Not everyone who gets nominated for an Oscar goes on to become a superstar, but rarely, a promising young actress at what seems to be the beginning of her career disappears without a trace.
That's what happened to Catherine Burns until the truth finally came out.
Catherine Burns' Breakout Hit
Catherine Burns broke onto the scene with her role as Rhoda in Last Summer in 1969. The film was heralded by critics, with Roger Ebert writing, "You know you're in the presence of greatness."
"That feeling came to me twice during Frank Perry's Last Summer, and both times the actress onscreen was Cathy Burns."
The Media Was Cruel
While she had been praised for her acting skills in Last Summer, she was harshly criticized for her appearance.
"Twenty years ago, they wouldn't have let her inside a studio gate," a columnist at the time noted.
Her Looks Were Mocked
The columnist also added that she had a face "like an intelligent marshmallow" and was "shaped like a fat mushroom."
Gene Siskel referred to Catherine as "the homeliest" member of the cast and added, "Cathy Burns: Not prettiest … but the most talented."
Catherine Was Ostracized On Set
Frank Perry, the film's director, revealed that the other members of the cast were friends, and Catherine was excluded.
"For Cathy, there was the intense frustration of being alone. She was nervous, tense. Actually, it was very useful; it enhanced her feeling as an outsider."
Catherine Wasn't Happy Filming
"I just wanted to get it over with," Catherine said of filming at the time.
"The sitting around, worrying about it, was bad. I trusted Frank, but it wasn't easy to do."
Catherine Wasn't A Fan Of The Movie
"When I saw the film, I did see certain things about myself, and it hurt to see them revealed so plainly on the screen," Catherine said.
"There were things in that character that were me and that represented areas or emotions I had tried never to let anybody see."
Catherine Wanted The Oscar
"It hurt so much to play that role," she continued. "I don't remember ever having to do anything so painful."
"I'd like to get a nomination," she said at the time, "if only because of the effort."
After Her Success, She Vanished
"I could not find a trail. Even in this age of Facebook and Google, she was impossible to track down," shared screenwriter Larry Karaszwenski, a fan of Catherine's.
“I became so obsessed that a friend gave me a framed picture of Cathy, which hangs in my office."
How Catherine's Story Began
Catherine was born in New York in 1945, the only child of a gown salesman and a secretary, and she was raised in a four-room apartment.
It didn't take long for her to discover her passion for acting.
Catherine's Theater Goals
Catherine was taken to see an off-Broadway production of Richard III, and afterward, she began attending weekend acting classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Her career goals then briefly shifted.
Catherine's Time At School
Catherine had enrolled at Hunter College and intended to become an English teacher but would soon drop out to hire a theatre agent.
"There's nothing worse than an English teacher who’s a frustrated actor," Catherine had said of her choice.
Catherine's Career Start
Catherine's first TV credit was a 1967 CBS movie, The Crucible, and then she spent a year in the cast of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
That play was where she made her mark on the man who would launch her career.
Catherine Had Been Discovered
Frank Perry, who was casting the film Last Summer, saw Catherine in the play and wanted her for the movie immediately.
The film followed four upper-middle-class kids left to their own devices one summer on Fire Island and was a success.
Catherine Earned Her Oscar Nomination
One critic at the time described Catherine as "a wonderful little girl who I thought gave one of the most startling performances."
However, he didn't think she would win because Hollywood "doesn't know who she is."
Catherine's Struggle With Fame
The nomination brought more attention than ever to Catherine, and it wasn't exactly what she wanted. "It used to be very nice being recognized," she said at the time.
“But not now. I find it disturbing," she added. "I'm becoming hard.”
Catherine Struggled With Her Self-Image
The way the media treated her appearance had its own toll on Catherine and the way that she saw herself.
"The worst thing about being a fat pig is the feeling of being grotesque," she said.
Catherine's Big Oscar Moment
When the Oscars finally rolled around, it didn't seem like Catherine expected to win. Infamously, when her name was announced, she appeared to roll her eyes.
"It was so idiotic," she said of the whole affair. Goldie Hawn would win for Cactus Flower.
Catherine's Next Career Move
Catherine then starred in another Frank Perry film, Red Sky at Morning, a 1971 film about high schoolers in New Mexico during World War II.
She still wasn't pleased with her own performance.
Catherine Felt 'Sick' Watching Herself
"It's my mannerisms," Catherine said of herself. “My mouth looks like a Post Office slot. My head moves too much; it shakes. When I stand still, I vibrate."
"My speech is wrong. I sound like I’m being played back at 78 instead of 33.”
Catherine's Surprising Next Career Move
Catherine's career as an actress seemed to stall following Red Sky At Morning, but an interview done in 1989 proclaimed that since then, she had "emerged as a writer."
And it was right.
She Had The Write Stuff
Among her other work as a writer, Catherine had written The Winter Bird, a children's book about a bird who doesn't fly south for the winter.
She also had written and sold two dozen plays and screenplays, including one for the soap opera Guiding Light.
Not A Storybook Ending
In that piece, Catherine was asked if she would ever return to acting, and she sounded unsure. "I am one of a kind," she said. “Ah, but what kind?”
That was the last time the public would hear from her.
The Search For Catherine Burns
Fifty years after her Oscar nomination, The Hollywood Reporter attempted to track her down.
It had been 30 years since the last time Catherine had spoken to the public, and the trail had gone totally cold.
The First Clue Was Found
After an intensive search into public records, eventually, it was discovered she had possibly moved into a retirement community with her husband.
At first, her husband didn't want to speak with the reporters.
Eventually, Her Husband Wrote Back
He described Catherine as "an old woman long out of the acting game."
"My wife has been out of the business for decades," he wrote. “She is not old news. She is ancient news. We are in our 8th decade."
He Was Not Friendly
"We left that rotten business a long time ago," He continued. "It's time for some peace."
"Maybe someone else wants this kind of reminder of who they once were, but we do NOT."
There Was One Piece Of Hope
"I'm the only person who can write an 'authorized’ piece about Catherine if that matters," he finished.
"So if you are the right person to be talking to, perhaps we can do business. It’s in your court."
The Reporters Made A Shocking Discovery
After expressing interest in talking to her husband, The Hollywood Reporter then located Catherine Burns' death certificate.
It turns out that she passed away on February 2nd, 2019, after falling and hitting her head.
Catherine's Husband Opened Up
After confirming Catherine's death, her husband opened up. "She hated the movie that made her well-known," he wrote. “Hated it and most everything that came with it."
"She wanted to be remembered as a published writer of novels.”
The Mystery Was Solved
Larry Karaszewski had another hope for Catherine. "I would hope she would be remembered as a really strong actress whose realness came across on the screen," he said.
"There was always a bit of pain in her performances. And clearly, that extended to her real life as well."