The critics didn’t really know what to make of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” when it first came out in 1975, and the way Barry Bostwick remembers it, they weren’t the only ones.
“Watching it on stage was the hippest thing to do in London and L.A., but when the movie first came out it was a total flop,” said Bostwick, who shared top billing in the film with Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon. “20th Century Fox looked at it and said, ‘What is it?’ I can remember people from the studio coming by while we were filming and they didn’t stick around for lunch. They wanted to pull the plug on the whole thing.”
‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’
WHAT: A screening of the film and a conversation with Barry Bostwick; costume contest (for more, go to proctors.org)
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
HOW MUCH: $85.50-$20
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
More than 40 years later, however, Bostwick and fans of the film are still celebrating its salute to the science fiction and horror ‘B’ movies that preceded it. Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Proctors, there will be a screening of the film followed by a discussion and question-and-answer period with Bostwick. While he has been interviewed several times about the film, this is the first time Bostwick is stepping in front of an audience in this manner to talk about it and share his memories.
“I really don’t even know what I’m going to say,” he said earlier this week in a phone conversation from his home in Los Angeles. “This is all new to me, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. That’s what I remember about making the film with all those people. It was great fun, but I never thought it was going to be anything more than that. It was a rock ’n’ roll movie, and that’s how I approached it.”
The San Francisco Chronicle said the film was “lacking both charm and dramatic impact,” and Newsweek called it “tasteless, plotless and pointless.” The original stage production, “The Rocky Horror Show,” was a huge hit in London, running from June of 1973 to September of 1980.
Richard O’Brien’s story of a young engaged couple caught in the middle of a storm who stop at the home of a mad transvestite scientist, “The Rocky Horror Show” was also a success in Los Angeles in its American debut in 1974. The play, however, lasted only three previews and 45 shows at the Belasco Theatre when it opened on Broadway in 1975.
Later that year the film also packed little punch, but by Halloween of 1976, the movie’s second life was under way. People began attending in costume and talking back to the screen, and by the middle of 1978, “Rocky Horror” became a midnight routine on the weekend for many its fans, playing in over 50 locations on Fridays and Saturdays.
“It’s a coming-of-age story, a loss of innocence story that becomes a real journey for the characters and the people who come to see it,” said Bostwick. “I think the movie forces young people to explore who they really are. Kids who turn 13 want to go see the film because it makes them feel grown up. Witnessing these people on their journey gives them some insight into who they really are.”
Bostwick was a 30-year-old stage actor with three Tony nominations already on his resume when he did “Rocky Horror.”
A native of San Mateo, California, he majored in acting at San Diego’s United International University and got a master’s degree from NYU’s Graduate Acting Program in 1968. He began his professional performing career as a member of The Klowns, a pop music group that wore clown outfits and heavy makeup while performing.
By 1972 his life as a band member was over after earning a gig originating the role of Danny Zucco in the Broadway production of “Grease.” He earned a Tony nomination for that performance, and in 1976, after making “Rocky Horror,” he returned to Broadway and earned another Tony nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical in “They Knew What They Wanted.” A year later he won the Tony for “The Robber Bridegroom.” It was his final stage performance in New York as his work in television and film would keep him a very busy man to this day.
“I thank God, but no, I never really had a slow period,” said Bostwick. “I’ve done a series of TV shows and family films, some tongue-in-cheek things, and it’s been unending.”
He says he has no appetite to dive back into live theater.
“I’ve done a couple of staged readings, but I just don’t have the energy or at least the interest in going back to New York and spending six or eight months working on something, whatever it is,” he said. “I guess I got it out of my system.”
After “Rocky Horror,” Bostwick became a regular on network TV. He had his own short-lived series on ABC in 1981, playing Detective Tucker Pendleton in “Foul Play,” and then three years later he had his first major success as a featured star with the mini-series “George Washington.” It aired on three nights in April of 1984, chronicling the life of our first president from the French and Indian War, through the American Revolution, and up to his becoming commander-in-chief in 1987.
The series earned six Emmy nominations and was so successful it spawned a TV movie, “George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation,” showing the president’s years in office as well as his retirement.
“I remember the seriousness of everybody connected to it, because they wanted it to be a real reflection of the times in which we were making this country,” said Bostwick. “I had gone from being cheeky, rude and crass, to walking around in high heels, and suddenly I’m playing George Washington. I don’t know how I got the role. Maybe they didn’t see ‘Rocky Horror.’ ”
More TV work
Bostwick continued as a popular TV guest star throughout the 1980s and in 1989 won a Golden Globe in the Best Supporting Actor category for his performance in another mini-series, “War and Remembrance.” From 1996-2002 he played Mayor Randall Winston in ABC’s hit series “Spin City” with Michael J. Fox, Martin Sheen and Heather Locklear.
“It was such a joy to work with Michael Fox every day,” said Bostwick. “He’s such a comic genius. I learned so much from him, and it was an amazing cast.”
More recently, Bostwick has had guest-starring gigs on “Scandal” and “Cougar Town,” and among his current projects is a recurring role on Bravo’s “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.” Film critic Rob Edelman, who teaches film history at the University at Albany, said Bostwick’s long show business career is impressive.
“He originated the role of Danny Zucco on Broadway, he won a Tony, and while he didn’t become the major motion picture star that Susan Sarandon did, you don’t have to be that kind of personality to have a fruitful and successful acting career,” said Edelman. “His stage credits range from Shakespeare to ‘Grease,’ and he’s done some film and countless TV shows and TV movies. He’s a talented guy.”
Edelman says he never saw “Rocky Horror” until it was a popular cult film.
“I saw a midnight showing in Washington, D.C., and I remember just having a ball watching the people show up in costume and yelling at the screen,” Edelman said. “It was fun. It was a great way to spend an evening.”
Best seen live
Joining Bostwick at the show Thursday at Proctors will be the Shadowcast, a group of local actors certified by the Official Fan Site of the Rocky Horror Picture Show to perform at special viewings of the film.
“The real experience of watching the Rocky Horror Show is to see it live with the Shadowcast and the audience members interacting with the film,” said Proctors Director of Marketing Account Management Peter Hughes, who first saw the film in 1990 at a midnight screening. “If you just rent the DVD or come across it on television you’re only getting half the experience. It’s just not the same.”
The film’s enduring popularity continues to surprise Bostwick.
“I remember we had an event after 20 years and I thought, ‘well, that was nice, but that’s the last time I’ll do something like this,’ ” he said. “Well, we’re still talking about it.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]