Dammit Barry, We Love You!
by Jay S. Jacobs
The river was deep, but Barry Bostwick swam it. The road was long, but he ran it. There is a fire in his heart and we fan it, dammit!
Such is the life of a cultural icon.
Forty-two years ago, Barry Bostwick was a fairly well-known, handsome actor who had made a bit of a splash in musical theater, particularly for playing the lead role of Danny Zuko in the original Broadway cast of Grease. He’d also dipped his toe into television and film, making the long-forgotten likes of Jennifer on My Mind, Road Movie and Slither.
However, he was about to step into the black loafers, tux, tortoise-shell glasses and tidy whiteys which would make him a huge part of a cultural phenomenon. Barry was approached to play Brad Majors, the uptight fiancé of Janet (Susan Sarandon) in modern musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a small film based on a cult hit musical. Their car breaks down and the couple has to spend the night in a freaky haunted house with lots of eccentric and sexually adventurous inhabitants, led by the Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania, as memorably performed by Tim Curry.
All these years later, Bostwick is sitting in his booth at the Wizard World Comic-con in Philadelphia, musing over the long, strange trip his life has taken since then. While Bostwick has done dozens of movies and television shows since then, the role of Brad is still probably his most well-remembered.
Which is kind of surprising, because when Rocky Horror Picture Show came out, no one imagined it would become the kind of cult phenomenon that it became. Bostwick is included in the group that was gob smacked when the show became a midnight movie standard, spawning passionate fans and even essentially inventing the idea of cosplay.
“We knew it was fun,” Bostwick says. “We knew it was bright. But it really wasn’t very controversial at the time. It was at that glitter rock stage of the mid-70s. David Bowie. The New York Dolls. The whole thing is, I don’t think we were breaking any new ground. It’s just, consequently when it went to smaller towns around the world, they weren’t as hip to what we were talking about, or what we were putting a spotlight on.”
He looks at his booth, where there are a whole bunch of white briefs, waiting for his signature, to be bought by the avid fans.
“42 years later, I didn’t know I’d be selling my underwear at places like this,” he smiles, good-naturedly.
Such is being a part of the spectacle that is Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Bostwick is glad he was along for the ride. Because no one was worried about the historical importance of Rocky Horror, they were just having a great time. That was reason enough to make the film.
“Just meeting all the really crazy, wonderful people, who I have stayed friends with for over 40 years,” Bostwick says.
Of course, as time goes on, there have been additional perks to being a part of Rocky Horror. Part of it is seeing how vitally important it became to its fans. Rocky Horror Picture Show was a celebration of outsiders and outrageousness. Happily, what seemed so wild in 1975 has become much more normal as the years passed.
Bostwick has loved “watching society grow and become more tolerant and more accepting of many of the themes of the film. I am very proud of this movie, as I know is everybody is who was in it.”
However, they weren’t trying to change the world.
“We were just having a ball.”
Even though Bostwick was never in the stage production of Rocky Horror, he was very familiar with the show through his budding friendship with Curry.
“I saw it many times with Tim in California, when he was doing it on the Sunset Strip,” Bostwick recalls. “It was because of Tim, I think, that I did it, and Susan [Sarandon] did it. I knew a lot of the other people in the cast, because I was on stage. We got to know Tim and it was a slam dunk, you know? We had to do it. Tim was just ripping it up. He was the cultural icon of the moment. He was the superstar of the moment, so I was honored [to be offered the role of Brad].”
And the rest, as they say, is history. Rocky Horror barely made a blip in its original theatrical release, however a ravenous group of fans turned it into a midnight movie classic. It became the first interactive film experience, with fans dressing as their favorite character, talking back to the screen, singing and dancing along, even spraying water and throwing toast at the screen. It became a weekly traveling party.
All these years later, Bostwick is still amazed by the passion of the fans.
“All of the fan experiences have been really, really positive,” Bostwick states. “I’ve never had a negative experience with any fan.”
Now that he periodically does conventions like the one we are at, Bostwick has also noticed something else interesting about the Rocky Horror followers.
“The fans just keep getting younger and younger,” Bostwick says. “If you hung out here and watched the people who come up to my table, you’d be amazed at how many of them are under the age of 20. There’s a whole new generation.”
However, no matter what the age, the fans are always sweet and friendly to Bostwick, perhaps because they are conscious of the fact that his character lost the love of his life to a monster way back when. Not that they don’t occasionally have some offbeat requests….
“I haven’t signed any bodies yet [today],” Bostwick chuckles. “Usually I sign one or two bodies. They go and get it tattooed and then they come back and show me. And I go, yeah, I’m a little worried about my checking account now.”
Of course, Rocky Horror Picture Show is not the only iconic musical property that has the Bostwick stamp. Even before he did Rocky Horror, Bostwick was treading the boards of the Great White Way, bringing another iconic musical character to Broadway for the first time.
“Yes. I played Danny Zuko,” Bostwick says, about the main character in the hit Broadway musical Grease. Of course saying he just played Zuko is being modest. Lots of people have played Zuko, but Bostwick introduced Zuko to the big time, playing him in the original Broadway cast at the Broadhurst Theater in 1972. Track down the original cast album and that is Barry Bostwick singing lead on songs like “Summer Nights” and “Alone at a Drive-In Movie.” (Another current Zuko highlight, “Greased Lightning,” was sung by the best-friend character of Kenicke in the original production.)
Much like with Rocky Horror Picture Show, Bostwick had no clue that Grease would still be hugely popular 45 years after they introduced it on Broadway.
“Life has been very fortunate to me,” Bostwick states. “I’ve been in a couple of things that really entertained me and just hit the zeitgeist of the public at the time. It was one of the first times that the 50s had been explored theatrically. It was just a great chemistry all the way around, with the cast, and music. It’s a simple show. We didn’t want to get too complicated with it. It was just fun rock and roll and larger than life characters.”
Of course, a lot of those larger-than-life character spawned larger than life stars, as the Grease cast spawned more than its share of stars. Bostwick co-starred with actress Adrienne Barbeau (as Rizzo) in the original cast, and replacement roles over the run included such future names as Richard Gere, Treat Williams, Marilu Henner, and two soon-to-be cast members of the hit movie version of Grease, Jeff Conaway and John Travolta.
“John never played Zuko on stage,” Bostwick explains. “He was on the road with me and he played Doody. We did it for a while together. Talented guy. Really well cast in the movie, I thought.”
Bostwick was being well cast in a whole bunch of movies and TV series as well. Over the years, he has put together a diverse body of work with movies like Weekend at Bernie’s II, Spy Hard, Movie Movie, Swing, Nancy Drew and Evening. He also starred in several TV miniseries, including George Washington (as the Father of our country), Scruples, A Woman of Substance, War & Remembrance and Til We Meet Again. Bostwick has also starred in several series, including Foul Play, Law & Order: SVU, Dads, Cougar Town and even doing voices on Phineas and Ferb.
However, his most beloved TV character was playing the slightly dim Mayor Randall Winston on the TV series Spin City with Michael J. Fox (who was later replaced by Charlie Sheen when Fox had to leave the series because he had contracted Parkinson’s Disease). The show was a critically acclaimed and popular series about life in New York City Hall, with the spin doctors and city staff putting out political fires on a near constant basis.
Bostwick loved the time he played Mayor Winston.
“Spin City was a special show,” Bostwick says. “It had a great cast and six years of very funny material.”
Bostwick also admits that he shared some traits with his character, though in the long run he didn’t think he was up to the job of running a big city like New York.
“I think I’m sort of as obtuse and kind of as strange and disconnected as the Mayor can be sometimes,” Bostwick says. “I would never want the job, because I don’t like ordering people around. Thank God Mayor Winston had Mike Fox and Charlie Sheen. They could pick up the slack and do all the hiring and firing.”
Of course, Spin City’s central conceit of political spin doctoring is even more trenchant in the current political climate. So, does Bostwick think Spin City is due for a reboot in the era of Donald Trump?
“No, I don’t think so,” Bostwick admits. “You’d have to go really dark with it, you know? There have been so many political shows out there, like House of Cards. You’d have to really be very cartoonish with it. Then I wouldn’t want to be involved, because I don’t want my tax return looked at. You don’t want to get on his bad side.”
However, that does not mean that Bostwick is afraid of going cutting edge. Lately, he has been doing a good deal of work on new internet series, such as Children’s Hospital, Rasputin and Inside the Extra’s Studio. With several movies and TV appearances in the can, he’s more than willing to play in just about any medium – in fact, during his Comic-con panel, he joked that it seems he’d take any series that couldn’t afford to pay him.
However, there is one type of performance that he is no longer looking to do, which is rather surprising because it is his roots.
“Just not theater anymore,” Bostwick admits. “I’m not really interested in doing eight shows a week. Having to prepare from the moment that you wake up in the day to give it all for an hour and a half or two hours at night. Also, I like being able to massage a part and really try different things, one right after the other. Therefore, film and television are really my mediums now.”
He’s also enjoying periodically going to conventions like Wizard World, where he gets the special opportunity to meet his fans. We caught him early on Friday afternoon, before the real crowds arrived, but he was still having fun with the whole experience.
“It’s been great,” Bostwick says. “It’s been quiet. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
And is there anyone at the convention that he is excited to see as a fan?
“I don’t know, I’m pretty jaded,” he smiles. “I always enjoy seeing Lou Ferrigno. He’s a mainstay. He’s got such a great attitude and he’s so positive. He enjoys doing this thing. I like being around people who don’t feel like they are slumming it. You have to really enjoy talking to the fans and like being in wonderful places. Like, here we are in Philadelphia…”
Has he gotten a chance to visit our city a bit while he’s here?
“No. I had pizza across the street from the hotel,” Bostwick admits. “That’s the best I could do. Maybe tomorrow.”
Yes, as Barry Bostwick’s career has shown us for decades now, there’s always tomorrow, dammit.
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 5, 2017.
Photos © 2017 Deborah Wagner. All rights reserved.