I never had a big brother, but Richard Annis (aka Taff), took that role in my life. I met Taff when I was a teenager, and we acted together for many years, from our Santa Barbara days at Dolores Catholic School Community Theater (when everyone called him “Taffy”), to the three small theaters we helped build in Hollywood. Well, he helped build them – I just watched, while he grumbled about me just watching and not working.
When I dropped out of UCLA at 19 and I was panicked because I had never worked before, he was responsible for helping me get an interview and eventual job as a tour guide at Universal Studios. I watched as he went from Housekeeping as a street sweeper to playing Frankenstein for the Tours, to becoming a tour guide, Director of Tour Guides, all the way up to management of Tour Operations. Twenty-three years he worked for Universal Studios, and in Hollywood years that’s a lifetime.
In between our early Universal Tours work, we acted at night, seven nights a week, doing repertory theater in Hollywood, and I saw Taff living the dream of every actor: he signed with an agent, he was hired for a commercial; he was finally able to join S.A.G; he was cast in television shows; he worked with Jimmy Stewart and Peter Falk. His star was rising. And then one day he forgot to check his messages and he missed the BIG call for the BIG job. A lead in a series. When that happened, and the producers refused to re-schedule, he realized that a business that treated people like they were supposed to be heart surgeons, on call 24/7, wasn’t for him. “The hell with this!” he said, or words to that affect that probably began with an “F.” That’s when he traded in the greasepaint for a suit and took that management job at Universal.
(Richard Annis guest starring with Jimmy Stewart on The Jimmy Stewart Show)
And he never acted again.
When the studio politics got too much for him in management, he bought a screening room, raced his cars on the weekend, met the love of his life, Christine, and finally, traded in Hollywood for a one-way ticket to Mount Dora, a small town in Florida, where he bought a tea room and never looked back.
He moved away and I stayed in Hollywood.
And I missed him like hell.
There was so much goodness in Taff, but he liked to keep that hidden away a lot of the time, tossing off one-liners so you’d keep your distance. He liked to tease, and he could cut you down with a slow look or a quick word. I was a little bit afraid of him, but he was always the first person I’d call when I needed help. He was that big brother I never had. When my car broke down or that night when it was stolen, Taff was who I called, and he pissed-and-moaned and shook his head, letting me know how much I had messed up or how much I was putting him out. When I had too much to drink at a party and he saw me leaving with a guy I barely knew, Taff was the one to step in and tell Mr. Romeo to take a hike, saving me from more than just a morning hangover. When I had a Peeping Tom at two-in-the-morning, Taff was who I called. He came over (bitching about it) to check and make sure everything was ok. After he searched my backyard with a flashlight and a bat he told me no one was there, but he saw how frightened I still was and as he headed out my front door, he snarled, “All right, get in the car!” I spent the night on Taff’s couch, feeling safer knowing he was there in the other room.
After my car accident, when my agoraphobia kicked in, I was hired to write a screenplay about the Black Rodeo in Houston, Texas. Unfortunately, the studio wanted to send me to Houston to do research, a journey I knew I couldn’t do. I was terrified of flying, or doing any kind of traveling, and in fact, I had even stopped driving. I didn’t want to leave my house, at all. I told Taff that I was probably going to have to turn down this very lucrative and career-building job. Without hesitation he said to me, “Rent me a Cadillac and I’ll drive you to Houston.”
So I rented Taff a Cadillac.
Wearing his ten-gallon cowboy hat and his best Iowa boots, Taff sat behind the wheel of this great big brand new Hertz Cadillac, and the two of us took a road trip to Houston, driving non-stop from L.A. so I wouldn’t miss my first meeting with the producer on Monday.
It took 26 hours.
We only stopped for gas and food.
Three hours from Houston Taff started to yawn, and rolled down his window for fresh air. He started to sigh deeply, and then, slapped himself hard in the face, trying desperately to keep awake. I thought for sure he might drop dead behind the wheel. He was a big man and I thought maybe his heart would give out.
“Are you ok?!” I asked in a panic, afraid he’d pass out and I’d somehow be stranded in the middle of East Butt, Texas, too terrified to drive myself to civilization. “Do you want to stop?” I asked.
“No!” he bellowed. “I need fuel! Got to eat!”
We pulled over to the next truck stop to get him fed, and after he ate he was ready to hit the road again. We made it safely the rest of the way to Houston with a few hours to spare before my meeting.
That was Taff.
(Richard “Taff” Annis)
He was fearless. A mountain of a man with the gentlest of hearts. A heart that finally gave out on September 29, 2019.
I miss him like hell.
That’s what it’s like when you lose a big brother.
Taff was never a man who was philosophical or waxed poetic. But there was something he said to me once, and I never forgot it. As a matter of fact, I used it in a play I wrote, in Pizza Man. He said it to me in the early 1970s, long before the phrase ended up on coffee mugs or t-shirts. We were struggling actors at the time, commiserating about how tough it was in Hollywood. Well, I was the one complaining; Taff was just listening. Big brother, that he was. He was building a set at the time, and I was supposed to be painting; but instead, I was doing my down-in-one soliloquy about the difficulty and unfairness of show business. When I had finished my rant, Taff paused a moment before hammering the next nail. “Life’s a bitch,” he said. “And then, you die.”
At the time, that pretty much summed it all up.
Until we changed our lives and things got a helluva lot better.
Christine came along, and Mount Dora, the Windsor Rose Tea Room, The Highland Street Cafe, and all of his wonderful Scottish Terriers; and life changed for the better. I think what Taff would tell me now would be different than what he told me back in the 70s. He’d say, “Dar, I was wrong. Life can be very sweet.”
And he’d be smiling, with all his wisdom.
Just like a big brother.
(Taff in Mount Dora with our family: Philip, Josh, and Katie. And an anonymous turtle.)