Lost in the Movies: Dougie Milford (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #9)

Dougie Milford (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #9)

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.

Dougie is in love, and he will fight to defend the integrity of his romance with a much younger woman.

Wednesday, March 15, 1989
Dougie, the aged publisher of the Twin Peaks Gazette, and his brother Dwayne, the mayor of Twin Peaks, are helping themselves to a generous spread at a wake (held in the home of Doc Hayward). It doesn’t really matter whose wake it is because they are distracted by their own affairs – a literal affair, in fact. Dwayne taunts Dougie about his fiancee’s age, but it’s when he says “she’s cursed” that Dougie really gets upset. The brothers begin kicking and slapping one another and have to be separated by the sheriff.

Thursday, March 16, 1989
The next day provides opportunity for a much more cheerful gathering: Dougie is marrying Lana Budding, a sprightly young redhead, at the Great Northern. As if to mock his brother, Dougie stares out at Dwayne in the audience before affirming his commitment. Dwayne leaps to his feet to object, claiming Lana is a golddigger and again the sheriff has to intervene. The marriage is completed and Dougie dances joyfully around the ballroom with Lana at the reception, feeding her a piece of the wedding cake and chatting with the guests, mostly to praise her beauty (when Lana is impressed by Cooper, Dougie quickly whisks her away from the handsome young man). His happiness is contagious.

Friday, March 17, 1989
…And apparently deadly. The next morning Doc Hayward, Deputy Andy, and Sheriff Harry Truman hover over Dougie’s corpse in the honeymoon suite of the Great Northern. His bed is strewn with erotic literature and sex toys, much to everyone’s bemusement. Until, that is, a grieving Dwayne enters the room to accuse Lana of killing Dougie, before gently placing his brother’s hand across his chest.

Characters Dougie interacts with onscreen…

Mayor Milford

Harry Truman

Lana Milford

Characters who encounter Dougie's corpse

Doc Hayward & Deputy Andy

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Dougie
Perhaps more than anyone we’ve met so far – the majority of whom came from elsewhere – Dougie is deeply rooted in Twin Peaks. As such, he provides a sense of community and permanence that couldn’t be established by, say, characters working in the hectic, transient environment of the Great Northern. Dougie and his brother have a long history and everyone around them observes the ongoing feud with a mixture of affection and exasperation. Even Dougie’s death is greeted with wistful admiration: “Looks like Old Dougie died with his boots on,” Harry remarks. So what Dougie tells us about Twin Peaks the town is mostly positive and enriching. His impact on Twin Peaks itself is more problematic. Dougie is introduced at Leland’s wake, an event of ostensible gravitas (since Leland was not only a beloved citizen of the town, but also the demonic, depraved murderer of his own daughter – the answer to the show’s central riddle “Who killed Laura Palmer?”). His scrappy fight with Dwayne feels off in this context and even the episode’s director cites it as a turn for the worse in the whole series. I certainly experienced it that way; when I first watched the show in 2008, my heart sank at this moment. “Oh no,” I thought, “this show is about to become a wacky sitcom.” Approaching Dougie’s story out of that context, however, its lighthearted charm floats to the surface, as does the establishment of Twin Peaks as a full, rich town with its own history. No doubt this impression is partly informed by the recent release of The Secret History of Twin Peaks in which – surprise! – Dougie of all people is the central character.

Dougie’s journey
By now, it’s difficult to think of Dougie’s arc in the simple terms laid out by the show itself. For the most part I will be avoiding Twin Peaks spin-off literature in these studies, but a few words on Mark Frost’s recent novel may be worthwhile. It turns out that Dougie’s legacy lingers far beyond the boundaries of Twin Peaks. An Air Force colonel with top-secret access and a shady mission to intimidate witnesses of paranormal phenomena, Dougie was involved with the shadowy UFO lore of Roswell, the scandalous life of Jack Parsons, and even the brooding intrigue of Richard Nixon. In one of the book's more, well, surprising passages he visits an underground bunker in the company of Nixon and Jackie Gleason (!), where the three of them observe some creature shuddering in the dark. An alien? A transdimensional being? Ok, we’re pretty far from the Dougie of the TV series at this point. And yet truthfully, the character feels consistent. A troubled alcoholic in youth who found a dark but important purpose in middle age, Dougie is at once professional and cantankerous, grand and eccentric, a worldly mover-and-shaker and a prime example of local color (check out his beret, and later the plaid suit he wears as a groom). In the few days we watch him on the series, with nearly his entire life behind him, there isn’t much room for him to grow and change. He passes through the series briefly, a glimpse of what proves to be a very rich life. I’ll say this: when I re-watched his final scene for the first time after reading the book, the use of “Harold’s Theme” no longer seemed an egregious misappropriation. What had once appeared to be a vulgar use of a poignant, resonant motif for a character who meant nothing to us now feels like a fitting send-off for a complicated, fascinating figure, a true Twin Peaks legend.

Actor: Tony Jay
Credited for over a hundred films and TV shows, Jay was a prolific voice and character actor – maybe best known to younger viewers as the villainous Frollo in Disney’s adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (he also voiced the evil Monsieur D’Arque in Beauty and the Beast – an entire performance recorded from his audition!). The British performer’s onscreen career didn’t really take off until he was nearly forty; a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, he was presumably occupied with the stage for many years. Surprisingly, Jay was still in his fifties when he played Dougie (Jay was only five years older than Richard Beymer, for a point of reference, and actually younger than Piper Laurie). In fact, John Boylan – the actor who played Dwayne – was old enough to be Jay’s father. Call it the “Wilford Brimley effect” (Brimley played a senior citizen in Cocoon when he was forty-nine, i.e. as old as Jamie Foxx is now, but I digress). (film pictured: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, c. 1996)

Episode 17 (German title: "Dispute Among Brothers")

*Episode 18 (German title: "Masked Ball" - best episode)

Episode 19 (German title: "The Black Widow")

Dougie was written by Tricia Brock and Barry Pullman and directed by Tina Rathborne and Duwayne Dunham. Harley Peyton and Robert Engels wrote his post-death scene, which was directed by Caleb Deschanel. And of course Mark Frost put the final and by far most extensive stamp on Dougie’s story with his book.

Dougie is onscreen for roughly four minutes. He is in four scenes and three episodes, taking place in three consecutive days. He’s featured the most in episode 18, his wedding. His primary location is the Great Northern and he shares the most screentime with Lana.

Best Scene
Episode 19: Now that I can stomach the appropriation of “Harold’s Theme,” this is a fine send-off for Dougie – at once resonant and ridiculous.

Best Line
“You bet I do, Reverand!” (mostly for how Jay delivers this in his rich baritone)

Additional Observations

Most of Dougie’s exposition is delivered when he walks offscreen at the wake, as Doc, Harry, and Pete reminisce about the decades-long Milford feud, explaining that Dougie has been married multiple times to various young women and that he ran an editorial opposing his brother’s election in 1962 – when Dwayne was running unopposed!

Dougie’s narrative continues after he has died, as Dwayne attempts to avenge his brother’s “murder.” He tells the sheriff that he thinks Lana is a witch who “killed him with sex.” However, he too eventually succumbs to her charms and we don’t hear much more about Dougie after his brother takes up with his widow.

Amazingly, William S. Borroughs was the original casting choice for Dougie Milford! Apparently a big fan of the show, he expressed interest in the part but it turned out to be too difficult for him to travel to California for production, so Jay was cast instead. Although the slightness of the character makes it hard to imagine Burroughs in the part, Dougie’s eventual connections to occult undercurrents of American history certainly cast that possibility in a new light.

Update 2018: This entry was written in 2017, before the third season, and did not need to be revised as Dougie did not re-appear - well, at least not *this* Dougie. 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), he retroactively became a "bonus entry" rather than part of the full rankings. In the original character series, Dougie was ranked #71, between Rusty and Carl.

SHOWTIME: No, Jay is not on the cast list for 2017. He passed away in 2006. Since his character is also deceased, there’s no reason to expect a recast…unless, that is, the new series features a flashback to Dougie in his youth. It seems unlikely; Frost has talked about the extension of Dougie’s story as if it’s something he conceived for the book after the series had already been written. Then again, he’s said some strange things about the Milfords in recent months, which we will deal with in Lana’s entry. For now, Dougie’s legacy lingers on the page and is probably wrapped up on the screen.

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