Of all the eras in Hollywood history, the decade that stretched from 1969 to 1979 was perhaps the most daring, a time of experimental masterpieces that shocked audiences into seeing the world in a different way. In the era’s edgy eloquence, Karen Black portrayed quirky women who found themselves in trouble.
The Chicago-area native, who passed away on Aug. 8 at age 74 in Los Angeles, appeared in nearly 200 movies and TV shows in a career that stretched from 1959 to the present, and which ranged from period costume pieces to horror films. Here are five of the films that Black helped make great.
- Easy Rider (1969): In director Dennis Hopper’s mind-bending exploration of the underside of the 1960s counterculture, Black had a small but memorable role as a prostitute who took LSD with the film’s wandering, motorcycle-riding protagonists (Hopper and Peter Fonda), just before the film’s bloody climax.
- Five Easy Pieces (1970): Black was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress in director Bob Rafelson’s classic. She portrayed the clingy, vulnerable pregnant girlfriend of upper-class piano prodigy Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson), who has run away to become an oil-field roughneck. A memorable line: “I’ll do anything you would like me to do, if you tell me that you love me.”
- The Great Gatsby (1974): In director Jack Clayton’s gauzy retelling of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, Black took on the challenging role of Myrtle Wilson, the wife of a automobile repair-shop proprietor who becomes the mistress of wealthy but empty-headed Tom Buchanan (Bruce Dern).
- The Day of the Locust (1975): Director John Schlesinger’s film version of novelist Nathaniel West’s cynical take on 1930s Golden-Age Hollywood casts Black as Faye Greener, a would-be actress whose main talent was cruelly manipulating a naive, sexually repressed admirer (Donald Sutherland).
- Nashville (1976): In the Robert Altman-directed classic, Black portrayed Connie White, a glamorous country singer who is eager to undercut her rival, a popular but psychologically fragile star named Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakely).
Here’s a 2010 interview in which Black discusses working with director Alfred Hitchcock on his last film, Family Plot.
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