Deanna Dunagan

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Unsung Heroines of Horror: Cecil Cunningham

Published December 12, 2019 by biggayhorrorfan

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A product of the Broadway and vaudeville stages, the distinguished Cecil Cunningham was a character actress who, for decades, supported such cinema queens as Hedy LaMarr, Greta Garbo, Mary Astor, Carole Lombard (pictured below) and Barbara Stanwyck. Of course, smart cinema enthusiasts know that she was a presence in her own right, making a strong impression in smaller roles that often weren’t even credited onscreen.

thZJV2T4DG.jpgThankfully for horror fans, Cunningham was given one of her most prestigious undertakings in the fun Warner Brothers’ genre fest The Hidden Hand. Released in 1942, this gem found this regal celluloid queen in fine form as Lorinda Channing, the head of a family of greedy, mentally unbalanced socialites. Pretending to be near her death, Channing invites her nearest and dearest to her estate. Surmising that they all want her cold for her cash, this devious diva enlists the help of her brother, a deranged killer who has just escaped an asylum, to assist her in her plotting against her avaricious kinfolk.

Filled with weird humor and old dark house theatrics, this project also gave Cunningham plenty of room to utilize many of her acting tools. She brings a proud and strange presence to Channing, reveling in a role that would have normally been filled by a Boris Karloff or Laird Cregar type. Her work here is definitely the precursor to contemporary artists like Deanna Dunagan and Lin Shaye, fine actresses, who have embellished and empowered such films as The Visit and Insidious with their distinguished essences.

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Cunningham, who also appeared in 1934’s hard to find Return of The Terror and Ladies They Talk About, an early WIP effort, died at the age of 70 in 1959. Sixty years later, her filmography (and her genre credits, in particular) seems truly ripe for rediscovery.

Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

Deanna Dunagan Debuts on The Exorcist!

Published October 14, 2016 by biggayhorrorfan


There’s been a bloody train attack, drunken backstage antics, much creepy evidence of possession… and tonight on the fourth episode of Fox’s The Exorcist, Nana is coming out from underneath the bed!

Yes, tonight is the debut of Tony award winning actress Deanna Dunagan (The Visit’s powerful Nana) as Mother Bernadette, someone who seems poised to assist Ben Daniels’ Father Keane in his efforts to understand the devilish activities that are currently occurring in the show’s universe.

Nicely, the appearance of Dunagan marks the addition of another multi-talented female performer to a show that already has been graced by the presence of Oscar winner Geena Davis, committed Midwest theater artist Kirsten Fitzgerald and the stunning Brianne Howey, whose brings a tart anguish to Kat, the young woman whose first tentative stabs at lesbianism were brought to a crashing halt.

I can’t wait for more!

Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!


Deanna Dunagan Joins The Exorcist

Published September 23, 2016 by biggayhorrorfan


The divine Deanna Dunagan may go down in history as having created one of the creepiest and most emotionally present villainesses with her take on Nana in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2015 return to form, The Visit. But, she has also given the horror universe another powerful female player with her recent appearance on the third season of FX’s The Strain.   Here, playing Ancharia, a powerful medieval tutor and savior to (series regular) Quinlan, Dunagan provided the episode with its heartfelt core and made us long to see more of her in this masterfully created universe.deanna-strain

Now, Dunagan promises to provide even more strength of will in her recurring role as Mother Bernadette on Fox’s The Exorcist. This reimagining of the classic film and William Peter Blatty novel stars Academy Award winning actress Geena Davis and makes its debut on Friday, September 23rd, 2016. Dunagan’s first appearance will be on the 4th episode with more “visits” to follow in forthcoming installments.

You can keep up with all the levitating monstrousness and soul sucking antics to come at and


Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!

The Visit’s Deanna Dunagan: Full Circle Fairy Tales

Published November 6, 2015 by biggayhorrorfan

deanna visit main
The popularity of films like Insidious: Chapter 3 and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit have signaled a wonderful trend in genre pictures. These box office successes have revolved around characters like Lin Shaye’s Elise and Deanna Dunagan’s Nana, powerful females who are well above the age of first communion celebrations and tender coming out parties. These women have been complex and vibrant and, in the case of Dunagan’s Nana, believably deadly. Thankfully, Dunagan, a powerhouse veteran of the Midwest theatrical trenches, recently took a moment to speak with me about her career and some of her reactions to making The Visit. A Tony Award winner for her powerful performance of Violet in Tracy Letts’ acclaimed August: Osage County, Dunagan, also, shares her joy over her current role in a revival of Scott McPherson’s contemporary classic Marvin’s Room. McPherson, an activist and actor, was one of the many prominent and important artists to die from AIDS in the 90s. The endurance and hopeful strength that many of those first victims needed to survive in those black days is reflected a bit in his creation of Aunt Ruth, the sunny role that Dunagan so brightly ignites.

BGHF: Let’s start from the beginning, Deanna! You grew up in a small town in Texas. How did you get involved in theater?

Deanna Dunagan: Well, I spent my childhood getting the kids together and putting on plays. In West Texas there was not much theater to be found. But for some reason, from my early childhood, I knew about plays. I put them on. I don’t really know how that happened. We had a Town Hall series that came through. There were magicians, hypnotists and speakers and I guess they had plays, occasionally. But from a very early age, I was really aware that was what I wanted to do. Being from West Texas, I didn’t think I had a shot at it. I thought you had to be a star or be in the movies or be on Broadway to be an actor. How would I ever get there from Monahans, Texas? It seemed impossible. But I actually think I was destined to do this. From my earliest memory, that’s what I wanted to do. First when I was little, I would make up the plays or we would do fairy tales. But then in junior high, I would find a script in a book, somewhere. I’d get the kids together and we’d rehearse on our own. I’d go to the principal and say, “We have a play to put on! Can we put on our play?” They’d have an assembly and we’d put on our play. I made opportunities to do that all through my growing up years. I really think that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

BGHF: I think anyone who has seen you in any of your roles can attest to that. Currently, your Aunt Ruth in Shattered Globe’s revival of Marvin’s Room is such a delight!deanna marvin's room

DD: I haven’t played anyone like her since my ingénue days. She is just totally loving and trusting. She’s without a mean bone in her body. She’s just the most lovely, sweet lady that you can ever imagine and she has endured so much in her life. Yet, she has nothing but love. It’s a welcome part. I love being her. She’s, also, very funny. I don’t think that I’d love it if she weren’t funny – it might get very boring. But she’s very fun.

BGHF: It’s, also, allowed you to work with your long time collaborator and another prominent woman in Chicago theater – director Sandy Shinner.

DD: She was my very first contact here in Chicago. We’ve remained friends. I’ve done 7 plays with her. There came a time at Victory Gardens when there just weren’t roles for me or I was busy. So, we didn’t work together for awhile. But we were always friends.

BGHF: I need to ask you about a more obscure role now. Do you recall working with David Hedison (The Fly) in the 80s crime thriller The Naked Face?

DD: Yes! Yes!

BGHF: I remember my whole family settling down to watching that on cable, one Saturday night!

DD: You’re kidding! I was his wife! That was interesting. I got that role because I dressed correctly for the part. Bryan Forbes, who was the director and a wonderful guy, came to audition in Chicago. He had been out in L.A. auditioning. He was appalled at the way people came in – torn blue jeans and t-shirts. I was auditioning to play a doctor’s wife, so I came in dressed the way that I thought a doctor’s wife would be appropriately dressed. (Laughs) I think that’s why I got the role! I had a couple more scenes. The other scenes I had wound up on the cutting room floor, unfortunately. That movie was long, anyway. But, that’s so funny that you know that movie! Not many people do!

BGHF: I loved that movie. Roger Moore released his memoir, a number of years ago, so I went back and re-watched it then.

DD: He was so funny. He was the loveliest man. Of course, I was nobody, but I was supposed to be his sister-in-law. So, the director would yell, “Cut!”, and Roger would, immediately, say, “Do you know the one about the Irish Man?” (Laughs) He was, constantly, entertaining us with funny stories and jokes. He was a very nice man.

Film Review The VisitBGHF: Well, you definitely have much more of a presence in The Visit, for which all the fans are grateful. In particular, you do such calibrated work as Nana, telling that spookily beautiful story to Becca (Olivia DeJonge), as she’s being interviewed by her.

DD: It’s so interesting. One of my agents wrote me this morning to tell me that he finally saw The Visit. He mentioned that scene. I was gratified that he picked that out.

BGHF: It was beautiful work. There definitely wasn’t anything staged or over the top with it.

DD: Thank you. I loved that. I believe that is among some of the best work that I’ve ever done, actually. It equals other work I can think of — like in August or Desire Under the Elms or The North China Lover. There was this fairy tale quality about the story she told. Of course, it was a horrific story about her murdering her children; putting them in the pond, in the suitcase. I assume she put them in there, alive, which is even more horrifying. In her madness, she thought that was the way to save them. That they were in danger and putting them in the pond would ensure that they would get to the other planet and be saved. She told the story as if it were a fairytale and then only broke down at the end. Night wrote a beautiful scene. It was a beautiful piece of writing. It was very complicated, interesting… I really got into that.

BGHF: It, also, brought you full circle, in way. You started out, as a young girl, bringing fairytales to the stage and years later, you deliver one, so beautifully, on screen.

DD: Yes. (Laughs) That’s right! That’s right! That’s interesting!

BGHF: Was The Visit another surprise for you? In 2008, you won the Tony…and now the lead in this popular film?deanna august

DD: (Laughs) Well, the Tony was just impossible. It would be like winning the Academy Award. I never even thought of it. I would have thought I had given any possibility of that up when I left New York and came to Chicago. I never thought about it – ever! I watched the Tony Awards on TV, like everybody else. It never occurred to me that I would win a Tony. As for The Visit, I remember my agent saying, “This may have a cult following.” But, it never occurred to me that it would become so popular. It really is an ensemble film. I didn’t feel like I was starring in it. Kathryn Hahn is so well known. She has a series and has done some pretty big films. All the pre-publicity was saying that it starred Kathryn Hahn. So, I didn’t think that I would be particularly noticed. When anybody asked me, I said that it really starred the kids. It was the kids’ story.

BGHF: The kids are wonderful, but so many of the fans believe that Nana really is the standout. I remember reading press that mentioned that you and Kathryn Hahn as the focal points.

DD: That was after it was released. It was interesting. I think in the New York Times that they did a paragraph about Kathryn and how she reminded them of Karen Black. Do you remember Karen Black?

BGHF: Oh, yeah! I loved her.

DD: Then they mentioned me with Peter. The major press really didn’t give Nana much love. But the minor press and the bloggers have loved Nana.deanna dunagan

BGHF: I’m not surprised. They’re the true voice of the public. It, also, shows that audiences crave more strong female characters – of all ages! What an honor that you are such a prime representation of that!

DD: You know I once went away from the theatre. I went to Mexico to write my thesis on costume design. I fell in love with a bullfighter and I was going to stay down there. But people kept calling me. The Dallas Theatre Center was doing The Apple Tree. They couldn’t find anybody, so I came back and auditioned. It was being directed by Lee Theodore, who was the original Anybodys in West Side Story. So, I did that and then I went back to Mexico. Then I got hired by The Globe of the Great Southwest in Odessa, TX. They asked me to come back and do Lady Macbeth. I went and did that. I would try to go away from it. I fully intended to marry my bullfighter and live in Mexico. I was doing a lot of singing down there with my guitar. But theater kept on calling me back. It was the universe. I fully believe that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.

The Visit, which is still doing the rounds of various theaters, will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on January 5th, 2016. For Midwest residents, Marvin’s Room will continue its justifiably acclaimed run until November 14th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, in Chicago. More information can be gathered at

Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!