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Karen Black

Karen BlackAKA Karen Blanche Ziegler

Born: 1-Jul-1939
Birthplace: Park Ridge, IL
Died: 7-Aug-2013
Location of death: West Hills, CA
Cause of death: Cancer - unspecified

Gender: Female
Religion: See Note [1]
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Actor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Five Easy Pieces

Karen Black was a child prodigy, reading past the high school level by fourth grade. She entered Northwestern University at the age of 15, but dropped out at 17. At some time during this period[2] she married her first husband, Charles Black, and adopted his last name. Karen moved to New York, worked as a waitress, associated with artsy types, and had a small role in a raunchy cheesecake film called The Prime Time, also known as Hell Kitten. She eventually studied drama with Lee Strasberg, and at 19 she made her Broadway debut in the comedy Take Her, She's Mine with Art Carney and Elizabeth Ashley. Karen's first serious film was an early Francis Ford Coppola comedy-drama, You're a Big Boy Now with Rip Torn, Geraldine Page, and Black's first serious lover, actor Peter Kastner, who went on to play Donald Sutherland's professor role in the horrendous sitcomization of Animal House.

She had a small part in a short-lived 1967 sitcom, The Second Hundred Years, but her most recognized films came with Easy Rider with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper and Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson. For the latter, she received her only Oscar nomination. After Five Easy Pieces, though, Black seemed to pick projects by rolling dice. For every good film (The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford, or Robert Altman's Nashville), she seemed determined to make three odd art films or simple stinkers like The Pyx with Christopher Plummer, Ace Up My Sleeve with Omar Sharif, Little Laura and Big John with Fabian, or Trilogy of Terror.

In the oft-satirized Airport 1975 with Charlton Heston and George Kennedy, she played a stewardess who had to fly the plane in an emergency. But after appearing in Hitchcock's last film, Family Plot, and the cheesy conspiracy thriller Capricorn One with Elliott Gould and James Brolin, she was mostly confined to the horror genre, even becoming something of a "brand name" for a certain kind of horror movie -- compare Burnt Offerings, It's Alive III, Night Angel, Evil Spirits, Dead Girls Don't Tango, Auntie Lee's Meat Pies, Soulkeeper, House of 100 Corpses, and Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering.

In the late 1990s, Black was credited as co-writer for Tons of Trouble (a poorly-received comedy about a wayward elephant), and the horrendous Sean Young romantic uncomedy Men. She also co-wrote and produced a barely-released thriller titled Charades with C. Thomas Howell. She died in 2013.


[1] In the mid-1970s, Black announced that she was a Scientologist. A few years later, she withdrew and became an outspoken critic of the cult.

[2] The exact date of this is not known with certainty. Current Biography, a meticulously reliable source, states "In her teens Karen had dropped out of high school to marry Charles Black." Adam Bernstein, "Karen Black Dies at 74", The Washington Post, 9 August 2013, also supports this contention: "Her background was Chicago bourgeois, but she rebelled by quitting high school to marry for the first of four times." Her obituary in a British newspaper, The Guardian, 9 August 2013, tells a different story, perhaps whitewashed: "She studied at Northwestern University in Illinois from the age of 15, then moved to New York at 17 and took odd jobs and off-Broadway roles. In 1960 she married Charles Black."

Father: Norman Arthur Ziegler (engineer, b. 1909, d. 1986)
Mother: Elsie Reif Ziegler (novelist, b. 1910, d. 2008)
Husband: Charles Black (m. circa 1955, div.)
Husband: Robert Burton (m. 18-Apr-1973, div. 23-Oct-1974)
Husband: L. M. Kit Carson (writer/producer, m. 4-Jul-1975, div. 28-Jun-1983, one son)
Son: Hunter Carson (actor/writer, b. 26-Sep-1975)
Boyfriend: Peter Kastner (actor)
Husband: Stephen Eckelberry (editor, m. 27-Sep-1987, one son adopted)
Son: Celine Eckelberry (adopted, b. 1987)

    High School: Lafayette Jefferson High School, Lafayette, IN
    University:
Northwestern University (dropped out)

    Converted to Scientology (recanted)
    Golden Globe 1971 for Five Easy Pieces
    Golden Globe 1975 for The Great Gatsby
    Risk Factors: Smoking, Cancer

    FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
    Dark Blood (27-Sep-2012)
    Stuck! (27-Sep-2009)
    Repo Chick (8-Sep-2009)
    Irene in Time (19-Jun-2009) · Sheila Shivvers
    The Blue Tooth Virgin (12-Jun-2008)
    Ghost Writer (9-Mar-2007)
    Hollywood Dreams (8-Apr-2006)
    My Suicidal Sweetheart (Mar-2005)
    Firecracker (3-Oct-2004)
    Curse of the Forty-Niner (23-Sep-2003)
    Paris (7-May-2003) · Chantelle
    House of 1000 Corpses (13-Mar-2003) · Mother Firefly
    Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (18-Jan-2003) · Herself
    Teknolust (12-Sep-2002) · Dirty Dick
    Soulkeeper (13-Oct-2001)
    Gypsy 83 (6-Jun-2001)
    Red Dirt (17-Mar-2000)
    The Independent (12-Mar-2000) · Herself
    The Underground Comedy Movie (7-May-1999)
    First Degree (17-Dec-1998)
    I Woke Up Early the Day I Died (13-Sep-1998)
    Conceiving Ada (10-Sep-1997) · Lady Byron
    Men (May-1997)
    Dogtown (1997)
    Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (8-Oct-1996) · June Rhodes
    Crimetime (Aug-1996) · Millicent Hargreave
    Cries of Silence (May-1996)
    Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (8-May-1993) · Herself
    Auntie Lee's Meat Pies (21-Oct-1992)
    Hitz (5-Aug-1992)
    The Player (3-Apr-1992) · Herself
    The Legend of the Rollerblade 7 (1992)
    The Double 0 Kid (1992)
    Bound and Gagged: A Love Story (1992)
    Final Judgement (1992)
    Children of the Night (6-Sep-1991)
    Haunting Fear (Mar-1991)
    Rubin and Ed (1991)
    Club Fed (9-Aug-1990)
    The Children (18-May-1990)
    Zapped Again! (14-Apr-1990)
    Evil Spirits (1990)
    Mirror, Mirror (1990)
    Homer & Eddie (17-Aug-1989)
    Out of the Dark (5-May-1989)
    The Invisible Kid (30-Mar-1988)
    It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (4-Dec-1987)
    Invaders from Mars (6-Jun-1986)
    Cut and Run (8-Aug-1985)
    Eternal Evil (1985)
    Savage Dawn (1985)
    Bad Manners (Nov-1984)
    Martin's Day (1984) · Karen
    Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? (10-Sep-1983)
    Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (12-Nov-1982)
    Chanel Solitaire (16-Oct-1981)
    Killing Heat (18-Sep-1981)
    Separate Ways (May-1981)
    Killer Fish (7-Dec-1979)
    The Last Word (Oct-1979)
    Mr. Horn (1-Feb-1979)
    The Squeeze (25-Oct-1978)
    In Praise of Older Women (14-Sep-1978)
    Capricorn One (2-Jun-1978)
    Burnt Offerings (25-Aug-1976) · Marian
    Family Plot (9-Apr-1976) · Fran
    Crime & Passion (6-Feb-1976)
    Nashville (11-Jun-1975)
    The Day of the Locust (7-May-1975)
    Trilogy of Terror (4-Mar-1975)
    Airport 1975 (18-Oct-1974) · Nancy
    Law and Disorder (9-Oct-1974)
    The Great Gatsby (26-Mar-1974) · Myrtle Wilson
    Rhinoceros (21-Jan-1974) · Daisy
    The Outfit (Oct-1973) · Bett Harrow
    The Pyx (13-Sep-1973)
    Little Laura & Big John (May-1973)
    Portnoy's Complaint (19-Jun-1972)
    Cisco Pike (14-Jan-1972)
    Born to Win (1-Dec-1971) · Parm
    A Gunfight (25-Aug-1971)
    Drive, He Said (13-Jun-1971)
    Five Easy Pieces (11-Sep-1970) · Rayette Dipesto
    Easy Rider (14-Jul-1969) · Karen
    Hard Contract (30-Apr-1969)
    You're a Big Boy Now (9-Dec-1966)



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