Timothy Carey is my favorite character actor. His 6′ 4″ frame and menacing looks got him plenty of work as a noir heavy, and an often uncredited one at that; it’s not for nothing that he’s listed in the cast for Shock Treatment as “Hulking patient.” His scene-chewing walk-ons would be enough to land him in the darker annals of Hollywood legend, a kind of demonic Edward Everett Horton. Imagine for a moment that Carey was born a generation or two sooner and had a recurring role in the Fred and Ginger movies; perhaps Hermes Pan would have recognized a kind of grace in seventy-six inches of mean lank and, on the merits or at knifepoint, given the man a dancing role?
But Carey wasn’t your ordinary character actor, and his was not an ordinary career. To crib from the notes I wrote for a brief Timothy Carey film series I curated for a now defunct repertory program in Washington, D.C., : [Carey] was known to go to unusual lengths to get a role. Hoping for a part in Prince Valiant, he donned medieval robes and climbed a fence to brandish a knife at Henry Hathaway. At a casting call for The Godfather, he shot blanks at Francis Ford Coppola, who returned fire with glee. Carey didn’t get either of those parts, though Coppola kept trying to hire him anyway. Not satisfied with chewing somebody else’s scenery, Carey directed himself in the notorious underground film The World’s Greatest Sinner, and upon his death was working on a stage production of a play he called “The Insect Trainer,” a salute to the irrepressible creative energy of flatulence.
I recently looked up Timothy Carey in a database of historical newspapers and found a number of intriguing items:
New York Times, May 8, 1957
Missing US Actor is Found
MUNICH, Germany, May 7 (Reuters)–Timothy Carey, 31-year old Hollywood actor who disappeared from his hotel here sunday night, was found gagged and handcuffed on a lonely road outside Munich this morning, the police said here today. They said the actor had hitched a ride in a car driven by two English-speaking men, who held him at gunpoin, robbed him of $40 and finally dumped him by the roadside
One’s natural first response is, “What kind of thug holds up Timothy Carey?” My dear fellow American suggests an intimidation level of three Klaus Kinksi’s, but I’m not sure that even an unholy trinity of Communist Kinksi’s could strike that much reckless fear into the eyes of this fallen American Carey.
But what further intrigued me, upon scrolling reel after reel of virtual microfilm, was that the name Timothy Carey was associated with an uncanny violence in at least two previous iterations.
New York Times, July 5, 1887
SUICIDE OF A VIOLENT WOMAN
Ellen Carey, the wife of a cripple, Timothy Carey, living at Tenth Avenue and One-hundred and Fortieth Street, commited suicide yesterday by taking a dose of rat poison. She had been quarelling all night with her husband, and about 7 o’clock in the morning resorted to force, striking him a severe blow with a stick of wood. She then drank the contents of a teacup, afterward found to have contained poison, and died almost immediately.
The deceased had been known as a woman of violent temper, approaching at times to insanity. During Mr. Cleveland’s Administration as Governor she was pardoned from state prison after serving two years of a life sentence for arson. She had been convicted of setting fire to a house belonging to her sister.
Finally, this item, which despite the chronological proximity to the previous tragedy, is, owing to the manner of injury, unlikely to be a document of the widower Carey.
New York Times, September 28, 1897
BICYCLIST FOUND UNCONSCIOUS
Timothy Carey Picked Up Near Vineland, N.J., with a crushed head.
VINELAND, N. J:, Sept. 27.–Timothy Carey, a bicyclist, was found lying unconscious in the middle of the road near this place to-night. His head was badly crushed, and it is probable he will die. His bicycle, a light racing machine, was lying beside him totally wrecked. It is not know how he was hurt.
Good night, sweet three Timothy Careys, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.