We were surprised and pleased to see New York Post theater reporter Michael Reidel get a prime slot in this morning’s rotation. We should have known something was up. Reidel gets Angelica Page, daughter of Rip Torn, to talk smack about her dad.
“He’s pissed away so much — so much of his time and so much of his talent,” says Page fille in explanation of Torn’s latest drunken caper, in which he broke into a bank with a gun and passed out drunk on the floor, believing himself to be in his home. As a tinkly piano plays “Father Come Home” in the background, she adds that “maybe now he’s finally going to have to face the truth about himself and his drinking.” Torn is 79 years old.
Another acquaintance of the actor describes him as “paranoid.” We also hear how his late wife, Geraldine Page, wished to live long enough to see Torn stop drinking. (She didn’t, obviously.)
Rip Torn has had an amazing, hell-raising life. Coming out of rural Texas (and Army service — as an MP!) to The Actors Studio, he established himself in Hollywood, Broadway, and TV. He and Page traveled to Russia together, and later married; they had a country house they fancifully called Torn Page.
Torn apparently deliberately chose to evade a normal career path to do weirdo entertainments like Coming Apart and the Norman Mailer film Maidstone, during production of which he attacked his director with a hammer as cameras rolled. In middle age, he did a couple of Chekhov one-acts with Page, which performances were broadcast by PBS; not only were both stars terrific, they also showed obvious sexual chemistry. She apparently didn’t only stay with the drunkard Torn because he needed someone to carry him up the stairs.
Directing The Telephone in the late 80s, Torn told Whoopi Goldberg to stick to the fucking script, advice which she didn’t heed till later, when it won her an Oscar.
He has shown up to act in later life infrequently but always with distinction, from the disillusioned FBI man in The Private Life of J. Edgar Hoover (“I thought he was like my old man,” he said of Hoover in that film. “You know, kinda stiff.“) to the salty producer on The Larry Sanders Show. He always seemed to be having a good time, and gave us one in the process.
So he drinks. A lot. Maybe he should be separated from guns, and his freedom. But reformed? Made to take the Pledge? It’s a little late for that. It was probably too late for that when he hit Mailer with a hammer.
You never saw Richard Burton or Peter O’Toole get this kind of maudlin guff about their foibles. Mocked sometimes, sure. Denounced, and in other instances winked at, but no one had the temerity to suggest they go to AA. Britain could hardly be said to have a better class of tabloid journalism than ours, but at least it used to know how to treat its drunken actors.