When rumors started circulating on social media late last night that Marilyn Burns had passed away at age 65, I didn't want to believe it. It's always a bummer when death notices come down your news feed, sure, but some of them hit harder than others, you know? And this one hurts, not least of all because for fuck's sake, 65 is much too young.
Ms. Burns was a convention regular these last few years, and so the announcement of her death has prompted countless "I met her at a convention and she was so nice" posts, usually accompanied by a photo of Burns next to a fan. I'll refrain from posting the Polaroid selfie I have of the two of us (oh man, it makes me so happy, though), but I'll echo the sentiment because my goodness, what a sweetheart.
When I lived in Ohio, I went to a convention– Cinema Wasteland, most likely- where Burns was a guest, and I got the idea to ask her for an interview. She readily agreed and I count the whole experience- meeting her, listening to her tales, and continuing our correspondence after- to be a career highlight. If whatever it is I do can be called a "career", I mean.
After the interview, I moved to Los Angeles and pitched the article to Sirens of Cinema magazine, who asked if I had any hi-res photos to include with it. I have no idea if this is standard practice (though I'm thinking it's not...?), but I asked Marilyn if she had any to email me. I got a packet in the mail full of pictures she deemed "ugly"- of course they weren't...well, maybe ugly in that horror movie way, you know? All tears and grimaces and bloodstains. She drew a Sally Hardesty smiley face and signed the letter "love, Marilyn." We emailed for a while after that, and every email was signed "love, Marilyn." (Told you she was a sweetheart.) We lost touch because, you know, we didn't really have anything in common. But I still get a thrill reflecting on it or whenever I spot the photo of the two of us (even though...aw dang, did I have to lean back so much and give myself that double chin??).
Her filmography is painfully short, and none of the genre movies she did after The Texas Chain Saw Masssacre were remotely in the same realm of quality. But to me, at least, the image of Sally Hardesty tied to that goddamn chair– sweaty and bloody and filthy and screaming her head off in abject terror– it's just such a perfect representation...it should be the picture shown in whatever volume of Funk & Wagnall's Encyclopedia references "horror film". It's as iconic as Janet Leigh screaming in a Bates Motel shower. So thanks, Marilyn, for giving everything you had...you helped make film history.
Here's the interview as it appeared in Sirens of Cinema (I love the Elvira bits!) (click to enlarge!) (right click and open in new tab to super enlarge!) as well as some anecdotes that I left out.
Stacie: [Chain Saw] still really gets to me, even though I know what’s gonna happen.
Marilyn: I still jump when I watch the movie by myself- it still makes me jump when I’m pushing Franklin (Paul Partain) in the wheelchair and he goes “There’s a light!” and RARR! You know? It just makes me jump, which is surprising ‘cause I shouldn’t have any reaction at all.
S: From that point on Sally is just, you know, that’s her first…she doesn’t enter the house and think, “Hey, something’s not right here!” It’s like, she’s pushing her annoying brother in the wheelchair…
M: Oh, God was he annoying! The thing is, that guy’s the nicest guy in the world, but I didn’t know it until 20 years later because he acted like Franklin the whole time, he was like a method actor. He continued to be just as whiny and horrible when they yelled “cut”. He’d sit in his wheelchair and say “Someone get me a Coke!” and we’d go “Hey, Paul, you’re not crippled. Get up and get it yourself.” Nyah nyah nyah- he’d whine! And I’m sure someone finally got the guy a Coke. It was weird. I should’ve known he was acting, but…it was 20 years later when I talked to him and he said “I felt so bad being so terrible!” and I’m thinking, “Paul, I thought you WERE terrible.” He was just doing his job, and I mean brilliantly, especially since we were so young then…who would have thought some jerk would stay in character the whole time and be such a terrific guy and you’d not know it until 20 years later?
S: Didn’t Tobe [Hooper] kind of set you two against each other to get emotion out of you?
M: I know right before the flashlight scene, where we fight over it, he said “Paul said this about you” and then he went to Paul and said “Marilyn said this about you”, but it was already set. I mean, the whole shoot was real hard and the more Paul whined as a character the more we went “Oh God!” But it worked good for the film, because we were ready to kill each other.
S: You can really tell in the scene outside the van, before you start pushing him and he’s honking that horn…
M: He was so damn…I was…yeah. I mean, I didn’t really think I could push the guy, especially with all the brambles and brush. But it made it all funny later. Ha ha ha. Later.
S: You had to go back, right? After it was over, you thought you were finished, and…
M: What happened…we filmed the very end of the show, where I jump in the pickup truck- which kills you if you ever try to jump from the cement into a pickup truck and you’re my size, and flip over…like that was a stunt I do daily! And your boobs are getting, you know, all parts of you…and who flips over in a truck? I would never flip over in a truck now. But anyway, when I finally get in the truck and I had to wear all these stupid clothes full of karo syrup and chocolate and shit and then…I mean, the pants stood up! They greeted me at the set! And I thought, “Well, I’ll never have to wear that again!” I mean, your hair sticks to you and everything, bugs and mosquitoes…if I sat on a chair it came with me…and so I thought “I’m through with that”.
I don’t know how I did it the first time, I know I was crazy- but the second time, whatever happened there, the girl was just (maniacal cackle) “What are you gonna do to me now? Are we gonna do it tomorrow? Are we gonna do it next week? Are you gonna keep calling me?!” So yeah, everyone talks about how real that was, and…well, yeah, it would have been! I hate to tell everybody sometimes, they go “Gee, where did all that come from?” Well…
S: You didn’t have to reach too far.
M: Right, I was kinda already there.