The Celebrity Collector
Comedian Rip Taylor Collects Kachina Dolls
By Ken Hall
Rip Taylor traces his fascination with kachina dolls and other objects from
the Southwestern United States to a motor trip he took years ago, from
Albuquerque, N.M., to Sedona, Ariz., to visit his friend, the late singer-dancer
Ann Miller. "The area just spoke to me, it was so beautiful and mysterious,"
Taylor said. "Ann Miller lived in Sedona, and she died there, too. So did Donald
Taylor, the manic prop comedian who has made a career out of
peppering his audiences with confetti in between zippy one-liners, lives in Los
Angeles, but his heart resides in Arizona and New Mexico. "Ann introduced me to
the area, and I've been back many times, to visit and attend the annual Indian
Swap Meet in Santa Fe," Taylor said. He's been to the event the past four
While at the show, Taylor goes on the hunt for jewelry and other
Southwestern objects, but mostly it's to add to his kachina doll collection. He
has 40 of the dolls in his home. They are on a massive wall display 18' high
and 20' long with clear glass shelves. "It's mirrored, and with the glass
shelves it looks like the dolls are floating. It's quite striking. It really
shows the dolls nicely."
To call them dolls is actually a misnomer. Kachinas
(or katsinas) are actually stylized religious icons. They are meticulously
carved from cottonwood root and painted to represent figures from Hopi
mythology. Authentic kachina dolls are made only by Hopi artists who have
dedicated their lives to this art. It takes years of practice and religious
study to master the art of kachina carving.
Kachina dolls are made in the
various likenesses of the supernatural guardians of the Hopi (and Zuni) tribes.
They were often given to little girls carved by their biological fathers as
one of the first objects of spiritual importance. As infants, the girls received
flat dolls with featureless heads. As the girl grew older, the dolls (sometimes
referred to as tihu) became more realistic and detailed.
carved kachina dolls from cottonwood roots using a knife and rasp. The simpler
dolls were fashioned from single pieces of wood; the more elaborate ones were
two or more pieces fit together with tiny wooden pegs. Each doll was painted and
decorated to accurately depict a specific dancer. Some exhibited traditional,
stylized forms; others, more active, lifelike figures.
Each kachina doll is
believed to contain a portion of the power of the spirit it represents. It
captures spirits, legend has it, that appear in the ordinary world as objects
like plants, birds, animals and clouds. Eagles and wolves were popular early
kachinas, as were buffalos and even neighboring tribespeople. Kachinas have been
discovered dating to around the early part of the 19th century.
until the 1930s, when tourists began visiting the Southwestern United States,
that much was known of the history of the kachinas. Visitors witnessed kachina
ceremonies with adult males representing kachinas in song and dance and
wanted to know more. They also wanted souvenirs. Dolls ranging in height from 8"
to 22" began to be collected, and the trend continues now.
When kachinas with
a history and provenance come up for bid at auction as they have with more
frequency in recent years they generally sell for between $150 and $5,000. But
a few have actually sold for as much as $30,000. Knockoffs, mostly from Mexico
and Korea, have flooded the market, so it's important to do a little
investigative research before buying. Not all kachinas are Hopi.
the first to admit he's no connoisseur or historian when it comes to kachinas.
"I just like the way they look and the traditions they represent," he said.
Other items in his home that reflect a fondness for the Southwest include a
Native American headdress with feathers; a painted cattle skull; a pair of
decorated pillows; and a hand-crafted rug, positioned in the center of his
Two of his kachina dolls that hold special significance were
gifts from his longtime friend, Debbie Reynolds. "She's like me, she loves the
art and the feel of the area," he said, adding, "It's kind of spooky, but when
you visit there you just experience little paranormal episodes and see things,
and you go, 'Whoa, did I just see what I think I saw?' and the locals go, 'Yup,
you sure did.'"
Taylor has a similar effect on audiences when he does his
comedy show they can't quite believe what they're seeing and hearing. Known
for his high-pitched voice, zany wigs, handlebar mustache, toothy grin and burly
physique, Taylor's schtick is to toss handfuls of confetti from a paper bag onto
his audience. If a joke happens to bomb, he'll often yell, "I don't dance, folks
this is it!"
Born Charles Elmer Taylor in Washington, D.C., on January 13,
1934, Rip Taylor began tossing out one-liners in area night clubs. He also got
work doing voice-overs on the hit cartoon series "The Jetsons," in 1962. His big
break came in 1969, when he appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" as a young comic.
Sullivan, forgetting Taylor's name, said, "And here he is, 'The Crying
Without knowing it, Sullivan had stumbled on Taylor's niche, and
gave him the gimmick he needed to propel his career forward. A Las Vegas show
producer saw his performance on TV and booked him to star alongside Eleanor
Powell at the fabled Dunes Hotel. An instant hit, Taylor was held over an
additional four weeks. That led to more bookings, and he became a Las Vegas
Taylor has headlined with stars such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis
Jr., Debbie Reynolds, Ann-Margret, Judy Garland and Mac Davis and that's just
in Las Vegas. On TV, he has been seen on numerous talk shows (David Letterman,
Merv Griffin), game shows ("The Gong Show," "Hollywood Squares") and situation
comedies ("The George Lopez Show," "Life With Bonnie").
Taylor even hosted a
game show, the short-lived "$1.98 Beauty Pageant" (1978), a send-up of beauty
pageants produced by "Gong Show" creator/host Chuck Barris. Once, on an episode
of "Super Password," things went awry when another celebrity guest, Patty Duke,
gave away the secret word by mistake. Screaming "That's not fair!", Taylor tore
off his wig and threw it in the air.
The idea for the confetti was actually
born during an appearance on "The Merv Griffin Show." Taylor's jokes weren't
going over very well, so he took his and Merv's scripts and tore them up into
little scraps of paper and threw them out into the audience. Then he knocked
Griffin's desk over and ran out of the theatre. The people in the audience loved
it, as did viewers at home.
Actually, Taylor has tackled serious roles, too.
He portrayed Demi Moore's crusty boss in the 1993 film, "Indecent Proposal," as
well as Kate Hudson's father in the Rob Reiner film "Alex and Emma." Other film
credits include "Home Alone 2," "Wayne's World," "Silence of the Hams," "E,
Healer," "Grid Runners," "Repossessed," and Cheech & Chong's "Things Are
Tough All Over."
In 1994, Taylor received an Emmy nomination for his role as
Uncle Fester in the animated TV series, "The Addams Family." He was also the
voice of "Captain Kiddie" in the animated movie "Tom and Jerry" (in which he
sang the title song, "I've Done It All," directed by Henry Mancini). He has
numerous other voice-over credits on his resume, including the Genie in Disney's
Call him what you want "The Crying Comedian," "The Prince of
Pandemonium," "The Maharajah of Mayhem," "The Count of Chaos" or "The King of
Confetti" there's no denying that Rip Taylor has been delighting audiences for
40+ years with his bright costumes, outrageous props, wacky wigs and colorful
confetti. It's a safe bet even the kachina dolls on his shelves are
Fans of Rip Taylor may write to the star c/o Cunningham Escott
Dipine, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Ste. 140, Los Angeles, CA
Credit: Some information for this article was provided by
the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz., home to many kachina dolls and other Native
American artifacts. For more information, you may click on www.heard.org.
With over 40 years in the entertainment business, Rip knows just about
everybody. Here he is with Phyllis Diller.
germination doll, by Silas Roy, is just 5.5" high.
Kachina dolls have become such a hot
collectible numerous books have been
written on the subect.
This doll, made by Ronald Honyumptewa, depicts an ogre woman with
Supai kachina doll made by the Hopi craftsman Lester Quanimptewa.