"I don`t want to sound at all strange, " says Catherine E. Coulson, who came to fame cradling a chunk of wood as the Log Lady on David Lynch`s patently bizarre 1990-91 TV series Twin Peaks. "But I `ve grown very fond of the log. I do feel an empathy and connection with it."
Currently a cast member of the Shakespeare Festivalin Ashland, Ore., the fortysomething actress was Lynch`s assistant on the cult classic Eraserhead at the American Filminstitute some 20 years ago when the director first imagined her Twin Peaks character. "David`s always been into wood," says Coulson, who also appeared briefly in that nightmarish film. "He said, 'You know, Catherine, some day I think you should play this girl with a log.'" Lynch, recalls Coulson, felt that the best way to introduce the Log Lady would be in a television show called I`ll Test My Log With Every Branch Of Knowledge. "His idea was that I would take the log to various experts and find out about them as well as the log. For instance, a dentist would examine the log from a dental perspective, and we`d learn about the dentist."
But Lynch decided he was barking up the wrong tree with the notion, and he put it on the back burner until he cooked up a better showcase for the Log Lady (and a host of other strange folks) years later at ABC: Twin Peaks, now a rerun staple of the Bravo cable channel. Coulson, who`d become a documentary filmmaker and theatrical performer in the interim, remembers his call. "He said, 'Are you ready to do the Log Lady?'" The director then whisked her to Seattle and, to avoid having to explain the character - a former ballroom dance instructor who became psychic after her husband`s death in an arson-set fire - to the network, he sneaked her into the pilot along with a 40-pound piece of Ponderosa pine from the Pacific Northwest.
Today, the actress preserves her stiff co-star in a manner that Michael Jackson would envy: It`s kept in a secure room at a secret location with a humidifier that runs 24 hours. "The log is doing quite well," says a referential Coulson. "It has aged gracefully - much the way I have." And both will continue to do so, knock on wood.