So you say to yourself, this Fat City is pretty damn realistic, even if you know in your heart that “realistic” and Hollywood should not be printed on the same page—otherwise paper ignites. Still, you’re marveling at it, until Oma sits down at a bar counter and starts to talk to Billy. She is going to be what is called his “love interest” or the woman he fucks, but any part of you that feels for Billy is telling him to get out just as we all might remember we have something else to do a long way away if Oma sat down next to us. Except that she is ravishing and inescapable in her downright wildness and unpredictability. She’s in the book, but just try telling yourself that she’s working to a script. And wonder how she ever got in front of the camera.
Maybe she was twenty-seven, but—it’s no lie—she could have been seventy-two. In bars in classier places, like Las Vegas or Los Angeles, you can find women who have had Botox and liquor enough to look like worn-out balloons. Oma is overweight, over-loud, blowsy, unwashed, out-of-line, trashy, drunk, beaten up, tough but self-pitying. She’s like a plate of hot chile, half-eaten, that has gone cold on the table. She is an astonishing creation, dangerous and pathetic, endearing and loathsome. Tyrrell got nominated as best supporting actress, and lost to Eileen Heckart in Butterflies Are Free, a film I refuse to remember. She was nominated by the New York Film Critics Circle, too. Not that winning any award could have made any difference, except that she might have caused a great scene at the Oscars and had to be dragged off stage. Even in 1972, that show needed juice.
She kept on acting, though she admitted that she only worked when she had run out of money. She was in The Killer Inside Me, a lot of TV, many movies you’ve never heard of and in John Waters’ Cry Baby. A little over ten years ago, she had a rare illness—it must have come from thrombocytosis—whereby she had to have both legs amputated just below the knee. I suspect that if she had been thus afflicted in 1972, the fascinated Huston would still have cast her, and let her roam as she wished. He had a true instinct for wild animals, and I can pay the actress no higher compliment than to say that in Fat City she is not just something the cat dragged in. She is the cat.