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Oregon's Log Lady, One-Armed Man fondly recall show.

Byline: The Register-Guard

She was The Log Lady. He was Phillip Gerard, aka Mike, the One-Armed Man.

Veteran stage actors Catherine Coulson and Al Strobel were among the recurring characters in the off-kilter "Twin Peaks" television show in 1990-91. And both have fond memories of the short, strange trip they took with David Lynch, the genius behind the series.

"I thought it was fabulous," said Strobel, 65, who is retired and living in Portland. "I actually felt that it would become the phenomenon that it would become. I almost knew that right away."

Coulson, 59, an actor with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, said she was caught off guard by the cult status the show quickly achieved.

"I couldn't go anywhere without people wanting to talk about it," she said.

It wasn't until the two had finished filming the pilot episode in Washington and were celebrating at the wrap dinner that they realized they had performed together in the play "ThreePenny Opera" in San Francisco in the late 1960s, Strobel said.

A former Eugene resident who starred in scores of local productions from the late '60s to the early 1980s, he was cast in "Twin Peaks" without an audition or even meeting Lynch.

"I'm told that he psychically understood what I could bring to his concept by just looking at my picture," Strobel said.

Coulson, who stars this spring in the new play "By the Waters of Babylon," went way back with Lynch. She worked on his 1977 film "Eraserhead" and starred in Lynch's 1974 short film, "The Amputee."

Way back then, Lynch had the idea of a character who cradles a log wherever she goes, using it to soak up knowledge, she said. The director's father was a research scientist for the U.S. Forest Service and an expert on the ponderosa pine, she noted.

"When it came time to do 'Twin Peaks,' he called me up and said, 'Are you ready to do the log girl?' And he kind of snuck me into the pilot. He really didn't know how the network would react to the character."

Coulson was handed a recently cut segment of ponderosa pine, which was loaded with sap and heavy, she said. The prop was a constant companion of her character, Margaret Lanterman, a mystical widow of a woodsman who claims her log knows secrets about the town.

"The press really picked up on it," she said. "I had no idea I'd become such an expert on wood."

Strobel's character, a supposed shoe salesman lurking about while the authorities investigate the murder of Laura Palmer, laments his otherworldly link to a psychotic killer. He says he cut off his left arm to rid himself of a tattoo from "the devilish one."

"They wanted, and I fully supported, to keep my character as mysterious as possible," he said.

Strobel moved to Eugene to work as an architect, and he designed houses for the likes of car salesman Joe Romania and longtime Republican national committeeman Peter Murphy Jr.

He earned a degree in theater and another in broadcasting and film at the University of Oregon, and became a fixture of the local theater scene. He was Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet" and Judd in "Oklahoma," and played the title role in "Richard III."

But apart from playing Cloris Leachman's boyfriend in the 1986 film "Shadow Play," Strobel's most popular role was in "Twin Peaks," a show he saw as rather normal.

"I always wondered why everybody thought it was offbeat or strange. I've lived in the Northwest quite a while," he said. "That's how people are here. Every character they came up with, that was somebody I know."

He also thought Lynch was "one of the most normal people you'll ever meet."

But Strobel regrets that the director's attention was drawn away from the show in its second season.

"A lot changed. It became much more like Hollywood, not quite as fun. It was more like work," he said. "If all the stars had aligned, I would not have minded if it had gone on for 10 years."

Lynch gave Coulson the log after the show ended, and she took it to Ashland when she moved there in 1994. She has traveled extensively with the log and even turned down a generous offer to sell it to a Japanese collector.

"It's very sentimental and valuable," she said.

Her fame as The Log Lady persists as new fans discover the show. She gets asked to sign Presto logs outside the theater after her performances.

"It's just an amazing phenomenon," Coulson said. "Who knew that 15 years later, it would still be going on?"

CAPTION(S):

Above: Catherine Coulson's character claimed her log knew secrets about the town. Left: Al Strobel's character cut off his arm to get rid of a tattoo from "the devilish one."
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Title Annotation:Television
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 3, 2005
Words:809
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