During the 80s, Shelley Duvall hosted a Showtime series for children called Faerie Tale Theatre. It attracted what we call in Hollywood “quality-ass talent.” Jeff Bridges and Gena Rowlands joined Duvall for “Rapunzel,” Paul Reubens played Pinocchio, Susan Sarandon and Klaus Kinski starred in “Beauty and the Beast,” and, perhaps most extraordinary of all, Mick Jagger underwent the showbiz Caucasian-to-Asian transformation (local stylists call this dangerous procedure the “Mickey Rooney”) for the series’ adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale,” in which Mick portrayed the Emperor of China. What the fuck.
Mick Jagger as the Emperor of China on ‘Faerie Tale Theatre’
But the 1983 episode “The Boy Who Left Home To Find Out About The Shivers,” based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm, is remarkable because it’s got Frank Zappa playing a Transylvanian hunchback named Attilla and Vincent Price narrating, not to mention performances by Christopher Lee and David Warner. Here’s the plot, as summarized on the back of the old Betamax box:
Overcoming fear is a problem for most people. But there once was a boy whose problem was his complete lack of fear! Peter MacNicol stars as that boy in this amusing production narrated by Vincent Price. The King, played by Christopher Lee, promises the boy treasure and a beautiful Princess, Dana Hill, if he can defeat an Evil Sorcerer who has haunted the King’s castle. The boy meets an ominous mute hunchback, a headless man, and finally, in a duel to the death, the Evil Sorcerer himself! Yet still he knows no fear—until the surprising conclusion. Featuring production design inspired by the work of Breughel and Durer and marvelous performances from a superior cast, this is a tale you should be afraid… to miss!
FZ: Recently, just for a laugh, I did a role of a hunchback in a fairy tale that was completed about three days ago, in a show called Faerie Tale Theatre, which was produced by Shelley Duvall and airs on Showtime cable network here in the United States. I don’t know whether they have distribution outside the US.
Interviewer: Don’t think we get it, no.
FZ: Well, I think that they’re probably going to be trying to export the thing, but it’s a whole series of fairy tales. The first one that they did was “The Frog Prince” and it starred Robin Williams as the frog. He was really great. And things are all done on video, they use a lot of video effects. Mick Jagger did the last one that was on the air, he played a mandarin in “The Nightingale.” And so I got to be a hunchback in a story called “The Boy Who Left Home To Find Out About The Shivers.”
Interviewer: Did he?
FZ: Eventually, yes, he found out about the shivers in one of the more humorous scenes in the thing.
Interviewer: Did you have lines in it?
FZ: Yes. Here are my lines: “Uh uh uh!” and “Oooh, heh heh!”
Look for Zappa’s first appearance as the “ominous mute hunchback” at the 12:30 mark.