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Rocky Road to Stardom: Richard O'Brien

Taken from The Independent


MY ORIGINAL title for The Rocky Horror Show was They Came From Denton High, because it reminded me of all those B-movies. At 21, the show has now come of age and I reckon the movie alone has grossed more than dollars 160m, but that doesn't mean I've got money coming out of my ears.

Rocky came to life in 1973. I'd started out as an actor, but had the kind of looks which meant I could never be a blank canvas and, having been out of work long enough to feel I'd paid my dues, was ready to chuck in the towel. My then wife was in work, in the musical Hair, and I was the one at home nights babysitting our son, James. To amuse myself in the evenings I'd chip away at my little horror musical.

After a month I had enough material to mention the idea to Jim Sharman at the Royal Court in Sloane Square, and he later directed it. The show opened at the Royal Court, but quickly transferred to the King' s Road, where it would run for seven years.

Rocky was also staged successfully in Los Angeles, and then we did the movie of the show. The deal was with Fox, but in those days video sales never entered anyone's head. When Fox later released the video it moved 100,000 copies at $99.99 each and went on to make at least $18m. I received a cheque for 10,000 pounds.

Appalled, I complained to Michael White and Lou Adler, producers of both show and film, and got a cheque for 40,000 pounds from Fox. Actually, I saw only a tiny percentage of the producers' royalty from the movie, and then had to give back 20 per cent to White and Adler because they' d produced the original stage show. The fact that they get the lion' s share of the royalties does stick in the old throat a bit, but there' s nothing I can do. And I'd rather have 1 per cent of something than 100 per cent of nothing.

There were never vast amounts of money coming in, never enough for me to feel secure or expect not to struggle to pay the mortgage. We made a follow-up film to Rocky, called Shock Treatment. The soundtrack was actually better, but the film was absolutely lousy, and when Lou Adler cut a trailer to the title song he took all the best clips and made the better movie.

I was never ambitious as far as career was concerned, so long as I was enjoying my eternal amateur approach to the things I liked. Then followed many years of excess, marital problems, bringing up children single-handed and a constant fear of being found out as a fraud. I never thought I was a writer anyway; it's only in the past year that I've taken any credit for anything I've done in my life - and I had to go into analysis to come to terms with that.

The Crystal Maze on Channel 4 grabbed virtually unheard-of audiences of five million for the station. But the one thing I couldn't understand, and still don't to some extent, was that although I was someone who actually did the numbers for them, they never waved the flag for the show or tried to woo me as a Channel 4 person in the same crazy manner as they wooed Jonathan Ross. I could drive down the street and see yet another show and billboard for Jonathan, who picked up audiences just under the million mark. I felt if they could afford a billboard for him, why not Crystal Maze, too?

I like Jonathan. I'm not blaming him, I'm blaming Channel 4 people; they should have taken me on board as a viable Channel 4 personality. And when, after four years, I said I'd had enough of Crystal Maze they should have asked if there was anything else they could have found me.

Today I'm writing an act for Mephistopheles the Demon, who wants to be a star of rock'n'roll. I try him out with pre-show spots on some of the dates of the 21st birthday party tour of Rocky. I have no idea what game plan Mephistopheles has; he's probably a lot more ruthless and ambitious than I am.

To some extent I am just an ageing hippie but I pre-date the hippie era, I'm actually an old Fifties adolescent. I've never managed to grow up particularly - I would say I'm the victim of an arrested development

 

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The Richard O'Brien Crusade est. 1996