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Craven: Remembering Actor Rip Torn

Noel-Porch-rocker-Craven-20190716.jpg
Kingdom County Productions
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The late actor Rip Torn gave a memorable performance as logger Noel Lord in Jay Craven's film, 'Where the Rivers Flow North,' based on the novel by Howard Frank Mosher.

The first time I saw Rip Torn, he was wearing flippers, a facemask and snorkel. I'd written to him in January 1992 – and sent him the script for my first feature film, Where the Rivers Flow North. I said I thought he'd be great as Noel Lord, an aging Vermont logger struggling to accept the extinction of his way of life. But for six months, there was no reply.Meantime, Anthony Quinn expressed interest and I spent a couple of days talking with him, but came away thinking he wouldn't be right. When I returned home, I found a garbled message on my answering machine - from Rip.

'I know you probably found someone else but it's a damned good script and if you want me, call my agent.'

He left no name or number – but his voice was unmistakable. So I tracked down his agent and arranged to meet Rip in Lakeville, Connecticut. On the way into town, I called Rip from a phone booth and he said to meet him at the lake in 10 minutes.

At the lake I sat at a conspicuous picnic table. An hour passed - with no sign of Rip. But as I stood to leave, a man emerged from a swampy marsh to my right. He had lily pads and algae hanging all over him. It was Rip.

'That you?' he asked.

'Yes,' I said. 'And I've been here for a while.'

'Yeah,' he said. 'I watched from the swamp - to see what kind of guy you are. How long you'd wait. Come over to my house and I'll make you dinner.'

Press reflections on Rip Torn's life and work note his reputation as a difficult actor. And he was. But he committed fully to Howard Mosher's mulish character - as simultaneously heroic and self-destructive, deeply principled and always ready to cut off his nose to spite his face.

Rip captured a certain backwoods nobility - and I don't know that anyone could have brought more passion and imagination to the part. I'll never forget him – and those ultimately productive weeks of fraught collaboration.