The History of
The Rocky Horror Show

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Phantoms



Rocky Horror began its remarkable life not as a film, but rather as a small production in London that author Richard O'Brien wrote to keep himself busy on winter evenings when he was an out-of-work actor. Richard O'Brien was born in London in 1942, but he grew up in New Zealand where, during double features at the local cinema, he developed a lifelong passion for schlocky science fiction and B-grade horror movies, as well as classics like Dracula and Frankenstein, and Marvel Comics (especially Dr. Strange). O'Brien narrowly escaped a considerably less glamorous life as a cheese farmer in New Zealand by moving back to his native London to make a go at an acting career. After performing small roles in the films "Carry On Cowboy and Casino Royale, O'Brien landed a role in Hair and made one disastrous but fateful performance in Jesus Christ Superstar. Although he didn't cut it in the role of King Herod, O'Brien had the opportunity to present his 3-chord rock musical entitled They Came From Denton High to Superstar's director Jim Sharman, who was asked to do a play in the main house of the Royal Court Theater . Sharman remarked that he would like to do that, but wanted some time in the tiny upstairs theater with the play O'Brien had written.

There was one problem: the theater could not cover the costs of production alone, so a producer needed to be found. A tape of Richard O'Brien singing "Science Fiction/ Double Feature" (the opening song) made its way to the desk of Michael White who had produced a London version of "Oh! Calcutta !" White became fascinated with the tape and story concept, and agreed to sponsor the production. Dubbed "The Rocky Horror Show" the play was based on a combination of grade B Horror movies, Steve Reeves muscle flicks and fifties rock 'n' roll. It starred O'Brien as a maniacal handyman named Riff-Raff, and another Hair alumnus Tim Curry in the leading role as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the kinky scientist who creates "Rocky Horror", his personal Adonis. Even though Curry originally came to read for the role of Rocky, his raucous performance of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" made it clear he was destined to play the lead role.

The play opened at the Royal Court 's experimental Theatre Upstairs as a six-week workshop project in June of 1973 to fantastic reviews and packed houses of 60 or so people a night. A good omen for Rocky Horror was that Vincent Price was amongst the opening night attendees. The show received such acclaim at this 60-seat theatre that it was quickly moved to larger quarters in a converted cinema in Chelsea . Following the movie theatre's demolition, the show found a permanent home at the 500-seat King's Road Theatre, where it is still playing to packed houses nightly. The play was named Best Musical of 1973 in the London Evening Standard's annual poll of drama critics. Approximately half the actors in this production would go on to reprise their roles in the film version.

Lou Adler, an American record producer/songwriter who had co-organized the Monterey Pop Festival, was brought to the show by Britt Ekland after being awake many straight hours on a delayed British Airways flight from LA to London . Adler was immediately impressed by the show and was coincidentally at a party a few nights later where he met Michael White. Within 36 hours, Adler had secured the American rights to the show and a Los Angeles production was to be mounted.

Eddie

Adler invited executives from 20th Century Fox to the play and managed to secure a film deal. Filming of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW began in October, 1974, at Bray Studios, England's famous House of Horror,' and at a 19th century chateau which served once as the wartime refuge of General Charles DeGaulle.

After completing the six-week shoot, it was decided to open a run of the play on Broadway as a sort of pre-release hype, building anticipation for the film's scheduled release the following fall. The production was brought to the Belasco theater in Manhattan , a legitimate theatre which was converted to a cabaret style venue (like the Roxy) by adding tables to the floor. Unfortunately, the large size of the theater only served to destroy the intimacy which had existed at the show's previous productions. To further detriment, local critics implied that the play had no place in such a cosmopolitan area as New York . Forty five performances later, the show closed without a trace of ever having arrived.

Things didn't appear much brighter on September 24th, 1975 when The Rocky Horror Picture Show had its American theatrical debut. Although the film, touted as "A Different Set Of Jaws", opened to sell-out crowds at the UA theater in Westwood Village (a college town surrounding UCLA in Los Angeles ), the story was quite dismal almost everywhere else. The film bombed in most cities, and looked to be doomed to the vaults until a strange phenomenon was observed. Although theater owners were complaining of low attendance, it seemed that a small dedicated audience was returning for repeated viewings.

 

Phantoms

While the film was still running successfully in Los Angeles , Lou Adler and Tim Deegan (20th Century Fox's marketing director for Rocky Horror) began to discuss the situation at hand. Together they decided the film would need a special kind of marketing, geared toward helping the film find its own unique audience. Their first step was to try Rocky Horror as a midnight movie in New York City , a relatively new idea at the time. Word of mouth, they decided, would be the best form of promotion - let the audience find the film and vice-versa.

Six months after its initial release, Rocky Horror hit the midnight-movie circuit (with a re-edited ending - sans the down beat Super Heroes and Science Fiction Reprise) by opening at the Waverly Theater in Greenwich Village . Within weeks, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was also playing at several other theaters throughout the country at the witching hour. The audience continued to grow steadily and, in addition, began to develop a special relationship with the movie. The first evidence of the unique tie between The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its audience surfaced in its initial run at the UA Westwood. Many of the same people who attended multiple performances at the Roxy were attending the movie on a nightly basis. These people were actually singing along with the songs as early as opening week, and calling out "2-4-6-8-10-12-14-eat your heart out, Anne Miller" from the Roxy Soundtrack's Time Warp.

This phenomenon was not, however, exclusive to the Westwood audience. The barriers between audience and screen broke down almost simultaneously at Rocky Horror screenings throughout the country. At first it surfaced in small ways - someone might hold up a teddy bear during the "Eddie's Teddy" number or a group of viewers would bring noisemakers to rattle during the creation scene. Although no one knows for certain what the first audience comeback was, some people were already calling out "antici-'say it'-pation" before the movie hit the midnight scene. And doing the "Time Warp" in the aisles during the closing credits became an essential part of the Rocky Horror experience very early on. A ritual began to develop around attending a Rocky Horror screening. Its glittery, colorful palate inspired people to dress up in outrageous costumes, usually designed to mimic the movie's main characters. Groups of regulars developed loyalty to their Rocky Horror venue wherever it played.

In early 1977, the first full-fledged official "dress-up" group emerged at the Fox Venice theater in Los Angeles . "The Rocky Horror Revue" performed a staged, lip-synch Rocky Horror act on the Fox stage in between the evening's two screenings. Possibly the most noteworthy group emerged at the Waverly Theater. This industrious ensemble was one of the earliest and most enduring of all the performing groups, eventually becoming the founders of the Official Rocky Horror Picture Show Fan Club. At its peak, the New York based national fan club boasted over 20,000 active members worldwide, according to fan club president Sal Piro. In its earlier run, it was noticed that the film's attendance seemed to rise when one of these "live" groups were performing. The wackier the audience, the bigger the draw.

By the end of 1977, Rocky Horror had mutated into a multimedia event - a loud and boisterous come-as-you-are party where anything could - and often did - happen. "Don't Dream It, Be It" was Rocky's central message, and the ever-increasing audience took it to heart. Attending The Rocky Horror Picture Show was an experience that could be compared to no other. Where else could you go out at midnight , dressed in lingerie, and hang out with a couple hundred other free-spirits? Soon annual and semi-annual conventions were held in celebration of Rocky Horror, and a great many friendships were formed through its faithful cult. One couple even got married at a midnight screening at Hollywood 's Tiffany Theater .

By 1979, Rocky Horror was receiving a great deal of media attention worldwide. The New York group (now transplanted to the 8th Street Playhouse) was featured on The Tom Snyder Show. The Tiffany's group was featured on various news programs. Groups in all areas were finding themselves featured on local news broadcasts. Magazines from Newsweek to Rolling Stone ran features on the film and its massive following. At this point The Rocky Horror Picture Show was experiencing its greatest success ever. Aside from its usual midnight showings, many 2-AM shows were added to accommodate the sell out crowds. Media coverage included a feature on NBC's Real People and a Ronald Reagan spoof on ABC's Fridays called "The Ronnie Horror Show". In addition, the films Fame and Willie and Phil contained scenes depicting the Rocky Horror experience.

Because of the widespread interest in Rocky Horror, it was decided to stage a major revival of the play in The United States. Rocky Horror - the play, had run continuously in London , moving from the 60-seat Theatre Upstairs to the 400 seat Kings Road Theater in 1974 where it ran straight for 7 years. Touring companies had already performed in Germany , Norway , Australia , Japan , France , and New Zealand (where rocker Gary Glitter took the lead as Dr. Frank-N-Furter). The U.S. touring company surfaced in 1980, and played to sell-out crowds wherever it performed. This was the first opportunity for most of the hard-core fans to see Rocky Horror in its original form. Most notable of the performers who participated in the revival were Kim Milford from the original Roxy Cast reprising his role as Rocky and Wendy O. Williams (from the controversial punk band The Plasmatics) in the role of Magenta. Australia and New Zealand also experienced successful revivals of The Rocky Horror Show at this point in time.

In 2000, The Rocky Horror Show was revived on Broadway with much success. Guest Narrators included everyone from Dick Cavett to Sally-Jessy Raphael. The musical still continues to be produced across the U.S. and abroad. Last year it enjoyed a successful U.K. 30th Anniversary tour.

 

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