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I Ain't Working Unless I Get Steak 'n' Eggs! 

Discovering the Age of Tierney

Wednesday, Jan 17 2007
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Most barroom chatter is a tedious gurgle of gripes and brag. Sometimes, though, you’ll overhear freewheeling riffs of banter from the old-timers at Boardner’s in Hollywood. Late in the afternoon and apropos of nothing, the bar’s former manager, Brad McAllen, and KCAL 9 News helicopter pilot Derek “Charley” Bell might suddenly bring up the late Lawrence Tierney, the tough-guy actor who appeared in Dillinger (1945), Born to Kill (1947) and Reservoir Dogs (1992). Tierney was an angry, anachronistic figure — a “double redundant” man at war with God and Hollywood, a chaotic but literate terror who embodied the duality of Krazy Kat and Ignatz, the trinity of Larry, Moe and Curly. The following is transcribed from one afternoon of reminiscences, with the permission of McAllen and Bell, who’d imitate Tierney’s gravelly Brooklynese whenever quoting him.

BRAD: He was a hell of a guy. Larry came in one day, and he was so drunk I said, “Larry, goddamn it, I can’t serve you.” He said, “Come on, kid, I’ve only had three fingers — in a bathtub!”

CHARLEY: When he got to drinking, he’d be absolutely volatile, obnoxious and unpredictable — probably a little scary and perhaps a little violent. His whole thing was, he had these huge fists — he was a bull of a guy.

click to flip through (2) Two thumbs locked: Lawrence Tierney with Anne Jeffreys in Dillinger (1945) (Monogram/Photofest)
  • Two thumbs locked: Lawrence Tierney with Anne Jeffreys in Dillinger (1945) (Monogram/Photofest)
 
 

BRAD: Larry and his brother, Scott Brady, and another brother who wasn’t an actor — they’d love to go out and get in fights. When they got drunk, all they wanted to do was fight. And they’d start a fight and all Steve Boardner had to do was holler, “Hey, I’m going to call your mother.” “Sorry, Steve!” — they were scared to death of their mother. She was a little woman. Larry didn’t like Scott. Larry was better looking and a much better actor, but Scott got more work than he did. I don’t know why.

CHARLEY: He was probably a hell of a lot easier to work with.

BRAD: They were filming Reservoir Dogs up in Eagle Rock, in a restaurant. Larry said, “I ain’t working unless I get steak ’n’ eggs!” Someone said, “Why can’t you have breakfast like everyone else?” He said, “I want steak ’n’ eggs or I ain’t working!” They had to open the kitchen so he could have steak and eggs before he’d go out on the set and work!

CHARLEY: Larry was telling me that once he was basically a homeless drunk on the streets of New York. He was splitting a room with another drunk in some flophouse. One night, he came home to get some sleep, but a fire had broken out in his room. The door was nailed shut. He was so drunk he didn’t understand. In the room next to him was an “Oriental guy” and his wife. He brought him into his room and put Larry Tierney into his bed, and the old guy and his wife slept on the floor. Larry said he had not slept in a cleaner, more comfortable bed in years. He slept like a baby and later tried to find the guy. He said, “I went to every Chinese restaurant on the East Side but couldn’t find him. I just wanted to thank him.”

BRAD: One of his drinking buddies was Aldo Ray. When Aldo and Larry were both on the bum, they’d go down to Skid Row. They’d show up three or four days later — piss all over their pants, all dirty where they threw up on themselves. Aldo was on the skids the same time Larry was. Aldo was friends with Joe Power of the Powerhouse. He never got a star, because he wouldn’t pay for it. I don’t think Larry’s got a star either, does he?

CHARLEY: Probably not, because it’s kind of a political thing to get those stars.

BRAD: Studios used to pay for them.

CHARLEY: Now it’s about $30,000.

BRAD: Back then it was twenty-five hundred. Aldo wouldn’t pay twenty-five hundred then. [On Hollywood, Larry] told me one time, “I’ve got no use for none of those pricks!”

CHARLEY: He had a stylized view of acting and what it should be, and what his place in it should be. And [Hollywood] just wasn’t the ideal thing. He did it because this is what he did. But he didn’t like the way it was run or the people who were running it, who were calling the shots. He felt they were his intellectual inferiors and not real men, because real men get drunk and fight.

BRAD: He told me more than once how he didn’t like the way scripts were written. He’d read the original script and say, “Don’t let those gemulks get ahold of it and switch it all around and make it sound like a faggot on Fifth Avenue!” I never knew what that word “gemulk” meant. He always used it.

CHARLEY: I don’t even know how to spell it. On that same subject, Larry was telling me the story of how he was in between films and digging postholes along Santa Monica Boulevard for Foster and Kleiser, the billboard company. About the company, he’d say, “Where you see F, you see K” — a reference to a line in Joyce’s Ulysses. And on his lunch break, he’d call his agent and see if there were any jobs for him. RKO called and cast him for the Dillinger role.

BRAD: The best role he ever did was in The Devil Thumbs a Ride [1947]. When the roles stopped, that’s when he went on the drunk. He always drank but not to the excess where he went to Skid Row.

CHARLEY: If you were in a conversation with Larry, he would call you on poor English or things that didn’t make sense. One time, I was talking about aircraft systems to another person and Larry was listening. I said, “This system has a double-redundant hydraulic system.” Which means it has a hydraulic system and a backup system and a backup system to the backup system.

He said, “Whadda ya mean, ‘double redundant’?” And he was right — it could only be redundant. He was really listening.

BRAD: He used to do that to me all the time. I’d say something and he’d say, “What the fuck ya talkin’ about, you sound like a gemulk out of the jail!”

CHARLEY: You’d introduce him to your girlfriend and he’d want to know everything about the relationship — if you were right for each other, should you get married.

BRAD: Around women he was very polite, he was a gentleman all the way.

CHARLEY: One day, I was walking along [New York’s] Upper West Side, on Columbus Avenue, and there was this old, old Irish bar, like something out of a film. All the guys in there were Larry Tierney’s age and talking exactly like him. I was laughing to myself, and after a couple of cocktails, I said to one of these guys, “You know, you really remind me of an acquaintance on the West Coast, the way you talk. His name’s Larry Tierney.”

And the guy goes, “Oh, Larry Tierney! He used to come in here. One time, he was sitting right where you are now and the cops came up to the door and they said, “Send Tierney out here!”

They were scared to come in. For an hour, Tierney wouldn’t come out — “Screw you, I’m not coming out!” Finally, they all convinced him that sooner or later he was going to have go out. So he opened the door, stepped out on the sidewalk, and the cops beat the living shit out of him. He took his lumps.

BRAD: I drove him home a lot. Larry would say, “Hey, I ran out of gas and I need you to take me home.” He lived up on Beachwood. The place was just filthy. Shit all over the place — pizza cartons and Coke containers in the bathtub. He was going through all the shit on the floor, all these papers. I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “Lookin’ for money. Ah, here’s one, that’s good, that’s $75.” It was a residual check! When the mail came, he’d throw ’em all over the place. When he’d need money, he’d just look at the floor for residual checks.

CHARLEY: Larry would regale you with stories. He told me the story of when he was in Paris with Errol Flynn and they’d been on a three-day drinking bender. He said they were drinking at a sidewalk café when all of a sudden, he had the tremendous urge to get up and run. So he bolted down the street, and after about a block, Flynn caught up with him and asked, “Why are you running?”

Larry said, “I think if I stop, I’ll die.” His body may have been telling him he was on the verge of alcohol poisoning. He had run for a mile or so when he finally came to a stop. He was standing in the middle of a cemetery.

Reach the writer at smikulan@laweekly.com

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