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Published:December 31st, 2013 08:35 EST
Karen Black`s Portrayal of a Vulnerable Waitress, Rayette Dipesto, Changed My Way of Thinking of Women!

Karen Black`s Portrayal of a Vulnerable Waitress, Rayette Dipesto, Changed My Way of Thinking of Women!

By John G. Kays

Of all the notables who passed in 2013, the death of charismatic screen actress, Karen Black, affected me most; I couldn`t (convincingly) explain the reason for this to myself, so I had to do some probing in my brain. That is, I had to do some taxing searches of my memory bank, going all the way back to the late 1960s, then taking it up to the mid-1970s. At some point, I came to believe Karen Black was playing an important role portraying women, that would alter how we think of women permanently. Well, I suppose I`m acting silly; everyone knows it was her role as a lower class, uneducated waitress (who apparently loves Tammy Wynette), Rayette Dipesto, that brought about the change in all of us!

When Five Easy Pieces started playing (September 12, 1970) at AMC Northtown Six Theaters (the first multi-cinema in the USA) in North Dallas, I worked as an usher there while still in high school. As I recall, the movie was showing on two different screens, and we were selling out both screens consistently. Naturally, Jack Nicholson, who was only just emerging as a star himself, was the big draw, but the role of a blue-collar waitress, Rayette Dipesto, by Karen Black was garnering lots of attention; especially from me. I wonder why that`s so?

I would walk into the theater with my flashlight in hand, right at the closing scene when the logging truck pulls into the filling station. Robert Dupea is in the Men`s Room contemplating what his next move will be, which, it turn`s out, is to catch a ride with the trucker, who`s heading up to Canada where it`s mighty cold. The movie ends with Rayette looking around by the car (which was just gassed up) for the whereabouts of Robert, who just flat out split the scene. After watching the film a couple times again over the weekend (from a Netflix mail-out), I realized there was no music playing over the closing credits. 

Come to think of it, Stand By Your Man only plays once during the very beginning of the film, which is not how I remembered it. It`s a simple film, no big deal, but it had a big impact on my life. Why? Because Rayette Dipesto is a real person to me; Karen plays the role of a woman who couldn`t get past her limitations yet, in terms of education and her idea of how women and men should behave. Bobby treats her mean, cheats on her, leaves her in a hotel to rot (her favorite past time, watching TV and reading cheapo magazines), when visiting his cultured family, but Rayette keeps taking it, `cuz she Stands By Her Man.

Karen brings so much to the role; I feel as if her portrayal of Rayette may have triggered something in the American conscience, something along the lines of impacting Women`s Lib. I can`t really prove that, but my intuition tells me it`s so anyhow. All of us have known a Rayette, with her waitress outfit, name tag, Bee-Hive hairdo (love those curls), loves to sing good country tunes, has eye lashes bigger than bat wings, beau coup pancake makeup, Andy Warhol eyeliner, loves TV and movie mags, and don`t mind tossing back a few cold ones (Bobby is tipping beer the entire time). There were Rayettes everywhere, in Dallas then (1970)!

Many of Karen Black`s other roles are great, but this one from Five Easy Pieces had the greatest impact on my life, and probably on many other people`s lives. Rayette was pregnant and she is left alone at the filling station. How could the movie end like this, I thought to myself (as a 17-year-old movie house usher). I finally realized, the film makers (directed by Bob Rafelson) were telling it the way it really is/was. The way I think of women begins to undertake a metamorphosis in the Fall of 1970; Karen Black shows us how it should be done, by showing the wrong way first.