"Cute cat; what's its name?"
You ever read an interview with your favorite band where they start joking about how shitty an early album of theirs was? And it happens to be by far your favorite? You never know quite how to feel. Either you have terrible taste (according to the very people who made the thing), or the creators themselves aren't good judges of what they create. But how can that be true?
So get ready to have some mixed emotions about the fact that ...
H.P. Lovecraft is one of the founding fathers of the horror genre. You'll see his fingerprints on everything from Stephen King to John Carpenter to Alien. And undoubtedly, his most famous creation is Cthulhu, the tentacle-faced giant alien squid-god from beyond space and time who emerged from the ocean in Call Of Cthulhu to vanquish mankind and challenge generations of readers to decipher the correct pronunciation of its name. Cthulhu is so central to Lovecraft's legacy that the stories he and others wrote in the same timeline are collectively known as the "Cthulhu mythos." The character itself is such a popular meme that you can buy plush toys, board games, video games, and political bumper stickers bearing its briny, tentacled face.
But although Lovecraft would probably appreciate his enduring popularity (considering he died poor and riddled with cancer), he would have hated the fact that it's because of goddamned Cthulhu. Before his death, Lovecraft admitted that Call Of Cthulhu wasn't his least-favorite story he ever wrote, but it was up there, being as he said, "rather middling ... full of cheap and cumbrous touches."
No, Lovecraft's most-regretted story is the one that he happens to be second-most-famous for: Herbert West--Reanimator, which was adapted as Re-Animator, the most famous film based on his work, and the only one to date that really has anything to do with his source material.
Lovecraft wrote Reanimator on request from a friend, magazine editor George Houtain. At the time, Lovecraft was living in desperate poverty, and his buddy offered him a decent sum to pen a serialized story that could run for several issues and earn him a meaty paycheck. According to Lovecraft, he violated his artistic integrity to meet Houtain's requests to insert a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter, like some sort of early R.L. Stine and/or Dan Brown, and felt dirty about it for the rest of his life. It is unclear whether Lovecraft would have felt the same about his indefensible racism.
Monty Python set the bar for British comedy, and there is probably no sketch artist in the world who won't admit to taking inspiration from them. The Pythons (John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Graham Chapman) are to sketch comedy what the Beatles are to pop music. We'd give you examples of some of Monty Python's genre-defining sketches, but you'd just spend the rest of the day watching them instead of reading this article.
Alright, fine. You get one. But then right back to us, okay?
So it's kind of surprising that the most prominent members of the Python troupe who look back on their early days seem to think that Python was an embarrassing low point in their comedy careers. Michael Palin refers to most of their sketches as being garbage, or worse. As he put it:
"A lot of Python was crap, it really was. We put stuff in there that was not really that good, but fortunately there were a couple of gleaming things that everyone remembers while they've forgotten the dross."
But the most damning criticism comes from John Cleese, who tried to get out during the third season of Monty Python's Flying Circus because he thought it was starting to become awful. Of the Pythons' three feature films, Cleese thought that The Meaning Of Life (the one that features a bunch of children singing about sperm and a fat guy who vomits into a bucket and then explodes) was rather terrible overall. And he doesn't care much for Monty Python And The Holy Grail, one of the most legendary comedies of all time. He thinks it's only good for the first 45 minutes. That time frame excludes the whole "Knights Who Say Ni" bit, so we can conclusively say that Cleese is wrong at least on that point.
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Destined to be the most spun-off franchise in entertainment history (assuming CSI doesn't catch up at some point), the original Star Trek will go down as a ratings failure that somehow changed the world. It'd be like if 60 years from now, we found everyone hotly anticipating a tenth Sliders movie.
One of the most acclaimed episodes of the original series is "The City On The Edge Of Forever," which is about the Enterprise crew stumbling upon a gateway to the past, where they encounter a woman whom Kirk falls in love with, only to discover that she's destined to die, and that preventing her death would somehow cause the Nazis to take over the world. Basically, it's Ashton Kutcher's The Butterfly Effect, only replacing one self-important egomaniacal douchebag with another. The episode won the Writers Guild Award for sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison, who hated it so much that he wrote a goddamn book about how many pounds of shit he'd like to lay upon it.
The producers of Star Trek were obviously thrilled to have an episode written by a science fiction icon, but Ellison proved to be an excruciatingly difficult collaborator, going well over deadline to turn in a draft that ruffled more than a few feathers, including Roddenberry's. Among Ellison's contributions were scenes that called for several hundred extras (a financial impossibility for a fledgling science fiction TV show) and a plotline involving Scotty dealing drugs among the Enterprise crew. This was of course in an age of television during which interracial kissing was still a hugely controversial issue, so Roddenberry was understandably against turning a beloved member of the cast into a drug-peddling miscreant.
Ellison's script had to be completely rewritten to make it filmable, a transgression that he never forgave Roddenberry and the Star Trek crew for. The episode turned out to be a fan favorite (it is regarded by many to be the single best episode of Star Trek ever produced), but Ellison despised the finished product, to the point where he had his name removed from it, Alan-Smithee-style.
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Ellison's vision isn't completely lost to history. His script won the Hugo Award for Most Outstanding Teleplay, and was brought to life in 2014 as a comic book. So you can still read Harlan Ellison's version of Star Trek in which Scotty becomes Walter White, because Harlan Ellison is a bridge-burning maniac.
West Side Story, the charming musical about inner-city gang violence, was released in 1961 and went on to win pretty much every Academy Award they have a category for, starting with Best Picture and moving all the way down the list from there. It's basically a musical version of Romeo And Juliet, except it's set in New York and all the characters are street toughs with inexplicable dance-conservatory-level ballet talent.
The film is an adaptation of a stage musical written by the legendary Stephen Sondheim, who is also responsible for Sweeney Todd and Into The Woods, as well as the music for a dozen other movies you didn't know he was involved in. And West Side Story is kind of a bitter pill for Sondheim, because although it's the film that put his work on the map, Sondheim considers it to be one of the dumbest fucking things ever created.
According to Sondheim, West Side Story was great on the stage, but couldn't be made into a movie without looking stupid. In an interview with The Guardian about the Sweeney Todd movie (about which, surprisingly, he didn't have a single negative word to share), the subject of West Side Story came up, and Sondheim set the record straight about his opinion:
"You can't do a musical about gang warfare when the gangs dance down the street with color co-ordinated washing and sneakers: it's candyland. On stage, you accepted they were menacing, but movies are a different medium."
Fortunately for Sondheim, the perfect adaptation of his play came along 10 years later. It did away with all the unbelievable dancing and singing routines, and replaced it with much more true-to-life gravitas. It was called The Warriors.
It's hard to imagine that Stephen King ever had to worry about money. But before he was one of the world's most accomplished novelists, he was living in a trailer park with his wife and trying desperately to make ends meet by working as a high school janitor -- which ironically sounds like the beginning of a Stephen King novel. During one of his shifts, cleaning the girls' showers, he had the spark of an idea for a story about a heavily-bullied high school girl who gets her revenge by wrecking everyone's shit with telekinetic violence, because Stephen King was unsurprisingly the creepiest high school janitor who ever lived. That story of course became his first published novel, Carrie, which went on to become a wild commercial success and a film by Brian De Palma featuring copious amounts of uncomfortable nudity.
But despite the fact that King's rise from poverty to the king of the American Novel is just about the perfect feel-good story for thousands of aspiring writers, and that Carrie has been adapted (twice!) to film and is one of his most notable novels, King has never liked his first book. In fact, when he went home after work and began to write it one night in 1973, he quickly decided it was absolute garbage and put it where garbage belongs: in the trash can.
The only reason he ever bothered writing it was that his wife Tabitha emptied the trash and found the aborted manuscript, and she was intrigued enough to want to know what came next. King begrudgingly agreed to continue writing, even though he had no idea what he was doing -- his protagonist was a teenage girl, a concept so alien to him that he had zero confidence in his ability to get inside her head. But he eventually churned it out and wound up selling it, despite all odds, for a Stephen-King-sized amount of money.
But the book's success doesn't mean that King is any more proud of it. He doesn't think that it's any less shitty than he did back in 1973, when his wife heroically dug it out of the garbage pile where he thought it belonged. Ask him about it today and he'll still tell you that it's "sober, artless and clumsy." But sometimes you have to bite the bullet and write a steaming stack of bullshit if that's what it takes to be a goddamn millionaire.
Turns out a lot of stuff we love was really, truly hated by the people who made it. Like how Obi-Wan Kenobi wanted nothing to do with the Star Wars movies and how The Who hated "Pinball Wizard." See that and more in 6 Classics Despised By The People Who Created Them and 5 Iconic Songs Despised by the People Who Created Them.
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