Happy Halloween!

In what is turning out to be my annual Halloween pic, here once again is Timothy costumed as Frankenstein’s monster for the legendary early 1980s Sambo’s commercial that has apparently disappeared into the ether. It’s become my personal Holy Grail of Careyana. (Many thanks to Romeo Carey for including this in the work-in-progress documentary! That’s him on Tim’s left.)

Tim as Frankenstein's monster

Wishing you all a bang-up Halloween, just as Tim would have celebrated it! Stay safe and have fun!

Quote of the Week

“The World’s Greatest Sinner” and the Big Timothy Carey Question

Timothy Who? Timothy Agoglia Carey, sometimes Tim Carey, most of the time Timothy Carey. 1929-94. This character actor (dis)graced American screens for five decades, playing vile, despicable and loathsome scum of the earth, void of any redeeming quality.

What has he been in? You might be familiar with The Wild One (1953), East of Eden (1955), The Killing (1956), Paths of Glory (1957), One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) to mention a few out of 50 something screen appearances – not counting television, which credits for about 50 more. Despite this sizable curriculum, he was quite possibly fired more often than any other actor in Hollywood, for example by Billy Wilder and Arthur Penn, and also quite willfully turned down parts in movies such as the first two Godfather films as well as Kubrick‘s Spartacus.

Why so vile, despicable etc? Well, he throws a beer in Brando‘s face, beats up James Dean, crushes a cockroach, pushes a girl into a bowl of chili, shoots a horse and verbally abuses a black man, all this in the most unspeakable of ways. And all this during the first ten years of his career…

If so vile etc – why is he worth watching? This 193 cm/6′ 4″ male specimen sported a pair of heavy-lidded eyes that matched Robert Mitchum’s, a set of clenched teeth that beat out Burt Lancaster’s, a dance routine that would have frightened James Brown and tantrums that outdid Harvey Keitel’s. This is partly why.

The World’s Greatest Sinner? A film he wrote, directed, produced and starred in, shot between 1958 and 1961, and released in 1963. He plays Clarence Hilliard, an insurance salesman who quits his job, changes his name from Clarence to God (he keeps Hilliard) and starts his own political/religious movement, promising to turn everyone into “millionaires, gods, super human beings!” He dons a silver lamé suit [NB: It was actually gold] and becomes a (very unlikely) rock ‘n’ roll idol, then runs for president of the United States as the candidate of The Eternal Man Party. The film is narrated by a snake and was promoted as “The most condemned and praised American movie of its Time”, but soon disappeared from the public eye. Among the few people who saw it were Frank Zappa, who wrote the film’s songs and called it the world’s worst film, and John Cassavetes, who said it had the emotional brilliance of Eisenstein. Among the people who didn’t see it was an indifferent Ingmar Bergman, despite the fact that Carey sent a friend to Sweden with a print earmarked for the director’s viewing pleasure, as well as a most enthusiastic Elvis Presley, on whom Carey did not want to waste a precious print, as he only had four left.

Carey and Vienna? Some almost five decades late, in November 1st, 2009, The World’s Greatest Sinner finally had its Austrian premiere. A packed audience at the legendary Gartenbaukino cinema in Vienna savoured the treat with awe. A tribute section devoted to selected Carey gems included Head (featuring pop group The Monkees and written by Jack Nicholson), Minnie and Moskowitz, Paths of Glory, Poor White Trash (a sordid exploitation story in which scary Carey is again seen doing a crazy dance), and another Carey directorial effort, Tweet’s Ladies of Pasadena, in which he plays a kind (!) member of a ladies knitting club who constantly roller-skates and wants to clothe naked animals. Along for the ride was Romeo Carey, one of four [NB: Actually six] of the actor’s children, providing insightful information on his father’s career (as well as being living proof of the fact that Carey, apart from being vile, despicable and loathsome, also was a family man) and guiding us through a highly unusual career (which also include a one-man stage performance on the topic of flatulence).

So is he just a cult guy? True, if Carey is in a film, even if it’s Francis the Talking Mule in the Haunted House, it’s worth seeing. Even in the smallest of parts, he manages to steal from the greatest of greats – some of them feeling surprisingly outdated these days, whereas Carey himself remains utterly watchable. In this respect, he comes across as a forerunner of sorts to actors like Vincent Gallo, Harvey Keitel and even Michael Richards, whose Kramer character in Seinfeld arguably owes a moment or two to Carey. In other words, this is an actor with a resonating presence. The idea of giving Carey a well-deserved tribute is thus highly appropriate, as well as being film festival retrospective programming at its finest.

Why has no one come up with this idea before? That’s The Big Timothy Carey Question. Quite simply.

"He's the World's Greatest Sinner" by eyeodyssey on Deviantart

“He’s the World’s Greatest Sinner” by Aaron Dylan Kearns (eyeodyssey) on DeviantArt

Pic of the Day: “Peeper” revisited

Today’s pic brings us around once again to Peeper (1975), the amiable homage to 1940s detective yarns directed by Peter Hyams and written by Keith Laumer and W.D. Richter. Bad guys Sid and Rosie (Don Calfa) take care of some business while Ellen Prendergast (Natalie Wood) looks on and another fellow just hangs around.

Peeper

I had an ulterior motive for choosing a pic from Peeper – it’s Don Calfa’s birthday today! Two summers ago he shared some fabulous memories of working with Timothy in this film with Romeo Carey and I. Stay tuned! And happy birthday, Calfa.

Quote of the Week

The greatness of Timothy Carey, and indeed his essence, is the man as a symbol. It is not so much what he has done for others, but what others have done and will do because of his example. This is the true measure of the man. What has come out of his artistic work, his life and examples, is the kind of inspiration that can animate a generation.

The World’s Greatest Sinner alone supplies a completed vision and a working demonstration of unwavering artistic courage and reverence for life. It represents enduring proof that honest cinematic self-expression is a rare event that needs to be celebrated.

Romeo Carey, “Making Sinner, A Work-In-Progress,” from Dead Flowers (Vox Populi/Participant Press, 2011)

Shot from SINNER as seen in The Devil's Gas by Romeo CareyA shot from The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) as seen in Romeo Carey’s short film The Devil’s Gas (1990), Timothy’s final film appearance

Quote of the Week

The Insect Trainer’s main character, Guasti Q. Guasti, is convicted of murder after farting so powerfully that a woman falls from her chair, hits the floor and dies. The play is characteristic theatre of the absurd, full of non-sequiturs and jarring stage action. Carey was hard at work rehearsing the play before his passing and created a philosophical tract about the virtues of flatulence. Carey’s son Romeo is planning a revival of The Insect Trainer, due to premiere in Los Angeles this spring. Romeo hopes to take the production on the road.

For all of Timothy Carey’s antics, he remained a devoted family man with a wife (only one) and six kids and endless dogs, cats, chickens, and horses. He lived out his life in the quiet suburb of El Monte, preferring the company of his animals to the unearthly world of Hollywood society. As he admits, he “made lots of fast enemies” during his career, but readily forgave his antagonists, as they were often just not ready to appreciate his uniqueness.

James B. Harris, the crusty producer/director who had many a run-in with Carey over the years acknowledges, “I know he’s so bizarre and I don’t think it’s gratuitous. I think there is enough humanity in this man. I think he could make a scene better than anyone else.” This humanity described by Harris encompassed a sympathy for the underdog: Carey was a supporter of Palestinian and Native American rights. The romantic equation, the ability to triumph despite the odds, played a great part in his art and his outlook.

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

Insect Trainer flyer

Quote of the Week

Although some directors consider Carey “hard to work with” his talents have been used in devious ways many times. He’ll do an incredible screen test, they tell him “thanks but no thanks” and have another actor study his performance and copy it for the actual film! 

Timothy’s son, Romeo Carey, directed him in a 1988 short called THE DEVIL’S GAS. In ’89, Timothy, (along with Johnny Legend), was a guest on the L.A. public access program, Little Art’s Poker Party. He acted out scenes from some of his films, sang “Jambalaya,” talked about Dali and making wind and said, “The combustible engine has got to go. It’s like glorifying arsenic.” 

– Psychotronic Video magazine #6, Summer 1990; interview by Michael Murphy and Johnny Legend, research by Michael J. Weldon

The Devil's Gas

Pic of the Day: “Peeper” revisited

It’s way past time we took another gander at Sid, the hulking torpedo of Peter Hyams‘ genial homage to the hard-boiled detective flicks of the 1940s, Peeper (1976). Here he oversees his sidekick Rosie (Don Calfa) working over our hero, Leslie Tucker (Michael Caine).

PeeperAs previously mentioned, Romeo Carey and I got a great interview with Calfa two summers ago at his memorabilia-packed little home in the California desert. Stay tuned for that – it’s coming, honest!