Pic of the Day: “Across the Wide Missouri” revisited

Our “Timothy in color” theme this week continues with another look at his first verifiable film role (the jury is still out regarding his supposed appearance in Billy Wilder‘s Ace in the Hole, aka The Big Carnival), that of a corpse in William Wellman‘s Across the Wide Missouri (1951). Even though Wellman undoubtedly could have gotten anyone for the part, nobody could lay in freezing cold water with two arrows in his back like Tim.

Across the Wide Missouri

“I’ll never forget the director [William Wellman],” Tim recounted in the Psychotronic Video interview, “he was a great director, a tough director. I had two arrows in my back laying in the water. I couldn’t hold still, it was so cold and my teeth were chattering. The director said, ‘Keep that jerk still, he’s supposed to be dead!’ I had just come from dramatic school in New York. I thought I was a great actor, I’m the only one who did.”

Quote of the Week

The Early Days
It is ironic that a man, whose name is so widely unrecognized, could make such an impression on so many people. You don’t forget Timothy Carey. The infancy of Carey’s career consisted of small roles, often playing “the heavy” or a sideline thug. Yet, Carey’s presence could not be overlooked.

Carey’s film career started small and didn’t really get to grow much more as time went on. His first film role came in 1951, with an uncredited role in Billy Wilder’s noir film The Big Carnival [Marisa’s note: AKA Ace in the Hole. Timothy may have been edited out of the finished film, however.] From there he played another small, uncredited part in the William A. Wellman‘s rustic western Across the Wide Missouri. After working in some forgettable films and playing small, miniscule parts, Carey got his first chance to really shine.

In André De Toth’s gritty noir drama, Crime Wave (1954), Carey’s appearance comes late in the film where he oozes malevolence as Johnny Haslett. He then spends a good deal of time off-camera babysitting the protagonist’s wife. A testament to Carey’s creepiness on screen, the brief glimpse of him as Haslett is enough to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Moving up from the number four thug to the crime boss’s right-hand man, Carey played Lou Terpe in Harold D. Schuster’s Finger Man (1955). Faithful to a fault, Carey makes the most of his small role, seething with pent-up penitentiary anger at the film’s wimpy hero.

Between his work in Crime Wave and Finger Man, Carey had a small part in the Marlon Brando vehicle, The Wild One. Carey was uncredited in the film, but even with the limited screen time and lack of respect he was given, he managed to turn in the most memorable performance in the film. With his spraying of the soda pop into Marlon Brando’s face, Carey carved his imprint into the minds of many, making his miniscule Chino Boy #1 credit much more than expected. And from there, his small but loud presence in many films to come, like East of Eden, Rumble on the Docks, and Revolt in the Big House, created the enigmatically fascinating actor that one can only call Timothy Carey.

– Sam McAbee, “Timothy Carey: Saint of the Underground”; Cashiers du Cinemart #12 (2001)

The Wild One

Quote of the Week

Carey’s career as a character actor began with the role of a dead man in Across the Wide Missouri, directed by William Wellman, who, Carey recalled, “was a great director and a tough director. I had two arrows in my back laying in the water. I couldn’t hold still, it was so cold my teeth were chattering.The director said, ‘Keep that jerk still, he’s supposed to be dead’. I had just come from dramatic school in New York. I thought I was a great actor. I’m the only one who did.”

The pattern for Carey’s acting career was set. Director and player wrestled for control of a scene. Directors who afforded Carey room to operate, those who were able to understand his capabilities, worked well with him. Carey played the absolute heavy to the relative heavy in a string of hard-boiled dramas of the early ‘50s including Hellgate, The Big Carnival [aka Ace in the Hole] and Finger Man. […]

By the mid-50’s, Carey’s work had attracted the attention of a number of directors. Elia Kazan cast him in East of Eden, playing the bouncer at a brothel owned by James Dean’s mother. This experience would produce the only serious regret of Carey’s professional life. Kazan decided that the actor’s Brooklynese was not to his liking, and had Carey’s voice dubbed over, significantly marginalizing his presence in the film. He and Dean bonded during the production. This culminated in one of Dean’s infamous reckless Sunday drives through Salinas. After they returned to the set Carey said, prophetically, “I’m never getting in a car with him again.”

– Alex de Laszlo, “The Wonderful Horrible Life of Timothy Carey”, Uno Mas magazine, 1996

Across the Wide Missouri

Timothy Carey, 65, A Character Actor

On this date twenty years ago, Timothy passed away. It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years already. However, though his corporeal form has left us, his spirit remains, as vital and larger-than-life as ever. For someone I never actually met, he certainly has essentially taken over my life. And I’m perfectly fine with that. Here is his obituary, as it appeared in the New York Times on May 17, 1994.

Timothy Carey, 65, A Character Actor

Timothy Carey, a character actor whose films ranged from Paths of Glory and One-Eyed Jacks to 1960’s beach movies, died on Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He was 65.

His son Romeo announced the death on Sunday and said the cause was a stroke.

Timothy Carey’s acting career began with a part in Billy Wilder‘s 1951 movie The Big Carnival [aka Ace in the Hole] and included more than 50 feature films and many television roles.

He often played a villain. Two of his most recognized roles were in Stanley Kubrick films, The Killing (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957). He acted in One-Eyed Jacks (1961) with Marlon Brando and in John CassavetesKilling of a Chinese Bookie (1976).

He also appeared in Bikini Beach (1964) and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965).

Mr. Carey wrote and directed himself in The World’s Greatest Sinner, in 1962.

In addition to his son Romeo, he is survived by his wife, Doris, and five other children, Mario, Velencia, Silvana, Dagmar and Germain.

Visiting Tim.

Me visiting Tim, 2011.

Timothy and his mother, Ida Agoglia Carey

And since it’s Mother’s Day, here’s Tim and his mom.

Celebrating Two Major Birthday Anniversaries.

Today brings the birthday anniversaries of two of Timothy’s most important colleagues. Firstly we offer warmest 97th (!) birthday greetings to the legendary Kirk Douglas. Tim attempted to steal the spotlight from him in his uncredited (and we believe largely excised from the film) role as one of the workers attempting to rescue Douglas’ Ace in the Hole (1951) (aka The Big Carnival), directed by Billy Wilder. “First show I worked on, first show I got fired from,” said Tim. Douglas encountered him again six years later in Stanley Kubrick‘s Paths of Glory (1957). Some believe that Tim may have been paying sly homage to Douglas’ famous clenched-teeth delivery in his first outing with Kubrick, The Killing (1956). True or not, Tim may have annoyed the hell out of Douglas, but we still think he’s great. Happy birthday, Kirk!

Paths of Glory

Today also is the 84th anniversary of the late great John Cassavetes‘ birth. Tim found in him a kindred spirit, a true visionary who would not let the powers-that-be put limitations on his creativity. “I forget exactly how we met,” said Tim. “But I grabbed myself on his compassion about [The World’s Greatest] Sinner and he seemed like he just couldn’t do enough for me.” Cassavetes directed him twice: in Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), in which Tim gave us Morgan Morgan, the vagabond poet; and in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), where we first met Flo, the gangster with a heart of gold. Tim took Cassavetes’ death in 1989 very hard; he had lost a true friend and mentor. We can only ponder the visions that have gone unfilmed, by Cassavetes and Timothy as well.With John Cassavetes

Quote of the Week

GL: You got fired from your first job, didn’t you?

TC: That’s right. Billy Wilder fired me from Ace in the Hole [51]. I’d just gotten out of drama school in New York, and I’d gone to California, where they threw me out of Columbia Studios. So on my way back, I stopped to look up Wilder in New Mexico, where he was shooting. I said, “Mr. Wilder, I’m here, I’m Timothy Carey, I studied the Stanislawski method.” He said, “Ja, okay, you go sign up, tell them I sent you.” So I was in the show, playing one of the workers trying to dig the fellow out of the hole. And I’m watching the camera, angling to get myself in a full shot. I wanted to be in that scene so much I stood in front of Kirk Douglas. I wanted to be seen by the guys back in Brooklyn, you know. But all of a sudden someone taps me on the shoulder. “The director doesn’t want you anymore.” He gave me five vouchers, each worth $7.50. First show I worked on, first show I got fired from.

– Grover Lewis, “Cracked Actor”, Film Comment Jan/Feb 2004; interview conducted in 1992

Ace in the Hole

Is that Timothy back there??

 

Quote of the Week

Whether looming over the strangely invertebrate James Dean as the muscle of the local brothel in East of Eden or buying the farm in a whisker-quick saloon shoot-out with Marlon Brando in One-Eyed Jacks, the disheveled, vertiginous Timothy Carey performed, through much of his career, as the kind of thespian rarity whose flickering presence, even when bereft of a fleshed-out “character,” struck a loud, long-resonating note in the frequently seam-riddled “seamless narratives” it embellished. Like a portal into a reality hidden from view by scopophobic hysteria, Carey materialized from an alternate universe devoid of heroes and legible story lines.

Available accounts and filmographies of Carey’s early career typify his roles in exploitation pictures as “oozing malevolence,” citing creepy gangster turns in Andre de Toth‘s Crime Wave and Harold D. Schuster‘s Finger Man, as well as uncredited parts in Billy Wilder’s The Big Carnival [aka Ace in the Hole – ed.] and William A. Wellman‘s Across the Wide Missouri. In 1953’s The Wild One, he got to spray Brando in the face with a shaken-up carbonated beverage – some say beer, others soda pop. He was physically attacked by Richard Widmark during the filming of The Last Wagon in 1956, and pummeled by Karl Malden on the set of One-Eyed Jacks, or so the legends go; according to some of Carey’s enthusiasts, his parts got progressively bigger in B-circuit pictures for a time, then shrank as his uninhibited behavior off-camera, and scene-swiping on, earned him the poisonous sobriquet of being “difficult.”

Only the sharpest and restive of “great” directors, and the most cynically astute hacks, recognized Carey’s innate ability to enlarge a piece of cinema into something beyond cinema. Anecdotal evidence reflects how often even those who perceived Carey’s ungovernable grandeur were either prevented from casting him, or themselves provoked by his antics into tossing him out of a picture.

He was, in effect, too much of what he was, too formidably present to evaporate into a peripheral presence; both his imposing physicality and his avid wish to smuggle something living into something simulated got him scotched from films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Grifters; the insecurity of Harvey Keitel purportedly scrapped a  major role in Reservoir Dogs; Carey, by his own account, sabotaged his own way out of The Godfather and Godfather II.

Gary Indiana, “Timothy Carey: The Refusal of the Repressed,” from Dead Flowers (Participant Press/VoxPopuli, 2011)

East of Eden (1955)