Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Frank Taylor, February 12, 2016

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:00 - Family history and connection to Appalachian region

Play segment

Partial Transcript: --again, and I'll say that on the camera.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor gives some basic information about himself including his full name and birth date. He gives a brief description of where his family on both sides is from, and their connection to the Appalachian region. He also mentions he grew up in Norton, Virginia on the edge of coal mining territory.

Keywords: Coal mining; Connections; Family histories; Norton (Va.); Scott County (Va.); Wise County (Va.)

Subjects: Appalachian Region; Coal miners; Family farms

00:06:22 - His mother's influence with informal storytelling

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, could you just, just so we have your parents' names, your, your parents' full names and, and your mother's maiden name?

Segment Synopsis: Taylor discusses his parents in depth, focusing heavily on his mother. He credits her with getting him involved in storytelling, explaining that she was a great everyday storyteller. He also mentions that she was private about her deeply held religious beliefs and that she had a big impact and himself and his siblings.

Keywords: Impact; Mothers; Siblings; Storytelling

Subjects: Religion

00:09:03 - Using storytelling to overcome social anxiety and communicate with people

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Uh, did you have in your, in your youth any opportunity to either kind of, uh, serve as a storyteller or do any acting?

Segment Synopsis: Taylor explains that he was a shy young kid who didn't like being in social situations and had a hard time making small talk. However, he could tell stories and connected to people that way. He claims this early start is what eventually lead him to Roadside Theater Company with their unique storytelling style.

Keywords: Anxiety; Children; Kids; Roadside Theater Company; Shy; Social groups; Socializing; Stories; Storytelling

Subjects: Appalachia

00:12:29 - Active, radical, and creative time of the 1960s and 1970s / Political consciousness at Clinch Valley College

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Well, we'll, uh, get to Red Fox in just a minute but you were--before the camera was rolling, we were talking about how much was going on around here in the '60s and '70s.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor discusses the active time of the '60s and '70s in Virginia and Appalachia. He talks about the Vietnam War and strip mining and the outrage over both that drew young people into this larger dialogue. He explains that he was a liberal and then became somewhat radical at Clinch Valley College, and says that professor Helen Lewis had a lot to do with that. She was very active in the community and the discussion of social issues. He says she had many controversial speakers, including the Black Panthers. He states the '60s and '70s were a very radical and creative time between rock 'n' roll, hippies, and environmentalism. He also discusses moving to Scott County, Virginia in the early '70s and building his own house and farm with others and taking pride and joy in their self-sufficiency.

Keywords: 1960s; 1970s; Ben Zickafoose; Black Panthers; Building; Clinch Valley College; Helen Lewis; Houses; Political consciousness; Radical; Scott County (Va.); Self-sufficiency

Subjects: Appalachia; Family farms; Strip mining; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:19:23 - Learning from liberal faculty at Clinch Valley College

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And before we get to Roadside, I'd just like to back up to ask one clarifying question.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor discusses how he came to understand more fully his political views. He says he was a liberal and became radicalized and a hippie while at Clinch Valley College. He credits this to the faculty at the college who were also very liberal personally. He also mentions how the times they were living in influenced people's political leanings.

Keywords: Clinch Valley College; Faculty; Helen Lewis; Liberals

Subjects: Education; Politics and government; State universities and colleges

00:21:26 - First acting experience at Clinch Valley College / Difficulty of storytelling technique at Roadside Theater Company

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, before we move on to--to Appalshop, Roadside, one last question about college.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor talks about his first acting experience at Clinch Valley College under the professor Charles Lewis. He played an old man in "Picnic on a Battlefield." He says he created the character's mannerisms and personality himself and it received an extremely positive response from the audience. He says that was easy compared to the storytelling style of Roadside Theater Company where it's three people telling a story together. He talks about fellow actors who he worked with on this technique, focusing on the importance of Jeff Keiser who really developed this technique.

Keywords: "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"; Acting; Actors; Characters; Charles Lewis; Clinch Valley College; Don Baker; Gary Slemp; Jeff Kiser; Plays; Roadside Theater Company; Storytelling

Subjects: Appalachian Region--History; Appalachian Region--Social life and customs

00:29:21 - Appalachian identity too broad a term / Radicalizing times of the 1960s and 1970s

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So where does that get us?

Segment Synopsis: Taylor discusses his views on "Appalachian identity," stating that it is too broad a term to really define anyone. He explains he only came to understand the Appalachian identity as he grew older and learned the history of the region. He talks about the folk music revival during the '60s and '70s and jokes that the changing times radicalized him from an insecure kid voted best dressed in high school to a hippie who didn't care what he looked like. He also mentions young people's connection with the environment and the environmentalist movement that started in that era.

Keywords: 1960s; 1970s; Appalachian identity; Best dressed; Hippies; Influence; Radicalize; Revival

Subjects: Appalachia; Appalachian Region--History; Environmental protection; Environmentalism; Folk music

00:36:35 - Authentic Appalachian history and culture / Doing accents of regional areas

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Yeah, well we're certainly, uh, intrigued by that, that era. And I--and, uh, and these stories of yours are really interesting to me.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor talks about the inception of Appalshop. He explains Bill Richardson received a grant for minority kids to make films and it developed into Appalachian kids making films about being Appalachian -- a very loaded word at the time. Appalshop created some great films about Appalachian culture and history. He says there was also this redneck, renegade vibe at Roadside Theater Company who poked fun at stereotypes. He also discusses "real" Appalachians who he says are few and far between because in this day and age with the media and technology you have outside influences. He talks about doing shows of "Red Fox/Second Hangin'" in New York and being a hit with the audiences who loved their "authentic accents." He mentions he loves the show "Law and Order" for somewhat similar reasons because they hire local people and it makes it very New York. He explains actors who need to do a regional accent are best when they go to the place and learn from the people. He also thinks that people should study where they're from and who they are. He sees it as an opportunity to enhance themselves.

Keywords: "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"; Accents; Actors; Audiences; Bill Richardson; Children; Dialects; Films; Grants; Identity; Kids; Language; Law and Order; Minorities; Ray Hicks; Roadside Theater Company

Subjects: Appalachia; Appalachian Region--History; Appalachian Region--Social life and customs; Appalshop, Inc.; Mass media and technology.; New York (N.Y.)

00:46:12 - Getting a part in "Red Fox/Second Hangin'" / Studying kids in schools with heavy Appalachian accents

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Do you recall how, uh, Don asked you to get involved or how he p--recruited you for the "Red Fox" project?

Segment Synopsis: Taylor says Don called him to star in "Red Fox/Second Hangin'." He also jokes it was a slightly longer road than that. He had always been interested in storytelling and talks about a study he conducted about kids with severe Appalachian accents and how storytelling helped them be less insecure about their speech. Don was interested in that as well, and to him Taylor would have seemed a likely candidate for the show. Taylor says he might have had a slight influence over Don in getting him involved in the cultural work in the region.

Keywords: "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"; Acting; Appalachian accents; Children; Cultural work; Don Baker; Kids; Parts; Roadside Theater Company; Schools; Storytelling; Studies

Subjects: Appalachia; Appalachian Region--Social life and customs

00:49:55 - Cultural implications of performing "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"

Play segment

Partial Transcript: You were just describing how this work you had in mind for students with, you know, accents--you had the notion that, that you might be able to help them out.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor says he joined Roadside Theater Company because it seemed like a lot of fun and it was a paying job. He had no real intentions as far as it being cultural work, but he was aware it was important to tell these stories of the area. He says "Red Fox/Second Hangin'" was performed over 400 times all over the place. He explains that the story kind of became the accepted history of the area because it was told so much.

Keywords: "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"; Acting; Cultural work; Fun; Performances; Roadside Theater Company; Stories

Subjects: Appalachian Region--History; Appalshop, Inc.

00:53:56 - Possible relation to Doc Taylor

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Are--do you--were you, uh, at all kin to the-- to D--the Doc, the Doc Taylor character?

Segment Synopsis: Taylor explains it's possible that he and a character from "Red Fox/Second Hangin'" - Doc Taylor - might be related since they are both Taylors from Scott County. He wasn't aware until the show began that it was possible, and he has never traced it back specifically to really know.

Keywords: "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"; Doc Taylor; Family; Scott County (Va.)

Subjects: Appalachian Region--History

00:54:48 - Memorable performances of "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"

Play segment

Partial Transcript: When you think about doing this show and, and, uh, you just mentioned 400 plus, um, performances, I'm curious if, if, uh, an event or a performance stands out as particularly memorable for you, um, or formative for you as a, as a young actor who was, who was getting, uh, started on what became a career that was going to take you so many places.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor explains that he has worked on over 60 film productions and that there are always moments that stand out. He also talks about how much "Red Fox/Second Hangin'" really changed from the first shows to the last shows. He remembers some of the New York and regional shows well. A show that he was particularly sentimental about was in Crossville, Tennessee. It was a retirement community and when they performed the show the entire audience had heads of white hair. He talks about performing a particular scene for them where he plays an old man known as This Old Pack Peddler who gives a speech about dying, and he says he took inspiration from the audience who probably had had similar thoughts. After he was done, there was a slow clap and the audience loved it.

Keywords: "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"; "White hairs"; Applause; Audiences; Crossville (Tenn.); Dying; Elderly; Evolved; Memorable; Performances; Retirement communities; Roadside Theater Company; Scenes; Speeches; This Old Pack Peddler

Subjects: Appalachian Region; Appalachian Region--History; New York (N.Y.); Retirement

00:59:27 - Long run and special venues used for "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So s--we were talking earlier about the, the run and how astounding it is. It's, uh, '75 to '88, you know, the, the--you have--

Segment Synopsis: Taylor explains one of the reasons "Red Fox/Second Hangin'" had such a long run from 1975 to 1988 was because of a booking agent who set of tours instead of single shows. He also says Roadside Theater Company lost interest in doing the show so much, and a local man named Paul Cuscoe started to put shows together himself in 1985 and got them some great venues like the Wise County Courthouse steps on the 100th anniversary of Doc Taylor's hanging and for the Pound Historical Society where some of the characters had been from. He recalls a woman bringing in an old shirt with bullet holes and blood which had belonged to a man who had died in the events "Red Fox/Second Hangin'" tells about. Sometimes family members of the characters would come to the show.

Keywords: "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"; Characters; Doc Taylor; Family; Hangings; Paul Cuscoe; Performances; Pound (Va.); Pound Historical Society; Roadside Theater Company; Shows; Tours; Venues; Wise County (Va.)

Subjects: Appalachian Region; Appalachian Region--History

01:03:15 - Watching performances from years ago of yourself

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I, it, it gains such local meaning. You were telling me about, well, the film was made, of course, in '82 and Anne Lewis played a role in editing it and, and, uh, it was very well shot.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor explains that the film of "Red Fox/Second Hangin'" was recently shown in Norton, Virginia. He talks about the strangeness in seeing himself perform in his late 20s as he sits a 70 year old man. He says it was a little disconcerting and almost like watching another person perform.

Keywords: "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"; Acting; Age gaps; Films; Norton (Va.)

Subjects: Appalachian Region

01:06:04 - Being on the road performing "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"

Play segment

Partial Transcript: You were the Beastie Boys of theater.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor talks about traveling on the road for long periods of time. He says they stayed up late and would go drinking and have fun. He tells a story about seeing a little town on a map and it seeming familiar. He asked the others from Roadside Theater Company if they remembered doing a show there and bits of the story came back from performing like only one kid knew how to work the lights, there was a party after the show, and there was a very memorable woman. He also mentions how many shows they performed.

Keywords: "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"; Performances; Roads; Roadside Theater Company; Shows; Small towns; Stories; Tours

Subjects: Appalachia

01:08:58 - Transition from "Red Fox/Second Hangin'" to films

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, I'm curious to know, uh, you've had and, and, and are involved in, we were just talking about, your upcoming, uh--uh, show Confir--Confirmation and your role in that as Strom Thurmond.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor discusses his transition from stage work with "Red Fox/Second Hangin'" to films. He talks about his auditions and originally trying to not act in the same style as "Red Fox/Second Hangin'" because he didn't believe it would work well for film. However, he finally decided to try the intense characterization where he channeled the character for certain roles and people really liked it.

Keywords: "Red Fox/Second Hangin'"; Auditions; Careers; Characters; Films; Movies; Storytelling; Styles; Techniques; Transitions

Subjects: Appalachia

01:12:31 - Using Appalachian experience to enhance portrayal of characters

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Just a couple more questions, and I appreciate so much your time.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor expounds on the rural characters he's played. He believes he often gets rural character parts because he has so much experience with the places and people these characters would have encountered and that informs his portrayal. He mentions his Appalachian identity and says "Appalachian experience" might be a better way to phrase most people's upbringing in the mountains.

Keywords: Appalachian experiences; Characterizations; Characters; Films; Identities; Movies; Portrayals; Rural characters

Subjects: Appalachia; Appalachian Region

01:16:39 - Paying extra for your ticket when you know the actor

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, when I called you to ask if you would sit for this interview I told you how much I admired "Junebug."

Segment Synopsis: Taylor jokes with the interviewer after Keith says what a big fan he was of the movie "Junebug" in which Taylor starred. Taylor laughs and says there's an unknown rule in the movie industry that when you see a film with an actor you know personally you're required to pay a little extra and he's allowed to accept the extra charge whenever Keith would like to pay.

Keywords: "Junebug"; Acquaintances; Actors; Charges; Collections; Film industry; Films; Money; Pay; Rules

Subjects: Appalachia

01:17:48 - Ray Hicks as inspiration for "Junebug" character

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Well, I wanted to ask you about that role because when we were on the phone you mentioned, uh, some of your inspiration and how you got ready for that role, and it seemed to kind of tie together some of these things about, um, your experience in the '70s, your engagement with storytelling traditions, and then, uh, through--after doing "Red Fox" you end up in this film.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor discusses his inspiration for his character in the film "Junebug" saying a lot of his speech is derived from famed storyteller Ray Hicks. He expounds on Hicks saying he once read a review about Hicks telling stories at the Kennedy Center and that he was from the 15th century. He agrees and says he has a lot of respect for that man and was happy to get to use a little of Hicks' style in his characterization of David Wark.

Keywords: "Junebug"; Characterizations; Characters; Crying; David Wark; Films; Inspiration; Kennedy Center; Movies; Ray Hicks; Reporter; Storyteller; Storytelling

Subjects: Appalachian Region; Appalachian Region--Social life and customs

01:25:44 - Impact of Appalshop on Appalachian culture / Looking at the history and future of Appalshop

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Let's, uh--I appreciate you sharing all of that, um, and everything that you've shared.

Segment Synopsis: Taylor discusses the impact Appalshop has had over the years, saying they have done a lot of good and the people of Whitesburg, Kentucky can tell you how much they've impacted the culture. He states he is grateful for the experience to travel around the country and give people an authentic look at Appalachian culture. He explains that a lot of Appalshop's work came from one generation of people and now a new generation is stepping up. He hopes Appalshop continues to be a place where you can express yourself artistically and that he's glad he showed up for that.

Keywords: Artistic expressions; Cultural work; Generations; Impacts; Legacies; Thanks

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.; Whitesburg (Ky.)