Ann Magnuson

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Ann Magnuson
Ann Magnuson at Club 57 (early 1980s).jpg
Ann Magnuson when she was the manager of Club 57 circa early 1980s.
Born (1956-01-04) January 4, 1956 (age 58)
Charleston, West Virginia, U.S.
Occupation Actress, performance artist
Years active 1979–present
Spouse(s) John Bertram (2002–present)
Website
http://www.annmagnuson.com/

Ann Magnuson (born January 4, 1956) is an American actress, performance artist, and nightclub performer who first gained prominence in the 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan. The New York Times described her as "An endearing theatrical chameleon who has as many characters at her fingertips as Lily Tomlin does".[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Magnuson was born in Charleston, West Virginia to a journalist mother and a lawyer father.[2] She had a brother, Bobby, who died in 1998 of complications from AIDS.[3] She attended Holz Elementary[4] and George Washington High School in Charleston. After graduating from Denison University in 1978, she moved to New York City, New York and was a DJ and performer at Club 57 and the Mudd Club in Manhattan circa 1979 through the early 1980s, while pursuing a performance career on varied fronts. She created such characters as "Anoushka", a Soviet lounge singer, wearing a wig backwards and singing mock-Russian lyrics to pop music standards, and separately sang in an all-girl percussion group, Pulsallama,[5] whose 1982 single "The Devil Lives In My Husband's Body" was a housewife's lament of a spouse who appears to be possessed. Later, in the 1990s, Magnuson fronted the satirical faux-heavy metal band Vulcan Death Grip.

In an interview for the 2002 WETA-TV-PBS special Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family, Magnuson credited the idea of Loud — a member of an all-American family filmed day-in/day-out for the landmark PBS documentary An American Family, who came out as gay during the course of that documentary miniseries — with inspiring her to leave West Virginia for New York:

Magnuson made her film debut in the 1982 film Vortex.

In the late '70s and early '80s, Magnuson ran Club 57, in New York City's East Village. The club was located in the basement of the Polish National church. It became a center of a world that included Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and many others from New York's budding graffiti and downtown scenes.[7] Club 57 was known for its theme nights such as Reggae Miniature Golf, or Model World of Glue Night.[8]

Prominence[edit]

A fixture of the Manhattan downtown club scene of the 1980s, Magnuson gained attention with her role as a snarky cigarette girl in director Susan Seidelman's independent film hit Desperately Seeking Susan, set in that milieu and which also helped launch the acting career of singer Madonna. Magnuson went on to star in Seidelman's Making Mr. Right (1987), a poorly received science-fiction romance about an android played by John Malkovich.

Concurrently, Magnuson developed an underground following as lead vocalist of the band Bongwater,[citation needed] formed in 1985 with producer-musician Mark Kramer, a.k.a. Kramer. Bongwater released four avant garde albums and a debut EP before breaking up in 1992 with a contentious legal battle between Magnuson and Kramer that lasted through at least 1996[9][not in citation given] and ended with the bankruptcy of Kramer's independent-music label Shimmy-Disc.[10]

Her 15-minute video performance piece "Made for Television", self-produced in 1981, ran on the WNET-PBS avant garde series Alive from Off-Center. Her satiric featurette found her playing close to 50 roles in a "channel-hopping" series of visual bites parodying television programming game shows to TV-films to televangelists. As Art critic Sarah Valdez described it, "a bewigged Ann Magnuson consecutively inhabits, at a rate faster than any channel surfer could keep up with, an outlandish, uproariously unfortunate range of female stereotypes".[11] It was later released by HBO Home Video together with the Cinemax cable-TV special Vandemonium Plus (1987), in which Magnuson starred in a mostly solo stage piece with appearances by actor-singer Meat Loaf and actor-monologist Eric Bogosian. Her 1995 CD The Luv Show (Geffen Records/MCA), her major-label debut, was commercially unsuccessful, but musically adventurous; one critic described it "an MGM musical as directed by Russ Meyer (which means the mambo 'Sex With The Devil'" and 'Miss Pussy Pants' sit comfortably next to Ethel Merman references in the same work)".[9]

As Salon writer John Paczowski described her in 1997:

Later career[edit]

From 1989 to 1992, Magnuson played Catherine Hughes, the comically hip editor-in-chief of a Chicago magazine in the television sitcom Anything But Love, opposite Jamie Lee Curtis and comedian Richard Lewis, and played a liberal political commentator on comedian Wanda Sykes' 2003 Fox Broadcasting sitcom Wanda at Large.

Magnuson's film roles have included a snarly real estate agent in Panic Room, Alan's mother in Small Soldiers, a madam in Tank Girl, Mel Gibson's "money junkie" ex-wife in Tequila Sunrise, Tom Berenger's estranged but horny ex-girlfriend in Love at Large, a secretary in Clear and Present Danger, and a sexy victim of David Bowie's vampire in The Hunger.

Her TV guest appearances include an episode each of the Lifetime cable-network fiction-suspense anthology The Hidden Room; the cult-hit, surrealistic comedy-drama The Adventures of Pete and Pete and Salute Your Shorts on the children's cable television network Nickelodeon; the sitcoms The John Larroquette Show, The Drew Carey Show, Caroline in the City, and Frasier; and the police procedural drama CSI: Miami. In the 1996 telefilm The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas, Magnuson played Lily Munster from the original 1960s TV series The Munsters. She appeared in the 1990 Redd Kross music video for the song "Annie's Gone", written about her. As Toronto, Canada writer Jason Anderson summarized her work through 1996, "She's been appearing in various states of undress for artistic purposes since her performance art daze in late-'70s New York [where s]he was indie rock's thinking vixen...."[9]

In 2003, Magnuson began touring a one-woman stage show, Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories, that she mounted through at least July 2006.[13] She played Sister Elizabeth Donderstock in the play The Book of Liz, written by Amy Sedaris and David Sedaris, in May 2005 at the 2nd Stage Theatre in Hollywood, California.[14] Other theater work has included playwright John Patrick Shanley's Four Dogs and a Bone at the Lucille Lortel Theater in New York City, the one-woman shows You Could Be Home Now (which opened the 1990 Serious Fun festival at New York City's Lincoln Center), and Rave Mom (opened in New York City October 2001), and in a neo-burlesque show The Velvet Hammer.[15]

A Village Voice review described the autobiographical Rave Mom as Magnuson's "travels through 1999 — a year of Ecstasy-popping, bad romance-chasing and searching for escapism and meaning after her brother's death from AIDS. Magnuson has a thoroughly charming presence [but] her stories of celebrity-studded Oscar parties, kid-filled raves, a wealthy dotcom suitor, and so on, come off as utterly self-absorbed and trivial...."[16]

She has performed at the Revlon/UCLA Breast Center benefit-show series What A Pair! in 2005, performing with Elaine Hendrix "Tips" from the musical Pump Boys & Dinettes, and 2006, performing with Samantha Shelton. She appeared in What's My Line? Live on Stage in Los Angeles on Sept 14, 2006.[17]

For eight years Magnuson wrote a monthly column, "LA Woman", in the magazine Paper, as well as an accompanying blog.[18]

In late 2006, Ann Magnuson released her second solo album, "Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories" on Asphodel Records. It was produced and cowritten by long-time musical director and accompanist, Kristian Hoffman, with whom Ann has had a creative relationship since meeting him when she directed "The New Wave Vaudeville Show" in 1976.[19]

In 2007 and 2008, Magnuson performed in a cabaret act, "Dueling Harps", with Adam Dugas, Mia Theodoratus, and Alexander Rannie.[20]

In 2009, Magnuson created a one-woman performance piece, "Back Home Again (Dreaming Of Charleston)", that was commissioned by Charleston, West Virginia's FestiVall.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Magnuson married architect John Bertram in 2002. She has described the Eastside Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake, where she lives in her Richard Neutra-designed house, as "a rainbow-coalition Mayberry ... You don't get a sense of anybody really flaunting how rich they are."[22]

Quotes[edit]

Magnuson on nihilistically violent films such as Se7en and music videos such as Smashing Pumpkins' "Bullet with Butterfly Wings": "I hate these whiny, middle-class kids co-opting people's real suffering. Videos ripping off news photography of people in the Third World! I mean, we live like czars. ... When I see my friends lying in caskets and put in the ground, when you're really confronted with it, it's not cool, it's not Trent Reznor. I'd just like to make something beautiful. It's something to aspire to."[9]

Solo albums[edit]

Filmography[edit]

Television[edit]

Audio[edit]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The New York Times (July 17, 1990): "Review/Performance Art: Ann Magnuson, a Cast All by Herself", by Stephen Holden
  2. ^ Ann Magnuson Biography (1956-)
  3. ^ Interview: Ann Magnuson
  4. ^ Performance artists talking in the eighties: sex, food, money/fame, ritual/death, Linda Montano. Univ. of California Press. 2000
  5. ^ Dxyplotation #5
  6. ^ PBS.org: Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family - Memories & Tributes: Ann Magnuson
  7. ^ Haring, Keith (2006), Keith Haring: Journey of the Radiant Baby, Bunker Hill Publishing, Inc, p. 22, ISBN 1-59373-052-7 
  8. ^ Virshup, Amy (1987-03-30), "Movin' Uptown", New York Magazine 20 (13): 48 
  9. ^ a b c d Eye Weekly (Feb 22, 1996): "Dreaming Of Better Days: Ann Magnuson's Apocalyptic Cultural Cocktail", by Jason Anderson
  10. ^ AllMusic.com: Bongwater
  11. ^ Art in America, (June-July 2005): "Tales of Bohemian Glory: The tumultuous, influential East Village art scene of the 1980s was the subject of a recent exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary " by Sarah Valdez
  12. ^ Salon (Nov 14, 1997): "Ann Magnuson: Live At The Great American Music Hall, San Francisco", by John Paczkowski
  13. ^ ThisIsHappening.com (Pittsburgh, Penn. events guide)
  14. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (2005-03-30), "Ann Magnuson Stars in Los Angeles Debut of Amy and David Sedaris' The Book of Liz", Playbill, retrieved 2010-01-25 
  15. ^ Velvet Hammer Burlesque: Ann Magnuson
  16. ^ Village Voice (Oct 24-30, 2001): "Hedda Shrinker: Hedda Gabler; Rave Mom by Ann Magnuson" (theater reviews), by Alisa Solomon
  17. ^ What's My Line? Live on Stage
  18. ^ Papermag.com: L.A. Woman (Ann Magnuson blog)
  19. ^ http://www.asphodel.com/releases/view.php?Id=99
  20. ^ Looseleaf, Victoria (October 17, 2008). "'Dueling Harps' at REDCAT mixes strings, vocals". Los Angeles Times. 
  21. ^ http://www.dailymail.com/Entertainment/200903160637
  22. ^ Silver Lake Film Festival 2006: "Los Angeles East Side - A Primer"

External links[edit]