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Dorothy Tristan, who had memorable turns in End of the Road, Klute and Scarecrow in the early 1970s before demonstrating remarkable resolve by writing and starring in the 2015 independent drama The Looking Glass, has died. She was 88.
Tristan died Sunday at her home near La Porte, Indiana, after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, her husband of 48 years, director John D. Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly), announced.
After an onscreen hiatus of nearly three decades, Tristan returned in The Looking Glass as a woman caring for her troubled 13-year-old granddaughter (Grace Tarnow) as symptoms of her dementia appear. Her husband directed the film, set in the couple’s real-life, longtime home in La Porte.
Tristan struggled with remembering the words she’d written but improvised and used cue cards to recall the dialogue.
In his THR review of the film, Frank Schenk called her performance superb and highlighted “a sentimental moment that can be easily forgiven [when Hancock] pays tribute to his longtime wife and collaborator via a series of photos in which her luminous beauty is amply displayed.”
Born on May 9, 1934, and raised in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, Tristan attended Washington Irving High School and the School of Industrial Arts in New York. She started out as a model who traveled to Europe and found herself on covers of Life magazine and Vogue.
Tristan made her film debut in the X-rated cult classic End of the Road (1970), where her and Stacy Keach’s characters have an affair.
In his New York Times review, John Simon wrote that Tristan “can make her pleasant but unremarkable face into a dozen different faces: beautiful, pain‐riddled, childlike, wizened, otherworldly, furibund, ethereal, earth‐motherish, you name it —and even unnamable.
“Now she is the prototypical dowdy faculty wife, now a blazing maenad unleashed on our libido; now a China shepherdess so fragile her own breathing might shatter her, now a goddess shooting up high above any mere man in the immensity of her love or wrath.”
Tristan next played the drug-addled prostitute Arlyn Page opposite Oscar winner Jane Fonda in Alan J. Pakula’s Klute (1971) and Coley, who with Ann Wedgeworth‘s Frenchy entertains Gene Hackman and Al Pacino’s characters as they pass through town, in Jerry Schatzberg’s Scarecrow (1971).
Tristan followed with performances in Frank Perry’s Man on a Swing (1974), A Place Without Parents (1974), Swashbuckler (1976), Rollercoaster (1977) and Paul Mazursky‘s Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), her last onscreen appearance until The Looking Glass.
She also worked behind the scenes with her husband on the Nick Nolte-starring Weeds (1987), the Sam Elliott-starring Prancer (1989), A Piece of Eden (2000), Suspended Animation (2001) and Girls of Summer (2020), all of which he helmed.
Survivors include her daughter, Alexandra Avakian, a photojournalist; son Tristan Avakian, a rock guitarist; grandchildren Sebastian, Chloe and Aram; and great-grandson Elijah.
Her first husband was director Aram A. Avakian; they were married from 1957 until their 1972 divorce.
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