by Nicole Wolverton
It says a lot about my TV-viewing habits that the role I think of when Kathryn Joosten comes to mind is not Karen McCluskey from Desperate Housewives nor Dolores Landingham from West Wing. No, to me Joosten will always be Genevieve Holt, the former director of Lowell Home for Children, from the “Where The Wild Things Are” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As Holt, she’s just so awesomely creepy. On a show like Buffy that relied largely on supernatural creatures and the paranormal for plot, Joosten’s Holt was perfectly human—but with a religious fervor that led her to abuse children in the name of her God. And Joosten plays the character with such convincing righteousness that I’ve never forgotten it.
Joosten passed away last year at the age of 72 after a protracted battle with lung cancer; but she left us with a full roster of memorable characters—Genevieve Holt, Karen McCluskey, and Dolores Landingham, certainly. She also took on noteworthy bit parts on Ally McBeal, Scrubs, The X-Files, Monk, and approximately 100 other television shows and films. She even played God in Joan of Arcadia for a few episodes. Her career spanned 28 years, and it was really her second career: in her twenties and thirties Joosten worked as a psychiatric nurse.
Only after a divorce in 1982 (at the age of 42) did Joosten start dabbling in community theatre and studying at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. But it wasn’t only the break-up with her husband that led to her mid-life blooming as an actress. For Joosten, inspiration came from her mother, who once admitted that not pursuing her dreams was her greatest regret. Success was not instant—as with many things in life, dues must be paid. Joosten hung wallpaper and painted houses to make ends meet and support her family while auditioning. After a brief stint as a street performer at Disney in Florida, she moved to Los Angeles and began to find steady television work—15 years in the making.
It was Joosten’s role on Desperate Housewives that earned her high-profile accolades: three Emmy Award nominations and two wins (Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series), one Emmy Award nomination (posthumously, for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series), and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination. As a Bloomer, Joosten lent her characters a rugged everywoman air that made them compelling and real.
Of course, real is what Joosten was aiming for, particularly toward the end of her career. She survived lung cancer twice—first in 2001 and again in 2009. She became an advocate for lung cancer awareness, which carried over into her acting career. Joosten appeared on The Bold and The Beautiful to talk about cancer, and the writers of Desperate Housewives wrote her battle with lung cancer into the show. Her character on the show succumbed to lung cancer just weeks before Joosten; thus, in her final act, the dramatic and the real fully and finally converged.
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