Monday, May 7, 2012

Edgy and Androgynous: (An Interview with Eileen Dietz)

(An Interview with Eileen Dietz: By Jerry Saravia)
Eileen Dietz in The Exorcist
Every time a magazine article mentions "The Exorcist" on their list of best horror flicks, there is a picture almost always of Eileen Dietz. Eileen Dietz? Yes, the actress who played the black-and-white, androgynous Pazuzu demon (Captain Howdy to some) in subliminal flashes and in certain shots as poor little Regan strapped to a bed. Dietz dribbles a little vomit here and there, smacks a doctor in the face, and is used in a fantastic superimposition of Pazuzu and Regan's dummy in close-up. If anyone has read Mark Kermode's "The Exorcist" analysis, it is Eileen Dietz who graces the book cover and not Linda Blair.
Eileen as Jillia in Planet of the Apes TV series

But "The Exorcist" is not the only film she starred in. There is a slew of other credits including the TV movie "Helter Skelter," "David Holzman's Diary," the cancelled, long-running soap "Guiding Light," "The Clonus Horror," "You Light Up My Life," the TV-series "Trapper John, M.D.," "Planet of the Apes" TV series (in one episode, she played Jillia), to name but a few. I have not even mentioned the numerous independent horror and thriller films she has appeared in, including 2010's "Freeway Killer," thanks to her agent whom she has told, "I love being in front of the camera so much that I will choose mostly any role as long as its not politically incorrect for me or involves salacious scenes."
Eileen as Family Girl in Helter Skelter

Prior to making her film debut in 1966's noirish "Teenage Gang Debs" (where she is credited as Eileen Scott) and taped shows for children with actress Jean Stapleton ("All in the Family") in Hershey, PA., Eileen Dietz had a "one-line scene" in the NBC daytime soap, "The Doctors." She later appeared in 1967's "David Holzman's Diary," a stunning mockumentary directed by Jim McBride about a filmmaker who epitomizes the phrase from Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom" - "All this filmmaking isn't healthy." Dietz plays the role of Penny, Holzman's girlfriend, who is filmed while she is sleeping in the nude. "I didn't want to do the nude scene," explains Dietz. "But I figured nobody will ever see the film." The film never got distribution despite having Dietz's nude scene featured in Life Magazine's photo spread and in the book of the film. She didn't recall if she auditioned for the role of Penny but she added, "it was a fun shoot." A recent celebration screening of the film in New York was a letdown for her since she was not invited due to the event organizers inability to locate her. 
Eileen Dietz in the photograph held by Holzman in David Holzman's Diary

Dietz did appear as Young Girl with Anthony Perkins in a 1970 production of a play (which Perkins also directed) called "Steambath," where she had another brief nude scene in a shower (the play deals with a steambath standing in for the afterlife). In addition to "The Exorcist," she became typecast as an androgynous, edgy character in everything from "Happy Days" ("I was someone on the edge with a 175 I.Q.") to a cameo as Family Girl in the terrifying TV movie "Helter Skelter," where she blurts out the film's last line, "Death is what you're going to get!" She also played a mental patient named Sarah Abbott in another long-running soap, "General Hospital." In "Guiding Light," Dietz actually went to the Bahamas to learn scuba diving for a role that lasted six months. She was so flabbergasted by the preparation for the role, especially going to the Bahamas, that all she could say was "You've got to be kidding? I am getting paid for this?"

Eileen has had some regrets. She reluctantly moved from New York to L.A. to get away from the "Exorcist" controversy. For newbies to this aspect of her life, "Exorcist" director William Friedkin (a director noted for his relentless and tough demands to accentuate reality on screen) had told the press at the time that all physical actions performed by Regan in the film were performed by Linda Blair, the film's star, including performing the demon's voice (you can actually hear the preliminary sound recordings done by Linda Blair herself in the Exorcist DVD). The truth was that Eileen Dietz performed some shots involving the possessed Regan ("Don't ever call me a double for Linda!"). The voice of the demon was attributed to the late Mercedes McCambridge, who almost received no credit and sued to get it. Eileen did not receive credit for her work in "The Exorcist."

Eileen Dietz continues to have a very active career on television and in films (and attends many horror conventions to meet her fans). She has been typecast as the androgynous, strange, edgy type, and has also played her share of demons, evil nurses, zombies, homeless women, junkies, etc. She has written a book that will be out in stores in September, 2012, titled "Exorcising My Demon: An Actress' Journey to the Exorcist and Beyond." It will focus on her life and "it reads like a novel. It is written as a fictionalized version of my life." Naturally, a chapter on Captain Howdy will be featured. Edgy, indeed.

For the fans of Eileen Dietz: She will be at the Con X as a guest to their horror, sci-fi and pop culture convention on September 14-16, 2012 in Kansas City.