HER flat, hardscrabble voice set the tone for 1978’s Days of Heaven, Terrence Malick’s sensuous tale of migrant workers in the Texas Panhandle. “If you didn’t work,” then 17-year-old Linda Manz explained in her role as Linda, the movie’s 12-year-old narrator, “they’d ship you right out of there. They don’t need ya. They can always get somebody else.”
The same might be said of Hollywood. For a few years after her performance, the entertainment industry treated Manz royally: party invitations, laudatory press, a lead role in Dennis Hopper’s 1980 movie Out of the Blue. But as quickly as it came, the dream “just went poof,” says the Manhattan-born Manz, 33, whose father walked out when she was 2 and whose mother worked as a hospital cook and laundry-woman. Forced to live off her savings when auditions evaporated, Manz says, “I’ve been in a dry spell for 14 years.”
Hollywood’s fickle tastes are partly to blame. “Linda was a natural,” says casting director Barbara Claman, who found Manz for Heaven. “She never went to classes, never studied. She was wonderful at being. But there weren’t a lot of jobs open for just being.”
Marriage seemed a better bet, and in 1985, Manz wed camera operator Bobby Guthrie, 53, and moved to Lake Hughes, 80 miles outside L.A. There she and Guthrie, now a part-time orchard caretaker, live in an isolated setting with their children, Michael, 8, Christopher, 6, and William, 3. Manz has no phone and picks up messages at the local Texaco station.
The contrast with her Hollywood glory couldn’t be starker, and that fact makes Manz wistful. “It’s wonderful up here, but I do want to go back to work,” she says. “Give me something to do. I’d like to get back. Be on the set. Be Linda Manz again.”