Monday, August 12, 2013

In Memoriam: Karen Black 1939-2013

Actress. Easy Rider. Five Easy Pieces. The Great Gatsby. Airport 1975. Day of the Locust. Nashville. Family Plot. Burnt Offerings. Come Back to the Five-and-Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.

"I love playing strong women, even if they're nuts."

"If you look through the eyes of Rayette [the character she played in Five Easy Pieces] it looks nice, really beautiful, light, not heavy, not serious. A very affectionate woman who would look upon things with love, and longing...A completely uncritical person, and in that sense, a beautiful person. When [director] Bob Rafelson called me to his office to discuss the part he said, 'Karen, I'm worried you can't play this role because you're too smart.' I said 'Bob, when you call "action," I will stop thinking,' because that's how Rayette is.'"

As a New Orleans prostitute in Easy Rider (1969) With Dennis Hopper.

As a waitress who takes up with slumming concert pianist Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces (1971)

Another musical offering from Karen Black. This is from the soundtrack to Nashville (1975) in which she played--surprise!--a county singer.

Karen Black as Mrytle Wilson in The Great Gatsby (1974) With Sam Waterson and Bruce Dern. I'm showing two clips not because I think it was all that outstanding a movie (despite all that outstanding source material), but seeing Black again actually forced me to re-write a sentence in an earlier post on the film. Here's what I ended up writing: "Karen Black goes seemingly all-out slutty as Myrtle Wilson, until she reminds us her affair with Tom is one lower-class woman's hopeless attempt at upward mobility."


  1. That is the trick about movies we see the actors as they were. We forget they age and then when we hear of their death we are surprised. Or at lest I am.

    cheers, parsnip

  2. Apparently Karen Black has been in ill health for the last couple years, parsnip, something I didn't know about until I read her obituary.

  3. I really liked Karen Black. Her beauty was unconventional, the eyes, just a little off.

  4. Perhaps that's why the characters she played were a little off. Good hearing from you again Kass. What's with the "Smergle" on your blog?