Today we revisit Curtis Harrington‘s What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971), a gem of a film if ever there was one. Harrington, a humongous Careyphile, insisted on Timothy for the brief but memorable role of the bedraggled tramp who hits up Debbie Reynolds for a hand-out in Depression-era Hollywood.
I am currently reading and greatly enjoying Harrington’s long-awaited (and posthumous, unfortunately for us) autobiography, Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood: The Adventures of an Aesthete in the Movie Business. In fact, I’ve already used a couple of his observations about Tim for Quotes of the Week. Please do yourselves a favor and check out this book (and his short film collection while you’re at it); I predict you won’t be disappointed!
To give [Robert] Blake his due, he was one of the few people who would allow me to hire my favorite bogeyman, Timothy Carey, and so again I had the pleasure of working with this incorrigible madman. This time, Timothy got a bit too out of control and actually hurt a fellow actor in a scene where he was beating him up. He also did a number of improvisational riffs on his dialogue that I found utterly fascinating but which may not have been appreciated by the producers. As usual with Timothy, the network insisted on cutting many of these bits of eccentric behavior that made him such a unique and refreshing presence on the screen. How the network executives hated the unconventional and the unexpected, and how equally they loved their comfortable little groove of mediocrity!
– Curtis Harrington, writing about the Baretta episode “Set Up City” (1975), from Nice Guys Don’t Work In Hollywood: The Adventures of an Aesthete in the Movie Business (Drag City Incorporated, 2013)
I had my heart set on Timothy Carey to play the tramp who asks Debbie [Reynolds] for a handout [in What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971)]. He was notoriously difficult to deal with and had an aggressive personality that frightened many people. Most producers didn’t want to work with him, but to the many creative directors who loved him – like Kazan, Cassavetes, and Kubrick – he was unique and irreplaceable. I was one of those directors. I ordered Caro [Jones, casting director] to offer him the part and make a deal with him. Still, there were a few sticky moments. One day she called me in terror to tell me that Timothy had warned her that he owned some vicious dogs and that if he didn’t get the part he would let them loose on her! I calmed her down and she made the deal.