Tall Man, Big Heart: A Tribute to Angus ScrimmHome,Movies/TV,News Tony Timpone
The flood of online tributes to the late, great Angus Scrimm (real name Lawrence Rory Guy), who passed away at age 89 on Saturday night, all say the same thing: Angus was the nicest guy in horror and a true gentleman. He made everyone he ever met feel special. Of all the celebrities I crossed paths with during my long FANGORIA tenure, Angus ranks as one of the few who became a true friend.
Like many of you, I first met Angus at the movies: the now-gone Trylon theater in Forest Hills, Queens, to be precise. At a 1979 matinee showing of Don Coscarelli’s PHANTASM, horror pal Joe Gaudio and I huddled in the dark at the fearsome presence of the Tall Man, one of the genre’s most unique villains. The character exhibited the right touch of old-school Universal horror evilness and otherworldly strangeness. We were hooked on PHANTASM’s nightmare imagery, those deadly silver spheres and the introduction of the first new genuine horror star since Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
Eight years later, I finally got to stand next to the Tall Man. One of the perks of being the editor of FANGORIA was co-producing and hosting Creation/FANGO’s Weekend of Horrors conventions. Spring 1988 brought me to L.A. for our annual L.A. con. Unexpectedly, the PHANTASM II folks had taken out a table at the event, but somehow they did not have a spot on the auditorium schedule. This could not be! So after a brief confab with Creation chief Adam Malin, I became tasked with wrangling surprise guest Angus Scrimm to the stage.
Angus was signing autographs in the dealers’ room, his table elevated on a slight platform. He was dressed nattily in a suit (I never saw Angus out of a suit!) and giving his full attention to every single fan who approached him. As his custom, he asked each person to tell him a little about themselves and expressed genuine interest in anything the awestruck attendees mentioned. Anyway, I nervously introduced myself to Angus. I say “nervously” because, at age 25, I had yet to meet many of the genre’s royalty at that point. I didn’t know what to expect from Scrimm: Would he decline my invitation? Would he make some kind of financial demands? Would he blow me off? Of course, in the end, nothing could have been farther from the truth. Angus warmly accepted my request and agreed to take the stage for an impromptu Q&A, the first of many that would bring Angus to FANGO events all across the United States.
So began a friendship that would last for decades. Of all the horror celebs that I have encountered, Angus was the most appreciative. Anytime his name appeared in print, he would mail a typewritten note thanking FANGO for the flattering coverage. He soon became a cherished member of the FANGO Family. When Steve Jacobs, FANGO owner Norman Jacob’s son, was drafted to produce a Fango TV commercial in 1989, he asked me to see about coaxing Angus to star in the spot. Not only did Angus say yes, but he appeared in character as the Tall Man and helped us write the commercial!
The speedy shoot (lensed at the same mausoleum as PHANTASM!) went so seamlessly (much due to Angus’ professionalism) that Jacobs and spot director Damon Santostefano hatched the idea of launching a series of FANGORIA feature films. And when we began casting a year later for the first venture, MINDWARP, who did we call on to co-star alongside Bruce Campbell? Angus. In MINDWARP’s postapocalyptic world, he played the evil, eye-plucking Seer. For promotion, I enlisted Angus to keep a set diary, which we published in FANGO #100 in March 1991. His prose was perfect, and he truly enjoyed being published again after his previous career spent penning articles for film and TV magazines, as well as record album liner notes. For FANGO #178, Angus shared his production journal to PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION, which readers fervently devoured as well.
As the Weekend of Horrors conventions grew more and more popular at cities all over America throughout the late ’80 and ’90s, I inevitably put Angus on the top of my wish list. Though he was careful not to overexpose himself at these events, he never refused me. Nobody treated the fans better than Angus; he abhorred the practice in later years of stars charging for autographs and photo ops. (In addition, he answered every piece of fan mail that came to his house.) Angus strived to give us something extra special during his stage appearances. He sang songs, recited poetry flawlessly (including Poe’s “The Raven” and “Annabelle Lee”) and told wonderful anecdotes with just enough theatricality. Behind the stage, Angus would fret anxiously, never feeling he was good enough for the crowd. Although I would reassure him, he would occasionally take a swig of red wine to calm his nerves before he took the mic.
Friendship continued to blossom between us, and after Angus attended New York FANGO cons in 1995 and 1998, he stayed over my house in Brooklyn for a few extra days to decompress. He took an immediate liking to my wife, Marguerite, though at that point she had never even seen one of his films. The two became fast friends, and in the pre-email era, Angus and Marguerite corresponded regularly as “Victorian pen pals.” Knowing Marguerite’s interest in vintage eras, Angus would write wonderful notes on antique writing paper and cards and send to her. Mrs. T swooned over each one. To this day, when Marguerite parades guests around our house, she points out that special back bedroom and proudly proclaims, “Angus Scrimm slept here.” We joked about putting up a plaque.
During Angus’ sleepovers, we would take him touring around our Brooklyn hood and at Long Island historical sites. The place he liked the most? The North Shore Animal League! Angus was a big dog lover and owned several. He would frequently call home while out of town just to check on his babies. At North Shore, Angus fell for a big, ungainly rescue dog, and he wracked his brain on how he could get the mutt back to Van Nuys. Though he never did adopt that pet, he found homes for several others back in California. In his last days, he still walked his dog to the park seven days a week and would enjoy conversing with fellow animal enthusiasts.
Likewise, we had a ball showing Angus (and the Coscarelli family) around Montreal after I programmed PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION for the 1998 edition of the Fantasia Film Festival. He loved meeting his Canadian followers, and even rose early one morning for an invitation-only screening of local director Maurice Devereaux’s LADY OF THE LAKE, a movie he had reluctantly passed on playing a part in. No matter where Angus traveled, he strived to memorize the names of all those he came in contact with, an honorable trait that continually delighted strangers and acquaintances around the world. During his sojourns to FANGO’s Park Avenue South digs, he complimented art director Bill Mohalley for making him look so good on FANGO’s covers and even charmed the proverbially stressed-out Norman Jacobs.
When Marguerite and I visited the West Coast, Angus returned the favor and took us to several historical homes, museums and botanical gardens over the years. Once we met him at the home of a Burbank couple who collected rabbits (Marguerite adores bunnies), and Angus showed up with a bag of lettuce, carrots and celery for the cute cottontails. When he learned that Marguerite loved carousels, Angus, well into his seventies by then, joined us at the Santa Monica Pier, and we all enjoyed a grand old time riding the antique carousel together.
No one was more generous than Angus. When we would dine out, he’d constantly grab for the check first. Only when Marguerite distracted Angus was I occasionally quicker in beating him to the tab. At his first NYC FANGO con in 1991, I rounded up Angus and several of the other guests and friends for a dinner at a West Village Spanish restaurant. Much to my dismay, a few cheapskates skipped out early without paying their share of the bill, and Angus promptly put his hand in his pocket to make up the large difference (I stopped him). Each Christmas, the Timpones eagerly looked forwarded to Angus’ annual gift of See’s chocolates. And over the years, the box got bigger and bigger, as Angus delighted in the stories I told him of the two of us fighting over those delicious candies.
Once we took Angus to Long Island’s landmark Milleridge Inn for a traditional American dinner. He insisted on treating us as a thank you for the meals Marguerite dotingly prepared for him at our home, but when he noticed that I was deliberately ordering from the cheaper side of the menu to ease the strain on his wallet, he grew angry and said, “Tony, I won’t eat a blessed thing unless you order a top-shelf steak or the equivalent in price!” That’s the kind of man Angus was; you did him one solid, he paid you back with 10. Always a giver, never a taker.
Every holiday and birthday, Angus received a phone call from us, and he reciprocated as well. Just this last May, Angus left a warm message on our home number and both our cells in a bid to wish Marguerite a happy birthday. But Angus was good to everybody and displayed kindness to his fellow humans. From a third party, I heard of the time he valiantly defended an inexperienced actress on the set of a low-budget movie after the frustrated director ripped into her. In this rare instance where Angus raised his voice, the guy backed down pronto. Angus himself told me that he tried to avoid appearing in any movie with obscenity or where characters smoked. “I lost too many friends to cancer, so I won’t do films where smoking is encouraged,” he said.
Over the decades that we knew each other, Angus never turned me down for anything: FANGO cons… Chainsaw Award presenter… interviews for SCREAMOGRAPHY, Bravo’s 100 SCARIEST MOVIE MOMENTS, FANGORIA RADIO, the BLAIR WITCH Webcast, etc. He also came to me for advice. For example, Charles Band offered him a trip to Romania for a plum role in 1991’s SUBSPECIES, but hearing gossip from past crew who Band reportedly bounced checks on, Angus was on the fence on whether to accept the offer.
“Just get your money up front, and you’ll be fine,” I told him. Band agreed to shell out half his salary in advance, so Angus relented and flew to Europe. I also helped Angus get a job in Rome on the campfest FATAL FRAMES (1996). The Italian producers stiffed most of the cast and crew on that stinker, but at least Angus got paid in loose lire (!) before he hopped in a cab for the airport.
After the FANGO cons closed up shop in 2009, I didn’t see Angus in person as much as I would’ve liked. So when president Ronnie Hein and her New York City Horror Film Festival decided with me that Angus should receive the event’s Michael J. Hein Lifetime Achievement Award in November 2014, I knew this would be the much overdue reunion for all of us. Angus had just reached 88 a few months before, so there was some concern that his age would make the bicoastal flight difficult. Despite his advance years that had significantly slowed him down, Angus did not want to disappoint me or the hundreds of fans who came out to see him collect his award on that blustery and cold Friday night.
Walking with a cane and tiring easily, the trip could not have been easy for him, but Angus never complained once. He basked in the adoration of the attendees, as well as catching up with his many friends who trekked down to the Tribeca Cinemas to salute him: Larry Fessenden, whose Glass Eye Pix provided Angus with some of the best roles of his career, including I SELL THE DEAD; writer/director James Felix McKenney, who cast Angus to great effect in his movies AUTOMATONS, SATAN HATES YOU and especially THE OFF SEASON, where Angus delivered a wonderful performance as a retired rodeo star; super “phan” Kristen Deem, who grew up to become a mortician because of the Tall Man; and author Dustin McNeill, whose exhaustive book, PHANTASM EXHUMED, Angus excitedly penned the introduction to.
That weekend was bittersweet for Marguerite and me. In the back of our minds, we knew this may be the last time we saw Angus alive. So we spent as much time as we could with him, doted over him at his hotel and accompanied him for some great meals. This past Christmas, we called Angus for a merry chat. He sounded weak, but he still conversed for a good 45 minutes. He first inquired whether his See’s chocolates had arrived safely, we talked about the business and holiday plans, then made note to talk again in the very near future. The weekend we planned to reconnect, his longtime friend, Don Coscarelli, emailed me with the sad news of his passing. Though tears filled my eyes, I took comfort from Don’s words: “I want you to know how much joy your support and kindness meant to Angus.”
Well, Dear Angus, I want you to know how much joy your support and kindness meant to me. Thank you for making this dark universe a much lighter one.