Born in Brooklyn, in 1929, Carey went to acting school and was a full-on believer of always being “in the moment” – a tendency that led to sudden, sometimes enraging improvisation (that beer he throws in Marlon Brando‘s face in “The Wild One” was not planned). But Kubrick saw something, and rescued Carey from years of bit parts to cast him first as the gunman in “The Killing,” and then as one of the railroaded soldiers in “Paths of Glory.”
It was a good match. Kubrick understood the importance of actors but didn’t have the slightest understanding of how they did what they did, or even how to guide them. It was one of the director’s few artistic failings, and it could lead to hundreds of frustrating takes or over-the-top performances. But some actors – like Malcolm McDowell, like Peter Sellers – saw this as a freedom.
So did Carey. His most memorable scene in “Paths of Glory,” in fact – with the sentenced soldier moaning “I don’t want to die” – was made up on the spot.
There’s something of a John Turturro in the young Carey, and those two movies with Kubrick suggested the kind of long collaboration that Turturro would later have with Spike Lee, or the Coen Brothers. And, in fact, Carey later had a part in “One-Eyed Jacks,” a film Kubrick had been signed to direct, before star Marlon Brando took over. But Kubrick went on to other projects, and he and Carey never worked again.
“You mean you’ve never heard of WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER?”
This was a question posed to me not too long ago by a friend; too many drinks and joints in while surveying his collection of rare films and memorabilia. To tell the truth, I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, and could only stare back at him with a kind of slack-jawed goggle reserved for Alabama rats attempting to study astrophysics. In turn, my friend quickly dropped down to the floor, mumbling about some article in Psychotronic Video as he threw the cabinet of his entertainment center open, revealing a gaggle of VHS tapes, imported DVDs, and even spindles of DVDr recordings of late night TCM showings. From one of the spindles came a disc, probably buried six or seven deep, with the words “World’s Greatest Sinner” crudely scribbled on it with a black Sharpie. For a second I was semi-stressed, as neither of our wives were present, and I feared I was going to get exposed to some kind of super sick snuff flick he had hidden amongst bootlegs of forgotten Warren Oates roles.
Instead, what I got was entranced by the first forty-five minutes of arguably one of the strangest, most fascinating bits of cinema I’d ever laid eyes on. Dubbed by some as one of the “worst films ever made”, WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER was the work of one Timothy Carey, a Brooklyn born character actor who was attempting to produce, write and direct what he considered to be a “truly controversial” film. The story of a suburban everyman who becomes a rock megalomaniac, WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER is undoubtedly odd, but also hypnotic in its purpose; a kind of counter-culture document made before the term “counter-culture” was even part of our pop culture vernacular. And while it practically ruined his career in 1962, WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER has come to find a ROOM-like cult amongst psychotronic film fans*, because underneath the film’s seemingly inept veneer is an odd commentary on race and religion the likes of which were unheard of in the late 50s and early 60s.
*Zack Carlson of the Alamo Drafthouse recently put on a screening of WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER as his “goodbye film” before leaving as a programmer for the famed Texas theater chain
He was expelled from five schools in his native Brooklyn, the Marine Corps and nearly every job he’s tried while hitch-hiking across the country. He’s slept in vacant lots and cellars. Despite the fact he works regularly in Hollywood, he bought a four room house 25 miles away in a poor section of the city.
Plays With Cobra
“People are finally beginning to understand me,” barked Tim. “The trouble is, people in Hollywood never saw a guy like me before. They think I’m a man from another planet.”
Tim stands 6-feet-4 and has a mop of black hair hanging over his angular face. His behavior is so unruly that when I talked to him in a restaurant I often wished I was elsewhere. Carey kept jumping up to shout his answers and even demonstrated a sensual dance he does with a live cobra between pictures in little bistros downtown.
“I’ve been in and out of more jails on vagrancy charges – the police always arrest me on suspicion because I look suspicious,” said Tim.
“When I was little I had an insane desire to wear a uniform so I forged my way into the Marine Corps. My mother and father both worked – I wanted attention.
“Why are people afraid of me? One producer thought I was on dope. I don’t even drink or smoke. I’m just enthusiastic,” said Timothy Carey. “I don’t need any stimulation.”
– Aline Mosby, “Carey Is Strangest, Wildest Actor”; newspaper column, March 7, 1957
Carey is a Brooklyn boy who never went far in high school but has acted in 16 films and six TV shows. He says: “What I really want to do is write. I’ve got a script right here, which I call L.A., that I’d like you to read.”
Carey isn’t about to quote Shakespeare but he’s living proof that “All the World’s a Stage…” He’ll say: “I joined the U.S. Marines at 15, was at Parris Island and finished boot training when they learned my age. Then I was out.”
That brief hitch with the Leathernecks was enough to entitle the unusually tall (6 feet 5 inches) Carey to go to school on the GI Bill. He elected drama school. He says: “When I got to Hollywood, I heard Henry Hathaway was casting Prince Valiant. I rented a Viking costume for $15, climbed a studio fence, confronted him with drawn sword. I didn’t get the part.”
Carey’s early penchant for such monkeyshines had him in the doghouse with half of Hollywood—but he’s acting and eating while many a more retiring youngster is waiting for a call, he says.
– George Murray, “Loop Movies,” Chicago Daily News, January 15, 1958
Today’s pic is another from Timothy’s fleeting, uncredited appearance as the drunken denizen of a tawdry flophouse in Daniel Mann‘s I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955). He’s sidling over to get a better look at that biopic’s subject, Broadway star Lillian Roth (Susan Hayward), passed out on a bed and at a very low point in her tragic life.
Mann, another Brooklyn native (along with Tim and Hayward), had a special rapport with actors, often drawing out some of their best performances. This could be due to the fact that he had been acting himself since childhood. After studying with legendary acting teacher Sanford Meisner, Mann became one of the first instructors at the Actors Studio. He enjoyed a long career directing some of our finest actors on stage, in films and on television.
Classic cinematic tough guy Ted de Corsia was born in Brooklyn, New York, on this date in either 1903 or 1905. He co-starred with fellow Brooklynite Timothy four times: in Crime Wave (1954), The Killing (1956), the Profiles in Courage episode “Andrew Johnson” (first aired February 28, 1965), and in today’s offering, “Ain’t We Got Fun”. That episode of The Untouchables was first broadcast on November 12, 1959. Here bootlegger Big Jim Harrington confers with Loxie, his pyromaniac torpedo.
Following stage and radio acting stints, de Corsia hit the big time with his film debut, Orson Welles‘ The Lady from Shanghai (1947). He enjoyed a long career in films and on television in mostly tough-guy roles. He always brought a touch of class to his low-life bad guys, even if it was just a low-life’s idea of class. He passed away in 1973 of cerebral thrombosis; his ashes were scattered at sea.
CAREY: Oh yes, there is no doubt about that. I get e-mail from around the world from people who are just now discovering him. My dad was always pretty famous. As kids, we couldn’t go anywhere with him that he wouldn’t be recognized. He is remembered because he was a great actor who appeared in some landmark films, like Paths of Glory and The Killing. He made his own films, which influenced other independent filmmakers. It all comes down to originality. Someone as iconoclastic as my father resonates down the generations. It’s a mystery why he is becoming more popular since his death, but I think there’s a whole pirated underground of [The World’s Greatest] Sinner tapes out there. There are regular screenings of Sinner in Brooklyn that attract a thousand people per screening. There are Tim Carey film festivals in Chicago, San Francisco, even Australia! For a guy who did what he did in his little way, it’s pretty impressive. It just goes to show, if you put the right kind of energy into something, it doesn’t go away.