As you may have already heard, character actor and comedian Taylor Negron died over the weekend. He was one of those guys who always seemed to turn up in unexpected places and make whatever he was in a little better, and definitely a little stranger. A veteran “that guy” since the early eighties, Negron’s first role that comes to mind for me is Milo in The Last Boy Scout, but that probably says more about me than him.
Anyway, this past Summer, our friend Brian Abrams sent me some links the Lowbrow Reader, a comedy zine by Jay Ruttenberg that Abrams had begging him to put online. One link was to this fantastic Ruttenberg piece about Gilbert Gottfried, and the other was to one written by Taylor Negron.
It’s hard to describe the premise in a single sentence, but the gist of it is Negron’s reflection on his life as a semi-famous person, a career that began with him pretending to do cocaine at Hollywood parties with Robin Williams, that he eventually rode to the heights of playing the Olsen twins’ nanny. I’ll excerpt a couple parts below, but let me say at the outset, you should probably just read the whole thing.
I can build a time machine entirely from teak, cure morbid obesity in preteens, and conclusively solve the Kennedy assassination, and still people will identify me as [the pizza guy in Fast Times]. I am a character actor, professionally descending from a proud lineage of Hollywood figures who proved that the doorman or cab driver can be just as important to a film as its star. And so, to stoners and former juvenile delinquents I am Jeff Spicoli’s pizza boy. Girls and feminine boys—these bitchy bugs in oversized sunglasses—know me as the Olsen Twins’ nanny. To the kindly women working security at LaGuardia, I am Monica’s boss on Friends.
But the people who warm my heart are those who recognize me from Easy Money, the 1983 Rodney Dangerfield film.
After one of our shows on the expansive green lawn, an elfin man approached and, speaking in a crisp brogue, told me how much he enjoyed the performance. He claimed to be from Dublin. I had never met anybody from Ireland, and savored his screwy Lucky Charms accent. He attended our shows week after week.
We became close enough that one day, the leprechaun was forced to come clean: He did not hail from Dublin and his accent was fake. He was an American actor named Robin Williams, preparing to star in a sitcom called Mork & Mindy. He asked me to hang out with him at Paramount Studios. Sitting on the bleachers, I watched my fake Irish friend portray a space alien. “This show,” I thought, “will never fly.”
I left Hollywood because it became clean and sparkly. Studio guards began requesting multiple pieces of identification when I showed up to audition for a CW comedy that paid scale. The town became a retirement community for 21-year-olds with Chihuahuas and protein-shake habits.
Calmly, I wait to get discovered once again—just like Rodney. I confess: When I started writing this, I was not the world’s biggest Dangerfield fan. Yet the more I think of him, the more I admire him, and the more I miss him. I covet his second act. Rodney Dangerfield has become my role model. And I shot him in the ass in a Technicolor movie. [LowbrowReader]
Even before he died, Negron was convinced he was part of a dying breed. As he wrote in an XOJane piece, “Nowadays in Hollywood there is a new austerity. […] A great many character actors from the 1980s are going to have to accept their future the same way the Titanic accepted the iceberg.”
It’s true that almost all of Negron’s now parts feel like they belong to an earlier, scruffier era, before we learned to autotune the little imperfections out of everything. To borrow the most obvious cliché of all, he will be missed.