Q&A: JACK TAYLOR
Do I need to introduce the great Jack Taylor to our readers? One of the most iconic actors in worldwide cinema needs not presentation! Born in America but internationally known for his roles in cult productions such as The Ninth Gate, Conan the Barbarian, The Birthday, Pieces… and many others.
For long I had looked forward to interviewing him and… here we are! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!
SPANISHFEAR: First, let me thank you for answering these questions for spanishfear.com It is an honor to have you as a guest.
Some months ago, your autobiography CUENTO LO QUE MI DISCO DURO ME PERMITE was published in Spanish. I loved the part in which you talked about Marilyn Monroe and other essential figures from the golden age of Hollywood, can you tell us a little about how you get there and your impressions on those times?
May you speak about you on THE JACK BENNY SHOW?
Jack Taylor: It’s curious that each time the words Marilyn Monroe are pronounced in a conversation or in the form of a question when being interviewed, journalists suddenly forget all else and become fixed on those two words. There must be some form of magic in them. Perhaps I should adapt them as a personal mantra.
The story is the following: I hadn’t been in Hollywood for more than two or three weeks, had rented an apartment on Doheny Drive just across from where the rising star lived and I would get up every morning at five a.m. to watch her drive off in her red ford, head kerchiefed, dark sun glasses supposedly protecting her from curious types like me at that early hour. The vision was always brief.
At the same time, I had received a call from the JACK BENNY SHOW, went to the casting office and came away with my first role in Hollywood. Big time!
The routine was then and maybe now: rehearsals Friday and Saturday and recording on Sunday after dress rehearsal. I was fascinated with Mr. Benny, he on stage, his nine writers down below writing, polishing, discarding refraining the jokes that Mr. Benny would lightly deliver or discard… always or seemingly, so effortless.
Friday and Saturday came and went and Sunday was when the weekly star arrived to rehearse and finally record. The star did arrive (an hour late) and it was none than MM! My first impression was of disappointment. She walked with a cane, weak chinned, hair in rollers, no make-up, wearing what was known in those days as: CAPRI PANTS, an item that left nothing to the imagination and there was plenty under them to imagine.
After each run through Ms. M would come down to converse with her coach, a Russian lady who suffered terribly when she was cast aside in favor of Mrs. Strasberg. Finally, it was time to record. Everyone in position and out comes the star, and what a star. Magic had been performed and there appeared the Ms. Monroe that we all know from films… her blond hair carefully coiffed, a dress that later would have to be peeled away, running lightly in her five inch heels, effervescent, giggling… Magic was the word.
Later when the show was aired I went to the bar at Chasen’s to see it and found myself surrounded by names such as Walter Wanger, the famous producer, George Burns and Gracie Allen and others who, I’m sure, were surprised to see this unknown face in their midst. I was equally surprised to discover how little the camera had focused on me!
SF: By the way, will there be any chance of having that book published in English? Many of our readers are asking for that!
Jack Taylor: I’ve been asked to write my bio in English and perhaps I will if any publisher is interested.
SF: You grew up in a ranch, you have been acting all around the world, why did you choose Spain as your home at last? What did you find here that there wasn’t anywhere else?
Jack Taylor: Growing up. I was born on my maternal grandparent’s ranch but didn’t grow up there. It was a family custom established by my great grandfather for all of us to make a first appearance there. After a few days, we returned to the city. It was later and because of circumstances that I did live there for three years and where I’d spend part of my summers. It was there, too, at a little school where I made my first public appearance as Father Christmas in a school play. It was curious, but when I first stepped upon that improvised stage an inner voice said: this is for me.
It took me quite a while to arrive in Spain… first came Hollywood where I was quick to realize (or I was told) that my type was too European since everyone was imitating Marlon Brando (usually badly… they still do). I was impressed with Italian cinema and wanted to go to Italy but couldn’t afford it so where else was I different? Mexico. I lived there six years, did theater in English and Spanish, TV Americano, and thirteen films in Spanish. One evening I was passing the TV studios and someone said: we’re looking for you. It was one of the producers of a musical comedy… I got the job. We did RED HEAD for a year, then went on tour of the Republic when the producers decided to take it to Spain where it would be something new. It was new alright… so new and different that after couple of weeks the audiences shrunk to a dozen people. Musical comedy as now known simply didn’t exist there. Variety shows or something equal, yes… but not musical comedy. We played out our three-month contract, the rest of the cast returned to Mexico and I stayed. I was in Europe.
SF: You have worked in so many movies that I think it would be impossible to talk about all, so let me focus on some directors related to the web theme. You were part of Jess Franco, Paul Naschy, Jose Larraz, Amando de Ossorio, J.P. Simon and Klimovsky movies, what was working with them like? What are the things you like the most from those years and projects?
Jack Taylor: Jess Franco was always an adventure. We traveled far and wide, at times ate well… sometimes didn’t (eat). We were young, creative and ahead of our time. It’s curious that the Franco films are still being researched, written about and re-interpreted. I’m amazed by the many so called hidden messages supposedly found in those films of which we had no idea. Working with Jess kept us on our toes and as the years pass, more and more do I appreciate the eight-film, ten-year experience. I chose not to work with him after because what he was doing was not up to his former standards. Even so, we remained friends. I owe him a great deal.
Leon Klimovsky: A cultured gentleman. A good craftsman and a secure investment for any producer. I always said that Leon could take three… feet film and present a full-length drama, comedy… whatever was requested.
Paul Naschy: I worked with Paul Only as an actor. He was entirely dedicated to his craft and genre. He lived and breathed it. He felt that his work was not appreciated here in Spain… and it wasn’t… none of the genre films were at the time, but they have out lived the so called super productions, most of which are forgotten. I’m happy that the friendship his son Sergio Molina and the Molina family continues.
Amando de Ossorio: Another lover of cinema but… and he told me in such a moment of anger that he has too many actors. Secretly he enjoyed working more with his special effects. His templars is an excellent example. Someone should renew those characters.
José Larraz: A good friend. I did a TV series with him and two or three films… can’t remember. The films we did are not among my favorites but that was more the fault of the producers that his I believe. He also felt unappreciated here.
J.P. Simon: A good commercial director with a keen sense of Marketing. Journey to the Center of the Earth is still a favorite. We also did PIECES which continues to receive wide approval.
These films were not being done when we did them… and in part it was a way around the strict censorship that raised its ugly head at every turn.
SF: Every time I have interviewed actresses from destape times, I got the impression, especially from the lovely Mirta Miller, that they were not so happy with nude scenes and all the atmosphere around this kind of cinema. How did you feel in these scenes?
Jack Taylor: After General Franco passed away to glory, everybody wanted to shed their outer trappings… a curious way to exercise their new gained freedom, I suppose. I can understand why actresses were uncomfortable doing this but, believe me, there is nothing erotic in doing a nude scene what with the entire crew hovering around. (Where did they all come from so suddenly) while the actor is doing his best not to expose certain portions of his physic while performing with supposedly unbridled passion… at the same time his partner complains: you are covering my face, and the director yelling: stay in the light! It’s not easy.
SF: Not all fans are familiar with you dubbing works, can you give us the names of some of the movies you dubbed and tell us if you enjoyed the experience? Are you still on this?
Jack Taylor: There was a time when we dubbed a great deal… Spanish into English and some Spanish versions. I don’t like dubbing nor dubbed films, but there was a demand… there were no original versions until Franco’s death in 1975. I haven’t done any except for my own characters in many, many years. I think that the last time was in THE NINTH GATE.
SF: What do you think are the greatest differences in Spanish cinema in the times you came here for the first time and nowadays?
Jack Taylor: When I first arrived here, censorship weighed heavily. No touching, no kissing unless it was quick and on the cheek, no tight trousers nor low necklines. The men were usually in some kind of uniform, sometimes clerical… or at least were happy students…. Girls/women always virtuous… everyone patriotic… all ending up with a wedding just like the old days in Hollywood or Moscow. It’s curious that in all dictatorial regimes be the rightest ot leftish… censorship is the same. Now there is mores hanky panky on TV than we ever attempted to do.
SF: You were the priest in Conan, what are your impressions on Arnold Schwarzenegger and the shooting?
Jack Taylor: Speaking of priests. Yes, I was a kinky one in Conan, the Barbarian, trying to get Arnold into the bushes but he out fooled me. I had met John Milius at casting… he didn’t know what to do with me until someone said he could play the Priest. Milius responded: the priest is homosexual and when playing a homosexual… I interrupted with: don’t exaggerate.
I got the part. Off I was sent to Almeria, costumed and put into a trailer to wait… no information, no instructions, nothing. I was so nervous that I couldn’t remember my lines. An entire day passed. Next day not on call, the third day I was planted in the middle of those extras. Market wares and what have you, heard action and saw this piece of walking, double width wardrobe backing up and coming at me. I thought was how am I going to stop him? Then my actor’s reflexes began to function, I held out my hand, when he touched it with his shoulder he stopped, we did the scene… in the afternoon we finished it with my death. That was it… the director nor any production person said a word to me during those three days… only as we were leaving, Arnold in his T-shirt and cigar said: John is very happy. He should be.
SF: And what about Polanski? He directed you in The Ninth Gate.
Jack Taylor: Polanski is another case. One of the easiest directors I’ve worked with and perhaps the kindest. The Ninth Gate was the easiest job I’ve ever done. He only gave me two bits of direction… after the first day Johnny Depp and I did bits without rehearsals. I have only the fondest memories of that shoot.
SF: Eugenio Mira’s The Birthday is one of my favorite movies, since then you have been in each of his films, how did you meet and was it love at first sight?
Jack Taylor: I don’t know how to express my devotion to any director as that I feel for Eugenio Mira. He’s a genius and I hope to work with him again soon… anytime, anywhere. We’ve done three films together… I hope there is a forth. A great director and friend. We met on The Birthday, later did Agnosia and finally Grand Piano, in which there was no role for me but if you look closely, photos of me are all over the place.
SF: Your last cult character was Dr. Knox for Victor Matellano’s WAX. Some months ago, you were awarded for this role and there is also a wax figure of you as this mad doctor at Madrid Wax Museum. Who were your main influences when you were preparing for this? Did you ever expect to be part of a museum?
Jack Taylor: Victor Matellano is a friend and director with whom I’ve worked on several occasions and hope to do again soon. The role of Dr. Knox in WAX is a gift he made me… or I created for him… both probably. It’s one of my favorites and I am grateful that it was written for me. There are hopes of reviving the character which I look forward to. There are many sides to the ill-famed doctor and I hope to explore some of them. Victor has a great deal of talent and I wish him every success.
SF: What are you proudest in your career?
Jack Taylor: The proudest in my career is that I’ve continued working steadily for all these years.
SF: Is there anything you still want to achieve? I mean, acting related.
Jack Taylor: To continue working and enjoying what I do… that is quite enough.
SF: Any future projects?
Jack Taylor: At the moment, I have three for the coming year… I hope the develop beyond projects.
Thanks so much again. There were so many more questions I wanted to ask you but I didn’t want you to become tired. Then, I have the perfect excuse to ask you for another interview.
 I should mention that my apartment was behind a building and over a garage that was on Doherty Drive and in the alley next to Chasen’s restaurant where the famous gathered to eat, see and be seen.
Elena Anele is the woman in charge of SPANISHFEAR.COM, Horror Rises from Spain and Un Fan de Paul Naschy . A literature and cinema researcher, finishing her postgraduate studies with a thesis about the mystic filmmaker José Val del Omar. She has published in different media and books as Fangoria or Hidden Horror. She has also been in charge of several translations including Javier Trujillo’s complete works, La Mano Film Fest, The Man who Saw Frankenstein Cry and many more.