TIMOTHY CAREY: What A Character!
For this very special post as part of The What A Character! Blogathon Hosted by Once Upon A Screen, Paula’s Cinema Club and Outspoken and Freckled I’ll be looking at the artistry of one of my favorite character actors in classic cinema. He is someone who I find to be both a trailblazer and an utterly wacky individual. That person is Timothy Carey. Carey was one of those wild unpredictable personalities that don’t come along very often in pop culture. There’s classical actors who will do amazing performances through their brilliant realism and attention to detail, then there’s the kind that always make the most of their time onscreen through unusual behavior and mindboggling antics. That was definitely the group Carey belonged to.
In addition to the integrity and creativity he brought to all his acting work, Carey was a strong proponent of farting. Yes you read that correctly. He loved to break wind due to it being a healthy thing for the body to do. You’ll be surprised to learn this actually didn’t help him win people over or get roles throughout his career. Besides the flatulence Carey took part in, I will give you some of the history of his adventures in Hollywood through this celebratory article. So get ready bubies, because here we go!
“Imagine an actor with the wild, manic stare of a skid-row John Turturro, the gangly rebel stance of Jerry Lee Lewis and the acting presence of a secure-ward Nicolas Cage. Even then you’re still not close to the twisted screen presence of the great Tim Carey..” -Andrew Male, Bizarre Magazine #27 (Jan 2000)
Timothy Agoglia Carey was born on March 11, 1929 in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, New York to a Irish-Italian family. In his late teens, Carey tried out for the Brooklyn Braves baseball team but didn’t make the cut so he joined a local weight lifting club and began training instead. This sport lent itself to performing and with his tall build and imposing looks it made sense for him as he stood out.
After studying acting for a time in New York, Carey ventured out to Hollywood where he was swiftly kicked off the Columbia Studios lot during an impromptu visit. He then made his way back East stopping in New Mexico where he learned Billy Wilder was shooting his film Ace in The Hole (1951) starring Kirk Douglas. Through his persistance Carey was able to get a minor uncredited part and make a few dollars on the show. His official debut in a feature film was at age 22 in Across The Wide Missouri (1951) which starred Clark Gable and was directed by William Wellman. From that point on he mostly played heavies and oddballs. Carey had a really unique way of talking which was due to him gritting his teeth and slurring slightly. It made him sound sort of like a New Yawkese Kirk Douglas if he was shot up with horse tranquilizers. It also wasn’t easy to forget which in movies is always a good thing.
“If you wanna be a good actor, go to the zoo and watch the rhino – look at the way he moves. Watch the weasel, every part involves a new body pattern.” – Timothy Carey
The Wild One (1953) starred Marlon Brando as Johnny, a biker gang leader who stirs up trouble in a small California town. Carey can be seen hanging in the background as one of The Beetles, a rival gang led by Lee Marvin’s colorful and comedic modern outlaw Chino. Not one to be subdued by a star, Carey threw some beer on Brando at one point and got his attention. Tim would have a slightly bigger role in Brando’s directorial debut One Eyed Jacks (1961) in which he gets in a nasty confrontation with Marlon in a bar. In Andre DeToth’s film noir Crime Wave (1954) he played Johnny Haslett, a punk thug who is a protege of Charles Bronson and Ted de Corsia’s characters. Although it was a small part Carey stands out because of his stylized mannerisms which he would become known for throughout his career.
In Elia Kazan’s classic John Steinbeck adaptation East of Eden (1955) Carey is a pimp/bodyguard for Jo Van Fleet’s character in a brothel she runs and is ordered to throw her son Cal (played by James Dean) out the door when he comes to see her. Right away you notice a spark of brutality and weirdness from Carey’s arrival onscreen. As preparation for his role as “Joe” the pimp, Carey tried mumbling all his lines because he thought it was “how pimps talked”. At a certain point Kazan got so angry at his annoying interpretation, he stabbed Carey with a pen in the shoulder. He and Dean actually became friends during the production. One day they went on a car ride through Salinas after which Carey stated he would never get in a car with him again due to his wreckless driving habits. Dean would later die in what is now an infamous car crash.
Carey got his first bit of early critical notice when he was featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 heist film The Killing. He played the enigmatic Nikki Arane who is hired by Sterling Hayden’s criminal to shoot a racehorse as part of the elaborate heist plan. Carey comes across with an eccentric brand of cool that was all his own. In Kubrick’s follow up, the World War I themed masterpiece Paths of Glory (1957) Carey was Pvt. Maurice Ferol, an awkward French soldier that is set to be executed. He gives quite an emotional standout performance and it’s easily one of the finest portrayals in his entire film career. Story has it that on set Carey would taunt star Kirk Douglas by sticking fingers in his ears among other things, causing the star to lash out at him often. He really couldn’t stop himself from stirring things up it seems. Bayou (1957) was a low budget southern fried drama in which Carey starred as Ulysses, a deranged, leering Cajun caught in a steamy love triangle with characters played by Lila Milan and Peter Graves. The B- film was produced by one M.A. Ripps, an Alabama based owner of drive-in theaters. Carey’s most memorable scene featured him doing a seriously unhinged Cajun dance that comes off more like am epileptic seizure.
Convicts 4 (1962) directed by Millard Kaufman co-starred Carey as an upbeat, friendly prisoner named Nick Bugoski. The scene where he introduces himself to Ben Gazzarra’s character is hilarious and really enjoyable to watch. This is a perfect example of him playing for the camera and getting into the audience’s heads as a personality. TRIVIA: Try to spot an uncredited Timothy Carey in one of our other favorite prison genre films, House of Numbers (1957) starring Jack Palance.
If you want to get a glimpse into the mind of Mr. Carey, the rock and roll/religious cult oddity The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) which he wrote and directed is where to start. The story follows a mild mannered insurance salesman named Clarence Hilliard (Carey) who decides to quit and break into rock and roll. After gaining a large devoted following he changes his name to “God” and becomes a strange kind of rockabilly evangelist. When you see stuff like Carey wooing an old lady and kissing her passionately you’ll be creeped out but seriously intrigued. This was a bizarre and experimental low budget production which was shot over the course of three years (1958-61). Carey’s friend Frank Zappa composed the score. When I watched the film I thought it made no sense at all (it’s truly surreal and out there buby) but I’d still say for the hardcore Carey fans it’s a must see. Amazingly, The King of Rock n’ Roll himself Elvis Presley was a big fan of ‘Sinner’ and even asked Carey for a copy of it. The two would work together on Elvis’ 1969 film Change of Habit.
With his track record for seedy crime films and darker themed stories you wouldn’t expect to see Carey in the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello 60s AIP goofy teen romps Bikini Beach (1964) and its sequel Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). Yet for some reason he fits right in as “South Dakota Slim” a classic but kooky evil villain who calls everyone “buby” and likes to use a log splitter to kill his victims. It’s another offkilter performance from Carey who is clad in a satin 50s style racing jacket. He’s a kind of cinematic forefather to future creep stalkers like Stuntman Mike in Death Proof. In Bob Rafelson’s 1968 psychedelic rock/cult classic Head starring The Monkees, Carey was “Lord High and Low” a deranged weirdo soothsayer. He can be seen doing a variety of wacked antics such as having a strange fit, ranting like a loon and brandishing a shotgun like an Old West cowboy. You know, nothing out of the ordinary for him.
John Flynn’s classic crime-actioner The Outfit (1973) features Carey as Menner, a dangerous mobster who Robert Duvall’s character Macklin comes up against. Carey isn’t on the screen for a large portion of the movie but when he is, he’s menacing as hell and makes you remember him through his imposing presence alone. His next film related auditions would be for two Francis Ford Coppola projects. Carey had read for the part of Luca Brazzi in The Godfather, the bodyguard muscle for Vito Corleone (Lenny Montana would get the part) but again it didn’t work out because of Carey’s outlandish personality. He actually pulled a gun out of a box and mocked shooting Coppola and others in the office during his script reading. He was also up for the rival surveillance expert that Allen Garfield plays in The Conversation, but again things went south due to his irratic behavior. There was even a rumor that Coppola had a part set up for him in his Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now but that never happened either. One things for sure, he wouldve fit in perfectly because of the film’s surreal, over the top nature.
“John Cassavetes was different!…He would inspire people. He didn’t believe in anything negative; there wasn’t a negative bone in his body. You could always call him up any time and he was always there to give you a helping hand. Just incredible.” – Timothy Carey
Carey finally found a kindred rebel spirit in actor/director John Cassavetes. He was first cast as a homeless crackpot in Cassavetes’ romantic drama Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) and then as a tough as nails mob enforcer in The Killing of A Chinese Bookie (1976). Cassavetes, like Carey, was always an outsider with his own ideas about life and film. Both performances turned out to be Grade A Carey and really special pieces in his filmography.
In addition to his film work, throughout the 60s, 70s and early 80s Carey appeared on a myriad of TV shows like RAWHIDE, GUNSMOKE, COLUMBO, MANNIX, BARETTA, IT TAKES A THIEF, NIGHTSIDE, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO, AIRWOLF among many others.
“I wanted to take comedy – you see I was so bored with what they have on TV – I wanted to take comedy into the streets – as action comedy. It’s because it’s new. That’s why it’s difficult to follow,” – Carey explaining the rapidly paced and often soundless movie of the good-natured Tweet-Twig and his lady wrestler wife, and their skating knitters.”
Carey’s first and only follow up to his directorial debut The World’s Greatest Sinner was every bit as weird and offbeat a project. It was funded in large part by his friend John Cassavetes. The proposed 70 minute TV pilot entitled Tweet’s Ladies of Pasadena focused on a gardener named Tweet Twig (Carey) who dreams of clothing all the naked animals in the world. Not strange enough for you? Get this: he’s married to a lady wrestler and is the only male member in a knitting club run by old ladies. Sadly, the truly bizarre show was never greenlit. I guess Hollywood just wasn’t ready for a Tim Carey style TV series.
One of Carey’s biggest fans in his later years was a young writer-director named Quentin Tarantino who was making his debut with a low budget heist film called Reservoir Dogs. QT even dedicated the script in part to Carey who was a main inspiration for the idea/characters. Films like Crime Wave and The Killing were longtime favorites of his. Carey was also up for the part of Joe Cabot, the planner of the heist, but it later was given to film noir veteran Lawrence Tierney, who was, like Carey, known to be a handful to deal with on film sets.
Timothy Carey died of a stroke on May 11, 1994. He truly was a one of a kind human being and artist that fans of classic cinema will fondly remember for being so unique. Timothy Carey: WHAT A CHARACTER!
For more Timothy Carey tribute craziness we highly recommend the internet’s biggest website dedicated to him: THE TIMOTHY CAREY EXPERIENCE