February is Women in Horror Month, and I’m kicking it off by recalling my experience meeting my all time favorite scream queen Marilyn Burns.
There are so many scream queens I’m such a big fan of, that you’d think it’d be difficult picking a favorite. Indeed, choosing a #2 spot would be nearly impossible, as the talent to choose from is so great. But for me, my #1 had been picked out many, many years ago, after watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for the first time.
Directed by Tobe Hooper in 1974, I’ve always referred to TCM as the scariest movie of all time. And I mean it, too. Even when watching the flick decades after its initial release, it terrifies the hell out of me. It’s just so gritty and seems so very real— at times it feels more like a documentary than a horror movie. I can attribute that to all of the great things about the film, but what really stands out above the rest is the acting.
TCM stars Marilyn Burns as Sally Hardesty, a teenager traveling through Texas with her handicapped brother and three friends. They wind up the victims of Leatherface and his family. After her brother and friends die, the movie focuses on the pure anguish Sally goes through while trying her best to survive.
Sally connected with me in a way no other horror movie character ever has. Sometimes the performance just felt too real. I’d forget that this was a flick and feel like I was watching some kind of snuff film about this poor girl. Just recalling Sally’s plight as I type these words still instantly brings tears to my eyes. In my humble opinion, no actress has ever truly brought a character to life the way Marilyn does with Sally.
This STILL gets to me.
I’ve met a fair share of celebrities over the years, but meeting Marilyn Burns is certainly one of the greatest experiences of my life. Several years ago, she was in attendance at a horror convention called Cinema Wasteland. I believe it was a 30th Anniversary celebration for the original movie, as the rest of the cast were there too— including Paul A. Partain (Franklin) who passed away soon after.
I pretty much spent all of my money getting to the place and getting in, not leaving much for autographs or souvenirs. In fact, I couldn’t afford anyone’s autograph, even though they were only 20 bucks a piece. But I still had the ability to meet all of the stars at their tables, taking the opportunity to say hello to the entire TCM cast.
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As you can expect, my experience talking to Marilyn stands out the most. I got to tell her how much her role as Sally meant to me, and how it was— in all honesty— my favorite performance from any actress, ever. I could tell I was flattering her, but I wasn’t lying. It really seemed to make her very happy hearing it, and she was very gracious.
After some wandering around, the end of the festivities would come. People are getting ready to leave, including myself, when I notice Marilyn preparing to leave her table. Realizing I might not get the chance to talk to her again, I went over to have another quick word, just to thank her for the positive experience in meeting her. I did have my TCM movie poster with me, mentioning that I spent my money getting to the event but was still happy to meet the stars of the film.
Marilyn noticed the poster I was holding. She said to me, “Here, nobody’s watching,” and signed her name on the poster. That signature would become a permanent memento of the incredible experience. As this was before I had a cell phone, I wasn’t able to snap any pictures at all. But this signed poster has certainly become one of my most prized possessions.
Sadly, Marilyn passed away in 2014. Appreciating her as an actress and knowing how great she was behind the scenes as well, it was a particularly painful loss. But I will never forget about Marilyn Burns— she will always be my favorite scream queen.