For a few years in the early seventies Karen Black, who died a few days ago was the face of cinema, along with her male counterparts Peter Fonda or Jack Nicholson. Not surprisingly, they were all in the iconic film of that period, “Easy Rider” (okay, 1966). Fonda directed, Nicholson with a supporting role lasting a few minutes burst on the screen and on the scene, and Black had a small but as always unforgettable part.
Hollywood has always been welcoming to unconventional beauty or even absence of beauty if it was replaced by strong personality (think Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn). But with her close-set eyes and a face that seemed to have been put together at the last minute with whatever thick features were lying around, hers was an unexpected and always thrilling appearance. She hogged the screen, just as Nicholson did “Easy Rider.” When she was on, others became invisible.
Starting with “Five Easy Pieces,” with Nicholson, for which she received an Academy Award nomination, she went on to “Family Plot,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Day of the Locust,” and other films that she defined with her larger-than-life persona, much in demand from top directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Schlesinger or Robert Altman. She must have taken a wrong turn at some point for her career slid into B-grade and worse. Although she never stopped working until the very end, the least said about later roles the better. But for a few years, she shone with an intensity all of her own.