One of the things that first struck me about Twin Peaks, all those years ago when I first saw it, was how beautiful the women there were. Even Norma Jennings, who was almost the same age as my mother, was an extremely beautiful woman. I’ve still never seen The Mod Squad, so I didn’t know how many people had made the observation before me that Peggy Lipton was a beautiful woman, but it still didn’t take any great perception to know it in the ’90s. Unfortunately, like so many of the women of Twin Peaks, she was also deeply troubled.
She had been sexually abused as a child. She is described in a few places as introverted, but it seems to me to have been anxiety, possibly related to the abuse. However, she was also very beautiful very young, and at fifteen she became a model. Her mother encouraged her to take acting lessons. The family moved to Los Angeles, and Lipton got some TV work and a movie or two (including Mosby’s Marauders, an obscure Disney movie starring Kurt Russell, James MacArthur, and Nick Adams!) before being cast as Julie Barnes in The Mod Squad.
She found the role creatively boring, and it sounds as though some of her emotional issues were coming forward again. She dated Paul McCartney for a while, but by the sound of it, she dated a lot of men who were bad for her and herself got into drugs. She then became involved with Quincy Jones, whom she married in 1974. They had two children, Rashida and Kidada Jones, and Lipton took a hiatus from acting to be a stay-at-home mother.
Interestingly, her two daughters are roughly the same age as my sister and I are, so they would’ve been in junior high and high school when she got started again on her acting career; I was, I believe, in seventh grade when she took the role of the maternal Norma Jennings of the Double R Diner. I wouldn’t say Norma was my favourite, but the show wouldn’t have been the same without her. Lipton played the role just right, too, in my opinion—loving and kind and fierce and aware of all the places she’d screwed up but unable to really fix them. You could easily see her trying and failing to help the younger women and being frustrated by that failure.
In college, a friend of mine and I laid out a Twin Peaks Tarot deck. I’m not sure if I have it all written down anymore, but I know that Norma was The Empress, and that, in the end, may be how I always remember her. For all I talk about how beautiful she was, much of her beauty was internal as well. I feel lucky to have had the second chance to know about her, and I think we are all lucky that she was able to get her happy ending in the Return.