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WITH AN EYE ON . . . : Taylor Negron keeps 'Hope & Gloria' fans watching for his next wry delivery

November 26, 1995|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Taylor Negron wasn't looking for a network TV series but one came looking for him.

"I have a nice little movie career and I write plays and do my act. I never wanted to jump into that, but they kind of wooed me," he says of Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, the creators and former executive producers of NBC's "Hope & Gloria." They brought Negron onto the Sunday night sitcom this season.

Whatever reservations Negron had, the Steinkellners "assured me with their eyes--it's all you have in this world--that it was going to be OK," the actor says with his patented mock-dramatic flair. "With someone as individual as me, you have to create a part."

Which is exactly what the Steinkellners did. As Cheri Steinkellner puts it, "He's so hugely unique and funny, they totally broke the mold when they made him."

"He's like no one on TV, unless he replicates himself--which I wouldn't be surprised if he could," adds Steinkellner, who met Negron in 1978 when the two were partners in the Comedy Store Players. (The Steinkellners have been recently replaced by former co-producers Mimi Friedman and Jeanette Collins. A network representative said the departure was "a natural progression" for the show's creators.)

After about 25 movies, as well as "guest spots on every TV show you've ever seen," Negron seems to have settled into "Hope & Gloria" with ease, playing the delightfully arrogant TV station manager Gwillem Blatt. His character lords it over Cynthia Stevenson's Hope, producer of the Pittsburgh station's local talk show, "The Dennis Dupree Show." Alan Thicke plays Dennis.

Negron calls Gwillem "anally narcissistic, to the point of madness, where he's obsessed with what people think of him. He wants to make contributions to consciousness, but his tail gets in the way."

With a strong background in improvisation, Negron is allowed much input. Says Friedman: "You don't know what's going to escape from his mouth! Even when we anticipate lines will sound a certain way, he always delivers in a way that always surprises. With Taylor, there's a sense of complete excitement that comes with not knowing what he's going to do."

Negron loves how Gwillem's "on the cutting edge of all that's popular," which also describes Negron's stand-up comic persona.

The Pasadena native is from a rather normal rock 'n' roll family, he says. (His first cousin, Chuck, is the lead singer for Three Dog Night.)

A shy child, Negron slowly grew to find his comic voice. But first, he delved into art--painting is still a love. Negron left art school at 19 and returned to L.A., where "to make money I did portraits . The truth is so bizarre! I'm kind of embarrassed. I was like a 19th-Century pirate painter.

"I'd say, 'Your mom would love a painting of you!' A salesman! I'd hawk paintings."

He found success hawking portraits to other extras, beginning on the set of 1976's "Lifeguard." He jokes that he can be seen in 1980's "Main Event" when Barbra Streisand "throws up a towel and starts that song."

Small speaking roles followed, including a particularly memorable turn as the pizza delivery guy in 1982's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." On stage, Negron developed his "alternative everyman" comic persona. He loves when people "have no control of their face. Then, it's 'I know what you're thinking! And I own you now!' "

What Negron doesn't own much of is time. He works five days a week on the series and spends Saturday and Sunday evenings honing his comedy in local clubs.

Negron dubs himself "priest king" for his duties as E! Entertainment's spokesperson.

He also penned and starred in the acclaimed play "Gangster Planet," inspired after the Los Angeles riots. He hopes to explore writing more and put his work to CD-Rom.

Negron divides his time between his L.A. beach home and a 700-year-old house in the countryside of France, where his neighbor is pal Richard Belzer.

As for future roles, "I love the idea of metamorphosing and changing, the legalized insanity of acting."

"Hope & Gloria" airs Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on NBC. Currently, Negron appears in "Character Assassinations" at Santa Monica's Highways on Saturday nights and at Luna Park's UnCabaret in West Hollywood on Sunday nights.

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