Meshach Taylor and the curious cast of ‘Mannequin’
The late actor Meshach Taylor, who died Saturday at the age of 67, was best known for his work on television, particularly his role in the hit 1980s sitcom “Designing Women.” Taylor didn’t have an extensive movie career, but his passing reminds us that he did star in one of the more unusual big-screen ensembles of that wacky decade, “Mannequin,” a movie that was oddly notable for the careers it helped launch (or provided a detour for).
Directed and co-written by Michael Gottlieb and released in 1987, “Mannequin” starred Andrew McCarthy as a frustrated artist turned window dresser who falls in love with a department store dummy that comes to life, played by Kim Cattrall. Critics panned the farcical rom-com, but it performed well at the box office, grossing $42 million.
Taylor stole his fair share of scenes as Hollywood Montrose, the flamboyant visual merchandiser who helps McCarthy save the girl and gleefully drops unsubtle innuendo such as “Mine’s bigger than yours is!” while spraying mall security guards with a fire hose. (Yes, the movie is dated by more than just its fashion.)
Taylor was also the only major cast member to reprise his role in the sequel “Mannequin Two: On the Move” in 1991, though it failed to achieve its predecessor’s cult status.
McCarthy, meanwhile, was becoming known as a Brat Pack member when “Mannequin” came out, having starred in “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “Pretty in Pink,” and the film didn’t do much to expand his horizons beyond his boy-next-door persona. In a review for the Washington Post, Rita Kempley wrote, “McCarthy, as innocuous as blow-dried hair, is a cut above other tepid teen hunks of the ‘80s, and does no harm to the environment in his romps with Cattrall.”
McCarthy would go on to star in “Less Than Zero,” “Weekend at Bernie’s” and “The Joy Luck Club,” and is currently active as a TV actor and director; he’s also a travel writer.
Cattrall’s performance in “Mannequin” wasn’t exactly a showcase of serious acting chops either — the movie’s premise, mind you, had her playing an Egyptian princess reincarnated as fiberglass figurine — but did show some early glimpses of the irreverence and sex appeal that she used as Samantha in the groundbreaking HBO comedy “Sex and the City.”
Reviewing “Mannequin” upon its release, Roger Ebert panned the movie but wasn’t too hard on McCarthy and Cattrall, writing, “In years to come, they probably will look back on this project with a rueful smile and a shrug, much as Paul Newman must remember ‘The Silver Chalice.’”
Joining them in shrugging, presumably, would be supporting players James Spader, Estelle Getty and G.W. Bailey. For Spader, the film marked a reunion with “Pretty in Pink” co-star McCarthy. This time he played a slimy, scheming executive who has it out for our hero.
Spader, perhaps the most accomplished of the movie’s alumni, will soon be playing something of a high-tech mannequin himself as the robot supervillain Ultron in Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” He’s currently starring in the NBC hit drama “The Blacklist.”
Getty, who played the kindly department store owner in “Mannequin,” would enjoy an ‘80s sitcom run similar to Taylor’s via “The Golden Girls,” which ran for seven seasons. She died in 2008.
Bailey, a “Police Academy” alum, played a gruff security guard with an odd habit of talking to his dog. After “Mannequin” and subsequent “Police Academy” installments, he hasn’t appeared much on the big screen, though he has found steady work on TV playing crusty cops, most recently on “The Closer” and “Major Crimes.”
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