Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Exceptional People: The Art of Renée Taylor

“Comedy demands more timing, pace, shading and subtlety of emphasis. It is difficult to learn…” 
--Irene Dunne 

Miss Dunne would certainly, in my estimation, be someone whom I would wish to study to get a sense of the workings of comedy. Dunne later went on to say that once an actor perfected comedy, dramatic scenes used the same principles, only slowed down. Using that logic, developing a mastery of comedic timing is the key to all acting. When I think of my favorite dramatic actors, each one of them, from Clift to Davis (Bette, not Geena), was, as a person, patently humorous and clever.

I have few deep affections for living performers. None of you should be surprised by this, given that you all know me as a historian. I find a good many present-day actors to be lacking in depth and versatility. Perhaps, it is because individuals are often typically trained to be good at only one thing. Nonetheless, for the most part, I’m perennially underwhelmed by the current crop of “stars.”

Furthermore, those who know me well know that it’s quite difficult to make me laugh. I mean really laugh—a big guffaw from the gut. Even if I do find a performer amusing, it’s likely to fade quickly. I’ve written long enough that I know all the tricks, and I’ve acted just enough to know when a performer is trying to be funny. Most comedians leave me cold.

And, then, there’s Renée Taylor—glorious, glowing, gorgeous, genuine Renée Taylor. Now, there’s an actor who, without fail, makes me laugh. Big laughs! Continuous laughs! Miss Taylor keeps me guessing. She doesn’t follow the set “comedy pattern.” That’s beneath her. She knows how to dissect the pattern and reassemble it into a mosaic of true comic genius. In fact, Miss Taylor’s performances are so indelibly brilliant that just the mere thought of a bit I saw years ago can make me chuckle. 

Most audiences these days know Renée Taylor as “Sylvia Fine,” the passionately opinionated, over-involved, protective and endlessly hungry mother of Fran Drescher’s (another one who can always get me laughing) character on “The Nanny,” and most recently as a recurring character on Fran’s newest show, “Happily Divorced.” Underneath the monumental blonde coiffure and behind the tiger-print top which we associate with Sylvia, lies a sharply clever mind and beats a fierce heart—the two organs most involved in comedy. To make people think and feel, one must first do the same. Otherwise, parrots would earn Emmy Awards.

And, though Sylvia Fine is, for many the first thought when hearing Renée’s name, Miss Taylor has an impressive history in entertainment which predates the voracious mama.

The Bronx-born beauty began her career in comedy in the 1960s when she took the spotlight at Bon Soir, a popular New York nightspot. You may have heard of her opening act—a then-struggling singer named Barbra. Yep. Streisand. 

1968 brought Miss Taylor to the big screen when she portrayed “Eva Braun” in the original version of Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Further film success came when, Renée and her husband since 1965, Joseph Bologna, received Academy Award nominations for the film adaptation of the sensational Broadway smash which they wrote together, “Lovers and Other Strangers.” In 1971 saw the couple star in the film “Made For Each Other,” a property which they also penned. That screenplay earned the duo a nomination for the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy.

Miss Taylor is no stranger to television, of course. In addition to a host of special appearances, Renée Taylor, showed off her comedic genius in programs such as “Dream On” and “How I met Your Mother.”

Regardless of the medium, Miss Taylor’s talent knows no bounds. I’m reminded of Montgomery Clift’s assertion that acting is not “holding a mirror to life,” but rather “holding a magnifying glass to it. Clift rightfully believe that a successful actor must know just how much to magnify life. Whether she knows it or not, that’s exactly what Renée Taylor does with each performance. In order to play a “larger than life” character such as Sylvia Fine, an actor must first understand life. Anyone can be comically exaggerated, but only a successful comedian knows how to exaggerate just enough to make that character human, believable and sympathetic. This is a skill which few possess, and, it is what makes Renée Taylor a joy to behold. That sort of cleverness, ability and human understanding is, truly, exceptional.


Dashwood said...

Agree wholeheartedly! This is a woman that you both admire and want to get to know as a friend.

Thanks for recognizing this great person!

Darcy said...

Timing, pace, shading and subtlety of emphasis, Miss Taylor has it all.
Actor,comedian, writer she"s all that too.
I've always enjoyed her work and I know if she's in the cast its going to be a great show.
Great choice for Exceptional Person!

Carolyn said...

I adore her!

Sam P said...

Funny, great lady!

Kathy said...

The best of the best!!

Beth Ann said...

Loved her for years.