A Cut Above: RIP Gunnar Hansen

I just learned, via MetaFilter, that Gunnar Hansen – the legendary Leatherface from the original version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – has died. I am not much of a horror film fan, but I did admire that movie, which I saw one Halloween, 36 years ago now, at the University of Washington, part of a triple feature that included Night of the Living Dead and Freaks. (As Roger Ebert wrote, “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make a movie like this, and yet it’s well-made, well acted, and all too effective.”)

Six years later, when I moved to this island in Maine, I actually met Leatherface, who, it goes without saying, was nothing like his famous film creation. He was, rather, a low-key, bearded poet from Iceland, who had gotten his role, he told me, solely because he was the largest person the filmmakers happened to know. And over the last 25+ years we remained friendly – not friends, but always happy to run into each other from time to time.

(e) Gunnar @ Jesup

On one such occasion, in October 2013, he spoke at the Bar Harbor library about his new book Chain Saw Confidential, which makes entertaining reading. As I sat listening to him, I realized I should have brought my copy of his earlier, also well-written Islands at the Edge of Time (1993) for him to sign; filed under Travel/Natural History, it’s a look at American’s barrier islands around the curve of the coast from Texas to North Carolina.

Gunnar lived next-door to the library in Northeast Harbor, where in October 2011 – at a party for the retiring librarian, who had worked there almost 40 years – he and I were hanging out when a woman, saying, “Look, it’s two local celebrities,” asked us to pose for her camera. “I don’t know about me, but definitely him,” I said.
(e) Gunnar’s house
As I drove away from the library, I passed his house, whose appearance made me laugh because, with no one home, it looked much like a place where a chainsaw murderer might live. But as Gunnar writes in Chain Saw Confidential: “I certainly did not want to be Leatherface, or even feel his emotions. For me he was a shell, a set of behaviors and postures.”

The real man, sadly no longer with us, was nothing like his image. But happily, I have the photo to back me up if I ever want to say to some lesser imitator: “Sir, I knew Leatherface. I was friendly with Leatherface. And you are no Leatherface.”

(e) Gunnar Hansen & RPS, 10-26-11

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About RPS

https://lelilo.wordpress.com/bio/
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