Ann Magnuson (January 4, 1956) is an American actress, performance artist, and nightclub performer who first gained prominence in the 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan. The New York Times described her as "An endearing theatrical chameleon who has as many characters at her fingertips as Lily Tomlin does".
In an interview for the 2002 WETA-TV-PBS special Lance Loud! A Death in An American Family, Magnuson credited the idea of Loud — a member of an all-American family filmed day-in/day-out for the landmark PBS documentary An American Family, who came out as gay during the course of that documentary miniseries — with inspiring her to leave West Virginia for New York:
I watched An American Family alone in the kitchen and none of my other family members were interested in it, and I was fascinated, as everybody my age was, by Lance, and I really think that's what got me there. I immediately started hanging out at all the clubs that he hung out in, and I wanted to go to the places that I'd seen on television. ... I met him in 1978 when I got to New York City and was hanging out at CBGB. ... I honestly can't remember the exact moment but I know I was dazzled. I was just this little hick from West Virginia and I was meeting a celebrity, an icon, somebody who had made it
Magnuson made her movie debut in the 1982 film Vortex.
In the late 70's and early 80's Magnuson ran Club 57, in New York City's East Village. It became a center of a world that included Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and many others from New Yorks budding graffitti and downtown scenes. Club 57 was known for its theme nights Such as Reggae Miniature Golf, Model World of Glue Night. The club was located in the basement of the Polish National church.
Concurrently, Magnuson developed an underground following as lead vocalist of the band Bongwater, formed in 1985 with producer-musician Mark Kramer, a.k.a. Kramer. Bongwater released four avant garde albums and a debut EP before breaking up in 1992 with a contentious legal battle between Magnuson and Kramer that lasted through at least 1996 and ended with the bankruptcy of Kramer's independent-music label Shimmy-Disc.
Her 15-minute video performance piece "Made for Television", self-produced in 1981, ran on the WNET-PBS avant garde series Alive from Off-Center. Her satiric featurette found her playing close to 50 roles in a "channel-hopping" series of visual bites parodying television programming game shows to TV-movies to televangelists. As Art critic Sarah Valdez described it, "a bewigged Ann Magnuson consecutively inhabits, at a rate faster than any channel surfer could keep up with, an outlandish, uproariously unfortunate range of female stereotypes". It was later released by HBO Home Video together with the Cinemax cable-TV special Vandemonium Plus (1987), in which Magnuson starred in a mostly solo stage piece with appearances by actor-singer Meat Loaf and actor-monologist Eric Bogosian. Her 1995 CD The Luv Show (Geffen Records/MCA), her major-label debut, was commercially unsuccessful, but musically adventurous; one critic described it "an MGM musical as directed by Russ Meyer (which means the mambo 'Sex With The Devil'" and 'Miss Pussy Pants' sit comfortably next to Ethel Merman references in the same work)".
As Salon writer John Paczowski described her in 1997:
[A] celebrated icon in the more transgressive margins of culture, Ann Magnuson has been at once unknown and renowned for the past 15 years. She is infamous in more insular circles as the creative force behind the cultural mayhem of the East Village's Club 57, a breeding ground of experimentation and absurdity that spawned the work of Keith Haring, among others. (Under the auspices of a Club 57 project, Magnuson once performed a "Tribute to Muzak," singing for five hours straight in the elevator of the Whitney Museum.)
Magnuson's roles have included a snarly real estate agent in Panic Room, a madam in Tank Girl, Mel Gibson's "money junkie" ex-wife in Tequila Sunrise, Tom Berenger's estranged but horny ex-girlfriend in Love at Large, and a sexy victim of David Bowie's vampire in The Hunger. She also played a secretary in Clear and Present Danger and had a cameo in Cabin Boy.
Her TV guest appearances include an episode each of the Lifetime cable-network fiction-suspense anthology The Hidden Room; the cult-hit, surrealistic comedy-drama The Adventures of Pete and Pete on the children's cable television network Nickelodeon; the sitcoms The John Larroquette Show, The Drew Carey Show, Caroline in the City, and Frasier; and the police procedural drama CSI: Miami. In the 1996 telefilm The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas, Magnuson inherited Yvonne De Carlo's role of Lily Munster from the original 1960s TV series The Munsters. She appeared in the 1990 Redd Kross music video for the song "Annie's Gone", written about her. As Toronto, Canada writer Jason Anderson summarized her work as through 1996, "She's been appearing in various states of undress for artistic purposes since her performance art daze in late-'70s New York [where s]he was indie rock's thinking vixen...."
In 2003, Magnuson began touring a one-woman stage show, Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories, that has she mounted through at least July 2006. She played Sister Elizabeth Donderstock in the play The Book of Liz Amy Sedaris and David Sedaris in May 2005 at the 2nd Stage Theatre in Hollywood, California. Other theater work has included playwright John Patrick Shanley's Four Dogs and a Bone at the Lucille Lortel Theater in New York City, the one-woman shows You Could Be Home Now (which opened the 1990 Serious Fun festival at New York City's Lincoln Center), and Rave Mom (opened in New York City October 2001), and in a neo-burlesque show The Velvet Hammer.
A Village Voice review described the autobiographical Rave Mom as Magnuson's "travels through 1999 — a year of Ecstasy-popping, bad romance-chasing and searching for escapism and meaning after her brother's death from AIDS. Magnuson has a thoroughly charming presence [but] her stories of celebrity-studded Oscar parties, kid-filled raves, a wealthy dotcom suitor, and so on come off as utterly self-absorbed and trivial....
She has performed at the Revlon/UCLA Breast Center benefit-show series What A Pair! in 2005, performing with Elaine Hendrix "Tips" from the musical Pump Boys & Dinettes, and 2006, performing with Samantha Shelton. She appeared in What's My Line? Live on Stage in Los Angeles on Sept 14, 2006.