considered Audrey to be one of the secret hearts to the show. Specifically the sweet relationship she develops with Agent Cooper I though stood as one of its most resonate aspects…a perfect little rose surrounded by the tangled weave of cycling abuse that circled the series…

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As Audrey Horne, Sherilyn is just breathtaking and totally unforgettable. Honestly, I recall thinking as I was watching the series that Sherilyn was the only actress I had ever seen who truly reminded me of a young Marilyn Monroe. It wasn’t the look necessarily and it wasn’t the more iconic blonde Monroe she made me think of, but it was instead the strange and lonely photos of Norma Jean Baker on the cusp of stardom that struck me watching Sherilyn…there is something so isolated in her work as Audrey, some supernatural solitude that separates her from everyone else around her.

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I wrote Sherilyn, what was probably, a gushing fan letter a few episodes into Twin Peaks and I was thrilled a month or so later to get a note from her, along with a beautiful black and white autographed photograph that immediately found itself lovingly placed in the nicest frame I could find. Occasionally I still pull out that envelope the two originally came in and remember the wave of joy that came with it, and smile sadly as I realize soon that it will be almost twenty years since I received it.

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Watching Twin Peaks today after all these years, Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey Horne is still as captivating and as alluring as ever. Perhaps even more so in knowing that she never topped the role, that the stardom many of us thought was an inevitability for her never developed for whatever reason. Personally speaking, that fact gives the show an extra layer of bitter sweetness now that wasn't there for me before, as ultimately Sherilyn wasn't the only one who didn't get to the place I thought she would, as my own life didn't end up equalling the dreams I had for it either.

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Which isn't to say Sherilyn Fenn wasn't great after Twin Peaks...certainly her extremely moving one scene performance in Wild At Heart (tragically the last time she would work with David Lynch) is one for the ages...and I love her caustic turn as the recovering addict Billie Frank in Showtime's brutal Rude Awakening (Seriously if anyone has copies of this show, please email me), a series that ran for a few seasons in the late nineties.

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There have indeed been other good roles in film and television, but I will go to my grave thinking that for whatever reason Sherilyn Fenn got ripped off. Perhaps it was her reputation as a loner unwilling to play the Hollywood game that did it, or perhaps it was the fact that, with the exception of Audrey Horne and maybe Billie Frank, she always felt too big for the roles she was given. I think maybe she belonged in another era...perhaps from fifty years ago or maybe even fifty years from now.

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There is a story that David Lynch's Mulholland Drive originally got its start as some sort of Audrey Horne spin off story, but Sherilyn never got to play the part of Rita (Laura Harring ended up playing it) that Lynch might have meant for her. It's a tragic little footnote to a baffling should have been career.

I miss a few of the dreams I had for myself back in 1990, but for the most part I am okay dealing mostly in memories and tributes these days. Please consider my memories of Sherilyn Fenn among my sweetest and my tribute to her as my most sincere.

17 comments:

Tony Dayoub said...

In addition to the two star vehicles you mentioned, "Twin Peaks" and "Two Moon Junction", and the cameo in "Wild at Heart", I also enjoyed her work in two very flawed works.

She was the best thing about either of these B-movies, "Boxing Helena", and "Meridian".

Her December 1990 pictorial in Playboy is one of the sexiest, yet most dignified, ever put out by the magazine, and it captures the Marilyn mystique you refer to.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Tony,
Definately not trying to downplay some of other works and I was worried this would come out that way. Love her in the two you mentioned and have a really special place for LOVELIFE, a charming little comedy she made with carla Gugino about ten years ago...she was also great in RUBY and did the best job anyone could have done playing Liz Taylor in that mini-series in the nineties...thanks for the comments!

Steve Langton said...

This is one of your most heartfelt posts amongst some real gems. It's sad that Sherilyn never got the roles and success she deserved. She was probably meant to touch our lives in a series of brief snapshots, often remaining in sight but just out of reach. TP remains one of the greatest slices of television ever made, and her presence and contribution still loom large. My humblest thanks for such an inspired piece.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much Steve,
I greatly appreciate your nice comments and value them. Thanks again...

The King Of Cool said...

"Two Moon Junction" was the first thing I ever saw her in. I feel in love. She was a goddess. Then I was really excited to see her on "Twin Peaks." I had an ever bigger crush on her. She was the actress up there I loved the most. I have seen her in other things, but she hasn't ever gotten a fair shake. That's sad to see. She's still gorgeous. Great write-up on her. You can really feel the love there. I really enjoyed seeing all the beautiful shots of her.

Flickhead said...

Two Moon Junction is some kind of a masterpiece.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith,
Sounds like we have similiar memories of her...I appreciate the nice words.

Thanks Flickhead,
I've always thought Two Moon Junction was something special, and have found Zalman King's work underrated. Two Moon really is one strange film that needs more attention. Maybe I'll try to give some here soon. Thanks again...

Brandon Colvin said...

I can't believe you got a letter from her. That makes my knees weak.

When I go into super TWIN PEAKS obsession mode every couple of months, I fall in love with Sherilyn Fenn/Audrey Horne every time.

I feel like in some alternate universe, Audrey and Cooper lived happily ever after.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Brandon,
I like that 'Alternate Universe' very much...

Colin said...

That was a very moving piece, thank you for posting this tribute. I'm with you on all your sentiments and hope that while life didn't turn out exactly the way you hoped that it has provided other experiences that might somehow compensate.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Colin,
I appreciate that and it has. Perhaps, at the risk of sounding overtly sentimental, that the dreams I lost somewhere along the way might eventually turn into some other ones. Either way...I've got a wonderfully lucky life and I am grateful. Thanks again...

J.D. said...

As others have said, thanks for that truly moving, sincere tribute to Ms. Fenn. She is incredible. And like so many TWIN PEAKS was my first exposure to her allure. I too developed a big crush on her (and the equally captivating Madchen Amick). And yeah, there is something about her that is captivating and King was able to tap into that with TWO-MOON JUNCTION, which, if memory serves, she was very embarrassed to have done when she did press for TP back in the day. Oh well. After you wonderful tribute to NINE & A HALF WEEKS, I would love to see you give the same kind of deluxe treatment to TWO MOON.

I agree that it really is a shame that Fenn's career didn't take off like it should have. But then, not many of the cast of TP really hit it big for whatever reasons. I still think she could achieve greatness again with the right material and maybe hungry director coming up or even an established one who's not afraid to cast against the grain.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks JD for the very nice comments. This was obviously one of the more peronal things I have ever posted here so I am very happy with the positive feedback.

Also I totally agree that Fenn could make a major comeback...at 42 she is still stunning and her acting chops have grown over the years. She just needs a great part! I wish Lynch would cast her again in a future project.

J.D. said...

Jeremy:

I wish Lynch would cast her in something as well. That would be amazing. I have this hope that working on that TP DVD box set maybe got Lynch thinking about some of the people he worked with back then and maybe use them again in future projects. He certainly seemed to be crushing on Madchen Amick in that one extra... heh!

Mr. Peel said...

A very touching, heartfelt piece Jeremy. I have fond memories of those early days of Twin Peaks as well. Dreams don't always just die...there's always the hope they will become something else stronger and better.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks JD,
Yea, Lync's love for Amick really came out in that extra. I am still amazed more great stuff didn't come for much of teh young cast of TWIN PEAKS.

Thanks so much Mr. Peel, The reception this post got, and your kind words, mean a great deal...

csi said...

I could write this.