For years I got Rip Torn and Rip Taylor confused, because Rip Torn was a relatively serious actor with a ridiculous stage name, and Rip Taylor was a ridiculous actor/comedian with a relatively normal name.
And trust me they look nothing alike.
It used to annoy the shit out of my mother in particular who is a movie buff, particularly classic movies. I swear, her best day ever was the day that the Turner Classic Movies Channel started. I grew up watching classic movies on TV. Basil Rathbone is still my Sherlock Holmes. I mean, Jeremy Brett’s ok, but Basil Rathbone was the bomb.
Anyway, Rip Torn is best known to people my age and younger from movies like Men in Black, and Dodgeball, but my parents’ generation knew him from roles in Dr. Kildare, Rawhide, Bonanza, Route 66, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and a lot of other older television shows. Seriously, go look at his freaking IMDB page. It’s a million miles long and almost as varied in content as Michael Caine’s.
He was in Beastmaster, starring Marc Singer, and Airplane II. He’s played Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Walt Whitman. He’s done Broadway, TV, and movies, both crap and fantastic. He was the voice of Zeus in Disney’s Hercules, and Admiral Winslow in Down Periscope!, one of my favorite movies ever. How the man delivered lines like, “Oh, don’t think like that! Damn it to hell, don’t go by the book, think like a pirate! I want a man with a tattoo on his dick! Have I got the right man?” with a straight face, I will never know.
By all reports he was a consummate professional, and one hell of an actor. Yes, he did do comedy, with fantastic timing, but the bulk of his roles were serious…
Which leads back to why my parents were really confused about why I had so much trouble keeping him and Rip Taylor straight. The wacky zany comedian, and a Tony nominated, Oscar nominated actor.
Who, as his later roles suggest, was not afraid to laugh at himself.
And for that, we salute him.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Torn.