Friday, October 9, 2015

Kevin Corcoran and Catherine Coulson: Two We Lost Too Soon

Say it ain’t so! Movieland has lost some good people lately, workaday actors who’ve also made a difference in other fields. I was startled to learn about the passing of Kevin Corcoran, who was claimed by cancer when he was just 66. I will always remember him as the impish Moochie in a number of Walt Disney productions, including an early Mickey Mouse Club serial called “Adventures in Dairyland” (definitely not Walt’s most exciting idea). He also played a kid called Moochie in a wildly popular comedy feature of the Fifties, The Shaggy Dog. In that film, he was the tagalong younger brother of Disney regular Tommy Kirk. Kevin and Tommy were also cast as brothers in a Civil War tearjerker, Old Yeller, as well as in Swiss Family Robinson and two other Disney features.    

Corcoran was born into an acting family: his sister Noreen co-starred for years on Bachelor Father (1957-1962), and there were six other little Corcorans in the business. Fortunately, acting seemed to be a low-pressure activity in his household, something rare for showbiz kids. He himself stopped performing in the late 1960s, when he realized he knew more than the production team. After graduating from college, he returned to Disney to work behind the scenes, as an assistant director and ultimately a producer. One of his non-Disney shows was the long-running Angela Lansbury series, Murder, She Wrote. Before becoming ill, he worked on two very un-Disney projects for FX: The Shield and Sons of Anarchy.

It’s refreshing to read about a child star who became a responsible adult with a stable career and a long, loving marriage. His screen brother, Tommy Kirk, had a much more difficult time. Though a big success on TV and in films, he struggled with interpersonal relationships, and his knowledge that he was gay—in a highly conservative era—made life difficult. There were major drug problems before he figured out how to turn his life around. Given his years of excess, it’s ironic that he’s alive and well, and poor Kevin Corcoran is gone.

 I first became aware of Catherine Coulson while watching the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s wonderful production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Her non-speaking performance as Milky White, a rather pathetic dairy cow, was for me a comic standout. It was while doing this role last December at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills that she was diagnosed with cancer. My friend Sherril Wood, who played flute in that production, has told me how lovingly the other cast members rallied around her in her hour of need.

It was not until Coulson passed away two weeks ago that I discovered the scope of her showbiz career. She worked for years as a Hollywood camera assistant: one of her credits was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Back in 1977 she’d served on the camera crew of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, in which her then-husband Jack Nance got top billing. She and Lynch developed a close friendship, which led to him creating for her the memorable role of the Log Lady on his landmark TV series, Twin Peaks. The Log Lady’s mysterious clues and devotion to a large, ungainly piece of lumber became a hallmark of the oddball series, to the point where the reruns on Bravo added her cryptic introductions to the various episodes. She was due to be part of a revived series that was in preparation in 2015. When news of her death surfaced, Lynch was quoted as saying, “Today I lost one of my dearest friends.”

Rest in peace. 


  1. I knew of both of these people for their onscreen performances - I was not aware of Mr. Corcoran's work behind the scenes - good for him - or that Ms. Coulson was married to Jack Nance or did other things - I thought she was just someone David Lynch knew and who did this one quirky role. I did find out from her passing that she was the aunt of a young actress I know here in Wilmington NC - Kristi Ray. It's a small world, sometimes. I'm sorry to hear of their passing - both too young. RIP Kevin Corcoran and Catherine Coulson.