Lost in the Movies: Trudy Chelgren (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #3)

Trudy Chelgren (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #3)

The TWIN PEAKS Character Series surveys one hundred ten characters from the series Twin Peaks (1990-91 on ABC and 2017 on Showtime as The Return), the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), and The Missing Pieces (2014), a collection of deleted scenes from that film. The series will be rebooted in 2023 to reflect the third season (and patrons will have immediate access to each entry a month before it goes public), but this entry will remain intact. There will be spoilers.

Trudy is a genial host, talented musician, and keen observer...who also knows how to mind her own business.

Saturday, February 25, 1989
Trudy, a server at the Great Northern Hotel, is amused by FBI Agent Dale Cooper’s colorful way of ordering food (and praising his coffee). As she departs, the owner’s daughter Audrey Horne approaches, drawing Coop's attention.

Monday, February 27, 1989
Trudy takes another breakfast order from Cooper as the sheriff and his secretary arrive. She repeats “griddle cakes, slice of ham,” back to him (the first time we hear her speak).

Wednesday, March 1, 1989
This time Trudy exchanges a few words with Cooper while pouring him coffee, discussing the noisiest guests in the hotel, Icelanders who have just arrived for a business trip (Cooper is grumpier than usual since they kept him awake). When Audrey passes by Trudy, who is moving to another table, the waitress glances over with a little smile: she recognizes that the teenager has a crush on the FBI agent. That night, Trudy trades her apron and coffee pot for a tuxedo and piano, to sing along with a chorus of Icelanders at a party.

Wednesday, March 8, 1989
A week later, Trudy can be found at the piano again, accompanying Ben’s lawyer Leland Palmer as he serenades the dinner crowd with “Getting to Know You.” Ben seems slightly perturbed by Leland’s behavior but Trudy pays them no mind, cracking her knuckles and launching into another tune.

Thursday, March 16, 1989
Trudy is seated at her favored instrument again, this time hidden way in the background of the Milford wedding reception. Her playing is mostly drowned out by louder instruments.

Characters Trudy interacts with onscreen…

Agent Cooper

Audrey Horne (brief exchange of glances)

Leland Palmer (accompanies him on piano)

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Trudy
Once again, we spend our time with a character whose entire onscreen world is the Great Northern. Trudy shows us Twin Peaks as a festive, welcoming place, always at the service of its visitors. She’s on the periphery of some important business and interesting gossip: Truman has a pressing concern to address with Cooper, Cooper and Audrey are clearly cultivating a flirtation, the Icelanders are on the brink of a massive deal, Ben is mumbling about an insanity defense to Leland, and Dougie Milford is marrying his umpteenth young bride. All of this is merely par for the course in a busy hotel: Trudy keeps her attention on griddle cakes, coffee, and making sure she hits the right notes to keep the mood jovial. Trudy is the first character in these studies to bring us in contact with Cooper; indeed she and that beloved coffee serve as an earthy touchstone for the enthusiastic visitor. There’s no discussion, in her presence, of why he’s there – he’s just another notable tourist in this bustling atmosphere. Also, after meeting Leland as a composed but blindsided lawyer through Julie’s eyes, we are now reunited with him as a carefree and perhaps crazy gray-haired crooner next to Trudy.

Trudy’s journey
Trudy is all about making other characters comfortable, not so much having her own arc. Nonetheless, there’s a curious structure to her appearances: she’s in six scenes, and in the first three she’s a waitress by morning, while in the last three she’s a musician by night. Trudy was also scripted to appear in the Miss Twin Peaks episode near the end of the series, playing piano yet again, but as far as I can tell her scenes were never shot. As such, her character floats to the foreground then returns to the background over the course of Twin Peaks. She has no lines in her first and last scenes, reserving most of her dialogue (spoken and sung) for the Icelanders’ first day in town. I nearly missed her at the Milford wedding; she’s not only a background figure, she’s out of focus – but she’s there, always a presence at the Great Northern, however subdued.

Actress: Jill Engels
If you recognize that last name, it may be because Engels is the wife of Robert Engels, a Twin Peaks writer and story supervisor. They also shared credits on Sea Quest DSV (but not the same episodes). The couple have appeared at several Twin Peaks events over the years (perhaps most notably the USC retrospective Q&A) where Robert has credited Jill’s family with inspiring one of Twin Peaks' most famous unseen characters; the mysterious “Judy” of Fire Walk With Me is supposedly named after her sister. (photo courtesy of The Red Room Podcast)

Episode 1 (German title: "Traces to Nowhere")

Episode 3 (German title: "Rest in Pain")

*Episode 5 (German title: "Cooper's Dreams" - best episode)

Episode 13 (German title: "Demons")

Episode 18 (German title: "Masked Ball")

Trudy first appears as “Waitress” in one of the few Mark Frost/David Lynch teleplays of the series. Harley Peyton’s first script gives her a name and Frost’s first solo script gives her more dialogue and her first musical interlude, while Peyton and Robert Engels together wrote her last scripted/shot cameo. Trudy was directed in her first and last appearance by Duwayne Dunham, twice by Lesli Linka Glatter, and once by Tina Rathborne. Glatter’s work with Trudy is the most extensive and also the most interesting, not only because the screenplay gives her more to do but because of Trudy's knowing look when Audrey arrives.

Trudy is onscreen for roughly three minutes. She is in six scenes and five episodes, taking place in five days (none consecutive). She’s featured the most in episode 5, when she chats with Cooper and plays piano for the Norwegians. All of her scenes are set in the Great Northern Hotel. She shares the most screentime with Cooper.

Best Scene
Episode 5: Trudy chats with Cooper and eyes Audrey when she approaches.

Best Line
“Hope the herring holds out.”*
(update 2022: for years I thought she said "hearing"...and I still had this as the best line!)

Additional Observations

When Trudy first “appears” it takes a little while to actually see her face; the camera is settled on Cooper as he sips his coffee and proclaims its brilliance – only Trudy’s waist is in view.

Part of what gives the character life are her bits of business while other characters are doing their thing; for example, as Cooper orders his first breakfast she is struggling to get her pen to work.

Update 2018: This entry was written in 2017, before the third season, and did not need to be revised as Trudy did not re-appear. Only the description/intro at the top and the ranking were updated. Since the criteria for inclusion was changed (originally three scenes with dialogue, now ten minutes of screentime), she retroactively became a "bonus entry" rather than part of the full rankings. In the original character series, Trudy was ranked #80, between Louie and Randy.

SHOWTIME: No, Engels is not on the cast list for 2017. Nor is her husband involved with the writing (it’s strictly a Lynch/Frost affair). Hopefully, Trudy is comfortably retired now, although she enjoyed her job so much it’s easy to imagine her dropping in at the Great Northern from time to time, to plunk away on the piano.

Next (available now): Randy St. Croix

To read advance entries every week...

(When the series resumes publicly, all new or revised entries will be published at least a month in advance for patrons.)

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