I am delighted to discover that he hit Norman Mailer with a hammer. Okay, let’s be fair—I’m delighted to discover that anyone hit Norman Mailer with a hammer; Norman Mailer was a terrible person. They were in the movie Maidstone together, with Mailer directing and starring. The fight was part of the plot, but apparently they got a little carried away. So Rip Torn his him with a hammer, and Mailer bit Torn’s ear. And the fight is actually in the movie, if you want to see that. Which why wouldn’t you?
For decades, you wanted a gruff-voiced guy who took no nonsense, you cast Rip Torn. His credits go back to 1956, with the uncomfortable Baby Doll, and include an interesting assortment of films. Some of them are classics. Some of them are merely pretty good. Some of them, yes, are awful. And some of them, I’ve never heard of. Ninety-one, all told, with ninety-three TV shows. He seems to have pretty well retired now, which is probably a combination of age and certain legal issues.
Torn definitely played a type. When you see him show up in something, you can pretty well be sure what kind of character you’re going to get. But the important thing is that he’s always played that character well. Maybe you don’t go to Torn for range, but you do definitely go to him for quality. Honestly, there’s a certain amount of overlap between him and Harry Dean Stanton, and I’m kind of left wondering who’s going to do those roles now that Stanton is dead and Torn is retired. Maybe Torn was seldom as just plain odd as Stanton, but other than that, I could often see one playing the other’s roles if I thought about it—Stanton as Zed would have been different but no less interesting.
Actually, I feel kind of guilty that Zed is pretty much exclusively how I think of him. It’s been a while since I’ve seen A Face in the Crowd and don’t remember him in it. I’m not a fan of The Larry Sanders Show. I look over the list of things he was in, and I think, “I’ve never seen it . . . I don’t want to see it . . . wow, that wasn’t good . . . I don’t remember him in that.” And yet there’s a strong career for all that; after all, those movies all got made, and at worst, they have one good, solid actor in them.
A few details that don’t really merit paragraphs of their own. He’s Sissy Spacek’s first cousin. “Rip” is a family nickname, presumably because “Rip Torn” is funny. He was married to Geraldine Page for twenty-four years, until her death, and seemed delighted by the fact that the label on their doorbell was “Torn Page.” He is in Men in Black III even though Zed isn’t, as an alien in the funeral scene. And for many years, I got him and Rip Taylor confused, because “Rip” is an unusual name, and wouldn’t you expect the weird guy to be Rip Torn?
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