The Rocky Horror Show started out as an experimental piece of fringe theater and – in the words of its writer Richard O’Brien – “three weeks of fun” on a small London stage. But once a talented group of actors got their hands on the script, the musical soon became one of the most beloved and original productions of all time.
In the early ’70s, then, O’Brien and his cross-dressing crew took their comedy-horror show on the road, traveling from London to Broadway and across the world. In 1975, moreover, the super-camp singalong was picked up by 20th Century Fox and turned into a movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. So began its transformation into a cult phenomenon with legions of diehard fans.
One such diehard fan is Larry Viezel. Viezel really loves The Rocky Horror Show. In fact, as he himself put it to New York’s PIX11 in April 2016, “To say I’m a superfan is an understatement.” Viezel has traveled to watch his favorite show being performed across the globe and has organized no fewer than seven Rocky Horror conventions. He also runs two websites dedicated to the musical and has even co-written a book on the topic.
Plus, Viezel has actually starred in Rocky Horror productions himself, variously appearing as both the Criminologist and Eddie. Not only that, but he’s produced a documentary about the musical, too: Rocky Horror Saved My Life. So yeah, he’s a pretty big fan. It’s no surprise, then, that Viezel is also the proud owner of a huge collection of Rocky Horror collectables, pictures and keepsakes. In fact, over the years he’s cultivated one of the biggest compilations of artifacts in the whole of Rocky Horror fandom.
But five years ago, Viezel lost a very important part of his treasured collection: a series of original Polaroid photographs snapped during the making of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And it was quite a loss, too: these old pictures offered a rare and fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at the iconic movie and the now-famous stars who had helped make it a classic.
The 1975 film featured many of the stage actors who had starred in the very first Rocky Horror performance back in 1973, including Tim Curry, Patricia Quinn, Neil Campbell and Richard O’Brien. Fox Studios did, however, add a couple of Hollywood names – namely, Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick.
But the young cast didn’t gather in a regular film studio to shoot this ’70s classic. No, they spent six weeks filming in a derelict Victorian building in England, which had previously been used to film a horror flick. And, luckily, someone was on hand with a Polaroid camera to capture all the intriguing, behind-closed-doors action.
Viezel’s fascinating snaps reveal the cast in the iconic costumes and gender-bending makeup that helped make Rocky Horror an icon of both stage and screen. The candid Polaroids show the movie’s actors in apparently unguarded moments – and seemingly having a ton of fun in the process, too.
O’Brien, in a 2013 piece for The Guardian, has recalled that this sense of authenticity was also something that Jim Sharman was keen to capture on camera. And to this end, the director was always throwing surprises at the cast. “When Eddie’s corpse was revealed under the dining table, it came as a real shock: none of us had been aware that it was there apart from Tim Curry,” he revealed. “Jim wanted a natural reaction.”
In fact, there was at least one unscripted moment on screen. In the famous scene around the dinner table, for example, Bostwick punches the table – and unintentionally whacks Sarandon’s hand in the process. And so the shock on her face wasn’t just for the cameras, but a real reaction.
Moreover, some of the on-screen romance wasn’t just put on for the cameras, either. O’Brien also revealed that, during production, Sarandon and Bostwick were actually romantically involved in real life.
Still, it wasn’t all fun and games on the Rocky Horror set. Sarandon, for example, got such a chill that she came down with a fever and was pretty sick during shooting of the song “Wild and Untamed Thing.” And the crew and cast were restricted financially, too: the entire movie was shot on a budget of less than $1 million.
Nevertheless, photographs such as these reveal that, although The Rocky Horror Picture Show might not have been as sleek and professional as today’s Hollywood productions, it seems to have been as much fun to make as it is to watch. And, as O’Brien put it, “It’s flawed, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s allowed to be a bit kitsch, I think, and the flaws are part of that quality.”
Viezel had purchased these revealing artifacts, previously seen in the official publication The Rocky Horror Scrapbook, from a fellow collector based in New Mexico. He’d arranged to have them posted specially to New York, where they’d arrived safely at his office. But on his way home from work, several precious pics slipped out of his bag and were accidentally left behind on the busy subway platform.
In the interview with PIX11, Viezel recalled that after boarding the C train, “my bag broke, you know everything fell out of my bag. And I grabbed everything, I thought I got it all.” But in the scramble, Viezel had left over a dozen Polaroids scattered about the platform. There was a good chance the snaps would be trampled over or kicked onto the track and lost forever. But, luckily, they found their way into the hands of someone who realized the value of the items.
On one day in 2011 Brady Marter was waiting for his train at Canal Street Station, when he noticed something unusual lying on the ground. And while, normally, he wouldn’t go around picking up trash off the subway, it just so happened that he recognized what was depicted by the photographs at his feet.
Marter later told PIX11, “[I] saw these photos all over the platform, picked them up and realized they were photos of Tim Curry and the cast of Rocky Horror.” Once he realized that he’d stumbled upon collectors’ items, Marter went online to see if he could trace the owner. He uploaded scans of the Polaroids to various forums and websites, including one called Collectors Weekly.
“Found these on the platform of the C train in TriBeCa,” he posted. “They are photos of Tim Curry and the cast of Rocky Horror during the making of the film. Some have writing on the back and Frankenfurter (sic) kissed the back of one.” Another three years or so were to pass, however, before the pictures found their way back to Viezel.
Eventually, however, friends of the superfan came across the snaps on the Collectors Weekly website and were convinced they were the missing pieces of his mammoth collection. And when Viezel himself saw Marter’s post, he immediately recognized his long-lost pictures. Despite the fact that so much time had passed, then, he left Marter a message revealing how he’d lost the pics in the subway station so many years ago.
Indeed, at the time of the loss, Marter had been employed mere blocks from Viezel’s own place of work in Manhattan. After hearing Viezel’s story, then, Marter was convinced that he was the rightful owner and dutifully arranged for the precious items to be sent back to him. There was just one thing he wanted in return: to retain one of the snaps for himself.
And with the missing photographs now back in Viezel’s hands, he couldn’t be more grateful to Marter for returning the artifacts he thought he’d lost forever. “One thing I learned throughout all this,” he told PIX11, “was that it is great to know that there are people who are genuine and as wonderful as Brady out there.”