“Live longer, Live Healthier, and let thy arse make wind! A Video Round-up and Tribute to Timothy Carey”
By Heather Drain
“We slip, we bleed. The truth is, I never really cared about conventional success. I was probably fired more than any other actor in Hollywood.” –Timothy Carey
Very few people have it and most of us do not. It’s the division between the Greek Gods and the mere mortals who are left to the farm, goats and vomitoriums. No, I’m not talking about religion or goat farming, but that tiny handful of artists who are so brilliant that they leave the rest of us in their dust. Years after they are gone into the ether of the afterlife, we are the ones eternally trying to catch up to them. Salvador Dali was one of them, as is Alejandro Jodorwosky, Clu Gulager, Bukowski and most definitely, Timothy Agoglia Carey.
On paper, Carey was a memorable character actor who worked with the likes of Stanley Kubrick (Paths of Glory, The Killing) and John Cassevettes (Minnie & Moskowitz, Killing of a Chinese Bookie). He also had a sizable body of work, often popping up on shows ranging from Gunsmoke to Mannix. The reality is that but so much more. Carey was a maverick of the biggest order and an artist who, like Sinatra, Elvis and Sid Vicious, did it his way. An artist and a man with true huevos who never took the easy way out on anything. This is the fabric, ladies and gents, of someone who will always be my hero.
Carey, as both an actor and director, possessed that incredible, rare human kinesis where you cannot take your eyes off of him for one second. There could be chimpanzees on fire while circus clowns openly weep, but if Carey is anywhere in the shot, he is the man you’re going to be looking at. Physically alone, he stood out. Most screen actors are pretty much on the wee side but not Carey, who was an oak of a man and stood around 6’5. Top that with jet black hair that often transformed itself into a pomp gone to seed (For the perfect example of this, see The World’s Greatest Sinner) and a pair of piercing, light blue eyes and you had a man whose looks alone commanded your attention.
But looks are like icing and are not substantial if you don’t have something underneath it for balance. Carey had that “it” factor, that presence that no amount of training, experience or plastic surgery can give you. It’s like being cool. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Give him a two-minute role in an hour and a half movie and trust that the main thing you will be talking about afterwards will be that guy. There have been and still are some great actors, but a tiny few can even come close to matching Carey’s intensity and sheer brilliance.
Unfortunately, the price one pays often for being ahead of their time is being majorly misunderstood by their peers, bosses and society at large. Eccentric at best and heaven help you if are not wealthy or charming enough to be given that moniker. Artists are communicators and have to fight, sometimes literally, to get their work out there and seen. Not everyone has to love it and in fact, sometimes they will utterly despise it, but if you are able to move their blank-eyed stares into some sort of emotion, then you have success. But people often loathe what they do not understand. Sometimes this is the fault of the filmmaker, but in this instance it’s more of a case of the man being ahead of the game by leaps and bounds.
Judging by his sole completed effort, the life changing The World’s Greatest Sinner and the glimpses of the works in eternal stasis, especially Tweet’s Ladies of Pasadena, Carey’s approach to filmmaking was unlike any others. The biggest fight for any artist, other than the communication breakdown, is being able to have a unique thumbprint. Especially when you realize cinema is often a daisy chain of inspiration. And while I’m sure Carey had his own inspirations, by the time he got behind the camera, every bit of it has his DNA in it a 110%. You can’t even fully compare it to the underground cinema of the time. If anything, Carey influenced a lot of those guys, not the other way around. This film is its own animal, all the way.
Being a real dyed in the wool maverick, Carey was bound to irk some people. There are near legendary stories of Carey pissing off actors ranging from Kirk Douglas, whom starred along side him in Kubrick’s war film Paths of Glory to Seymour Cassell. Why? Because he was some ego driven male diva? No because he tended to overshadow everyone on the screen. This was something never intentional and in fact, part of his drive as an actor was to heighten the quality of whatever project he was working on. It was this lack of ego that makes Carey all the more of a rare creature, especially with actors.
But if Timothy Carey was dynamite as an actor, then he was one neutron bomb of a director. His best-known work and only completed one is the one-of-a-kind religious rock and roller surrealist masterpiece, The World’s Greatest Sinner. The filming reportedly started as early as 1958, wrapped up in ’61 and was debuted in 1962. Watching this movie now is an intense experience but it must have felt like Stravinsky’s riot inducing performance of The Rites of Spring at its debut. This tale of a seemingly normal middle class salesman who turns into rock & roll playing evangelist who changes his name from Clarence to God Hilliard. God’s bad deeds include committing adultery with both an elderly woman and a teenage girl, then becoming completely disenfranchised with his family. The religious imagery is a real standout as well, with the most startling being God challenging the real thing by piercing a Eucharist that ends up bleeding.
It’s important to also keep in mind that this is an era where Elvis was censored from the waist down and guys like Pat Boone were raping the catalogs of good rock and roll records to make them less threatening to “proper” white families. A lot of kids today will see someone like the King and wonder what all the fuss is about. But I think anyone seeing Carey’s gyrations and instantly see the almost anihilistic lack of inhibition and fire that is going on in that man. You know, church never moved me that much but World’s Greatest Sinner? You better believe it!
Brothers and sisters, Mr. Timothy Carey was ahead of his time. Too ahead of his time as it turns out, since the film was very poorly received. Even its composer, a young Frank Zappa, famously ripped on it on the The Steve Allen Show. As ubersmart and gifted as Zappa was, he should have known better. This is the man that was responsible for films like 200 Motels , for crying out loud. (For the record, I am actually a Zappa fan and love his music for TWGS.) Carey actually stated on an episode of the West Coast public access show Art Fein’s Poker Party, that the only person that liked TWGS was the equally legendary John Cassevettes. Which is a shame and far from the truth now. At least Cassevettes put his money where his mouth was, since he cast Carey in both Minnie & Moskowitz and the great Killing of a Chinese Bookie. But more importantly, he also gave Carey film and editing equipment, along with trying to help him snag cast, crew and backers. It’s a tragedy that someone as special as Carey had to go through his life often misunderstood by so many.
That said, this is no sob story and someone like Carey deserves something better than trite pathos. His warpath of creative brilliance continued with a string of unfinished projects, starting with Tweet’s Ladies of Pasadena. No amount of description will prepare your eyes for this corneal cornucopia. The basic plot has Carey as the titular Tweet Twig, the only male in a knitting club called “Don’t Drop a Stitch.” He’s surrounded by knitting old ladies, a blowsy weightlifting cockney blonde for a wife (whom at one point bellows “Oh no! More bloomin’ animals!”) and a horde of the aforementioned animals whose nakedness will be clothed by Tweet and his ladies’ creations. If anything will ever make you want to flash your collective asses to network television as a whole, it is knowing that this was turned down. Yes, this was a TV pilot and in my Utopia, this is what would be on TV 24/7. Forget Lost, I’d much rather see Timothy Carey as this lovable bumble Tweet knitting and dressed up as a Native American Indian for no discernable reason. Do not fear Dada, folks.
Another project was A.L. and before you start having images of Franken or Capone drift in your heads, it is LA backwards. Quite fitting given that the plot revolved around a young midwestern couple that gets lost on the Los Angeles freeway while the wife goes into labor. Along the way he runs into your average person wandering the streets of LA; the worker, the illegal immigrant, the bums, the street kids, etc. Undoubtedly, it would have been great especially given that everything happens in one day. This was one of the big projects that Cassevettes tried to get backed for Carey, but was kyboshed when studio execs would only accept it if a lot of changes were made. This was unacceptable for an artist like Carey and the film was never made.
His last big project was a play/film entitled The Insect Trainer, in which he played the lead character, restaurant dishwasher Guasti Q. Guasti ends up being on trial for murder after letting out a ballast of flatulence so strong that it physically knocks over an old woman. Her fall proves to be fatal and at some point, Guasti realizes he has a talent for training insects. The Insect Trainer was inspired by the twin figures of Salvador Dali and Le Petomane, the famous French Fartiste. Footage of this film exists and is certainly very, very high on my personal wish list. Apparently Martin Scorsese donated $3,000 to the production, which just highlights the fact that Scorsese is the real deal. (Taxi Driver alone has forever and always sealed my love for the man. No matter how many times he uses Leonardo Dicaprio in his films.)
Timothy Carey was taken away from this plane on May 11, 1994 after suffering a massive stroke. Our bodies will always ultimately fail us in the end but it is the marks that we leave here that can be the testament of the spirit. Timothy Carey’s legacy is huge, as actor, writer, director and man. He was that rare force of nature whose power and beauty will never be equaled and always admired by anyone smart enough to be open to it.
Now onward ho to the audio/video celebration of this supernova of one man’s vision, talent and spirit. Always remember those that you may write off, so called madmen are sometimes the most perceptive of us all. (Except for that guy in your front yard wearing a ski cap on his genitals and singing “Oh Susanna.” He’s just batshit crazy.)
Anyways, on to the Video Round Up!
Ah yes, the infamous dance from the 1957 drive-in cult classic "Bayou" aka "Poor White Trash." It starts out as cute but as soon as Carey enters the scene, you know you are witnessing something really special. Note the way he grabs on to leading lady Lita Milan's hair, even deftly switching hands when he takes his shirt off. Wow!
One of my favorite moments in "World's Greatest Sinner." This is one of the most truly rock and roll moments ever committed to celluloid. I would love to watch this scene back to back to the Cramps doing "Tear it Up" from "Urgh! A Music War."
This is like having your psyche hugged by an angel. Enjoy!
Carey as "Moose" on the 70's chestnut, "Mannix." Nuff said!
INCREDIBLE clip of Carey on Art Fein's show. Bless this man for sharing such a rare gem with us. Notice the reference to Carey's scene stealing turn in "Beach Blanket Bingo!" And yes, the farting.
Carey's hilarious and demented turn in the Monkees' cult classic "Head." Attaboy Mike!
Here are some very fascinating links to interviews and articles dealing with the man.