The previous year Warhol had arrived in Hollywood with Mead, staying for two weeks at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Warhol used his new silent 16mm Bolex movie camera to shoot his first partially scripted feature, Tarzan and Jane Regained… Sort of (1963). This featured the ridiculously puny-looking Mead as the jungle hero in a series of loosely connected episodes, including a scene in which he bathes with a naked Jane (Naomi Levine) in a bathtub and later has to rescue her. Mead edited the film, and provided his own narration and musical arrangements.
The film earned a scathing notice in The Village Voice, the reviewer observing: “People don’t want to see an hour and a half of Taylor Mead’s ass.” Mead replied in a letter that no such film was found in the archives, but “we are rectifying this undersight”. Two days later, Warhol shot the opus which consisted solely of one long shot of Taylor Mead’s posterior.
The film inspired a frenzy of deconstruction by avant garde critics, much of which tipped over into self-parody: “Staring at his cleft moon for 76 minutes,” wrote Wayne Koestenbaum, “I begin to understand its abstractions: high-contrast lighting conscripts the ass into being a figure for whiteness itself… The buttocks, seen in isolation, seem explicitly double: two cheeks, divided in the centre by a dark line. The bottom’s double structure recalls Andy’s two-panelled paintings… ”
Mead went on to appear in several more of Warhol’s films, including Lonesome Cowboys (1968), but later receded from view. Some thought this was a pity, observing that, with his comic timing and gift for bravura improvisation, he could have been a great actor.
In one interview, Mead claimed that in order to escape Warhol’s power he had fled to Italy, where Federico Fellini, under the impression that Mead was a huge star in his own country, had staged a dazzling reception for him at Cinecitta.
Taylor Mead was born at Grosse Pointe, Michigan, on New Year’s Eve 1924 to wealthy parents. After leaving Grosse Pointe Academy he held a variety of jobs, then studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse in California and the Herbert Berghof Studio.
His first screen appearance was in a 1950s B-movie as a deaf mute who gets murdered. He then took a starring role in Ron Rice’s seminal Beat movie The Flower Thief (1960), in which he played an elfin mystic wandering the North Beach neighbourhood of San Francisco clutching a stolen gardenia, an American flag and a teddy bear. Three years later he was the Atom Man in Rice’s Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man.
After moving to New York, Mead became part of the Beat poetry scene before gravitating to Warhol’s “factory” on East 47th Street.
Mead starred in several other independent films, including Wynn Chamberlain’s The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez (1968) — a film which boasted “gymnastic sexual liaisons in a variety of places, including trees”, and in which he appeared with fellow Warhol acolyte Ultra Violet.
Mead somehow managed to survive the twin scourges of drugs and Aids which took such a heavy toll on his contemporaries, but his later years were spent in near destitution.
In 2005 he featured in a documentary, Excavating Taylor Mead, coming across as a lonely old barfly fighting eviction from a squalid Lower East Side apartment and feeding stray cats.