In Search of . . . Catherine Burns

Catherine Burns, once cast as the consummate outsider, has finally found her niche.

Burns snagged an Academy Award nomination for her first film role--priggish, pug-nosed Rhoda, the definitive late bloomer in the 1969 drama “Last Summer.” But her screen career went nowhere fast and she eventually left Hollywood for regional theater. Now, during the film’s 20th anniversary year, the actress has emerged as a writer.

Burns has written about two dozen plays and screenplays in the last 15 years, but it was only this fall that she sold her first work--three episodes for the CBS daytime drama “The Guiding Light.” She’s got an agent at Curtis Brown to represent her latest play and a screenplay co-written with husband Kenneth Shire (they were married in June).

The daughter of a journalist, Burns feels that writing is in her blood.

“If you do something well, you like it,” she explained from her Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan, surprising herself with the analysis. “What a reasonable and sane thing to say! I didn’t know I could say anything so normal.”


After raves for “Last Summer,” the “out of type” actress went on to largely forgettable appearances in “Red Sky at Morning” and several TV movies, with her screen career petering out in the late 1970s. By her own admission, she wasn’t a typical leading lady.

“I am one of a kind,” she quipped. “Ah, but what kind?”

Burns spent the early ‘80s as part of the highly respected Tyrone Guthrie Theater repertory in Minneapolis, appearing in such classics as Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” and Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

She doesn’t rule out a return to stage or screen: “I’m gonna be terrific when I’m about 65 doing character parts--like ‘Where’s the beef?’ ”