Back in 1978 or thereabouts in Winnipeg, Manitoba, I was almost fired as a group home counselor for taking the teen house residents (level 3 juvenile delinquents aged 13 to 19) to a impromptu midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show for them to witness the new audience participation the film engendered. I looked at it s great art and figured the kids would enjoy the the zany topic and art form. My boss was a relatively conservative religious guy and found it tasteless and a bad move to take the kids out at midnight. He thought I was polluting them rather than liberating them.
The kids loved it ...
So it goes.
By Marc Spitzoct
Tim Curry remembers the moment he realized that his performance as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in "The Rocky Horror Show," the London stage precursor to the 1975 cult film, was no longer his alone.
David Bowie and his wife at the time, Angela, were in the audience that night in 1973. Onstage, Frank, the hypersexual alien mad scientist, was being held at ray-gunpoint by his former servants, Riff Raff (Richard O'Brien) and Magenta (Patricia Quinn). They were about to shoot when Ms. Bowie shouted, ''No, don't do it." As Mr. Curry recalled by phone from Los Angeles, "That was the first time."
First a British phenomenon, the sci-fi musical mash-up grew into a trans-Atlantic hit, and later the much better-known feature film with the slightly updated title, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." The lines written by Mr. O'Brien, a New Zealand transplant, and those made up on the spot by fans -- in some cases, repeated until they became classics -- would become inseparable. This symbiosis ensured that "Rocky Horror" has remained perpetually on screens (including a special Halloween outdoor screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles) since it was first released to a nearly empty theater 40 years ago: It is self-updating, never the same sum of dialogue twice, and never, ever dated.
"People still come up with audience participation lines week by week," said Larry Viezel, a fan who helped produce "Rocky Horror Saved My Life," a new documentary. "There are lines that are going to be about Donald Trump and the other day there was a line about Cecil the Lion. Whatever is in the news can become an audience participation line."
Ostensibly the tale of Brad and his fiancée, Janet, a wholesome but stranded couple in Denton, Ohio, who stumble onto the Annual Transylvanian Convention presided over by the "sweet transvestite" Frank, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was so much more: a small-scale take on America's struggle with its conservatism and desires amid the sexual revolution and the glitter-rock era. As Mr. Curry put it, Mr. O'Brien "reached up into the zeitgeist and brought down the most salient ingredients."
That this strange mix would resonate with moviegoers was never a given. In 1974, the record producer Lou Adler moved the show from London to Hollywood (adding Meat Loaf to the cast). There was also a brief Broadway bid. The show finally returned to a Gothic castle in Britain to become a movie (directed by Jim Sharman, who also directed the stage version) once Mr. Adler cut a deal with 20th Century Fox.
The cast included Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon after the studio demanded that Americans play Brad and Janet. But Mr. Curry was allowed to reprise his stage role, complete with leather jacket, fishnets and heels. "He's the ultimate seducer," Mr. Curry said of Frank. "Everyone is a potential target."
Mr. Adler recalled believing in the movie when few else did. Early on, Fox's European marketing executives were invited to watch the filming of the climactic swimming pool scene. "There was dead silence," he said. "They didn't stay for lunch."
Ms. Sarandon confirmed: "My representatives were so horrified. Nobody else thought it was a good idea."
After opening in Santa Barbara, Calif., to almost no business on Sept. 26, 1975, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was scheduled to play Columbus, Ohio, which would have probably guaranteed an early death.
"It was doomed from the start," said Tim Deegan, who worked with Mr. Adler and Fox in what seemed a vain effort to find an audience. John Waters's lurid, hilarious "Pink Flamingos" was enjoying a successful late-night run at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles; Mr. Deegan saw a model.
"I was totally convinced there was a midnight audience," he said.
Fox wanted no part of it, especially when executives saw the promotional poster, which showed a giant pair of lips and the tagline, "A different set of jaws."
Only the threat of a lawsuit and the support of the studio chief, Alan Ladd Jr., enabled Mr. Deegan to eventually book the film into the Waverly Theater in Greenwich Village in New York during the spring of 1976 -- not before Mr. Deegan was fired twice by Fox. Still, the lines grew until fans, in costume and carrying props, had to arrive hours before the midnight screenings.