1901: Ted Bellinger, sound effects editor for the movie in episode 109- PROJECT MOON BASE.
1909: Roy Ashton, makeup artist for the movie in episode 416- FIRE MAIDENS OF OUTER SPACE.
1912: Joseph Edesa, chief set electrician for the movie in episode 309- THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN.
1913: Les Tremayne, who played Norman Talliver in the movie in episode 108- THE SLIME PEOPLE.
1917: William “Billy” Benedict, who played a newsboy in the movie in episode 423- BRIDE OF THE MONSTER.
1924: Henry Mancini, score collaborator for THIS ISLAND EARTH (seen in MST3K: THE MOVIE) and the movies in episodes 801- REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, 803- THE MOLE PEOPLE, 804- THE DEADLY MANTIS and 805- THE THING THAT COULDN’T DIE.
1927: Peter Mark Richman, who played Adam Chance in the movie in episode 815- AGENT FOR H.A.R.M.
1927: Edie Adams, who played Joyce in the movie in episode K15- SUPERDOME.
1938: Gabriele Antonini, who played Ulysses in episodes 408- HERCULES UNCHAINED and 502- HERCULES.*
1976: Frank Paul Sylos (age 75), production designer for the movie in episode 208- LOST CONTINENT.
1979: James E. Mclarty (age 48), screenwriter for the movie in episode 908- THE TOUCH OF SATAN.
1985: Scott Brady (age 60), who played a public affairs officer in the movie in episode 401- SPACE TRAVELERS.
1994: Allan Snyder (age 79), makeup artist for the movie in episode 313- EARTH VS. THE SPIDER.
1997: John Benson (age 80), who played a sentry in the movie in episode 906- THE SPACE CHILDREN.
2001: Giacomo Gentilomo (age 92), director/screenwriter of the movie in episode 410- HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN.
1996: Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy present a Tom Servo puppet at Planet Hollywood in Chicago. Jim Mallon and Trace Beaulieu present a robot puppet at Planet Hollywood in Dallas.
This Date in MSTory is written and compiled by Steve Finley, Chris Cornell and Brian Henry. Copyright © 2014 All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce This Date in MSTory items in any form without express written permission from the authors.
* = According to the IMBD this person is alive. If you can supply evidence that he or she has died, and when, please let us know.
** = If this appears next to a birthday, the IMDB indicates that the person has died, but the IMDB does not have a full death date (probably just a month and year or just the year he or she died). If you can give us the exact date (with some sort of proof we can check), please let us know.
** = If this appears next to a death date, the IMDB does not have this person’s full birthday. If you can provide it (with some sort of proof we can check), please let us know.
Here’s a look ahead at some of the public appearances the cast members will be doing.
Joel has signed to do a bunch o’ cons this summer. Here’s the list so far:
• May 30-June 1, Indy Pop Con, Indianapolis – ”Riffing Myself” and meet & greet. More here
• June 20-22, Monster Bash, Mars, Pa. – “Riffing Myself” and meet & greet. More here
• June 27–29 Albuquerque Comic Expo – “Riffing Myself” and meet and greet. More here
• Aug. 1-3 CONjure, Orlando, Fla. – “Riffing Myself” and meet and greet. More here
• Aug. 22-24 Wizards World Chicago – meet and greet. More here
• Aug. 29-31 Dragon Con, Atlanta – “Riffing Myself” and Meet and greet. More here
Kevin will be heading to Chicago to perform in an live episode of “The Thrilling Adventure Hour Saturday, April 26, at 8 p.m. (CDT) More here.
And here’s one for you folks over the pond (and we know you’re out there!):
Having successfully raised the funds via Kickstarter, Trace and Frank will shortly be whisked to London to appear at the Stratford Picturehouse Friday, April 25, at 7 p.m. as part of Sci-Fi London’s annual MST3K all-nighter. More info here.
There will be more, we’re sure. Send us info if you hear about any!
This piece appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine 18 years ago today. I worked for weeks on the damn thing, but reading it over today, I’m still pretty happy with it. For your amusement.
Sunday, April 14, 1996
I want my MST
Fans have been keeping this cult TV series in orbit.
BY CHRISTOPHER CORNELL
Jim Mallon was fretting over froth.
As he and his set designers fine-tuned the details of the mad scientist’s underground lair, their concern turned to a seemingly minor element: Exactly how frothy should the various mysterious liquids in the dozens of beakers and test tubes be?
“I want big burbling bubbles,” Mallon declares, sounding almost like a mad scientist himself. “The frothier the better.”
Dutifully, a crew member on the movie set drops some dry ice into a beaker. “Not enough! More!” Mallon cries.
A bigger chunk is plunked in. “That’s it,” he says. “I want them all like that.”
As the director, Mallon is a stickler for detail. Most of the test tubes will never even make it into the final shot. Nonetheless, for the rest of the day a crew member is assigned to “froth duty” — before each take, his job is to drop new chunks of dry ice into every single one of the the mad lab vessels.
SO EVOLVES Mystery Science Theater 3000 — The Movie, the independent feature film from the same people who created the cult comedy TV show that, for about seven years, has been quietly gaining a reputation as the most intellectual puppet show TV has ever seen.
The series — and the movie slated to hit theaters this week — follows the plight of one Mike Nelson, a hapless temp who, sent to work for a mad scientist, finds himself marooned on a ship in outer space. Mike is the subject of a diabolical experiment: His brain is being monitored as he and his two robot helpers are forced to watch the worst movies ever made — bad sci-fi, Hercules flicks, Ed Wood creations, grade-school hygiene films. If it sounds like a nightmare Roger Ebert might have after downing a plate of spicy lasagna just before bedtime, you’re getting the idea.
But that off-the-wall premise isn’t really what the series is about. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is really about what Mike and his pals do in response to those awful movies: They talk back to the screen.
Most of each two-hour TV episode (which includes the 90-minute movie) is a remarkably static, cerebral affair: The three sit in a row of theater seats (you can see their silhouettes at the bottom of the screen) and offer some 700 wisecracks and observations (fans have counted), referencing everything from John Calvin to Calvin Klein.
As odd as it sounds, the concept has struck a resonant chord in middle America, especially with anyone who is fed up with the mediocrity of popular culture.
“For about a hundred years now, America has been receiving this endless stream of product from Hollywood,” says Mallon, who besides director is also president of Best Brains Inc., the tiny independent company in Minneapolis that produces Mystery Science Theater 3000. “This show is a chance to offer our unfettered feedback as to what we’re seeing.”
And the more the cast offers its feedback, the more the fans respond with praise, word-of-mouth promotion, and devotion — a devotion that has, several times, been put into action.
“The fans have become a significant player in the mix,” Mallon says with some satisfaction. “They’ve stepped up to the plate time for us time and time again.”
More fan fare later.
ROBOT SIDEKICKS TOM SERVO and Crow — taking a break from Alien From L.A., starring supermodel Kathy Ireland — begin to quiz human Mike Nelson in the “Kathy Ireland’s Range-of-Emotions Guessing Game.” The bots describe a scene early in the film in which Ireland’s character is informed that her father is dead.
“And her face,” Tom asks in his best game-show-host voice, “displays what emotion?”
“OK,” Mike tries, “I’ll say `soul-wrenching sadness mixed with horror in the face of the void.’ “
“And the answer is –”
“Dull surprise!” Crow calls. “Now, in this scene Kathy decides to transform her life. Her emotion?”
Mike hazards another guess: “Churchillian determination?”
No such luck.
“Dull surprise!” Crow calls. “Next, Kathy has fallen several hundred feet into a hole! Her emotion?”
Mike tries once again: “Er — shock and horror?”
BESIDES BEING DIRECTOR of the movie, Jim Mallon is also a performer on the series; he provides the puppetry and throaty falsetto voice for Gypsy, the female robot who minds “the higher functions” aboard the Satellite of Love spaceship. It’s a characterization that reflects the realpolitik at Best Brains. Mallon, as its president, has been the driving force behind the concept since series creator Joel Hodgson first pitched it to him over a deli lunch in the summer of 1988.
It was a classic pairing: Hodgson’s creative genius and Mallon’s disciplined savvy. After producing 21 raw episodes at the local UHF station where Mallon worked, they found a buyer in 1989 in the now-defunct Comedy Channel. Mallon quit his job at the station and, with Hodgson, founded Best Brains. He brought with him the station’s all-purpose writer and technical guy Kevin Murphy, who now provides the mellifluous voice and remarkably subtle puppetry of robot Tom Servo. Best Brains then scooped up out-of-work actor/stand-up comic Trace Beaulieu, who over the years has become the creative heart of the series, and its workhorse: He portrays mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester and provides the voice and puppetry for Mike’s other robot companion, the irrepressible Crow. Finally, Michael J. Nelson, a soft-spoken Illinois native, was hired as a typist — and within months became the show’s head writer. In a few years, he would be its star.
But there’s not much point in assembling a creative team bristling with talent if you can’t pay them. When Comedy Channel executives balked at ordering a second season of the series in 1990, it began to look as if the show would fade away.
Then, the fans intervened.
THE OPENING FRAMES OF Teenagers From Outer Space have only begun unspooling, and already human Joel and the bots are at it:
“According to Erma Bombeck, all teenagers are from outer space!” Crow, the golden, birdlike bot, observes as the title card appears. Attention then turns to the first shot of the movie: a shiny silver flying saucer half-buried in sand.
“That space ship looks like a sun hat,” Joel comments.
“No,” says bubble-headed but sharp-witted Tom Servo, “I think it’s a photographer’s umbrella.”
“It’s a giant metal falsie!” cries Crow.
“No,” says Joel, “it’s a Devo hat.”
“No,” says Tom, “it’s a silo top!”
“It’s Audrey Hepburn’s hat from Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Crow says.
“Guys, guys,” Joel says, “… it can be all these things — and MORE!”
A little black dog runs into the shot, headed for the spaceship.
“Run, Toto! Run!” says Crow.
Cut to the spaceship, where the lid is opening and a white oblong shape is emerging.
“I am the egg man,” croaks Joel. “Koo-koo-ca-choo.
The egg shape turns out to be a helmeted alien that points a ray gun at the dog, instantly reducing it to a skeleton.
“Oooh!” Tom says. “Now Michael Jackson will want him!”
THE FANS TURNED OUT TO BE the best kind a small, struggling series can have: TV critics. Glowing reviews, from such respected voices as that of the Washington Post’s Tom Shales to Time magazine’s Richard Corliss, led the Comedy Channel to renew Mystery Science Theater 3000. A few months later, when the channel merged with another comedy cable channel to form Comedy Central, MST3K (as its fans call it) became one of the new network’s signature series. For four more seasons, the network routinely renewed the series, and its popularity grew, garnering a Peabody Award in 1994 and amassing a 65,000-member fan club.
The idea of the movie may please longtime fans in Philadelphia (the series has been running in much of the Philadelphia market since it first came to cable), but it’s by no means certain that this movie will be a hit.
For one thing, the show has made enemies. Some people actually claim to like bad movies and consider the often-caustic commentary mean-spirited. Others fear the show will encourage the dastardly act of talking in movie theaters. Casual viewers see only the mockery and heckling, and carelessly lump it with its squalid distant cousin, MTV’s Beavis & Butthead (which, for the record, was created several years after MST3K). Or they may buy into the frettings of culture vultures who worry about the notion of people watching a show about people watching a show.
For another thing, movie audiences, especially those who are accustomed to leaving their thinking caps at home, may find Mystery Science Theater 3000 — The Movie, well, a bit of a challenge.
But Best Brains could have made no other movie: Challenging audiences is what the company does. Hodgson once summed up the way MST3K is written by declaring: “We never say: Who’s going to get this? We always say: The right people will get this.”
Just who are “the right people”? Steven Spielberg confesses to being a fan. Al Gore says he and his kids love the series. Still, if you’re one of those people who have given up on television, it’s hard to believe that the show can live up to all that praise. As this theater-of-the-mind has attracted weary TV viewers, Mallon hopes to attract a similar audience of weary movie-goers. “The nation needs comedy like this,” Mallon says. “Have you seen what’s out there? I mean, it’s unbelievable.” He ticked off the names of the many recent movies — Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura. “People deserve something better.”
And they almost didn’t get it. Negotiations with Universal Pictures had been going along for several months when, in 1994, they stalled. It looked as if the deal was dead.
The fans, of course, intervened.
IN AN EPISODE FEATURING A movie from the 1960s, Joel Hodgson deconstructed the era: “It wasn’t uncommon at all for your mom to serve you a big char-broiled steak while she smoked and drank a Tab and made your dad another Manhattan for the road — and that was just breakfast!” he recalls. “There were seat belts in cars, but nobody used them … pre-sweetened cereals … subliminal messages .. people smoked openly on The Tonight Show … women were called girls … everybody believed what the President said — why shouldn’t they? .. Sexually provocative humor wasn’t on TV, it was on cocktail napkins and we liked it that way … Toys had sharp metal edges and little pieces that were breakable and could fit into your mouth …”
IN A MASS MAILING TO ITS FAN CLUB, and in notices on the Internet and all the commercial on-line computer services, Best Brains gave the addresses of Universal studio bosses and asked fans, who call themselves MSTies (pronounced MIS-teez), to let their opinions be known.
“Does the term cult classic mean anything to you?” wrote Debra Caruthers of Santa Barbara, Calif. “Perhaps this term would ring a bell: video rental and sales bonanzas.”
Ruta Larson of Racine, Wis., asked: “Whaddya think, too esoteric for the masses? Don’t forget, it’s us smart ones that have the bucks.”
Mike Mastrogiacomo of Philadelphia was more blunt: “How about setting a new precedent in Hollywood — an original concept!”
The avalanche of letters prompted Universal to dispatch a few of its minions to the first-ever MST3K convention in Minneapolis in September 1994 — a convention that included a live performance by Best Brains. The performance — where MSTies roared with laughter and standing ovations rattled the hall — convinced the Universal executives. “As funny as it is when you watch it alone,” Murphy says, “this show is much funnier when you watch it in a group. And what we learned at the convention is that it’s even funnier with a large group.”
Within a few weeks, a deal had been signed. Universal subsidiary Gramercy Films would do the marketing, and Universal would supply the movie that Mike and his pals would watch: 1954’s This Island Earth.
Where to film?
Weaker souls might have headed for the coast. Best Brains stayed in Minneapolis. “Here in the Midwest,” Mallon says, “we can have an objectivity that allows us to comment solely on what’s on the screen.” They built their sets in a cavernous building that was once an indoor tennis court.
WHICH WAS WHERE THEY were on a blustery day last spring, preparing to shoot the first scene of the movie, in which Beaulieu as Dr. Forrester explains the movie’s premise. The 90-second scene was crucial, and everybody knew it. Which is why, when Beaulieu arrived looking like death warmed over, people started to worry. His state was understandable: In addition to back-breaking, 12-hour shooting days, he’d been laboring into the wee hours on miniatures for the movie’s outerspace scenes. He was running on fumes.
As Beaulieu was led off to the makeup room, he tried to put a good spin on the situation. “The tiredness,” he sneered, the outrageous Dr. Forrester beginning to emerge, “just adds to my evil appearance.”
After several hours and 26 takes, Mallon and Beaulieu agreed they had two usable versions. But nobody seemed satisfied. “I’d like to do one more,” Mallon suggested, “and have you take it all the way out.”
As they prepared to get started, a Best Brains staffer smiled and whispered: “I bet this is the one. A lot of times, when they’re taping the show, they’ll get a couple of decent takes and then they’ll go nuts on the last take — and that’s the one that gets used.”
Sure enough, with Beaulieu feeling as if he had nothing to lose, he seemed to get an adrenaline rush: His delivery was flawless and riotously over the top.
When Mallon yelled “Cut!” the crew burst into applause.
“That’s the one!” Murphy shouted above the din. “Beautiful, Trace!’
Beaulieu smiled a sweet, genuine smile that looked utterly out of place on Dr. Forrester.
“Thanks,” he said wearily.
BEHIND THE SMILES, THOUGH, Best Brains staffers admit that making this series has not always been easy. The cast discovered the darker side of its fans’ unflagging loyalty when Hodgson bowed out of the series in 1993 and was replaced as host by head writer Nelson.
To say that MSTies were aghast at the announcement would be an understatement. The computer online services and the Internet conveyed much of the fans’ rage and sadness. “I wasn’t online at that time. And if anybody else here was,” Nelson says, chuckling, “I guess they were shielding me from it … which was probably lucky.”
Over the course of several episodes, Nelson confounded the critics — and managed to win over the vast majority of fans. He did it in an unexpected way — by slyly acknowledging that Hodgson’s character was irreplaceable. The other characters continually forgot Mike’s name. In one episode, he failed miserably in an attempt to build his own robot (something Joel had done with ease). In a wry sketch from a Christmas episode, he and the robots exchanged painfully inappropriate gifts that clearly showed how little they knew each other. “We got into the `new guy’ jokes,” Nelson says. “We admitted it was a bit like having a substitute teacher all the time.” By mid-1994, the crisis had past. At the convention, fans greeted Nelson with standing ovations every time he appeared.
But, having won the battle, it suddenly looked as if Best Brains was about to lose the war.
Comedy Central had changed management, and the new team was looking for a new image. Following weeks of rumors, the network in late 1995 confirmed that it had no interest in ordering more episodes of MST3K and that a clause in the show’s contract prevented it from moving to another network until 1997.
Guess who intervened.
Within days, the troops were mobilized, again making use of online services, the internet, and now the world wide web. Comedy Central had to hire several staffers just to handle the wave of mail that engulfed its Manhattan offices. Hundreds of fans chipped in to buy an ad in the daily Variety begging the network to reconsider. Newspapers and national magazines lambasted the network for its decision, mocking Comedy Central’s increasing dependence on low-brow sex comedies and Benny Hill reruns. “They may not have understood the kind of support the series has,” Mallon says. As spring arrived, the intense pressure succeeded in getting the network to release Best Brains from its contract, allowing the company to begin looking for a new home. The USA Network’s recently created Sci-Fi Channel is reportedly interested.
Best Brains has posted its address on the Internet.
AS THE CREW SHUT DOWN the movie set for the day, I came upon Beaulieu, still in makeup and costume, sitting at a table in an office just off the set. He looked catatonic. The day had wiped him out. The crew was giving him wide berth. I hesitantly sidled over and told him he’d done a great job. I don’t know what I expected. That he’d either ignore me, or mistake me for a crew member and demand a beverage.
Slowly coming out of his trance, he blinked, looked up, smiled faintly and said the one thing I didn’t expect. “Well, thank you,” he muttered softly. “How was your visit? Has it been helpful for you?”
I stared mutely at him for a moment, stunned he could even focus, much less give a hoot about someone else’s day. Then I remembered — this was Minneapolis, not Hollywood.
If Mystery Science Theater 3000 — The Movie is a hit, it will be for the same reason the TV show has run for so long and is so beloved: It’s made by people working hard at something they care about.
And the right people get it.
Christopher Cornell is an editor and freelance writer who lives in Merion.
Alert reader Gobi suggests:
Villains love to scheme, and MST villains are no exception. So, which schemes were sensible, in that given a modicum of luck and skillful execution, they had a reasonable chance at success. Contrarily, which schemes were bat-guano crazy; that is, either the goal itself was so ridiculous that any plan would look loony, or the goal was obtainable but the scheme to achieve it was absurd.
What’s your favorite?
Keep those discussion thread ideas coming!
Movie: (1960) A manager and his all-girl dance troupe survive a plane crash, only to find themselves on an island with a giant mutated spider.
First shown: July 25, 1999
Opening: Crow has a syndicated newspaper column, ala Larry King
Intro: Pearl has moved Castle Forrester to a new neighborhood
Host segment 1: Mike gets himself trapped in the giant spider web Crow and Tom have put up
Host segment 2: Mike is auditioning dancers, and Pearl, Brain Guy and Bobo try out
Host segment 3: M&tB want to know if it’s true that you become languid and sexy when you survive a crash–and there’s only one way to find out
End: Mike has become a giant spider–well, sort of; as Pearl calls in from a rest stop on the way to moving Castle Forrester back, Bobo finds some toys
Stinger: The girls scream from the void
• This one’s not super great, but I think it’s a bit better than “good-not-great.” You figure that one out. I just think the movie is SOO stupid, and the riffing is really strong and most of the host segments (though I contend they are in the wrong order) are pretty good. I laughed a lot watching it this time, and that’s what counts for me.
• Paul’s thoughts are here.
• References http://www.annotatedmst.com/episodes/spiderisland/index.htm
• This episode was included in Rhino’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 11.”
• Larry King’s pointless and rambling column in USA Today was parodied by so many people over the years, so the opening doesn’t really tread any new ground. But their take on it is fun.
• I’m not really sure what the point of the “moving the castle” thing was. It never really gets any traction.
• Probably the biggest downside of this episode is the terribly dark print. I don’t know if it was intentionally shot this way or it’s just a terribly degraded print, but the watchability factor is WAAAY down for this one.
• Naughty lines: “Quit doing your Sharon Stone impression.” Also: “Try crossing your leg now, pal.”
• I believe that the three internal host segments are in the wrong order. I want to think it was a mistake in the editing room, because if this order was intentional, somebody took their eye off the ball. The biggest problem is segment 1, which includes a parody of the “shocking” man-in-a-spider-web image that the movie has NOT SHOWN US YET. I think the order should be segment 2, then 3, then 1.
• Callbacks: Crow mutters “MrXL” after Tom does a cheerleading bit. “He has Torgo area!” (Manos)
• In segment 2, Bill a riot as the Flashdance girl; and Mary Jo is very funny too–and Beez made a great outfit for her!
• In the theater, Servo passes out twice from the sexiness.
• Segment 3 is silly and fun and doesn’t make a lick o’ sense.
• Late in the movie we get a nice example of “good-natured brawling,” a topic discussed by Joel and the bots way back during one of the Hercules movies. I guess there really is such a thing.
• Crow takes a brief “break” from watching the movie, but soon returns.
• No cast and crew roundup for this episode.
• CreditsWatch: Directed by Mike (his last episode as director). Interns Erin F. Erskine and Josh Huschke, who were interns for episodes 1001-1006, return for this one, which may mean that the Brains produced this one out of order. Rob Brantseg, obviously related to Patrick, is listed as an “art department assistant.” Mike did the music for “Those Little Audition Numbers.”
• Fave riff: “I’m not just wondering if there’s a point to the movie, anymore. I’m wondering if there’s a point to ANYTHING.” Honorable mention: “Settling: The Movie.”
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXX is scheduled to be released on July 29, 2014. If you’d like to pre-order it from Amazon for
$41.98 $49.99 (with free shipping), we’d appreciate it if you’d use this link. (Amazon has raised its price to match Shout’s…at least for now.)
If you’d like to get the set a FULL MONTH earlier, on June 24, 2014, you can order it from Shout! Factory for $49.99 (with free shipping) at this link.
Alert reader Jonathan writes:
As we know, MST3k will always be encapsulated in a certain moment in time, mainly due to all the pop culture references. One of the most frequent manifestations of this are the in-movie riffing of celebrity/public figure look-a-likes.
Now, whenever I see “Teen-Age Strangler” I can’t help but think that in a different time, the “Yipes Stripes” singer would have been riffed as some sort of Amy Winehouse look-a-like. (RIP)
Being 15 years from the final episode, are there any actors in MST3k treated movies you think look like more recent celebrities/public figures? Or we can expand it, asking: is there any you feel that they completely missed at the time? Or were completely off the mark? Which ones were totally dead on?
Have at it!
The Nerdist web site interviewed
“Fear Agent” co-creators Rick Remender and Tony Moore. The introduction also says that Trace is part of the discussion. Turns out he’s the one asking the (very astute) questions even though it says “Nerdist:” in front of each of the questions.
For those who don’t know, “Fear Agent” is a comic book series for Dark Horse.
For those of us (like me) who don’t have the National Geographic Channel.
View samples or download here.