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Stumbling across Rocky Horror can make you feel young again

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Patricia Corrigan; 11-06-1999

Some old friends showed up unexpectedly last Saturday night, making a ho-hum Halloween weekend much more fun. I speak of Dr. Frank N. Furter, Riff Raff, Magenta, Columbia, Eddie and, of course, Brad and Janet, all characters in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," which aired on VH-1 at least three times last weekend.

One minute, I was watching an insightful program on the life of Queen Victoria, and when it ended, I stumbled upon "Rocky Horror." I say "stumbled" because I am among that 40 percent of adults who shun listings of television programs, preferring to be surprised. So often, all that is available is golf, football and "I Love Lucy, " but now and then, a winner shows up.

To me, "Rocky Horror" is very much a winner. Perhaps you think that at my age, I should be watching some home and garden program, or shopping on QVC (or even learning about Queen Victoria), but I' d rather dance the "Time Warp" any day. "Rocky Horror" celebrates its 25th anniversary next year, and I've been along for the ride for at least 22 of those years. A tribute to classical science fiction and old movies in general, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" started life in London as a play called "They Came from Denton High." Richard O'Brien wrote the play, the music and the lyrics and stars as Riff Raff in the movie, which was released in 1975. The critics panned it and audiences stayed away. An advertising director monitoring the film's track record noted that although only a few people were going to the movie, those who did go returned
repeatedly. Moviegoers at the Waverly Theater in New York City went back so often that they knew the words to every song, and cheerfully sang along.

In 1976, studio mavens decided to market the movie as a midnight show. "Rocky Horror" came to St. Louis in March of 1976, showing at the now-defunct Varsity Theatre in University City. The movie ran every night, as the main feature, for three weeks. Pete Piccione, who owned the Varsity, brought the film back as a midnight movie on occasional weekends for the rest of the year and on through 1977. By May of 1978, "Rocky Horror" was playing every weekend as the midnight show.

I first went to the movie in 1978. I loved the music, the crazy plot and the visual tributes to old movies. I especially loved Tim Curry (Frank N. Furter), Susan Sarandon (Janet) and Meatloaf (Eddie), though none of them were then who they are now. (Of course, neither was I.) In August of that year, I wrote an article for a west St. Louis County paper on what props to take to the movie so no one would know if it was your first time. "Rocky Horror" is a participatory movie, and you need to have the right props.

The participatory responses generally are the same all over the country, with few exceptions. In 1986, when I covered the movie's 10th anniversary in St. Louis for this newspaper, no slices of bread sailed through the air at the "right" moment in the movie. An indignant out-of-towner chided the audience by yelling, "What? No toast? What kind of city is this?" Curry, a classically trained Shakespearean actor and now a familiar face on television and in movies, came to town in November of 1978 to plug his first solo album, "Read My Lips." He stopped in at the Varsity to meet the audience before a special afternoon showing of "Rocky Horror." Besides Curry and Piccione, I was the only adult in the building. The youthful audience really didn't want to see Curry - they wanted Frank N. Furter, so after an awkward question period, Piccione started
the film. Curry, a native of the west coast of England, returned to St. Louis 10 years later, starring in the national tour of the musical "Me and My Girl." I interviewed him for the Post-Dispatch. He said that after filming "Rocky Horror," in which he prances around in a Merry Widow corset, fishnet hose and platform heels, there were people who thought he would never work again. "But that part has been very useful," Curry said, "because there are a lot of parts that are difficult to cast. And when a risky director is looking for a risky actor ...."

Curry also credited the stage version of "Rocky Horror," with which he toured in the United States, for teaching him about on-stage energy. "I learned about energy from America," said Curry. "The cast had 115 percent energy, all the time, so I had to go 120 - at least." Speaking of energy, I found enough the other night to get off the couch and dance the "Time Warp" with the festively attired Transylvanians on my TV. It's easy - just a jump to the left. Now what I need is enough energy to stay up really late for the midnight showing of " Rocky Horror" some Saturday at the Shady Oak in Clayton.

See you there?

Copyright © 1999, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Richard O'Brien Crusade est. 1996