Honoring Rip Taylor (1931-2019)

Charles Elmer Taylor Jr. was born in 1931 in Washington D.C. and was raised by his mother. As a young man he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. It was during his time abroad in the service that Taylor embarked on his career in comedy.

Silver gelatin photograph: Rip Taylor and showgirl beauty, Rusty Rowe at Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter nightclub in New York City, c. mid-1960s. (Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws)

During his military stint, Taylor experimented with pantomiming to recordings of famous vocalists. Following his two years in the Army, he took the act to Atlantic City and other entertainment capitals.

Eventually he dropped the lip-sync idea and brought standup performances to many clubs in the northeastern United States and performed everywhere from burlesque shows at tiny watering holes to nightclubs that boasted headliners of the day, to the summer resort circuit in the Catskill Mountains. He took to the spotlight, branding his unique stage presence. He began to get noticed and gradually developed a following.

At Lou Walters’ World Famous Latin Quarter in Times Square, Taylor appeared a number of times as the featured comedian. Friend and singer John Hemmer remembers the comedian’s generosity during a run at the Manhattan club during the late 1960s. Hemmer often recalled Taylor as being as warm and sweet as he was hysterical.

The two performers crossed paths earlier in their respective careers and remained life-long friends. Taylor was a regular face at John’s New York apartment in Hell’s Kitchen for decades.

Color gelatin photograph: Rip Taylor (left) receiveing birthday cake from friend, John Hemmer (right), New York City, c. 1965 (Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws)

Initially gaining national attention as “the crying comedian,” Taylor’s nightclub gigs led to guest appearances on television shows including appearances on The Jackie Gleason Show and The Ed Sullivan Show as this character.

An excerpt from Taylor on The Jackie Gleason Show where the comedian interrupts Gleason’s monologue, reveals his self-deprecating approach to humor. With every punch line, Taylor dabs his face with an oversized handkerchief and continues exaggerated sobs on Gleason’s shoulder as the host dryly rolls his eyes.

Rip Taylor to Jackie Gleason: I’ve tried everything in showbiz. I’ve been a failure til now. Thank gosh for you.

Rip Taylor toward audience: I had my own trained flea circus. You know what I mean? One day I’m rehearsing my fleas and a dog walked by and stole the whole show!

Later dropping the “crying comedian” moniker, Taylor fittingly began his paper confetti and props focused acts that had lasting effects and would propel Taylor to regularity on talk, variety and game shows of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

Taylor appeared in narrative television shows. A regular on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters as Sheldon the Sea Genie, and as a neighbor and performer on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, he enjoyed many guest appearances and returning character roles on television throughout this period. Having secured a name for himself through his distinctive sense of comedy Taylor voiced a number of successful animated series characters on such favorites as The Addams Family and The Jetsons.

Paper postcard advertisement: c. 1980s. Courtesy John Hemmer Archive, LLC. Image subject to copyright laws.

Continuing with live performance, Taylor did acts in Las Vegas for many years where he worked with other performers such as long-time friend Debbie Reynolds. Later he penned his own one-man show reflecting on his life, surviving bullying and other challenges in It Ain’t All Confetti (2010).

Broadway credits include Sugar Babies (1979-82) where he replaced Mickey Rooney as well as national tours of several musical productions, character work in a number of fiction films and at one point hosted his own competition show.

*Please let us know about any suggested edits or fact corrections. We care about accuracy. Contact us through the John Hemmer Archive Credits page.

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Kirsten

Kirsten is a documentarian and archivist influenced by interests in mid-century political and cultural history, non-fiction filmmaking and the preservation of personal heritage and cinema art legacies.