Lost in the Movies: Johnny Horne (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #24)

Johnny Horne (TWIN PEAKS Character Series Bonus #24)

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. A new character study will appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday although patrons will have immediate access to each entry a month before it goes public. There will be spoilers.
indicates passages added or revised since 2017, if you want to skip directly to fresh material; this is a revision of an earlier piece written before the third season.

Johnny retreats into his own inner world, but he can't retreat far enough to escape his deranged environment.

Friday, February 24, 1989
Johnny, a young man wearing a large Native American headdress, kneels on the floor of his room, though it appears to belong to a much younger child. Toys decorate the walls and floor, with a large dollhouse at the center. Johnny, however, isn’t playing. He’s banging his head into that dollhouse, thudding against the little window loudly and repeatedly, a gesture of desire and futility.

Saturday, February 25, 1989
Johnny is seated at the dinner table with his mother Sylvia, sister Audrey, and father Ben. Grunts, moans, and spasms occasionally interrupt his off-key humming but the other family members ignore him. They’ve heard it all before. These noises are the only communication at this awkward gathering…until Uncle Jerry bursts in with his manic energy and brie/butter-filled baguettes. As he and Ben chow down, Johnny continues to keep his own tempo, rocking his chair back and forth and staring down at the table; he ignores them and they ignore him.

Monday, February 27, 1989
Finally someone is paying attention to Johnny. As Ben and Sylvia argue about their son's frustrating behavior, Dr. Lawrence Jacoby, a sensitive if offbeat psychiatrist, coaxes Johnny to remove his headdress. They’re off to a funeral where, following the preacher’s graveside prayer (“I loved her and I will miss her the rest of my days”), Johnny shouts out “Amen!” It’s a moment of consolation amidst the grief until another boy angrily begins shouting and a fight breaks out. Before long, Johnny is standing near the open grave, as the dead girl’s father lies on top of her coffin, awkwardly jerking up and down while the mechanics go haywire. Amidst all the panic, Johnny (beloved copy of Peter Pan clutched close to his chest) seems unusually calm, more curious than upset by his surroundings.

Monday, March 20, 1989
A month after his sober father bemoaned Johnny’s mental state, the elder Horne has entered a similarly unmoored emotional space – albeit one far more loquacious than his mostly mute son’s. Sitting atop a stuffed donkey and dressed in a Confederate uniform, Ben rambles on about Stonewall Jackson, seemingly under the impression that he is close friends with this historical figure. Everyone in the lobby of the Great Northern – Audrey, the exasperated staff, even the usually patient Dr. Jacoby – roll their eyes as Ben carries on, but Johnny at least seems fully invested in the fantasy. Then again, still dressed in moccasins and headgear, laughing randomly and staring off into space, Johnny may simply be on a parallel fantasy track. Perhaps it doesn’t intersect with his father’s mytho-American fugue state but simply floats alongside.

Thursday, March 23, 1989
Outside of the Great Northern, Johnny fires rubber arrows at colorful cutouts of buffaloes, punctuating each shot with a loud wail – an attempt at a war cry, I suppose. An arrow hits its target and the wail erupts again, on and on and on…

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Twenty-seven years later, a pajama-clad Johnny is racing through his mother's house as she frantically calls his name. Then he crashes into a picture of the Great Northern waterfall on the wall and lies on the floor where Sylvia discovers him, bleeding and unconscious.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Covered head to toe with helmet, mittens, and padded vest, a bruised and bandaged Johnny is tied to a chair at the kitchen table - clearly for his own safety. His only entertainment (or therapy?) is a teddy bear with a glass head who intones, endlessly, "Hello Johnny. How are you today?" in a mechanical voice. This purgatorial scene quickly descends into hell when Johnny's nephew Richard arrives to attacks Sylvia. Writhing in his chair, Johnny is unable to free himself. He falls to the ground where he moans and kicks his feet helplessly while his mother is nearly strangled to death. After Richard leaves with the contents of her safe and purse, Sylvia crawls over to his son and the two embrace, weeping, on the floor.

Characters Johnny interacts with onscreen…

Dr. Lawrence Jacoby

Sylvia Horne

and Laura Palmer inspires a reaction
*retroactively added in March 2024

Impressions of TWIN PEAKS through Johnny
Johnny isn’t in Twin Peaks, not really. And yet he's very much of Twin Peaks – whatever fantasy life he’s living is indicative of the larger population’s quirks, desires, and distractions: a more extreme incarnation of their collective eccentricity…and despair. In the first season, Johnny’s behavior is often defined by his grief for Laura Palmer, a teenage girl whose death sends him further into his own shell. However, Johnny is also often played for laughs, indicating how closely humor and pain are intertwined in Twin Peaks, in a way that sometimes pushes the boundaries of good taste. In a Rolling Stone interview in 1990, Lynch was pressed on whether Johnny and other characters mocked those with disabilities and/or psychological vulnerabilities. “There's a thin line between laughing at a character and making fun of them…” the interviewer says. “Johnny in the headdress, banging his head up against the doll house. These are things I found spectacularly funny, but there's some part of me that isn't comfortable with my own laughter in some cases.” To this Lynch responds, “At the same time there can be a lot of compassion underneath that laugh. And yet it's the way the world is. It's so screwy - we're all kind of in this together, and there's got to be some room for a realistic attitude toward things.”

After the third season, Johnny seems less like a window into Laura's death and the eccentric community and more like a window into the particularly awful Horne clan. If long ago we thought he might play a crucial role in the Laura Palmer mystery, now he is stuck in the family home, cutting himself on a photo of the family business and watching impotently as one relative assaults another.

Johnny’s journey
Johnny is a character with an intriguing backstory and persona. However, they never really come to much; his screentime is surprisingly fleeting and at times he plays more like an ornament than a person. In fact, one could argue that most of his development is reserved for the spin-off novel The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch in which the narrator – Laura herself, before her death – offers a much more human insight into his travails. (In the series we learn from Audrey, when Johnny is not present, that Laura would visit and play with her brother him on a regular basis – and this is why Johnny is so upset in the first scene: Laura has died that morning). “In his eyes,” she writes, “the world is a strange mix of happiness and pain, and I think I understand Johnny more than I do a lot of other people. He wanted to feel included in a face-to-face discussion, some interaction. Spoken to rather than spoken about.” On the show itself, we can only recognize this desire in the funeral episode, which does virtually all the heavy lifting for any sort of “Johnny arc.” Jacoby enables the young man to peek from behind of his protective cover, however briefly, not through some hyperrational psychoanalysis but simply by offering compassion, understanding, and human touch. As the series ends, Johnny hasn't changed much since we met him. But he does have that moment.

...And that moment is all he has. There are many figures who demonstrate the difference between the early Twin Peaks' sense of immediacy and The Return's melancholy obsession with the passage of time, but few do so as poignantly as Johnny. Taken as a character encountered over a matter of weeks, mostly within a few days, there's hope that Johnny can emerge from his quasi-catatonic state (a deleted scene from an early episode even suggests that this is a psychological rather than physiological disability). But a quarter-century later, Johnny is not a twenty-seven-year-old in arrested development, he is a fiftysomething with a chronic, lifelong condition that he and his family will have to deal with until they or he pass away. In his final scene, he's worse off than ever, strapped to a chair and subjected to a maddening repetition. And yet in terms of character development, there is tremendous growth here. This depiction of Johnny doesn't ignore his interiority the way so much of the gag-focused original series does (save that one scene with Jacoby): he clearly has a deep concern for his mother, and his helplessness is all the more painful for the obvious distress it causes him - we're brought right back to the notion of his sad, fruitless self-injuring longing for Laura in the pilot.

Actors: Robert Davenport, Robert Bauer, Erik Rondell
Though many don’t even notice, Johnny is played by a different actor in the pilot. Davenport depicts Johnny with a glassy stare while Bauer, who appears as Johnny in the rest of the first and second season, is encouraged to take a slightly more sensitive/expressive approach. Davenport has a few credits outside of Peaks, including The Chocolate War (1988); most are from the same era (his last is from 1999). Bauer, who has spoken about his role at the USC retrospective Q&A and in Brad Dukes’ Reflections oral history, hasn't appeared in a film or TV series since the early 2000s. Incidentally, it was Bauer’s idea to bring an antique copy of Peter Pan to the funeral.
Bauer was supposed to portray Johnny in season three - curiously, given that he was not on the cast list, as I mentioned in my original entry. However, Sherilyn Fenn's scheduling difficulties apparently delayed the shooting days. When the scene was redesigned to incorporate Sylvia rather than Audrey (or so it seems from various accounts), another actor was needed. Primarily a stuntman with a handful of acting credits (including 24 and Blue Streak), Rondell - who is not listed as part of the stunt crew for Twin Peaks - stepped in to race around the Horne home and stare at a teddy bear. His stunt resume includes over a hundred credits stretching back to the eighties.

The Pilot

Episode 2 (German title: “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer”)

*Episode 3 (German title: “Rest in Pain” - best episode)

Episode 22 (German title: “Masters and Slaves”)

Episode 25 (German title: “On the Wings of Love”)

Part 9 (Showtime title: "This is the chair.")

Part 10 (Showtime title: "Laura is the one.")

Written by David Lynch/Mark Frost and directed by David Lynch in his first few (as well as his final) outings, the character’s most substantial material in season one was written by Harley Peyton (who wrote the funeral episode and the deleted scene) and directed by Tina Rathborne. Peyton also co-wrote, with Robert Engels, Johnny’s return after a sixteen-episode absence (in an episode directed by Diane Keaton). Johnny’s final appearance was shot by Duwayne Dunham for episode 1, cut, and then shoehorned into episode 25, also directed by Dunham. It wasn’t in the script so apparently it was the director’s idea to incorporate the footage, and most humorously Johnny’s repeated yell, into a Ben-Audrey scene as punctuation.

Johnny is onscreen for roughly nine minutes. He is in eight scenes and seven episodes, taking place on five different days spread out over a month and then two successive days twenty-seven years later. He’s featured the most in part 10, when Richard assaults Sylvia. His primary location is the Great Northern and he shares the most screentime with Sylvia. He is one of the top ten characters in part 10.

Best Scene
Part 10: Johnny wants to help his mother, but his protective apparatuses keep him from stopping his abusive nephew.

Best Line
“Aaaa-men! Amen!”

A poignant moment from The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer: “Before I could get up, Johnny took hold of my hands and smiled one of his biggest smiles ever. He closed his eyes, reopened them and said his very first sentence! He said, ‘I love you, Laura.’ I could go on and on about how wonderful that was, both as an incredible leap for him, as well as for me. It was the highest compliment I have ever been given.”

As noted in the "Johnny's journey" section above, most of the character's development is reserved for The Secret Diary; in fact, Johnny is probably one of the most prominent characters in that book outside of Laura's immediate family/friend/boyfriend circle. Appearing in ten separate entries to offer real insight into Laura's as well as his own consciousness, he is a beacon of unqualified kindness in a cruel world. Johnny's name is mentioned briefly in Frost's 2017 book The Final Dossier, which followed closely after the new season and ties up some loose ends. A single sentence, shown above, mostly tells us what we could infer onscreen (Sylvia has full custody of Johnny) or what we already knew. The book also gets Johnny's age wrong by about a decade; he should be in his mid-fifties in 2016 if he was twenty-seven on the original series. And his condition is finally specified: "a profound case of autism."

Additional Observations

Johnny left quite an impression on viewers with his first few appearances. He’s one of the most oft-mentioned minor characters and was frequently cited as a possible suspect in Laura’s murder. When Peyton, Engels, and Keaton bring him back in episode 22 there is a sense of trying to reach out to Twin Peaks’ past glory by resurrecting this forgotten character who once seemed so key.

As mentioned in the Sylvia entry, Johnny was featured in a very significant deleted scene from episode 6. In it, his mother explains that Audrey caused his current state by shoving him down the stairs when they were both children. Jacoby corrects her – it’s not possible for Johnny’s condition to begin that way – but this certainly offers some insight into the frosty family dynamic.

Johnny shares the screen with the rest of his family (including his uncle Jerry), and indeed much of the town in the funeral scene. Yet - until season three - he can only truly be said to "interact" with Jacoby (aside from Bobby shoving him and Ben placing his hand on him after he shouts "Amen!"). This is a testament to Johnny's isolation.

Though I won't be creating a separate "Offscreen" sections for the bonus characters as I will for official entries, it's worth noting - since I didn't back when I first wrote this study - that Johnny is mentioned several times by his sister. Audrey tells Cooper about him in episode 1 when describing how she knew Laura, commenting "He's got emotional problems." In episode 2 she tells Audrey that she "kind of loved Laura" for helping her brother even if she didn't really like her otherwise. In that same episode, Cooper mentions Johnny as a possible suspect when throwing rocks at a bottle to figure out who the "J." in Laura's diary was. The rock he tosses as part of this test hits a trash can rather than the bottle. I don't think Johnny's name comes up again, except when he's onscreen, until late in the third season. In Part 10, Ben asks Sylvia if Johnny is okay after Richard's attack and she is indignant that he did not ask about her.

Johnny was supposed to appear in Fire Walk With Me, scripted for a birthday party scene in which he yells "Happy Birthday, Johnny!" in the faces of Ben, Jerry, and Leland. The scene was never shot because Richard Beymer declined to take a role in the film. However, scenes were shot (and deleted) in which Leland tells the other Palmers to get ready for Johnny's birthday in the afternoon, and later Jacoby calls Laura up and she says she couldn't come by for her usual appointment because she had to attend Johnny's party.

Johnny was part of the original character series, when the qualification was three scenes with dialogue. Because the criterion has been shifted to ten minutes, he's now a bonus entry, while moving past several characters thanks to his additional screentime in The Return. He would rank just above the New Mexico townspeople and just below the Las Vegas limo driver on a combined list.

• When I published my initial entry on Johnny I wrote the following in the "Showtime" section: No, Bauer is not on the cast list for 2017. Honestly, this is a disappointment – I could’ve sworn I’d seen his name on there alongside the other Hornes. Unless they have cast a third actor cast in the part, Johnny may no longer be with us (I find it hard to believe they would simply not include him in any Horne scenes). This is too bad, as the character never really got to live up to his potential. We’re left with a only few fleeting moments in the show, and the more substantive depiction of The Secret Diary, to suggest what Johnny could have been.

Next (active on Monday, January 23 at 8am): Steven Burnett (first official entry)
Previous: Vivian Niles

To immediately read a month of upcoming entries, updated weekly to stay a month ahead...

(at the time of publication, this includes revised full entries on bonus characters, plus full entries on new or revised characters among #86 - 52)

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