HOLLYWOOD -- Rip Taylor, the carefree, be-wigged and maniacal confetti-tossing comedian, is steering his career to dramatic movie roles but finding it difficult to hide the twinkle in his eye.
A longtime nightclub star, Taylor created the insanely enthusiastic and totally insincere master of ceremonies of the 'The $1.98 Beauty Contest,' an hilarious, tasteless sendup of televised beauty pageants.
Taylor gushed over the dubious physical attributes of the spavined, past-their-prime contestants, all of them actresses, while feminists fumed.
Although the series survived only two hysterically funny seasons and was brutally savaged by critics, it remains one of TV's most bizarre shows and is scheduled for reruns.
Taylor has temporarily tossed aside his outrageous red curly wig and bagged his confetti to assume the demeanor of a benign Guy Kibbe of yesteryear. The other day at lunch he was a bald and impish, somewhat long-in-the-tooth cherub.
He recently completed a role in 'Home Alone 2.' More significantly, Taylor landed his first straight dramatic role with Robert Redford, Demi Moore in 'Indecent Proposal,' playing a real estate man.
A 25-year veteran of the stage he played Fagin in 'Oliver' and Captain Hook in 'Peter Pan' touring companies and co-starred with Ann Miller in 'Sugar Babies' on Broadway, replacing Mickey Rooney.
Currently Taylor is the voice of Uncle Fester in the new Hanna- Barbera TV cartoon series 'The Addams Family.'
Charles Elmer Taylor invented Rip one night on stage early in his career as a stand-up comedian in the Catskills.
'I sat on a stool telling jokes and nobody was laughing,' he recalled with a chuckle. 'In desperation I pretended to cry as I begged them to laugh. That killed 'em.
'The crying thing was totally accidental. I was doing record pantomime in the Army and one day the record broke so I began telling jokes I'd stolen from everyone from the USO shows in Tokyo after the Korean War.
'It got me as far as the Ed Sullivan TV show. I did about 20 of them. He forgot my name but used to say, 'Get me the crying comedian.'
'That led to a tour with Judy Garland and with Eleanor Powell in Las Vegas in 1966. They held me over for three more big acts.'
Taylor kept adding out-sized props, bags of confetti and other visual nonsense to his act. He went bananas as a guest on the old Merv Griffin talk show when his jokes died once again.
'I was bombing so bad I panicked,' he said. 'I turned over Merv's desk, yanked off Charo's wig, pulled off Van Johnson's shoes and walked off the stage. Viewers loved it and wanted to see more of that crazy maniac.
'One night I replaced the confetti by throwing string beans and I said, 'Here, eat while I'm on.' Somebody threw a string bean back. A rapport with the audience at last. Then I'd say 'Here's another joke you won't like,' and I'd throw peanuts and then popcorn and marshmallows.
'It got so I was dodging the stuff they threw back. I began using seltzer water, and they'd come to the club with raincoats and umbrellas. '
If Taylor is as effective a straight actor as he is a comedian, he'll be a welcome addition to movies.
'I just finished four weeks in Vegas,' he said. 'I won't quit playing Rip in clubs. He's become too much a part of my life, going back to the days when I played strip joints.
'Crowds in the strip clubs yelled at me to get off so they could see more of the girls. That sort of taunting helped the Rip character evolve.'
Today Taylor's act is based on a curious 'I dare you to laugh' confrontation with audiences. He turns petulant, accusative and finally sobs as the crowd dissolves.
His attitude: If you don't laugh at my jokes you're going to pay for it.
'I let them know I HAVE to tell jokes for a living,' he said. 'That's depressing. I tell them I don't write my jokes, that I buy them and they're not funny. It's not my fault.
'I say. 'I won't be long. Here, eat!' and I throw them popcorn. Meanwhile I tear up the paper the jokes are written on, and they throw the scraps back. Actually, I'm telling the truth. I can't memorize so I read the jokes.
'The jokes aren't supposed to be funny. Rip is funny because he's crazy. Every night on stage he's cornered and put-upon.
'Tony Randall is the only one who recognized that. He told me I wasn't a comedian; I was an actor. And that's what I am bringing into play as a straight actor.
'Acting the part of Rip led me to stage work and musicals. Theater is the easiest thing to do because you don't have to fight drunks and losing gamblers -- and nobody throws anything at the stage.'NEWLN: