Editor’s Note: The story was originally published Monday, July 19, 2004
GRANGER — If you’re ever in Granger and you think you see Agent Z from the film "Men in Black" walking down the street, you may not be as crazy as people say you are.
Likewise, if you can swear you saw that girl who played Loretta Lynn in "Coal Miner’s Daughter" in the same general vicinity, you may be more observant than deluded.
The first sighting would be of actor Rip Torn, who grew up in Taylor and spent a considerable amount of his childhood visiting his grandmother, Mary Spacek, in Granger.
Since leaving Central Texas for the bright lights of Broadway and Hollywood, he has appeared in, at rough count, 115 movies. He also has won an Emmy for his role on "The Larry Sanders Show."
Rip Torn wasn’t the only grandchild of Mary Spacek to become a famous actor. Sissy Spacek, who grew up in the East Texas town of Quitman, was Rip’s cousin. Like him, she spent many of her summers at Mary Spacek’s house in Granger.
Dan Martinets grew up across the street from the Spacek house. He remembers Rip Torn as a kid named Skippy.
"He had a little yellow scooter he drove like mad. His grandmother would yell out, ‘Slow down, Skippy,'” Martinets remembers.
Rip Torn was born Elmore Rual Torn, Jr. in Temple on Feb. 6, 1931. Everybody in Taylor and Granger called him Skip; only his grandmother called him Skippy. His father, an agriculturist known as Tiger Torn, married Mary Spacek’s daughter, Thelma Spacek, and together they gave the world a rambunctious little boy who changed his major at the University of Texas from accounting to drama, and his name from Skip to Rip.
Rip Torn made a name for himself on stage and then on screen. But somewhere along the way he acquired a reputation for being surly and unstable. He retreated from mainstream projects and began doing edgier roles, for which he is still known today.
"There’s always some kind of blacklist throughout history," he told reporter Scott Raab in an Esquire magazine interview. "But the difference is, in America they usually let you live."
Martinets also remembers Torn and Spacek’s grandfather, A.A. Spacek, a respected citizen who helped organize the Granger National Bank and eventually became its president. Lyndon Johnson dubbed Spacek "Double A."
The current owners, the E.J. Strimiska family, have done much to restore and repair the old historic Spacek home. The bedroom where LBJ was usually dumped, clothes and all, after a hard night of "campaigning" is referred to as "the LBJ room."
Martinets remembers when Double A began construction of the Spacek house, which has a historical marker in front of it. Martinets is three years older than the house.
"It was the first two-story house in Granger," Martinets recalls. "That was very exciting to a kid."
Sissy Spacek decided she wanted to be an actress after visiting Rip Torn and his wife, Geraldine Page, in New York City.
"I remember going to dinner with them and listening to them talk to famous writers, directors and actors," she told Texas Monthly. "I’d just sit there amazed, longing to one day be able to simply contribute to the conversation."
Twenty films and five Academy Award nominations later, Sissy Spacek can hold her own in any conversation about acting.
Torn, now in his seventies, has a work schedule that any young struggling actor would envy. He’s still in the public eye enough to find his name in the gossip columns from time to time; he reportedly received a $475,000 settlement from Dennis Hopper, who said on the "Tonight Show" that Torn threatened him with a knife on the set of "Easy Rider."
Asked about his reputation for a quick and sometimes violent temper, Torn told Esquire, "I’ve never hit anybody who hasn’t clocked me two or three times."
Sissy Spacek tells of home movies featuring a little wind-up rabbit Rip gave Sissy for Christmas when she was a girl.
"We have a home movie of that, and of Rip and my brothers, and playing football in Granger," she says. "We have a pretty exotic family, I have to say."
Torn and Spacek recently were reunited in Austin when Rip inducted his cousin into the Texas Film Hall of Fame.
Rip Torn doesn’t make it back to Granger and Taylor as often as he used to, but Martinets remembers when Torn flew back to Texas from Spain, where he was playing Judas in "King of Kings," to attend his grandmother’s funeral in 1960.
"I remember him going up and kissing the casket," Martinets says. "I remember that because it was such a touching, human moment. It was genuine. He wasn’t acting."