Linda Manz, young star of 'Days of Heaven,' dies at 58

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Linda Manz, young star of 'Days of Heaven,' dies at 58
“Days of Heaven,” which takes place in 1916, follows two street-wise Chicago lovers, Bill and Abby (played by Richard Gere and Brooke Adams), who pose as brother and sister while working in the wheat fields of a rich Texas farmer. The deception leads to a dangerous romantic triangle.

by Anita Gates

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Linda Manz, the artfully sullen actress who won glowing reviews as the narrator and the little sister in Terrence Malick’s haunting film “Days of Heaven” (1978), died on Aug. 14. She was 58.

A GoFundMe page set up by her son Michael Guthrie to pay for funeral expenses said she had lung cancer and pneumonia. He did not say where she died.

“Days of Heaven,” which takes place in 1916, follows two street-wise Chicago lovers, Bill and Abby (played by Richard Gere and Brooke Adams), who pose as brother and sister while working in the wheat fields of a rich Texas farmer. The deception leads to a dangerous romantic triangle.

Manz, who was 4-foot-10 and played Bill’s younger sister, was 15 when she was cast and 17 when the film opened. (Malick took his time editing.)

In a review from 1997, film critic Roger Ebert concluded that the film — which won an Oscar for best cinematography and the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival — is really the teenage girl’s story, not that of the adult characters.

“Her voice sounds utterly authentic,” Ebert wrote. “It seems beyond performance.”

It was a last-minute decision on Malick’s part to have Manz do the voice-over narration, without a script. Years later, she told interviewers, “I just watched the movie and rambled on,” adding, “They took whatever dialogue they liked.”

Malick described Manz at the time as “the heart of the film” and “a sort of street child we had discovered at a laundromat.” Some news articles reported that a teacher told Manz about the casting call.

Linda Ann Manz was born on Aug. 20, 1961, in Manhattan, the daughter of Sophie E. Manz, who cleaned offices. Linda Manz told interviewers she had never known her father.

Linda’s mother had show-business ambitions for her, and sent her to dancing and acting classes in addition to public school. Linda went along, but theirs was a contentious relationship. “For a long time, I was always asking people to adopt me,” Linda Manz told People magazine in 1979.

In the same interview, she announced, “Acting is in my blood. I hope it lasts forever.”

After “Days of Heaven,” she appeared in “The Wanderers” (1979), the teenage-gang drama based on Richard Price’s novel of the same name, and starred in a short-lived CBS series, “Dorothy,” alongside Dorothy Louden. In 1980 she made a searing impression in Dennis Hopper’s cult drama “Out of the Blue,” playing a rebellious daughter who worshipped Elvis Presley and liked to shout “Kill all hippies!” on her CB radio. Then she disappeared.

There was no dramatic walking-out-on-Hollywood story, Manz insisted. There were just a lot of new, young people in the business.

“I kind of got lost in the shuffle of being in the movies,” she told The Village Voice in 2011, “because I didn’t have an agent at the time and things were slow and — I don’t know.” She married and had children, living north of Los Angeles.

A decade and a half after “Out of the Blue,” director Harmony Korine sought her out for his nihilistic comic drama “Gummo” (1997). She played a strange, tap-dancing mother in Ohio, who at one point threatens to shoot her adolescent son in the head if he doesn’t smile more.

Korine compared her to a silent-screen legend. “It was like the way I felt about Buster Keaton when I first saw him,” he told Index magazine in 1997. “There was a kind of poetry about her, a glow. They both burned off the screen.”

Another 16 years passed, and she took a small role in David Fincher’s “The Game” (1997), with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn. Her last screen appearance was as herself in “Along for the Ride” (2016), a documentary about Hopper

In addition to her son, she is survived by her husband, Robert L. Guthrie, a film-industry camera operator in the 1970s and ’80s; another son, William; and three grandchildren. A third son, Christopher, died in 2018.

The performance she was proudest of, she said in a 2014 interview with T: The New York Times Style Magazine, was as the punk daughter in “Out of the Blue.” Her acting style for the role was inspired by James Dean’s.

“A lot of people used to tell me back then I looked like the female James Dean,” she said. “I’ll always be that character. I’m just a tough little rebel.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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