Let's Do the Time Warp! The Rocky Horror Picture Show Turns 40
Find out who those iconic lips belong to and more fascinating facts
Hey, it’s midnight somewhere in the world, and that seems like justification enough to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which premiered in the U.S. 40 years ago this week.
Given how the gleefully schlocky sci-fi musical attained a cult following as a midnight movie, it’s odd to think of it getting a general release in theaters, but it did: Rocky Horror premiered in Los Angeles on Sept. 26, 1975. It didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, but in true B-movie style, The Rocky Horror Picture Show rose from the grave and returned to theaters. Fans told their friends, those friends told their friends, people started dressing up in costumes, and now 40 years later, you can still catch late-night screenings across the county.
In celebration of Rocky Horror‘s 40th anniversary, here are 20 tidbits of trivia that fans might now know. Please, shiver with anticipation.
1. Those iconic lips belong to Patricia Quinn, but that’s not her voice.
In the original stage version of Rocky Horror, the opening number was sung by the Usherette, a character that is traditionally played by the same actor who plays Magenta. In the film, Patricia Quinn plays Magenta, but her lips are only lip-syncing the song. The vocals are by Richard O’Brien, who played Riff-Raff and who wrote the the original play as well as the screenplay for the movie.
2. There’s a "lost" song.
It’s “Once in a While,” a melancholy ballad sung by Brad (Barry Bostwick) after Janet (Susan Sarandon) discovers him in bed with Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry). The scene was filmed but excised from the final cut.
3. And one iconic song was a late addition to the original stage play.
Richard Hartley, who composed the songs alongside O’Brien, told The Guardian that the original script only made for a 40-minute long performance. “Time Warp” was initially added to stretch the play out longer, but it would go on to become one of Rocky Horror‘s most beloved songs.
4. Susan Sarandon was performing in a musical for the first time – with pneumonia.
Sarandon had a few acting credits under her belt when she took the role of prim, innocent Janet, but Rocky Horror was her first gig in a musical. To complicate matters, filming in the rain gave her pneumonia. As O’Brien explained to The Guardian, “When [Sarandon] sings ‘Wild and Untamed Thing’ in the pool, she should have been under medical supervision. She’d had a shocking cold and was shaking with fever, but still she went on.”
5. Sarandon, however, doesn’t regret the experience.
Despite all that, she apparently still looks back on the production fondly and is amused by the movie’s continued success. In 1993, Sarandon told the Chicago Tribune, “It thrills me that my grandchildren may see their grandmother in her half-slip and bra, seducing a monster.”
6. And Barry Bostwick is surprised by Rocky Horror‘s staying power.
Bostwick is probably better remembered today for his role on Spin City, but he had a musical theater background even before Rocky Horror. In fact, he originated the role of Danny Zuko in the Broadway version of Grease. Today, however, he’s impressed by how many people still love Rocky Horror.
“I’ll do these conventions occasionally and keep up with them and you know in that world, I’m Uncle Barry. When I do these conventions, all of a sudden, I’m meeting a third generation of kids who have just seen it, you know, 10-year-olds, 12-year-olds, and then their parents or their grandparents,” he told the A.V. Club. “It’s just one of those moments in life that people sort of measure their life against.”
7. Tim Curry has a story about unsuccessfully trying to attend a midnight screening of Rocky Horror.
As Curry recalled on NPR’s Fresh Air in 2005, he once tried to call a New York theater that was holding one of the “audience participation” screenings of Rocky Horror, only to be told by the ticket agent “You’re the third Tim Curry to call this week.” When he simply went in person to get a ticket, he was thrown out for being an imposter. When Curry produced his passport, the usherette apologized, but he ultimately told her, “I wouldn’t dream of going back in.”
8. Curry also credits David Bowie’s wife with being one of the first to talk back to the film.
In that same NPR interview, he recalled David and Angie Bowie attending a screening at the height of the film’s popularity. “I remember when Bowie came and he brought this huge entourage, and she was with him, and when Richard O’Brien was about to kill me, she shouted ‘No! No! Don’t do it!’ So I guess she was one of the first people to do that.”
9. Rocky Horror was deemed to be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress.
In 2005, Rocky Horror was added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, along with The Sting, Toy Story and A Raisin in the Sun. And that’s remarkable, considering how it made it in before movies like Sophie’s Choice, Coal Miner’s Daughter and a long list of other films that you might expect would have been deemed worthy by now.
10. The movie features literal Easter eggs.
Many movies have “easter eggs” – little hidden things waiting to be noticed by sharp-eyed fans – but Rocky Horror has actual colored eggs hidden around the set. The crew allegedly had staged a literal Easter egg hunt on the set, and some of them proved so well-hidden that they ended up in the movie – like this one you see beneath Frank-N-Furter’s throne.
11. One cast member allegedly appeared posthumously.
At the beginning of the number “Time Warp,” you see what appears to be a skeleton embedded inside a coffin-shaped grandfather clock. There’s a very urban legend-y story about that skeleton being a real one and the timepiece selling at Sotheby’s in London in 2002 for 35,000. However, most references to the clock are solely couched in the context of Rocky Horror trivia, so it likely the story is just that – but not a bad one to share, so long as you mention its dubious origins.
12. And there was a genuine reaction of horror in one key scene.
As O’Brien recalled to The Guardian: “Jim [Sharman], directing, played pranks on us throughout filming. 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 because he was the one who had to whip the tablecloth off. Jim wanted a natural reaction.”
13. There’s another David Bowie connection.
The characters’ makeup designs were created by Pierre La Roche, whose credits also include glamming up Mick Jagger and creating the signature “forehead lightning bolt” design on Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character.
14. There’s also a Phineas and Ferb connection.
Among the non-Rocky Horror projects that O’Brien has been involved with is the Disney cartoon Phineas and Ferb, on which he voiced the title characters’ father. The show even offered a shout-out to Rocky Horror in one episode.
15. Little Nell’s singing career didn’t end with Rocky Horror.
Fans of Little Nell might be interested to know that she released a few songs beyond her turn as Columbia in the film. Among them are the ’60s-style pop track “Do the Swim,” as well as "Stilettos and Lipstick" and a disco cover of "Fever."
16. Post-Rocky Horror, Rocky himself quit acting.
Speaking to PEOPLE in 2000 for the 25th anniversary of the film, Peter Hinwood, the British model who played Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s less-than-monstrous creation, stopped acting. He explained his reasoning: “One, I can’t act. Two, I cringe with embarrassment every time I see myself on film. Three, I relish a quiet, peaceful life.” Today, he’s an antiques dealer in London, and in 1994 he auctioned off the sparkly, gold hot pants he wore in the role. They were bought for nearly $1,000.
17. And Patricia Quinn became a Lady.
Quinn has continued to act, mostly in British productions, and by virtue of her marriage to the actor Sir Richard Stephens, Quinn became Lady Stephens. Richard Stephens died shortly after his marriage to Quinn, but during that time she was the stepmother to his two sons from his previous marriage to Maggie Smith.
18. You can visit the Frankenstein Place.
In real life, Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s spooky abode is Oakley Court, a Victorian Gothic mansion built in 1895 and currently operated as a luxury hotel.
19. There’a a sequel – kinda.
Released in 1984, Shock Treatment defies categorization. It’s not a sequel, but it still focuses on Brad and Janet, now played by Jessica Harper (Suspiria) and Cliff De Young. You meet Betty Munroe and Ralph Hapschatt, the characters whose wedding Brad and Janet attend at the beginning of Rocky Horror, and ’80s singer Sinitta is among the supporting cast.
20. And there are two unrealized sequels.
In the late ’80s, O’Brien wrote a script titled The Old Queen, about Frank-N-Furter’s mother. The film would have taken place on the planet Transexual, in the galaxy Transylvania, and would detail, among other things, Janet’s life after Brad becomes a bottomless go-go dancer and dies after falling from a trapeze. You can actually read the whole script online here. In 2001, O’Brien also said he’s working on a script for a sequel to the stage musical, which fans have dubbed Rocky Horror: The Second Coming, but the production has so far failed to materialize beyond that.
And there’s no other way to end this piece aside from “Let’s do the Time Warp again!”