It is never easy to say goodbye to people when they pass. It’s especially hard when you’ve grown close to that person, and count them among your friends. It becomes just surreal when they are someone that is in the public eye, and their passing takes over social media for hours. People outpouring their memories, condolences and their own “I remember when..” moments. I felt the need to write this today, not really for anyone but me and my friend Marilyn Burns. Still, I thought it might give a few of you a smile.
I met Marilyn several years ago at Texas Frightmare Weekend when she was a guest of the convention. I had been a fan for years, and this was my chance to meet her and add her autograph to my Texas Chainsaw Massacre cowboy hat. We get to meet actors and directors that we love at these conventions every year, but for some reason Marilyn was different. I felt like she was actually engaged in our conversation. When I mentioned to her that I was working on a script, she told me that she would love to read it, and to keep her posted.
Marilyn and I kept in touch over the years, and that script finally turned into our first feature film, Sacrament. When I told Marilyn the script was ready, she told me to send it right over. I figured I would be lucky to hear back from her in a month or two, but Marilyn called me the next day with tons of questions about the character I had in mind for her, and telling me how much she loved the script. We talked back and forth over the next few months while we worked through the preproduction paperwork, and we were finally able to announce both her and Ed Guinn as part of our production. I could not have been happier, especially since I wrote the script with them in mind.
On set and off, Marilyn was a true pro and one of the sweetest people I have ever had as a part of my life. Between shots, she would pose with the other actors for pictures and cut up with everyone else while we moved equipment around for the next scene. When the camera came on, she was all business. Once we were rolling, Marilyn gave 150%. If I was looking for something else, she happily did it a different way, and if she wasn’t happy with it, we did the same. Not once did she complain about being tired, being sore, needing a break – nothing.
Marilyn was not a director or a cinematographer, but she had so much to offer all of us while we worked on that set because of the experience she had accumulated over her long career. She never made anyone feel like they were a bother for asking a question, she would just smile that “been there, done that” smile, and do her best to help out.
I remember her asking about my grandmother regularly when we would talk. Since her character was loosely based on my grandmother, she would often ask how I thought my grandmother might say something. “Would she do this? Would she do that?” She really made me think deeper about these characters than I had before. She brought a depth to them that they may not have had without her.
After we wrapped the film, we fell right back into our normal lives. It never ceased to amaze me when my phone would ring, and it would be someone I spent so many years loving on film on the other end of my phone. Marilyn was one of the most thoughtful people I have ever met. Whether it was a call to check up on me after surgery, or just calling to tell me happy birthday, Marilyn made everyone she knew feel like they were the most important person in the world.
After filming, Marilyn and I had the chance to do Texas Frightmare Weekend again, this time together as guests. If ever there was a person that could teach a class on how to treat an audience and fans, Marilyn could fill a semester. Everyone that came to meet her got the royal treatment. Even though she was sick with a cold for most of the weekend, she refused to stay in her room. She wanted to be among the fans that loved her. She and I would laugh at the “prima donna’s” that would gripe and complain about having to sign “another one of these damn things.” Marilyn understood that the fans were what got her where she was. She loved that she had been able to travel the world and meet thousands of wonderful people that showed her that same love in return.
When I would take her back up to our room to relax after the show, we would all sit around and listen to her talk about the original Chainsaw, and stories that no one else knew. It was like we were part of that group of “hippie kids back in ’74” on the set with her. She made you feel like you were part of the gang. One of my favorite memories of her was at that convention, and our friend Amanda reminded me of it last night. We were all sitting and lounging on the beds in our room before doing a podcast with our friend Corey Graham about Sacrament, Chainsaw, and anything else that came up. Marilyn, again sick with a cold, had been sucking on cough drops. When she asked for a beer, no one gave it a second thought, and we went right back to talking. After three or four sips of beer, Marilyn made one of the sourest faces I have ever seen, and said “Man, this beer is awful!” Then Amanda reminded her that she still had her cough drop in her mouth, and the room absolutely erupted in laughter.
I have to say that one of the brightest moments in my life was the premiere of our film, Sacrament. I was both excited, and scared shitless. I hoped that people would like the film. By the end, we knew we had won everyone over, and We all went to the stage for our Q&A. Having the whole cast up there with me talking about the work we put into the film was amazing. Having Marilyn and Ed there next to me practically had me in tears. It was, and is, truly an honor to have her last performances as part of a film we all worked so hard on. I could not have done this without her, and everyone else that put their blood, sweat and tears into it.
When I sent her flowers on her birthday, she couldn’t believe it. I have never felt so appreciated as I did when she called me gushing over the bouquet that I sent, just thinking it was a nice thing to do. She made me feel like a million dollars. I have rarely met anyone as selfless and giving as she was. Even after the premiere, when she would do interviews she would call and ask if there was anything special she should tell the interviewer about Sacrament. When we talked a couple of days ago, she was telling me about some new interviews for the 40th Chainsaw anniversary. She was giving them what they wanted for Chainsaw, but she’d be damned if they weren’t going to include Sacrament in there. She always made me feel important, and every talk brought a smile to my face. She had a mouth like a sailor if you caught her in the right mood, and it always made me laugh. Marilyn didn’t want people to make a fuss over her, but I feel like she deserved a bit of fuss.
That was the Marilyn that I knew. I loved her as a friend, and I am deeply sorry that she’s gone. As I scan through the social media world, I see how many people she touched. I am grateful that I was able to call her friend, even if it was only a short few years. Marilyn packed a lot of memories and love into those years. A piece of me passed along with her. I’ll miss you, sweetheart.