Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sarah Holcomb: A Letter for a Lost Friend

Hello, Ms. Holcomb. My name is Marc Edward Heuck. How are you? I know that is a banal question that gets thrown around for empty conversations several times day, but I am honestly interested. You don't have to give a boilerplate answer like "fine" or "okay" if you don't want to; I certainly don't like those vague terms. I always lean towards words like "reasonable" or "content" myself - it's still pleasant enough to let the moment fizzle and go back to the day's business, but it does makes the other person pay attention and notice that I'm not just saying what they expect to hear. And right now, I would like to hear whatever is on your mind, in however manner you would like to express it. 

"Once I was part of the scenery
Now I am part of the problem
Everyone looks at me funny these days
But I'm not laughing
 Nobody knows what to say to me
Nobody bothers to ask
Once I was part of the problem
Now I am part of the past"
--Mike Viola

I know who you are. Like many who perhaps try to strike up conversation with you, I grew up in your shadow. You're roughly a generation older than I am, you were already making commercials and ready for college while I was still in middle school, so I was not supposed to be seeing you or the movies that you were so funny in. In fact, I recall my mother literally gave me a Come To Jesus speech when she found out my father let me watch them during my weekends in his custody. But the dirty deed was done, and besides having two movies that I would go on revisiting to the present day, I really liked Clorette DiPasto and Maggie O’Hooligan, I wanted to be friends with them. I didn't want to date them - Clorette was too young and sweet and to try heavy petting with her would make me feel as guilty as Pinto felt, and Maggie was so ruff and tuff and pissed off all the time that I probably would have annoyed her as a boyfriend - but they were good-hearted gals and it would have been fun to spend more time with them beyond what the VHS tapes offered. And so, as my lifelong obsession with film got honed and refined, and I started paying attention to character actors, I figured out that I wanted to be friends with you, Sarah Holcomb.

That's an odd statement to write, and I'm sure it's a hard statement for you to read, because I've spent a lot of time piecing together your life's story, and the recurring line I'm finding is that you didn't have a lot of good friends...or at least, the right kinds of friends. There were probably the enabler friends, the ones who knew that you had health necessities but instead of helping you manage them, they took advantage of them because they found it entertaining. And the fair-weather friends from the movie sets, who liked you hanging around unless you got to be all heavy and uncool, and then forgot about you when they moved on to other movies and other friends while you took the steps necessary to heal yourself. Certainly there were good, kind people who wanted to help you, but couldn't understand what you needed, or lacked the patience to be there when you couldn't go it alone. 

And among the myths that have arisen since you took your exit from show business, what is certainly the most heartbreaking one, provided that it is true - and I speak for many when I suspect and pray it is not - is that over the years, you have been passing your time in near-seclusion, never seen in pleasant company or sharing animated conversation with others. Of course, if that is true, maybe that is what you want, and from that track record of people letting you down in the past, I would not find any fault with that choice. Similarly, hearing a complete stranger in the cyberverse say they want to keep company with you may well sound sour as well, since I don't really know you, we're not in the same city, and "cyberhugs" are empty treacle when one feels really isolated. 

"That's the memory I filed on the fringe
Along with the memory of the pain you lived in
I don't have the password
But the path is chainlinked
So if you've got the time
Set up the tone to sync
Tap in the code
I'll reach you below
Hello, hello
Are you out there?"

Sifting more through the truths and the speculation in the wake of your exit, I can imagine the hurt and pressure of trying to keep all your conflicts contained in that harsher period of history, when mental and emotional obstacles were not spoken of in the common vernacular, but were more often fodder for ridiculous third-act twists in horror movies. Today when bad wiring and bad choices reach critical mass, an entertainer can publicly say they are seeking help and no one will blink. Heck, I have close friends who speak candidly about their struggles with depression or bipolar behavior and the progress they are making in keeping it from devastating them. We might be a society that overdiagnoses and overmedicates what is arbitrarily determined to be aberrant activity, but at least we understand that these are real problems and no one need apologize for them. In this modern climate, I could easily imagine you engaging in some gallows humor, perhaps using that lovably terrible Oirish accent from CADDYSHACK to mutter "Ran outta me meds agin; that's a' ah need!". I can't help but feel that you could have been much more at ease in those later years that I came of age, and would not have to make the all-or-nothing choice that you did. 

"You had a dream
You know you dreamt so much
You had a dream
You know it meant so much
You're just a victim of the circumstance
I mean, what else could you do?
You saw your dream and you just took a chance
And for a while your dream came true
What could you do?"
--Pete Ham

What troubles me most in the fog of rumor about your life now is the notion that you take no pride or pleasure in your small but potent body of work. That because of all the terrible realities that took place when the cameras stopped rolling, you can't look at Clorette today and laugh, and appreciate that you had excellent comic timing. Or that in the off chance someone recognized you and tried to compliment you, it would only send you back to the bad times and thus darken the moment. Again, a perfectly legitimate and understandable reaction if this is true, but as a viewer who loves to watch your finest hours, still a sad thought. Because it was not just Elton John sitting in the 22nd row and looking at you and our other favorite screen females with simple innocent thoughts of appreciation and respect back then, and today there's even more of us who genuinely like you for being such a great presence in those movies. To learn of any apocryphal sordid events offscreen would not nor should not diminish our love of you and the work, and it seems to me that when you've brought that genuine, unblemished pleasure to millions over the decades, that has to be a good thing, something for which you deserve to reap the rewards.

Because I don't know if you ever spend time on the internet, or Google yourself, but you are still on our minds. A one-time encounter with a kindly railroad worker has become your unofficial messageboard for fans and former schoolmates of yours, trading memories and prayers. You have inspired orginal artwork, and eclectic mixtapes. And, well, a whole bunch of urban legends...

"In 2000 I heard she lived in Boston. Thats all i know"
"I googled her name and came up with a photograph on the website for Northern Arizona University. Account for age and it sure looks like her."
"A Providence radio DJ claims to have seen a former cast member of Animal House working in a convenience store near Brown University."
"Sarah still resides in Connecticut receiving government assistance far removed from the public eye and prefers to remain that way."


...and the one thing in those tall tales that is indeed clear to all of us is that wherever you are, you're not coming back, and you'd like us to let you be. And for as much as we miss you, we just want you to be as untroubled as possible, so we are all keeping our distance.


"But it's too late to say you're sorry
How would I know, why should I care
Please don't bother trying to find her
She's not there"
--Rod Argent

Thus, this is where my outreach to you ends. For all I know, you will never read this letter, and things will stay as they are. But in that microscopic chance that you would ever want to say something, anything, to a receptive stranger...I'm an easy person to find. In the meantime, I guess all I can do is play you a song.


If it is true that you've dismissed your previous achievements as nothing, well then, to borrow from your own quotebook, "Tanks fer nuttin'." Because for many of us, your "nuttin'" was really something.

"Wherever she is, I hope she's doing fine,
But I wish that she would phone or drop us a line.
Till then I've got nothing to ease my mind,
And I'm thinking about her all the time"
--Ray Davies


  1. I discussed Sarah in a blog post several years ago about WALK PROUD (which co-starred Holcomb) and BOULEVARD NIGHTS:

  2. Marc, this is a beautiful, empathetic letter, and I'd like to think that somehow, through the magic and extensive tendrils of the Internet, it will find its way to Sarah and provide for her whatever degree of comfort she needs and can accept from it. I suspect it may be just the sort of extended hand of understanding that wasn't made available to her when she probably needed it most.

    My best friend and I met Sarah briefly on the set of Animal House, and she was exactly what she exudes in her screen appearances-- open, friendly, unpretentious, not at all impressed with the fact that she was an actress in a movie. She told us stories of her friends Glynnis O'Connor and Robby Benson, and of course she wanted to know which of us had seen Ode to Billy Joe. But most of all, she felt perfectly comfortable hanging out with the extras in a basement annex of a frat house awaiting her calls to participate in the toga party, and the fact that all of us dressed in some form of bed sheet ensemble probably helped cut the ice. She was a sweetheart back in 1977, and I have little doubt, despite whatever path her life has led her down, that she remains sweet at heart today. Thanks for your lovely consideration of her as a screen presence and more importantly as a person.

  3. Ned: that was a great piece you wrote on both films. When I was pulling WALK PROUD footage to use in my music video, I didn't bother listening to any dialogue, and I was struck by how much more effective it was silent, looking at her facial expressions. And of course, through creative editing, I've now made Robby Benson look like much more of a heel than he actually is in the movie.

    Dennis: I was hoping you would be able to contribute some thoughts from your on-set experience, and you gave me some great insight. Thanks for sharing my essay with your readers.

  4. Marc: I was pleasantly surprised by WALK PROUD when I finally watched it; even Benson, despite the brown make-up. Was so moved by your letter to Sarah that I didn't notice the video at the bottom the first time around. I will take a look right away.

    Dennis: Fascinating...had no idea you made an onscreen appearance with Sarah. I wouldn't have minded seeing Glynnis and Sarah appear together onscreen in those years.

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  6. To the anonymous commenter - I appreciate the intentions and sentiment involved in what you wrote, but if what you said is true, I do not want that being used in any kind of harmful fashion, thus I have deleted it from public viewing. If you would like to speak to me privately, my email is my first two initials and my last name at earthlink.

    Thank you nonetheless for your contribution to this epic story.

  7. RE: Post by Dennis Cozallio:

    Dennis, your info doesn't wash.

    1. Animal House wasn't made in 1977. Had it been Sarah would have been 17 at most and not allowed to appear on-screen toplesss.

    2. She didn't work with Robby Benson until 1979 so they wouldn't have been friends in 1977.

    1. Replying to the poster on July 24, 2012

      Animal House was most certainly filmed in 1977.

      The Saturday Evening Post article dated July 30, 2012 says filming took place in "four weeks in 1977" in Oregon. A trivia page at AcmeWebPages says "Shooting for Animal House took place October 24 through November 30, 1977." You can also read this elsewhere. Films are made months before they're released, OK?

      And it's not illegal for a minor to appear topless in a movie, in case Sarah was a minor at the time (that depends on whether we believe she was really born in 1960 - some say 1958). Cristi Harris and Thora Birch went topless at 16 in the 1990s in American films. Their parents allowed them and so did the filmmakers and the law.

    2. People who are trying to break in in Hollywood often meet the same people at auditions over and over and become friends. As just one example, Leonardo Dicaprio is childhood friends with Tobey Maguire (dating back to years before they worked together) and Ethan Suplee (with whom he never worked), just because they were all child actors around the same time.

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  9. What a great post. I think that Sarah has many people that feel exactly the way you do. I too have done research on Sarah, but can only find bits and pieces, here and there. I know that Sarah wants to stay out of the limelight, as would I. I know what she has gone through, although not from an actor's perspective, and most of the time, just want to be left alone. Sarah, where ever you may be, I hope that you are truly at peace, and maybe someday I will meet you in a much kinder world

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    1. Please, even if you think you have information about her, do not post anything sensitive like addresses and phone numbers in this public forum. I don't want her or anyone else with her name getting hassled by people.

  11. Movies endure forever and the roles an actor plays are timeless tribute to their talents. We lost John Belushi far too young, but he lives on in movies like Animal House. While we wish we knew more about Sarah or enjoyed the pleasure of seeing her in a more public venue today, the fact is that her performances in the films she did during that brief span of her youth will entertain us always. You are brilliant, Sarah, and we wish you well. No one will forget your smile as you look up to camera from a shopping cart.

  12. I hope Sarah remains incognito for as long as she wishes.

    Thats what I want for her.

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    1. Again, I don't want her or anyone else with her name getting hassled by people, so please do not post details like that in this public setting. The goal is to praise, not to create new troubles.

  14. I am watching Animal House now. I always thought that she was lovely m

  15. I used to go to acting classes with her , she was sweet, kind, gentle and had a wicked sense of humor we would laugh all the way into NYC, she didn't go as much as we did because she was already in demand and yes she had a few problems but so did I and another friend we used to goof around with, if I ever see her again it will be a big hug and can we get together again sometime if she says she prefers her peace and quiet I will just be happy for her and be glad I saw her. she was a really great person the short time I knew her and very talented.

  16. Sarah was my neighbor the years I attended UMass Amherst and lived off-campus on South Prospect St. She sang with me and I distinctly remember her beautiful singing voice. She was kind and selfless then and I treasure the short friendship we had. JP

    1. I too remember her...she would come across the hall and have a few drinks with us sometimes...

  17. I knew Sarah in San Miguel de Allende when she and her parents were en route to the US for her to begin her film career, and she came down to visit me after filming Animal House, but before it was released. The warm thoughts expressed here are timeless memories, but Sarah's life and career was radically altered after falling in with the drug-crazed Belushi crowd. If you want to know the next chapter, watch the movie Stateside. There is speculation that the actress portrayed is Sarah Holcomb, but I can say definitively that it is.I spoke with both the producer/director and Sarah to confirm. Sarah's life has not been easy, and her wonderful talent and potential were brutally cut short. I had multiple phone conversations with her during the onset of her problems, and while I tried to dismiss them, I can still perfectly remember her voice telling me, no, this is serious. In hindsight, they were apparent when I met her when she was 17. She would go from vivacious and brassy to retreat deep into some interior space, and it troubled her. So treasure the public images -- that was part of who she was, but not all.

  18. My wife and I watched Stateside last night. We have always been curious about Sarah and her brief time in the limelight. However now we feel connected to her in a totally different way, because our son has had similar issues (if the film is accurate regarding her mental health.) He is receiving help and is doing very well now, after going through a very, very rough time himself. We hope Sarah has found peace within herself and her struggles and wish nothing but the best for her.

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