5 Famous Artists Who Tried to Destroy Their Own Work

For artists, it must be complete agony to see their hard-labored brainchildren banned, censored or outright destroyed -- which makes it all the more baffling when they choose to do it themselves. Yet history is full of famous people who went to extreme lengths to prevent you (yes, you specifically) from experiencing their work. For example ...

#5. Director Tony Kaye Tries to Sabotage His Own Critically Acclaimed Film Using Insanity

Even if you've never seen American History X, you're probably familiar with the scene where Edward Norton's neo-Nazi character makes someone bite down on a curb, then repeatedly stomps the guy's head into it. What you may not have known is that by the release date, director Tony Kaye was wishing that he could do that to Norton and pretty much everyone else involved in the movie's production.

Kaye had a reputation for both arrogance and eccentricity, but studio executives and test audiences were extremely happy with his initial rough cut of X after shooting ended (this is the movie that, after all, would earn Norton a Best Actor nomination at Oscar time).

Those tats are just henna. Way to commit to the role, Norton.

Kaye wasn't happy, however, and he immediately started trimming footage until the film was down to a slim, kid-friendly 87 minutes. New Line Cinema was less than thrilled, and asked Kaye to work with Norton to assemble a version that was, you know, movie length. Kaye agreed, then proceeded to go freaking insane.

First, he apparently was so infuriated by the process that he punched his hand through a wall. Then, he began taking out full-page attack ads in Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter (with his own money) with quotes like John Lennon's "I'll scratch your back and you knife mine." Then Kaye brought a priest, a rabbi and a Tibetan monk (no shit) into the studio president's office to ask for an extension to finish his cut of the film, a tactic he later admitted was "insane." The studio flatly refused, telling Kaye that they were releasing the version that he and Norton had worked on together.

"For the last time, the Kenny Rogers bowling dream sequence makes no sense!"

If you assumed that was the end of it, that's because you're probably not insane. Kaye, on the other hand, flew to the Toronto Film Festival to demand that the film not be premiered, bought more attack ads (in all, he spent about $1 million) and threatened to hire protesters to picket theaters where the movie was being shown.

He also asked to have his name taken off the film and replaced by either Alan Smithee or Humpty Dumpty, presumably to highlight his status as an oblivious white guy heading for a fall. However, the Director's Guild only allows this practice if you agree not to badmouth your film in public, and since that ship had not only sailed but plowed into an iceberg and sunk with all hands on deck, Kaye was stuck having his name attached to American History X. You know, the film that was critically acclaimed, earned an Oscar nomination and appears on numerous "Best Movies of All Time" lists.

"I regret it more than my marriage."

Fucking Hollywood, man. Always grinding the little guy down in exchange for a quick buck.

#4. Dick Cheney's Wife Writes an Erotic Lesbian Novel, Tries to Cover It Up


Unless you were literally born within the last four years -- in which case, what are you doing reading Cracked and where the hell are your parents? -- you remember Dick Cheney, former vice president and noted face-shooting enthusiast. You might even know that his wife, Lynne, is the author of more than a dozen books. Many of them are patriotic children's books, aimed at teaching kids about their country and its government. But then there's Sisters, a historical romance set in the Old West. Don't feel bad if you've never heard of it -- it was published in 1981 and had a fairly small print run, so there aren't that many copies floating around.

Ian Fortey owns most of them.

But in 2004, with the presidential election looming, a publisher planned to reissue Sisters. That is, until Cheney's lawyer reached out and convinced them not to, presumably through judicious use of the phrase "tactical air strike." But why? Well, you may recall the Bush/Cheney administration being fairly conservative, a platform founded on old-fashioned values and more, ahem, traditional relationships. They weren't exactly friends of the friends of Dorothy, is what we're saying. Yet Sisters features female characters who ... well, maybe you should just read for yourself:

"Helen, my joy and my beloved [...] Let us go away together, away from the anger and imperatives of men. We shall find ourselves a secluded bower where they dare not venture. There will be only the two of us, and we shall linger through long afternoons of sweet retirement. In the evenings I shall read to you while you work your cross-stitch in the firelight. And then we shall go to bed, our bed, my dearest girl ..."

"And there, betwixt our warm embrace, shall we spoon, with my one arm awkwardly underneath your neck."

Saucy! Of course, the issue has come up in numerous interviews with Lynne Cheney since then. In 2006, she had a slightly heated exchange with Wolf Blitzer, denying that the female characters in Sisters were necessarily lesbians. Possibly she's assuming that the Old West was subject to the same rules as college: As long as you're both drunk and never talk about it again, it doesn't count. But most likely Cheney was being absolutely genuine, and the press was just blowing the whole thing out of proportion like they tend to-

"The women who embraced in the wagon were Adam and Eve on a dark cathedral stage -- no, Eve and Eve, loving one another as they would not be able to once they ate of the fruit and knew themselves as they truly were. She felt curiously moved, curiously envious of them ... she saw that the women in the cart had a passionate, loving intimacy forever closed to her."

Hey, sometimes a fruit is just a cli-dammit.

Yeah, OK, never mind. Totally lesbians.

#3. Harlan Ellison Collects the Ultimate Science Fiction Anthology, Stuffs It in a Drawer

Critics at Large

Few living writers are as polarizing as Harlan Ellison, known both for his acclaimed speculative fiction and for being, in his words, "possibly the most contentious person on Earth." Among many other things, Ellison gained fame by compiling and editing two hugely influential sci-fi anthologies, 1967's Dangerous Visions and 1972's Again, Dangerous Visions. Comprised of original stories from science fiction's best and brightest, the two volumes generated numerous awards for the individual authors and for Ellison as editor. So it's not surprising that he'd choose to go back to the well again with a third volume: The Last Dangerous Visions.

Intending to dwarf the previous two volumes, Ellison solicited and received stories from over 100 of science fiction's stalwarts and up-and-comers -- at one point, he boasted that the anthology would be over a million words long. But then the delays began. Originally announced for publication in 1973, by 1976 Ellison was saying in interviews that the book was finally completed: He'd finished and turned in all of the introductions and forewords to the publisher, and it would absolutely be out in the spring of 1977.

Pip R. Lagenta
He's kinda like the Valve of science fiction literature.

It wasn't. Years passed, with sporadic updates from Ellison, each time promising that the book was imminent. Then, at some point, things progressed from "Ellison sure is taking a long time with this" to "You will have this book only when you pry it from Ellison's cold, dead fingers."

In 1993, Ellison threatened to sue when a widow allowed her late husband's TLDV story to be included in a collection of his works. A larger furor arose when another author, who withdrew and sold his story elsewhere, wrote a lengthy essay detailing the whole mess, eventually published as The Book on the Edge of Forever. Obviously he's biased, but it's hard to argue when he writes, "Two decades after I wrote it, 'An Infinite Summer' is still being resold, and brings me a small but regular income. If I had left the story with Mr. Ellison it would today be sitting in a cardboard box somewhere in his house."

Maybe if he'd spent less time on his hair ...

So if Ellison has all the stories (minus those withdrawn by their authors) and, given the mystique surrounding the project, could certainly find someone willing to publish it even without introductions, why is he going to such great lengths not to publish dozens of stories from some of science fiction's greatest authors? No one knows, and Ellison isn't saying. As recently as 2007, he was still talking about wanting to complete the anthology before he dies.

But then again, he also said in 2010 that the instant he goes, his wife has instructions to burn all of the unfinished stories in their house, presumably to keep sci-fi fans from descending like a swarm of nerdy locusts.

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