Star Trek fans, Twin Peaks fans and the creative community within film and television lost a diverse and talented artist when Catherine E. Coulson passed away on September 28, 2015, at age 71. Coulson was a proverbial jack-of-all-trades (literally – she belonged to several creative trade unions at the same time). She was a stage and screen actress, most famous for her role as the “Log Lady” in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and for her work in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She was a producer and director, and a frequent collaborator with Lynch. So, why are we writing about her for StarTrek.com? Well, because she lives on, really. She not only appears posthumously as the Log Lady in the Twin Peaks revival, but she left an indelible mark on Star Trek via her work with the camera crews of Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.
Coulson, in what is largely believed to be a first for women working on a major Hollywood studio production – and a real life example of the merit-based society that Star Trek promises for the future - broke new ground with her status as the First Assistant Camera for TWOK. Beyond the honest, emotional performances of the TWOK actors, the film's behind-the-scenes talent deserves a lion's share of the credit for its success. Consider this: a majority of the film occurs on a single set – the bridge of the Enterprise, which doubled for the bridge of Reliant – and yet, brilliantly, that re-use limitation does not impair the film’s scope or quality because of the talented set designers, lighting crews, direction, cinematography, and camera work that makes the film’s budget and environments seem bigger and more mythological. Coulson played a major role in that process, working closely with writer/director Meyer, director of photographer Gayne Rescher, camera operator Craig Denault, and the entire camera crew to shape the feel and look of the film. To capture the stunts and practical effects, there were at times four or five cameras that Coulson was responsible for coordinating.
Further, Coulson embraced her role as a pioneer behind the camera and brought with her a wit, sense of humor, and a charm that helped make the films she worked on – be they low-budget independent productions or major motion pictures – all the better because of her involvement. In interviews with her, her respect for such colleagues as Nicholas Meyer and Gayne Rescher is evident. Her enthusiasm for her work is on display in quote from an interview she granted Kenneth George Godwin for Cinefantastique, conducted at the time of TWOK’s production, on December 12, 1981, and which is available on Cageyfilms.com. She said of TWOK: “They decided to make another one (Star Trek) and this time they got a very good script and they found a wonderful young director named Nicholas Meyer." And, "It’s still kind of fun to be spending all this time on a spaceship.” She could not know at the time that her work on that film would be appreciated 35 years later or that she was helping to create one of the films that became a benchmark by which all Hollywood sequels are measured. Coulson enjoyed that she was able to wear several hats on the film, pitching in to help whenever and wherever she could on the films she helped make.
In the more than 800 images we have been privileged to study from the Papers of Nicholas Meyer Collection at the University of Iowa Libraries, we are struck by how many feature Coulson, sometimes in the forefront and sometimes in the background, yet always contributing, always a constant presence on set.
To celebrate her legacy on screen and off, and her special place in Star Trek history, these are images of Coulson – some never before made available - working on the sets of The Wrath of Khan, courtesy of Nicholas Meyer, and his collection at the University of Iowa. We've also included one of her from the current Twin Peaks revival; she completed her heartbreaking scenes shortly before her passing.
Of Coulson, Nicholas Meyer says, “Catherine was an absolute delight. The world is a smaller place without her.”
Special thanks to: Nicholas Meyer and The University of Iowa Libraries
Resources: Cageyfilms.com and Obnoxious and Anonymous YouTube channel both have detailed interviews with Catherine E. Coulson
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They recently researched all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode "Space Seed" and are excited to be sharing some previously unreported information about Khan's first adventure with fellow fans. Contact the Tenutos at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.