Taylor Mead, Bohemian and Actor, Dies at 88
By DOUGLAS MARTINMAY 9, 2013 / http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/10/movies/taylor-mead-bohemian-and-actor-dies-at-88.html


Taylor Mead last month at a gathering of friends on the day he moved out of his apartment after a battle with a real estate developer 
Credit Mario Tama/Getty Images

9 mai. / 2013 - Taylor Mead, a poet, actor and exuberant bohemian who collaborated with Andy Warhol in the 1960s to nurture a new approach to making movies — sometimes spontaneously, always inexpensively (hand-held 16-millimeter cameras sufficed) and brashly experimental (one film consisted of an hourlong shot of Mr. Mead’s bare posterior) — died on Wednesday in Colorado. He was 88.

Rachel Churner, an owner of Churner and Churner, a Chelsea gallery that has exhibited Mr. Mead’s paintings, confirmed the death, saying she had no further details. Some Web sites said that he had died in Denver of a stroke.

Mr. Mead was the quintessential Downtown figure. He read his poems in a Bowery bar, walked as many as 80 blocks a day and fed stray cats in a cemetery, usually after midnight. His last years were consumed by a classic Gotham battle against a landlord, which ended in his agreeing to leave his tenement apartment in return for money. At his death, he had been intending to return to New York after visiting a niece in Colorado.


A photograph of Mr. Mead from 1970. Credit Raeanne Rubenstein

It was as an actor in what was called the New American Cinema in the 1960s that he made his biggest mark. Warhol recruited him as one of his first “superstars,” and from 1963 to 1968 he made 11 films with Mr. Mead. In all, Mr. Mead figured that he had made about 130 movies, many of them so spontaneous that they involved only one take.

The film critic J. Hoberman called Mr. Mead “the first underground movie star.” The film historian P. Adams Sitney called one of Mr. Mead’s earliest films, “The Flower Thief” (1960), “the purest expression of the Beat sensibility in cinema.”

 The Flower Thief, directed by Ron Rice, stars Mr. Mead as a bedraggled mystic wandering the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco with open-mouthed wonder. He carries with him his three prized possessions: a stolen gardenia, an American flag and a teddy bear.

It goes almost without saying that Mr. Mead was playing himself, as Susan Sontag observed in Partisan Review. “The source of his art is the deepest and purest of all: he just gives himself, wholly and without reserve, to some bizarre autistic fantasy,” she wrote. “Nothing is more attractive in a person, but it is extremely rare after the age of 4.”


Mr. Mead figured he had made about 130 movies in all, many of them so spontaneous that they involved one take. Credit Raeanne Rubenstein

Warhol explained how The Flower Thief” which he had nothing to do with, had happened. “Taylor was in San Francisco in ’56 when the Beat poetry scene got going,” he said. “One day he stood up on a bar and, over the noise all the drunks were making, started screaming some poems he’d written. Ron Rice saw that scene and began following him around, filming him with black-and-white war surplus film stock.”

Warhol became aware of Mr. Mead from his poetry readings in New York in the late 1950s, and they met in the early 1960s. In September 1963, Mr. Mead accompanied Warhol on a cross-country trip to Los Angeles. The entourage filmed scenes for what would become, in 1964, Mr. Mead’s first film for Warhol, Tarzan and Jane Regained ... Sort Of.

Mr. Mead played Tarzan, edited the film and handled the sound. On screen, his sarong kept falling off while climbing trees, prompting a critic to say that he really did not want to see any more two-hour films of Mr. Mead’s derrière.

Mr. Mead wrote a letter to The Village Voice saying that after searching “the Archives of the Warhol colossus,” he and Warhol could find no two-hour film of Mr. Mead’s behind. “We are rectifying this undersight,” he said, and Warhol soon made what would become a little-seen cult classic, the title describing in three words precisely what the critic did not want to see (though the coarser Anglo-Saxon term was used instead of the French).


A film critic called Mr. Mead 'the first underground movie star.' Credit Raeanne Rubenstein

Taylor Mead was born in Grosse Pointe, Mich., on Dec. 31, 1924, to wealthy parents. In junior high school, his nickname was Star. After attending a private high school, Grosse Point Academy — “brainwashing for the bourgeoisie,” he termed the experience — he wandered around the country and held a variety of jobs, including broker at Merrill Lynch. He studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse in California and the Herbert Berghof Studio.

He came to New York, he said, because he thought it would be easier to be anonymous. He found his way to the thriving poetry scene and was soon being asked to appear in plays. He won an Obie Award in 1963 for his performance in “The General Returns From One Place to Another,” by the poet Frank O’Hara. He began to keep journals of poems and thoughts, which he mimeographed and distributed. He made paintings and other visual art to accompany his poetry.


William Rice Taylor Mead Réalisateur Jim Jarmusc

In 2003 he appeared in the Jim Jarmusch film Coffee and Cigarettes, a series of vignettes. Mr. Mead appears for only a few minutes in a scene with the artist and actor Bill Rice, but critics said it struck a poignant note. In the scene, the dreamy-eyed Mr. Mead asks the skeptical Mr. Rice to pretend that their greasy-spoon coffee is fine Champagne.

In 2005 Mr. Mead, who left no immediate survivors, was the subject of a documentary, Excavating Taylor Mead, directed by William A. Kirkley. The same year he published a book of poems, “A Simple Country Girl.” One poem declares: “I am a national treasure/If there were such a thing.”

Correction: May 18, 2013
An obituary on May 10 about the poet, artist and underground film actor Taylor Mead misidentified the author of a letter published in The Village Voice in 1964. The letter was written by Mr. Mead, not by Andy Warhol, and it referred to “the archives of the Warhol colossus,” not “the vast Warhol archives.”


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