Karen Black
Birth Date:
July 1, 1939
Birth Place:
Park Ridge, Illinois, USA
5' 7" (1.70 m)
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Five Easy Pieces


Two-time Golden Globe award-winning and Oscar-nominated American actress and screenwriter Karen Black has created a reputation as a productive performer with more than 100 movies in her pocket since making her debut in 1960's “The Prime Time.” An important actress of the American film Renaissance of the early 1970s who first came to the attention of the public in the box-office sleeper “Easy Rider” (1969), Black was shot to stardom playing the small-town waitress who falls for Jack Nicholson's upper-class drifter in Bob Rafelson's “Five Easy Pieces” (1970), from which she won her Academy Award nomination and her first Golden Globe Award. The role also brought the actress a National Board of Review Award, a New York Film Critics Circle Award and two Laurel Awards. She picked up her next Golden Globe Award four years later in the Francis Ford Coppola-scripted “The Great Gatsby” (1974). Unfortunately, following impressive roles in films like “The Day of the Locust” (1975, earned a Golden Globe nomination), “Nashville” (1975, netted a Grammy nomination), Alfred Hitchcock's “Family Plot” (1976), “Burnt Offerings” (1976, won a Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival Award) and Robert Altman's “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” (1982), Black's film career has been busy but the quality of the projects has been jagged. Recently, Black is known for her work in “Dogtown” (1997), “Fallen Arches” (1998) “Sugar: The Fall of the West” (1998), “House of 1000 Corpses” (2003) and the critically acclaimed thriller “Firecracker” (2004). Her bright performance in the latter film garnered the actress a Fantasporto International Fantasy Film Award and a New York Vision Fest Award. Her more recent and upcoming credits include “My Suicidal Sweetheart” (2005), “Hollywood Dreams” (2006), “Irene in Time” (2007), “A Single Woman” (2007), “One Long Night” (2007), “Watercolors” (2007) and “Pull” (2008).

Black made her screenwriting debut in 1997's “Men.” A decade later, in May 2007, she launched a career as a playwright with the play “Missouri Waltz,” which opened at The Blank Theatre in Hollywood. Black has also acted in several stage productions, including her Broadway debut “The Playroom” (1965).

Black has been married to movie editor Stephen Eckelberry since 1987. The couple has a daughter named Celine. Black also has a son named Hunter (born 1975) from her previous marriage to screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson. Her love life was once also linked to filmmaker Henry Jaglom.

Illinois' Daughter

Childhood and Family:

Daughter of Norman A. Zeigler and Elsie Reif, Karen Blanche Ziegler, who would later be popular as Karen Black, was born on July 1, 1939, in Park Ridge, Illinois. Her mother wrote a number of prize-winning children's novels, while her paternal grandfather, Arthur Ziegler, was a classical musician and the first violinist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Karen has an older sister named Gail Brown who played Clarice Hobson McGowan Ewing on “Another World” during 1975 to 1986. Growing up in Illinois, Karen was educated at Northwestern University in Evanston, but dropped out after two years to launch a stage career in New York where she joined the prestigious Actors Studio.

Karen has been married twice. She and her first husband, L.M. Kit Carson, a screenwriter, had a son named Hunter Carson on December 26, 1975. They later divorced. She married film editor Stephen Eckelberry on September 27, 1987. Daughter Celine Eckelberry was born in 1988.

The Great Gatsby


A college dropout, Karen Black left her native state of Illinois in pursuit of a stage career in New York City. Studying under Lee Strasberg, she appeared on numerous Off-Broadway productions before eventually hitting the big time in the mid-1960s with her Broadway debut “The Playroom,” in which her performance was critically applauded. A year later, Black netted her first big film role in the Francis Ford Coppola-directed comedy “You're a Big Boy Now,” which starred the Oscar-nominated actress Geraldine Page in the role of Margery Chanticleer. Prior to her performance in the movie, she made her first film appearance in the 1960 “The Prime Time.”

Black appeared on the small screen and made several guest appearances in 1967 in series like “The F.B.I.,” “The Big Valley” and “The Invaders.” Her first regular gig arrived later that same year when she was cast as Marcia Garroway in the comedy series “The Second Hundred Years,” which ran for a season from 1967 to 1968. After the cancellation of the show, she took on several other guest spots and in 1969, after a small part in the film “Hard Contact” (1969), she earned notice for portraying Karen in the Cannes Film Festival-screened “Easy Rider,” directed by Dennis Hopper. Among her costars in the film were Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, who received an Oscar for his fine supporting performance.

However, Black did not experience an actual breakthrough until the following year when she was paired up with Nicholson for “Five Easy Pieces” (1970), a drama directed by Bob Rafelson. Playing Rayette Dipesto, a small-town waitress who falls in love with an upper-class vagabond named Robert Eroica Dupea (played by Nicholson), the actress took home a Golden Globe, a National Board of Review, a New York Film Critics Circle and a Golden Laurel for Best Supporting Actress, as well as another Laurel for Star of Tomorrow. More significantly, the role brought her a nomination at the Academy Awards.

Next, Black could be seen starring in such movies as the Jack Nicholson-helmed “Drive, He Said” (1971, with William Tepper), “Cisco Pike” (1972, opposite Kris Kristofferson), “Little Laura and Big John” (1973) and “Rhinoceros” (1974). In 1974, she appeared as a flight attendant forced to try to fly an airplane in “Airport 1975” (1974), opposite Charlton Heston.

Black was outstanding with her scene-stealing role of Myrtle Wilson in the Francis Ford Coppola-scripted “The Great Gatsby” (1974), from which she picked up her next Golden Globe. Next, Black was nominated for a Golden Globe for her starring turn opposite Donald Sutherland in John Schlesinger's drama “The Day of the Locust” (1975), and teamed up with Robert Altman for the musical “Nashville” (1975). She received a 1976 Grammy nomination for her efforts. Still in 1975, she returned to television for the TV movie “Trilogy of Terror,” a well-received thriller directed by Dan Curtis. After a memorable turn in Alfred Hitchcock's last film, “Family Plot” (1976), where she was cast as the jewel thief, and an award-winning performance in “Burnt Offerings” (1976), Black's Hollywood career gradually faltered.

In 1982, Black again gained positive reviews for playing a transsexual in Robert Altman's big screen adaptation of “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” (1982), alongside Cher and Sandy Dennis. Apart from this notable work, she found herself plunged in a number of forgettable movies during the 1980s, including “The Invisible Kid” (1988). She also worked on several television projects and made her miniseries debut in NBC's “Power” (1980), costarring as Rose Vanda-Buchanan. She had a recurring role as the former wife of Elliot Gould in the sitcom “E/R” (1984-1985) and guest starred in such shows as “Murder, She Wrote” (1986), “Worlds Beyond” (1987) and “Miami Vice” (1989).

Black remained prolific during the following decade, though her projects were still of lower quality. Among her credits, she was seen in Marina Sargenti's “Mirror, Mirror” (1990), “Quiet Fire” (1991), “Final Judgment” (1992), “Caged Fear” (1992), “ The Trust” (1993), “Plan 10 from Outer Space” (1994), “Dinosaur Valley Girls” (1996), “Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering” (1996), “Waiting for Dr. MacGuffin” (1998) and “Paradise Cove” (1999). She fared better in George Hickenlooper's “Dogtown” (1997), Ron Consentino's “Fallen Arches” (1998) and James Frey's “Sugar: The Fall of the West” (1998) and won the Best Actress award at the Hermosa Beach Film Festival for her work in those projects. Black made her screenwriting debut in the 1997 drama “Men,” in which she also had a part as Alex. She appeared as Doreen Jablonsky in an episode of the hit TV series “Party of Five” (1998). The same year, she also guest starred as Evie Long in the “Profiler” episode of “Cycle of Violence.”

Her recent movie credits included “Oliver Twisted” (2000), “Red Dirt” (2000), “Gypsy 83” (2001), Darin Ferriola's “Soulkeeper” (2001), “Buttleman” (2002), “A Light in the Darkness” (2002), Rob Zombie's “House of 1000 Corpses” (2003, as Mother Firefly), “Summer Solstice” (2003), “America Brown” (2004) and “Birth of Industry” (2004). Black played the dual role of Sandra and Eleanor in Steve Balderson's critically acclaimed thriller “Firecracker” (2004), a tale of murder in small-town Kansas. For her fine acting, she was handed a Best Actress honor at the Fantasporto International Film Festival in Porto, Portugal, and at the New York Vision Festival. She followed it up with roles in “Dr. Rage” (2005), “My Suicidal Sweetheart” (2005, as the mother of Natasha Lyonne), “Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula” (2005), “Whitepaddy” (2006), Henry Jaglom's “Hollywood Dreams” (2006) and “Read You Like a Book” (2006, with Tony Amendola).

In May 2007, Black emerged as a playwright when the bittersweet comedy “Missouri Waltz” opened at the Blank Theater in Los Angeles. Conceptualized as a play with music rather than a musical, the play, in which Black also starred, comprises of songs by Harriet Schock. On the big screen, she teamed up with Alan Cumming, David Boreanaz, Anne Heche and Carrie Fisher for the black comedy “Suffering Man's Charity” (2007), directed by Cumming.

Recently, Black has completed filming Jaglom's “Irene in Time” (2007), “A Single Woman” (2007, with “Brat Pack” member Judd Nelson) and David Siqueiros' “One Long Night” (2007). She also will play roles in the upcoming “Watercolors” (2007), directed and written by David Oliveras, and Cam Archer's “Pull” (2008), opposite Mark Webber.


  • Fantasporto: International Fantasy Film, Best Actress, “Firecracker,” 2005

  • New York VisionFest: Outstanding Achievement, Best Actress, “Firecracker,” 2005

  • Chicago Alt.Film Fest: Best Actress, “Fallen Arches,” 1999

  • Method Fest: Indie Supporter, 1999

  • Hermosa Beach Film Festival: Best Actress, “Dogtown” and “Sugar: The Fall of the West,” 1998

  • Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival: Medalla Sitges en Plata de Ley, Best Actress, “Burnt Offerings,” 1977

  • Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture, “The Great Gatsby,” 1975

  • Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actress, “Five Easy Pieces,” 1971

  • Laurel: Golden Laurel, Best Supporting Performance, Female, “Five Easy Pieces,” 1971

  • Laurel: Star of Tomorrow-Female, “Five Easy Pieces,” 1971

  • National Board of Review: Best Supporting Actress, “Five Easy Pieces,” 1971

  • New York Film Critics Circle: Best Supporting Actress, “Five Easy Pieces,” 1970

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