Ann Magnuson (born January 4, 1956) is an American actress, performance artist and nightclub performer. A founder 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".
Early life and career
Magnuson was born in Charleston, West Virginia to a journalist mother and a lawyer father. She had a brother, Bobby, who died in 1988 of complications from AIDS. She attended Holz Elementary and George Washington High School in Charleston. After graduating from Denison University in 1978, she moved to New York City, New York and was a DJ and performer at Club 57 and the Mudd Club in Manhattan circa 1979 through the early 1980s, while pursuing a performance career on varied fronts. 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, 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" ”
Magnuson made her film debut in the 1982 film Vortex.
In the late '70s and early '80s, Magnuson ran Club 57, in New York City's East Village. 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. Club 57 was known for its theme nights such as Reggae Miniature Golf, or Model World of Glue Night.
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 Toronto, Canada 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...."
In 2003, Magnuson began touring a one-woman stage show, Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories, that she mounted through at least July 2006. 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. 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.
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...."
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.
For eight years Magnuson wrote a monthly column, "LA Woman", in the magazine Paper, as well as an accompanying blog.
In late 2006, Ann Magnuson released her second solo album, "Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories" on Asphodel Records. It was produced and cowritten by long-time musical director and accompanist, Kristian Hoffman, with whom Ann has had a creative relationship since meeting him when she directed "The New Wave Vaudeville Show" in 1976.
In 2007 and 2008, Magnuson performed in a cabaret act, "Dueling Harps", with Adam Dugas, Mia Theodoratus, and Alexander Rannie.
In 2009, Magnuson created a one-woman performance piece, "Back Home Again (Dreaming Of Charleston)", that was commissioned by Charleston, West Virginia's FestiVall.
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."
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."