Ann Magnuson

Ann Magnuson

Ann Magnuson when she was the manager of Club 57 circa early 1980s.
Born (1956-01-04) January 4, 1956
Charleston, West Virginia, U.S.
Occupation Actress, performance artist
Years active 1979present
Spouse(s) John Bertram (2002present)

Ann Magnuson (born January 4, 1956) is an American actress, performance artist and nightclub performer. A founding member of the band Bongwater, she starred in the ABC sitcom Anything but Love (1989–92). Her film appearances include The Hunger (1983), Making Mr. Right (1987), Clear and Present Danger (1994) and Panic Room (2002). The New York Times described her as "An endearing theatrical chameleon who has as many characters at her fingertips as Lily Tomlin does".[1]

Early life and career

Magnuson was born in Charleston, West Virginia, to a journalist mother and a lawyer father.[2] She had a brother, Bobby, who died in 1988 of complications from AIDS.[3] She attended Holz Elementary[4] and George Washington High School in Charleston. After graduating from Denison University in 1978, she moved to New York City and was a DJ and performer at Club 57 and the Mudd Club in Manhattan circa 1979 through the early 1980s. She created such characters as Anoushka, a Soviet lounge singer, wearing a wig backwards and singing mock-Russian lyrics to pop music standards, and separately sang in an all-girl percussion group, Pulsallama,[5] whose 1982 single "The Devil Lives In My Husband's Body" was a housewife's lament of a spouse who appears to be possessed. Later, in the 1990s, Magnuson fronted the satirical faux-heavy metal band Vulcan Death Grip.

In an interview for the 2002 WETA-TV-PBS special Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family, Magnuson credited the idea of Loud a member of an all-American family filmed day-in/day-out for the landmark PBS documentary An American Family, who came out as gay during the course of that documentary miniseries with inspiring her to leave West Virginia for New York:

I watched An American Family alone in the kitchen and none of my other family members were interested in it, and I was fascinated, as everybody my age was, by Lance, and I really think that's what got me there. I immediately started hanging out at all the clubs that he hung out in, and I wanted to go to the places that I'd seen on television. ... I met him in 1978 when I got to New York City and was hanging out at CBGB. ... I honestly can't remember the exact moment but I know I was dazzled. I was just this little hick from West Virginia and I was meeting a celebrity, an icon, somebody who had made it.[6]

Magnuson made her film debut in the 1982 film Vortex.

In the late '70s and early '80s, Magnuson ran Club 57. The club was located in the basement of the Polish National church. It became a center of a world that included Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and many others from New York's budding graffiti and downtown scenes.[7] Club 57 was known for its theme nights such as Reggae Miniature Golf and Model World of Glue Night.[8]


A fixture of the Manhattan downtown club scene of the 1980s, Magnuson gained attention with her role as a snarky cigarette girl in director Susan Seidelman's 1985 independent film hit Desperately Seeking Susan, which also helped launch the acting career of singer Madonna. Magnuson went on to star in Seidelman's Making Mr. Right (1987), a poorly received science-fiction romance about an android played by John Malkovich.

Concurrently, Magnuson developed an underground following as lead vocalist of the band Bongwater, formed in 1985 with producer-musician Mark Kramer. Bongwater released four avant garde albums and a debut EP before breaking up in 1992 with a legal battle between Magnuson and Kramer that lasted through at least 1996[9] and ended with the bankruptcy of Kramer's independent-music label Shimmy-Disc.[10]

Her 15-minute video performance piece "Made for Television", self-produced in 1981, ran on the WNET-PBS avant garde series Alive from Off-Center. Her satiric featurette found her playing close to 50 roles in a "channel-hopping" series of visual bites parodying television programming game shows to TV-films to televangelists. As art critic Sarah Valdez described it, "a bewigged Ann Magnuson consecutively inhabits, at a rate faster than any channel surfer could keep up with, an outlandish, uproariously unfortunate range of female stereotypes".[11] It was later released by HBO Home Video together with the Cinemax cable-TV special Vandemonium Plus (1987), in which Magnuson starred in a mostly solo stage piece with appearances by actor-singer Meat Loaf and actor-monologist Eric Bogosian. Magnuson also co-hosted Alive from Off Center during its 1988 season, taking over from fellow performance artist Laurie Anderson, who had hosted the series the year before.

Her 1995 CD The Luv Show (Geffen Records/MCA), her major-label debut, was commercially unsuccessful, but musically adventurous; one critic described it "an MGM musical as directed by Russ Meyer (which means the mambo 'Sex With The Devil'" and 'Miss Pussy Pants' sit comfortably next to Ethel Merman references in the same work)".[9]

As Salon writer John Paczowski described her in 1997:

[A] celebrated icon in the more transgressive margins of culture, Ann Magnuson has been at once unknown and renowned for the past 15 years. She is infamous in more insular circles as the creative force behind the cultural mayhem of the East Village's Club 57, a breeding ground of experimentation and absurdity that spawned the work of Keith Haring, among others. (Under the auspices of a Club 57 project, Magnuson once performed a "Tribute to Muzak," singing for five hours straight in the elevator of the Whitney Museum.)[12]

Later career

From 1989 to 1992, Magnuson played Catherine Hughes, the comically hip editor-in-chief of a Chicago magazine in the television sitcom Anything But Love, opposite Jamie Lee Curtis and comedian Richard Lewis, and played a liberal political commentator on comedian Wanda Sykes' 2003 Fox Broadcasting sitcom Wanda at Large.

Magnuson's film roles have included a snarly real estate agent in Panic Room, Alan's mother in Small Soldiers, a madam in Tank Girl, Mel Gibson's "money junkie" ex-wife in Tequila Sunrise, Tom Berenger's estranged but horny ex-girlfriend in Love at Large, a secretary in Clear and Present Danger, and a sexy victim of David Bowie's vampire in The Hunger.

Her TV guest appearances include an episode each of the Lifetime cable-network fiction-suspense anthology The Hidden Room; the cult-hit, surrealistic comedy-drama The Adventures of Pete and Pete and Salute Your Shorts on the children's cable television network Nickelodeon; the sitcoms The John Larroquette Show, The Drew Carey Show, Caroline in the City, and Frasier; and the police procedural drama CSI: Miami. In the 1996 telefilm The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas, Magnuson played Lily Munster from the original 1960s TV series The Munsters. She appeared in the 1990 Redd Kross music video for the song "Annie's Gone", written about her. As writer Jason Anderson summarized her work through 1996, "She's been appearing in various states of undress for artistic purposes since her performance art daze in late-'70s New York [where s]he was indie rock's thinking vixen...."[9]

In 2003, Magnuson began touring a one-woman stage show, Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories, which she mounted through at least July 2006.[13] She played Sister Elizabeth Donderstock in the play The Book of Liz, written by Amy Sedaris and David Sedaris, in May 2005 at the 2nd Stage Theatre in Hollywood, California.[14] Other theater work has included playwright John Patrick Shanley's Four Dogs and a Bone at the Lucille Lortel Theater in New York City, the one-woman shows You Could Be Home Now (which opened the 1990 Serious Fun festival at New York City's Lincoln Center), and Rave Mom (opened in New York City October 2001), and in a neo-burlesque show The Velvet Hammer.[15]

A Village Voice review described the autobiographical Rave Mom as Magnuson's "travels through 1999 — a year of Ecstasy-popping, bad romance-chasing and searching for escapism and meaning after her brother's death from AIDS. Magnuson has a thoroughly charming presence [but] her stories of celebrity-studded Oscar parties, kid-filled raves, a wealthy dotcom suitor, and so on, come off as utterly self-absorbed and trivial...."[16]

She has performed at the Revlon/UCLA Breast Center benefit-show series What A Pair! in 2005, performing with Elaine Hendrix "Tips" from the musical Pump Boys & Dinettes, and 2006, performing with Samantha Shelton. She appeared in What's My Line? Live on Stage in Los Angeles on Sept 14, 2006.[17]

For eight years Magnuson wrote a monthly column, "LA Woman", in the magazine Paper, as well as an accompanying blog.[18]

In late 2006, Magnuson released her second solo album, Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories. It was produced and co-written by long-time musical director and accompanist Kristian Hoffman, with whom Magnuson had had a creative relationship since meeting him when directing "The New Wave Vaudeville Show" in 1976.[19]

In 2007 and 2008, Magnuson performed in a cabaret act, Dueling Harps, with Adam Dugas, Mia Theodoratus, and Alexander Rannie.[20]

In 2009, Magnuson created a one-woman performance piece, Back Home Again (Dreaming Of Charleston), that was commissioned by Charleston, West Virginia's FestiVall.[21]

Personal life

Magnuson married architect John Bertram in 2002. She has described the Eastside Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake, where she lives in her Richard Neutra-designed house, as "a rainbow-coalition Mayberry ... You don't get a sense of anybody really flaunting how rich they are."[22]


Magnuson on nihilistically violent films such as Se7en and music videos such as Smashing Pumpkins' "Bullet with Butterfly Wings": "I hate these whiny, middle-class kids co-opting people's real suffering. Videos ripping off news photography of people in the Third World! I mean, we live like czars. ... When I see my friends lying in caskets and put in the ground, when you're really confronted with it, it's not cool, it's not Trent Reznor. I'd just like to make something beautiful. It's something to aspire to."[9]

Solo albums



Year Title Role Notes
1982 Vortex Pamela Fleming
1983 The Hunger Young Woman from Disco
1984 Perfect Strangers Malda
1985 Desperately Seeking Susan Cigarette Girl
1986 Sleepwalk Isabelle
1987 Making Mr. Right Frankie Stone
1988 Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon, AA Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon Joyce Fickett
1988 Tequila Sunrise Shaleen McKussic
1989 Checking Out Connie Hagen
1990 Love at Large Doris
1994 Cabin Boy Calli
1994 Clear and Present Danger Moira Wolfson
1996 Before and After Terry Taverner
1997 Levitation Sarah
1997 Still Breathing Elaine
1998 Small Soldiers Irene Abernathy
1999 Friends & Lovers Katherine
2000 Love & Sex Monique Steinbacher
2000 Housebound Brandy
2001 Caveman's Valentine, TheThe Caveman's Valentine Moira Leppenraub
2001 Glitter Kelly
2001 Night at the Golden Eagle Sally
2002 Panic Room Lydia Lynch
2003 United States of Leland, TheThe United States of Leland Karen Pollard
2003 Ghostlight Barbara Rosen
2004 Open House Sarah Jane Tibbett
2007 Chasing Tchaikovsky Margarita Stone
2011 Small Pond Luann
2011 Woman's Picture Miriam
2011 Rose Miriam Masterson Short film
2013 Only Child Miriam Masterson (voice)
2015 One More Time Lucille


Year Title Role Notes
1987 Tales from Hollywood Hills: A Table at Ciro's Darlene TV film
1989-1992 Anything but Love Catherine Hughes Main role (50 episodes)
1993 Hidden Room, TheThe Hidden Room Nina Episode: "No Word for Mercy"
1996 Adventures of Pete & Pete, TheThe Adventures of Pete & Pete Eunice Puell Episode: "Crisis in the Love Zone"
1996 John Larroquette Show, TheThe John Larroquette Show Amanda Cox Episode: "Command Performance"
1996 Munsters' Scary Little Christmas, TheThe Munsters' Scary Little Christmas Lily Munster TV film
1997 Caroline in the City Gina Pennetti Episode: "Caroline and the Kept Man"
1997 Drew Carey Show, TheThe Drew Carey Show Kyra Sullivan Episode: "Check Out Drew's Old Flame"
1997 Damian Cromwell's Postcards from America Paula TV film
1998 From the Earth to the Moon Dee O'Hara TV miniseries
2002 Griffin and the Minor Canon, TheThe Griffin and the Minor Canon Bird TV film
2003 Wanda at Large Rita Bahlberg Episode: "Wanda & Bradley"
2003-2008 All Grown Up! Miss O'Keats (voice) Recurring role
2004 Frasier Harvest Episode: "Match Game"
2004 Quintuplets Yolanda Episode: "Working It"
2004 CSI: Miami Ms. Arena Episode: "Crime Wave"
2006 Our House Geena TV film
2007 American Dad! Lisa Collins (voice) Episode: "I Can't Stan You"
2009 Valentine Circe Episode: "Hound Dog"
2013 Modern Family Shelley Episode: "Goodnight Gracie"
2013 Young and the Restless, TheThe Young and the Restless Madame Miranda TV series
2014 Looking Stina Episodes: "Looking for Now", "Looking at Your Browser History"


Further reading


  1. The New York Times (July 17, 1990): "Review/Performance Art: Ann Magnuson, a Cast All by Herself", by Stephen Holden
  2. Ann Magnuson Biography (1956-)
  3. Interview: Ann Magnuson
  4. Performance artists talking in the eighties: sex, food, money/fame, ritual/death, Linda Montano. Univ. of California Press. 2000
  5. Dxyplotation #5 Archived October 7, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family - Memories & Tributes: Ann Magnuson
  7. Haring, Keith (2006), Keith Haring: Journey of the Radiant Baby, Bunker Hill Publishing, Inc, p. 22, ISBN 1-59373-052-7
  8. Virshup, Amy (1987-03-30), "Movin' Uptown", New York Magazine, 20 (13): 48
  9. 1 2 3 4 Eye Weekly (Feb 22, 1996): "Dreaming Of Better Days: Ann Magnuson's Apocalyptic Cultural Cocktail", by Jason Anderson
  10. Bongwater
  11. Art in America, (June-July 2005): "Tales of Bohemian Glory: The tumultuous, influential East Village art scene of the 1980s was the subject of a recent exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary " by Sarah Valdez
  12. Salon (Nov 14, 1997): "Ann Magnuson: Live At The Great American Music Hall, San Francisco", by John Paczkowski Archived December 5, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. (Pittsburgh, Penn. events guide) Archived October 8, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. Hernandez, Ernio (2005-03-30), "Ann Magnuson Stars in Los Angeles Debut of Amy and David Sedaris' The Book of Liz", Playbill, archived from the original on 2011-06-04, retrieved 2010-01-25
  15. Velvet Hammer Burlesque: Ann Magnuson
  16. "Village Voice (Oct 24-30, 2001): "Hedda Shrinker: Hedda Gabler; Rave Mom by Ann Magnuson" (theater reviews), by Alisa Solomon". Archived from the original on 2006-11-07. Retrieved 2013-10-01.
  17. What's My Line? Live on Stage Archived October 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. L.A. Woman (Ann Magnuson blog) Archived February 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  20. Looseleaf, Victoria (October 17, 2008). "'Dueling Harps' at REDCAT mixes strings, vocals". Los Angeles Times.
  22. Silver Lake Film Festival 2006: "Los Angeles East Side - A Primer" Archived January 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.

External links

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