History in the US

A Brief History of Rocky Horror in the US

Rocky Horror has not always been the underground cult feature that it is today. Nor is it the American institution of sex drugs and rock and roll. Even though the movie’s events take place in Denton Ohio, USA, the original play, titled The Rocky Horror Show, was written in the early 1970s by Richard O’Brien in London, England. This production was first “opened on the Royal Court Theater Upstairs for a five week experimental run,” (Piro, 1990, VII) in 1973. The play introduced the world to the character of Frank N’ Furter, played originally by Tim Curry, a Transylvanian Transvestite, who is creating a monster, whom he names Rocky Horror. Richard O’Brien played the roll of Riff Raff, the butler, while Patricia Quinn played the roll of Magenta, the Domestic. The show was a surprise hit, winning itself an upgrade in theaters from the Upstairs to the King’s Road Theater. While running here, it won a multitude of awards, including “Best Musical,” by the London Evening Standard. The show continued its success in London, moving to a larger comedy theater, where it ran for an incredible seven years. (Piro, 1990, VII)

Due to its enormous success in London, American Lou Adler bought the American rights to the play, intending to bring it across the ocean, to thrill and fulfill a new audience. In 1974, the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles played host to the first American viewing of The Rocky Horror Show, once again starring Tim Curry as Frank n’ Furter, as did Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn reprise their characters. The play had a successful run in Los Angeles for over a year, while its Broadway run was not quite as fortunate, only playing 49 times in April of 1975 before closing. (Piro, 1990, VII)

CSeeing some success from the play in America, both the American producer, Lou Adler, and the British producer, Michael White, approached Richard O’Brien about transferring The Rocky Horror Show to celluloid. The producers agreed that the only person who should perform the character of Frank would have to be the original actor, Tim Curry. Curry, convinced by O’Brien and Quinn, who was reprising her original character of Magenta, began his first film production along with American actress Susan Surandon and American Broadway actor Barry Bostwick playing the rolls of Janet Weiss and Brad Majors. The American rock star, Meatloaf, would also rejoin the Rocky Horror world, playing the roll of Eddie, the Ex-Delivery boy, which he played on the Roxy Cast. (Piro, 1990, VII)

With the production of the movie complete, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation released the film to a few key cities in late September, 1975. With the exception of Los Angeles, the movie was considered a failure to the general public, and was subsequently shelved with no thought given to a mass release. Collecting Dust, the movie reels sat until April 1st, 1976, when a young Fox executive, Tim Deegan, convinced the Waverly Theater in New York City to play it as the Midnight Feature. With this fortuitous event, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was on its way to infamy, stardom, and immortality. (Piro, 1990, VII)

The Audience of the Waverly was already into the whole midnight movie phenomenon, booing villains and generally ignoring the common rules of etiquette that apply to standard movie goers. The theater played the record soundtrack of the movie before every showing, and the group of late night movie goers began to form together. This was the birthplace of Audience Participation, birthed from the creativity and sleep deprived minds of the Waverly Regulars. The pioneers of the audience participation were Louis Farese, credited with the first call back lines, a verbal line yelled at the screen from the audience, included “Buy an umbrella, you cheap bitch!” for when Janet walked through the rain up to the castle, and “How Strange was it?” directed at Chucky during his original opening speech. Farese was impressed to yell his first line on Labor Day weekend, 1976. Farese was not alone in the creation of the cult, Bill O’Brien was the first to dress up in costume, dressing up as Doctor Frank n’ Furter. The character play came to a culmination on Halloween of 1976, when a number of the audience members showed up in costume, and O’Brien and a few other regulars of the Waverly began to lip sink to the soundtrack recordings. “This was spontaneous and it developed into a mini-floor show before the movie. Audience response was tremendous.” (Piro, 1990)