When I discovered that a friend of mine has a blog called The Timothy Carey Experience, I immediately surfed over to find out what she meant by that intriguing title. I clicked the link and, low and behold, I saw the piercing eyes, the crazed expression, the unforgettable face that I recognized immediately. It was one of those "Oh, THAT guy" moments that often happens when we see a familiar actor whose name we don't know. I should have known the name and now I'll always remember it.
Timothy Carey was one of the most perfect embodiments of the term "character actor" that ever existed. He was a gifted, unpredictable thespian and he sure as hell was a Character. Although he was notoriously difficult to work with, Carey's unique screen quality and strange, riveting talent was sought out by the likes of Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando, Francis Ford Coppola, John Cassavetes and Quentin Tarantino. Although his preternatural intensity was thought by some to be chemically enhanced, Carey summed it up when he said, "People were always offering me grass or cocaine. I got my own cocaine -- my own personality. I am cocaine. What do I need that stuff for?" Indeed.
Carey was kind of like asafetida - the malodorous spice so odd and powerful it's known as devil's dung or stinking gum but also food of the god's. Just as asafetida can impart the right flavor to a recipe when used correctly, so Carey could enhance a film with his unsettling presence. But when handled improperly both the spice and the actor wreak havoc. Thus, although Carey's talent was admired, rumors of directors and co-stars losing their minds and attacking him abound, and Carey himself said he was known as "the scourge of Hollywood".
I first remember seeing Carey in Stanley Kubrick's anti-war masterpiece Paths Of Glory, in which he played the doomed soldier Pvt. Maurice Ferol. Although Carey was usually cast as evil, psychotic or a lunkheaded heavy, he was brilliant as Ferol, a part that called for vulnerability. I've never forgotten that film (or any of Kubrick's films - but that's another post altogether) and Carey was one of the main reasons it made an indelible impression.
Once you start delving into the being that was Timothy Carey you realize that the twists and turns of his life and his mind are seemingly endless. No wonder there's an entire site devoted to him. He worked with great masters and he also worked with The Monkees. He had many moments of genius and he had moments that are...well...hard to describe, like when he worked for eight years on a play about "the incarceration of farting in society and one man’s struggle to free it". But he also did a one man show about Salvador Dali - oh, how I wish I'd seen that!
For more about Carey - and anyone who is interested in acting, film, Hollywood or fascinating people should know more about Carey - check out the November 16, 2011 podcast of The Projection Booth and listen in as the marvelous Mike White and Marisa, the magical mind behind The Timothy Carey Experience discuss Carey's opus, The World's Greatest Sinner, a cult film classic that is as weird and wonderful as the man who created it.
I had posted a clip from The World's Greatest Sinner here but it was flagged by Absolute Film - who owns the copyright. I highly suggest, though that you follow the link to check them out.