A childhood passion for horror movies and Frankenstein and all things strange brought me to The Rocky Horror Show.
It all started in junior school during a family holiday to London in 1974. The usual tourist sights were fine, but I’d seen most of them before on a trip with my grandparents when I was seven. Now I was more thrilled by the buzz and noise and giant hoardings for theatrical productions and movies like Chinatown with its serpentine coils of smoke. It was such glorious advertising that first alerted me to The Rocky Horror Show.
On the side of one of those big red Routemaster buses going to Peckham or Camden or wherever, I first saw the ad for The Rocky Horror Show, featuring an androgynous woman (or was it a man?) with short hair and big hooped earrings, looked slightly askance at something just out of vision. Returning home to Scotland, I studied the weekend reviews for any more information. I soon learned this show was an award-winning musical by Richard O’Brien. It told the story of a transvestite Dr. Frank N. Furter played by Tim Curry and his plans to make a man. There was also some plot line about aliens from the transsexual planet Transylvania. It certainly sounded my kinda thing. I clipped and kept any article I chanced upon relating to Mr. Curry, or Mr. O’Brien, or The Rocky Horror Show.
One Sunday in 1975, the Observer Magazine featured a four-page color spread on the forthcoming movie version The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Under the headline “Something to Offend Everyone,” I read about Tim Curry’s upbringing as the son of a naval chaplain, his time as an actor at the Citizen’s theater in Glasgow, performing in drag for Lindsay Kemp‘s production of Jean Genet’s The Maids. Of Richard O’Brien’s time as a stuntman on Carry on Cowboy, and how he had written the musical one cold winter in an attic between acting jobs. The production started out Upstairs at the Royal Court Theater—famed for John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and kitchen sink drama—before moving to the King’s Road, where it remained until 1979. The article described the film as making comic reference to Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, 1950s American sci-fi movies, even Esther Williams’ movies, and that it was bound to upset quite a lot of people.
When The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released, the critics hated it. The public hated it, too. My high school buddies didn’t even know that it existed. Men in drag was not really the kinda thing to interest most boys my age who were mainly into soccer, Slade, and Monty Python. Anyway, we were still all too young to gain admittance to see the film as it had been given an “AA” certificate—which meant it was for those lucky kids over fourteen.
I eventually saw the film a few years later and was not disappointed. By then, I’d bought the album and worn out its cherished grooves. Still, no one I knew was even the slightest bit interested in this quirky, strange movie. Punk had arrived and Star Wars was out, and that was all that mattered.
But good art will always win out—eventually. And so it was with The Rocky Horror Picture Show when the devotion of a small group of New Yorkers made it the biggest cult musical of all time.
Over the years, I’ve picked up the occasional Rocky merchandise. Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show Scrapbook, the original cast album, the original movie poster, et cetera, et cetera, and of lastly but not necessarily least, an infuriatingly incomplete set of trading cards which you can drool over below.
#1. Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter.
#2. Richard O’Brien as Riff Raff.
#3. Susan Sarandon as Janet Weiss.
More ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ trading cards after the jump….