Posts Tagged ‘Sylvester McStain’
As a writer and performer with the People’s Republic of Komedy, I’ve played a lot of weirdos over the years. One of my favorites was a drunken and deeply perverted old thespian named Sylvester McStain, loosely based on my old drama teacher, Gary Taylor. For comedic effect, I greatly exaggerated his personality, adding a cape, mustache and what I thought were absurd tales of debauchery.
It turns out I may have underestimated the old professor.
Last Friday, Taylor, 71, was arrested for allegedly filming someone with a hidden camera in the dressing room. According to witnesses, he asked a 20-year-old student to try on some different dresses for a photo shoot. While changing, she discovered Taylor’s video camera on a shelf, still rolling.
In this day and age, an old man trying to spy on a woman with a bulky old video camera might seem almost quant, if not a bit pathetic and sad. But now rumors are circulating that this may just be the tip of the iceberg. Former students are saying (anonymously on the internet, of course) that Taylor’s had a long history of stalking his female students during his 40-plus years at Green River Community College.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when the story broke. Taylor did seem a bit off back when I had him as a teacher twenty years ago. He’d often stumble into class wearing sunglasses, looking like Rip Torn after an all-night bender. He made a point of telling us he needed to drink plenty of fluids because of his “medication”. There were rumors of him trying to hit on girls in the class, which we’d all laugh off because, even back then, he seemed ancient and harmless, like that strange but lovable old uncle who added a bit of color to the family picnic.
Despite his eccentricities, Taylor was a hell of a teacher. Classically trained with an Ivy-league education, he took acting very seriously, and anyone who felt otherwise would be shown the door. He had a fierce temper and a bellowing baritone voice that scared the shit out of any poor bastard who forgot his lines or dared whisper during his “Art of Film” class. But if you paid attention, he had a lot to offer young actors. After all, not many small-town community college drama teachers offered authentic method-acting training and made Stanislavski and Strasberg required reading.
So what was this guy doing slumming it at Green River?
Taylor was once a promising young actor, staring in dozens of plays around the northwest, becoming a regular at Shakespeare festivals and the old Bathhouse Theatre. While most aspiring actors moved to L.A. as quickly as they could, Taylor hung around in Washington, settling in on a small farm in south King County while supplementing his teaching salary with bit roles in locally filmed projects like “Northern Exposure”, “Homeward Bound” and Sherman Alexie’s “Smoke Signals”.
At some point, though, Taylor seemed to drop off the radar. Unlike most performers, who have multiple “fan pages” on every conceivable social network whether they are famous or not, Taylor is almost invisible on the internet, with only a bare-bones IMDB listing and a short clip from a student film on YouTube.
Was the low profile intentional, or did Taylor just not give a damn? Maybe he’s been perfectly content living the simple life in the easy-going, no-pressure Northwest, without the hassles of a high-end agent and the endless heartbreak of Hollywood. Was this incident with the video camera just a momentary lapse of judgment—a small, sad blot on the career of an otherwise inspirational, “Dead Poet’s Society” teaching career?
If I was any sort of journalist, I’d call him up and ask him these questions myself. The thing is, I’m not sure I want to know the answers.
When my father died a few years ago, a lot of strange stories came to surface. Luckily, none of them involved video cameras and trips to the county pen, but it did make me realize I hardly knew the man.
During a vulnerable, confusing time of my life, Gary Taylor was a huge and mostly positive influence on me. When I ran out of money for school (I was paying for college on a minimum wage movie theater job) he generously gave me a phantom “drama assistant” job that paid my tuition and allowed me to keep acting. He offered theater training far beyond my rural upbringing, taking a pseudo Actor’s Studio approach to realism on stage and pushing me to the limit and, admittedly, sometimes beyond. He encouraged me to smoke real, unfiltered cigarettes for a period piece (“Cigarettes didn’t have filters in the 1930’s!”), had actresses slap me full force in fight scenes (no pussy “stage fighting” here!) and once tried to get me to inject myself with a real syringe on stage (I wimped out. “Pacino would’ve done it,” he growled). While it might sound stupid now, back then I was just glad to be treated like an adult, even an equal at times.
So what the hell happened?
Was this guy always a pervert and I was just too star-struck to notice? Or is this voyeurism charge some sort of late in life, old-age crisis—a feeble attempt at staying young?
Whatever it is, it’s illegal.
While obviously not on the scale of a pedophile priest or the Green River Killer, this is not some harmless, victimless crime. A woman’s privacy was violated by someone she trusted. That alone should be enough to end his career and probably earn some jail time.
Part of me wants to join the lynch mob and string this creep up the nearest sycamore tree. But there’s another part that foolishly hopes this is all a bizarre misunderstanding, or maybe some sort of Alzheimer’s related episode (“I thought I was filming an audition! Where am I?!”). I feel like those Michael Jackson fans who feverishly defended him against the child molestation charges despite piles of evidence against him.
Am I having a hard time coming to grips because I don’t want to soil my precious college memories, or because I’ve made a living (if free beer and pizza can be considered a “living”) playing a twisted, cartoon version of Taylor on stage for years? Or worse, maybe I fear that someday I might end up an old, perverted drama teacher who sets up “private auditions” with young actresses.
In the end, my angst and kvetching won’t really matter. Regardless of the legal outcome, a year from now, most people will have forgotten all about it, and the name “Gary Taylor” will once again drift off the grid and away from the search engines. Maybe that’s what he wants. Who knows? I’m sure as hell not going to ask him.
A special Halloween playlist from Sylvester McStain. Enjoy!
Here’s the first Laff Hole appearance of my alter-ego Sylvester McStain, from 2008.