More than a quarter-century ago, ABC introduced us to Twin Peaks. The rainy Washington town was home to log ladies, red rooms, and at least one murderer—but if you were only watching to find out “who killed Laura Palmer,” you were missing out. As Showtime prepares to bring us back to Twin Peaks tonight, read on to find out how Mikhail Gorbachev’s favorite show got made in the first place.
1. CREATORS DAVID LYNCH AND MARK FROST WROTE A MARILYN MONROE SCRIPT FIRST.
David Lynch and Mark Frost met while working on an adaptation of Anthony Summers’s Marilyn Monroe biography Goddess. Their script was titled Venus Descending and ultimately suggested that the Kennedys were the true cause of Monroe’s death. Although Lynch and Frost changed the protagonist’s name to Rosilyn Ramsey, studios were wary of bankrolling a movie with that conclusion. The movie never got made, but Lynch and Frost managed to work elements of Goddess and Monroe’s life into Twin Peaks. There’s an implicit connection in the story of Laura Palmer, a blonde homecoming queen who has an affair with a high-powered man and winds up dead. And there’s a much more explicit reference in Dale Cooper’s JFK musings to Diane.
2. THE SHOW WAS ORIGINALLY SET IN (AND CALLED) NORTH DAKOTA.
Twin Peaks takes place in Washington State, but before Lynch and Frost settled on the Pacific Northwest, they considered the Heartland. “The original title for the show was North Dakota,” Frost said in an interview with Inside Twin Peaks. “We were playing with this idea of the plains, a place far away from the world. But what we really lacked was that sense of mystery in the forest, and the darkness that moving it a little further west had.”
3. SHERYL LEE WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO BE A BODY.
Sheryl Lee, who played both Laura Palmer and her look-alike cousin Maddy Ferguson, was initially hired for a wordless cameo. As Lynch explained in Lynch on Lynch, the plan was to cast a local girl in Seattle, dye her skin gray, and simply use her for the scene where Laura’s body washes up on shore. But once they gave Lee another small scene—a picnic with Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle)—Lynch was impressed with her acting ability, and gave her regular series work as Maddy.
4. THE ONE-ARMED MAN IS A FUGITIVE HOMAGE.
Another actor who was only meant to appear in the pilot? The one-armed man. “Mike” was only required to walk out of an elevator in the original script. All Lynch and Frost wanted was a quick, intriguing “Fugitive homage.” But Lynch was also a fan of actor Al Strobel, so he wrote him into the series's larger mythology.
5. ISABELLA ROSSELLINI ALMOST PLAYED JOSIE PACKER.
Lynch’s Blue Velvet leading lady and then-girlfriend Isabella Rossellini was the first choice for wealthy widow Josie Packard. But according to Rossellini, there was “a little bit of concern about the time [commitment].” (She and Lynch broke up in 1991.) Instead, the part went to Joan Chen, and Josie was rewritten to fit Chen’s Chinese background.
6. SEVERAL CHARACTERS ARE NAMED FOR FILM NOIR FIGURES.
Critics were quick to point out that Maddy (or Madeleine) Ferguson shared a first name with one of Kim Novak’s dual characters in Vertigo, another tale of a dead blonde and her brunette doppelgänger, and a last name with Jimmy Stewart’s Vertigo character, Scottie Ferguson. There’s also an insurance agent on Twin Peaks named Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray’s character in Double Indemnity), a vet named Dr. Lydecker (Clifton Webb’s character in Laura), a myna bird named Waldo (also Clifton Webb’s character in Laura), and an FBI regional bureau chief named Gordon Cole (Bert Moorhouse’s character in Sunset Boulevard). The last one is especially amusing since Twin Peaks’ Gordon Cole was played by Lynch, who has repeatedly cited Sunset Boulevard as one of his favorite movies.
7. “BOB” WAS SPONTANEOUSLY CAST FROM THE CREW.
Frank Silva portrayed the terrifying specter Bob, but he didn’t get the role through traditional means. Silva was already serving as the show’s set decorator when Lynch got an idea. He had noticed Silva moving furniture around Laura Palmer’s bedroom and asked if he would crouch down by her bed. They shot Silva down there, staring directly at the camera. Lynch wasn’t sure how he was going to use that footage, until he discovered that Silva had also accidentally shown up in a mirror during Sarah Palmer’s tormented visions. With that, Bob was officially born.
8. DALE COOPER AND HARRY TRUMAN SHARE NAMES WITH WASHINGTON LEGENDS.
One of the most enduring figures in Washington state lore is D.B. Cooper, the hijacker who parachuted out of a Seattle-bound plane with stolen cash and vanished into thin air. You could also refer to Twin Peaks’ perky investigator Dale Cooper as D.B. Cooper, considering his middle name is Bartholomew. Then there’s Sheriff Harry Truman. No, he’s not a reference to the Harry Truman who became president; he’s a nod to the Harry Truman who refused to leave his lodge during the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.
9. ACTORS HAD TO SAY THEIR LINES BACKWARDS IN THE RED ROOM.
The “Red Room” sequences were notable for several reasons—the dancing Man from Another Place, alive Laura Palmer, old Dale Cooper—but the bizarre way everyone spoke made the biggest impression. This wasn’t achieved through a simple distortion trick. The actors had to learn and recite all their lines backwards. Then, those lines were played backwards, making them “correct” again. Michael J. Anderson, who played The Man from Another Place, gave a quick demo on the DVDs.
10. THE RED ROOM FLOOR MATCHES THE ONE IN ERASERHEAD.
Lynch referenced his own work through a sly interior decorating decision in the Red Room. The zigzag floor pattern mirrors the one seen in Henry’s apartment lobby in Eraserhead, Lynch’s 1977 horror film. Check out the comparison shots here.
11. PIPER LAURIE MASQUERADED AS A JAPANESE ACTOR ON SET.
In terms of Twin Peaks plotlines, Catherine Martell impersonating a Japanese businessman is actually on the saner end of the spectrum. But Catherine wasn’t the only person pretending. To keep the character’s fate under wraps, Lynch asked actress Piper Laurie if she would herself pose as a Japanese actor on set to keep the rest of the cast in the dark. She posed as “Fumio Yamaguchi,” a well-regarded actor who had worked with Akira Kurosawa and did not speak much English. The cast seemed to buy it at first, though they grew suspicious as they shared more scenes with Mr. Yamaguchi. Peggy Lipton was convinced it was Rossellini in heavy make-up.
12. LARA FLYNN BOYLE PUT AND END TO DALE AND AUDREY'S ROMANCE.
For many viewers, the biggest question was surprisingly straightforward: what happened with Dale and Audrey? The show seemed to be teasing a romance, only to abruptly introduce new love interests for both characters. Frost delicately suggested that a certain cast member wasn’t happy with the coupling in an interview with WFDU’s That Modern Rock Show. Sherilyn Fenn, who played Audrey, was more blunt about it.
“What happened was that Lara [Flynn Boyle] was dating Kyle [MacLachlan], and she was mad that my character was getting more attention, so then Kyle started saying that his character shouldn’t be with my character because it doesn’t look good, ’cause I’m too young,” Fenn told The A.V. Club. “Literally, because of that, they brought in Heather Graham—who’s younger than I am—for him and Billy Zane for me. I was not happy about it. It was stupid.”
13. STEVEN SPIELBERG NEARLY DIRECTED THE SEASON TWO PREMIERE.
In an interview with Brad D Studios, Twin Peaks writer-producer Harley Peyton said that Steven Spielberg was on board to helm the show’s season two opener. Spielberg was apparently an avid viewer of the first season and mentioned to Peyton that he’d be interested in directing an episode. Peyton and Frost then held a lengthy meeting with Spielberg to discuss the possibility of him tackling the season two premiere. Spielberg wanted to make it “as weird as possible,” but that wasn’t good enough for Lynch, who insisted on handling the episode himself. He suggested Spielberg take a later episode, but it didn’t pan out.
14. LYNCH AND FROST WERE FORCED TO REVEAL LAURA PALMER’S KILLER.
The show’s central murder wasn’t solved until halfway through season two, but if the creators had their way, it would’ve taken even longer. ABC started pressing Lynch and Frost for an answer in season one, and by the time the second season began, they’d stopped asking nicely. They demanded a killer and pegged the episode with the reveal to sweeps week. Lynch in particular was outraged at the decision, declaring the show effectively dead—and he wasn’t too off-base. ABC got the exact opposite of the ratings bonanza they expected. Viewers rapidly dropped off following the episode and the series was canceled soon after.
15. AUDREY HORNE INFORMED
There was once talk of spinning Audrey Horne off into her own movie or series—and the premise should sound familiar to any Lynch fanatic. According to Fenn, the new project was supposed to follow an older Audrey in California and involved an opening scene of her “driving along Mulholland Drive.”
16. MIKHAIL GORBACHEV WAS ALLEGEDLY A SUPERFAN.
When Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks was published in 2014, Twitter latched especially hard onto an anecdote from TV exec Jules Haimovitz. Haimovitz worked for Aaron Spelling Productions, which produced Twin Peaks. One day he got a call from Spelling, demanding to know who killed Laura Palmer. But it wasn’t really Spelling who was asking. He’d gotten a call from financier Carl Lindner, who claimed to be calling on behalf of then-president George H.W. Bush, who was actually asking for Mikhail Gorbachev. The former leader of the USSR was apparently a huge fan of the show, but when he was pressed later, Gorbachev claimed he had no idea what Twin Peaks was. Which all sounds appropriately Lynchian.