Friday, September 19, 2008
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.