6 Crafty Ways Celebrities Escaped Bad Business Deals
When it comes down to it, celebrities are just like us: They'll pull insane, borderline criminal (and sometimes actually criminal) stunts to get out of doing things they don't want to do. Sometimes it's understandable -- actors and musicians frequently find themselves bound to viciously unfair contracts that amount to well-paid indentured servitude. Other times, they just lie about being sick so they can be in a Will Ferrell movie instead of a dumb old Broadway play.
Prince Changed His Name To A Symbol To Get Away From Warner Bros.
There is a rich tradition of young musicians getting contractually screwed over, because recording companies routinely use new artists' lack of clout to demand rights that they don't deserve. These artists have often found very creative ways to show their unhappiness, but the most genius protest was predictably executed by intergalactic sex warlock Prince (rest in peace), who tried to erase his identity to spite Warner Bros.
By looking at this album cover, you just had a baby.
During the '90s, Prince was riding high after a string of amazing albums. However, it was his recording partner Warner Bros. that was benefiting the most from his musical genius. Per the terms of his typically unfair contract, all of his master tapes were the property of Warner Bros., meaning he would never actually own any of the music he wrote and recorded for them. Even worse, he still owed the company five albums before he would be allowed out of that deal. Prince was a prolific artist to say the least, and he had a ton of unused material burning a hole in his velvet pocket, so he figured he could just hand in five albums worth of songs and move on. Warner Bros. refused to accept the material, insisting that nothing in the contract obligated them to do so.
So, Prince became another person.
In 1993, he announced he was no longer Prince and would henceforth be working only as an unpronounceable symbol. He told WB he would still provide them with his mandatory Prince albums, but that they had no right to claim the output of this new creature, whom baffled journalists referred to as "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince," presumably because you can't say "Coconut Fucking A Trumpet" in most news outlets.
If you pronounced it as "fart noises plus angry Tasmanian Devil babbling,"
you were as correct as anyone else.
Note: This is not how contract law works. It does seem like somebody should have told Prince that, somewhere along the way.
While Warner Bros. cobbled together a greatest hits record, Previously-Prince dove into some very expensive projects in non-recorded music media, such as a weird stage musical based on Homer's Odyssey, an ill-advised perfume called Get Wild, and sending entire crews to Egypt to film Carmen Electra videos that were never released (for an album that tanked). When it became clear that his renaming plan wasn't working out, he went over to Plan B: writing the world "SLAVE" on his right cheek and putting Warner Bros. on blast in a full-page ad in Billboard magazine. In the end, both sides lost millions, and Prince would later refer to the feud as the worst years of his life.
He could barely concentrate on having freaky funky sex with the
three dozen supermodels living in his hot tub.
Prince kept the symbol until his contract expired in 2000, at which point he returned to using his actual name and eventually renegotiated a deal with Warner Bros. that gave him ownership of all his old music. Lesson: Crazy stunts like that always work out in the end. If you're Prince.
Ernest Hemingway Got Out Of A Publishing Contract By Crapping Out A Terrible Novel
When acclaimed drinker and occasional author of classic American novels Ernest Hemingway first started out, he made the classic rookie mistake of signing the first piece of paper an interested party shoved under his nose. In this case, publisher Boni & Liveright had tricked the author into giving up first dibs on three of his future books.
Unfortunately, Hemingway had just written his first masterpiece, The Sun Also Rises, and did not want to give it away for almost nothing. After much research, he realized there was one escape clause in his contract that he could utilize: The publisher had to accept all three books he submitted. Rejecting even one nullified the contract and gave them nothing. So he devised a cunning plan to write the shittiest book in the universe: The Torrents Of Spring, a wandering compendium of laziness he completed in 11 days. To avoid being sued by his publisher for writing something deliberately terrible, he got his drinking buddy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, to publicly call the book a masterpiece. If the writer of The Great Gatsby said something was good, it had to be good.
"The pages soaked up my gin-vomit like none other!"
On top of making the book bad, Hemingway doubly ensured that Liveright wouldn't dare publish The Torrents Of Spring by using it to mercilessly parody their star author, Sherwood Anderson. First, he mimicked Anderson's old-fashioned, repetitive writing style -- here's a sample, from Torrents Of Spring:
In some ways it was the happiest year of his life. In other ways it was a nightmare. A hideous nightmare. In the end he grew to like it. In other ways he hated it. Before he knew it, a year had passed. He was still collaring pistons. But what strange things had happened in that year. Often he wondered about them.
Also, he made the protagonist a shitty writer who can't stop getting married (another direct shot at Anderson). It was less than subtle.
"Chapter 1: Derrrr, I'm Sherwood Anderson."
Hey, did we mention that Anderson and Hemingway were friends before this? And that this book ruined their friendship?
Still, Hemingway had put Liveright in an impossible situation. Even if they could get past the quality and brazen contempt, accepting Hemingway's book meant pissing off Anderson, a writer who was making the company a lot more money than young Ernest. Not wanting to risk losing their cash cow, Liveright rejected the novel, freeing Hemingway from his deal. He quickly darted over to Scribner, who got their hands on one of the most iconic books ever to be written and made Hemingway rich in the process.
Radio Hosts Opie And Anthony Got Rich By Faking A Politician's Death
Notorious radio shock jocks Gregg "Opie" Hughes and Anthony Cumia weren't always kings of the New York radio scene's "bitter divorced fathers" market. They began as successful DJs at Boston's WAAF-FM, where they felt they weren't being paid enough, their time slot wasn't ideal, and their contract forced them to turn down much more lucrative offers from rival stations. The duo reasoned that if they wanted their careers to take off, they would have to use their God-given asshole powers to get themselves fired.
And so, on April Fools' Day 1998, the two shock jocks decided to pull their darkest prank to date: They announced, solemnly and without a trace of humor, that Boston Mayor Tom Menino had been killed in a violent car crash while visiting Florida. Then they inserted fake soundbites from reporters on the scene and even a police spokesperson. They had friends call in to provide additional "eyewitness facts," like that a tractor had been involved and that a young Haitian hooker was in the car with the mayor at the time of the accident.
"My foot is going to be in a violent crash with your asses."
"But didn't people look at the calendar and assume it was a prank?" you ask. They accounted for that -- they intentionally set up a different April Fools' prank -- that Pearl Jam had broken up -- as a decoy, hamming up the Pearl Jam story while quietly and respectfully telling listeners to tune in to the 6 o'clock news for the official announcement of Menino's death.
As the mayor was out of town, the story had spread like wildfire before Menino returned to the city in totally not-dead condition to quash it. The mayor was understandably pissed and demanded that Opie and Anthony be fired from WAAF-FM, which is exactly what they wanted in the first place. The pair immediately bounced back and moved to New York, where their careers skyrocketed. They lived happily ever after, until Anthony went on a series of racist rants in 2014 that got him fired for good. So, yeah, maybe this type of success has a limited shelf life.
It's almost like the white dudes sporting Native-American headdresses and
African cannibal pro wrestler body paint were giving us a warning.
Steve McQueen Intentionally Got Into A Car Accident As A Negotiation Tactic
Many movie stars got their start on television. George Clooney was on ER, Bruce Willis was on Moonlighting, and Air Bud got his start on Full House. If you think it's hard for modern-day TV stars to make the transition to the big screen, imagine how difficult it was for actors back when TV was just some dumb toy that sat in the living room and got two channels.
This was the problem for Steve McQueen, who started his career doing tons of TV series but made his name on a low-budget Western show called Wanted: Dead Or Alive on CBS. When film director John Sturges came to McQueen and asked him if he would star in his upcoming film The Magnificent Seven, McQueen desperately needed a great way to escape his television contract. He immediately sent his trusted manager, Hillard Elkins, to beg his producers for some time off to shoot on location in Mexico. After being rudely refused and laughed out of the building, Elkins returned to McQueen and gave him some rational, professionally responsible advice: He told his client to get into a car accident.
"My other car is a Bullshitmobile."
The idea was to create a plausible excuse to legally stop doing the TV series (since any contract would give you an out if you got injured), and then use that as leverage. And if you're thinking the plan involved simply claiming McQueen was in an accident, congratulations -- you think like a sane person. But you're underestimating how much proof the producers would have demanded.
The two schemers knew that McQueen, a highly skilled driver, could make a staged accident look real enough without actually getting hurt (too much). But that's not to say it was drama-free: Not only did McQueen take his wife along for the ride, he also almost ran over a cop before plowing headlights-first into the Bank of Boston (in McQueen's defense, this was all part of making the accident look believable). There wasn't a newspaper in the world that didn't cover the crash, and McQueen came back to Hollywood the next day wearing a neck brace. You know, one of those soft-tissue injuries that don't show up on an X-ray.
"They said the only known cure is switching from black-and-white-TV cowboy roles
to color movie ones. So sorry, guys."
Elkins informed McQueen's TV producer that his client was too injured to do the show or the movie, which made the whole thing seem more legit. The producer, however, knew what was going on -- it was clear that the moment he acquiesced to the earlier demands, McQueen's neck would suddenly start feeling better. He begrudgingly agreed to loosen the deal, saying, "This isn't what we like to do, but you get this round." This allowed McQueen to make The Magnificent Seven and remain on his TV show at double his original salary (presumably because they didn't want McQueen to "accidentally" drive his car through the fucking studio).
Jeremy Piven Allegedly Faked An Illness To Get Out Of A Play
In between seasons of Entourage, the giant forehead attached to the man named Jeremy Piven decided to try his hand at Broadway, signing up for David Mamet's razor-witted Speed-The-Plow. This was Piven's first time on Broadway, but he had seemingly underestimated the amount of work involved in a stage play -- only a few weeks into the production, Piven had his publicist email the show producers to quit the play on his behalf. The email stated that Piven's doctor, Carlon Colker (also an esteemed author), found that the actor was suffering from high levels of mercury poisoning from eating too much sushi. Yes, seriously.
He does seem to know an awful lot about chemicals
nobody should ever put in their body.
Mercury poisoning experts at the Yale Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program as well as the National Fisheries Institute pointed out that Piven's claims were both unprecedented and utter bullshit. The cast and crew were of the same opinion, claiming that Piven was bailing out by using the lamest rich-guy excuse possible. And they weren't wrong.
Piven had asked for time off long before his "illness," which is like asking for a day off at work and then calling in sick when it doesn't get approved. It was also suspiciously coincidental that he started seeing his doctor exactly one day after the production's first rehearsal. Piven had even started interviewing other actors to take over his job, which he claimed was just him trying to "be helpful."
Which makes sense, because people who hate their job help out tons by not being at the job.
Then, after canceling the first bunch of rehearsals due to such poor health that he was supposedly bedridden, one of the Speed-The-Plow producers bumped into him at an Entourage party. He also signed on to do the movie The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard, the biggest leading role in his career, because he was apparently not too sick to negotiate movie deals.
Live hard. Sell hard. Work ... whenever ...
The producers were so furious they dragged Piven into a Screen Actors Guild arbitration (or "actors' court"), which quickly acquitted him of any wrongdoing, because that's what happens when you have actors enforce the rules of what actors can and cannot do. This didn't stop his former co-stars from badmouthing him in public, including David Mamet himself, who said, "My understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer." Get it? Because of the mercury. Sick burn, David Mamet.
Marilyn Monroe Moved Across The Country And Started Her Own Studio To Get Out Of A Terrible Movie
If you're expecting the Marilyn Monroe entry to be about an epic tantrum or salacious casting couch story, you're going to be disappointed. It turns out, the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes star was a pretty brilliant businesswoman who knew exactly how to renegotiate a crappy deal.
After the wild success of The Seven Year Itch, which featured Monroe's iconic outercourse with a subway grate, she decided she was ready for more serious roles, meaning she wanted to stop playing the busty blonde in lowbrow comedies and start doing roles that would allow her to show off her acting talent.
By that point, she'd have settled for showing off her upper torso.
Unfortunately, Monroe had signed an exclusive contract with 20th Century Fox, who wanted her to keep doing sexy musicals and romantic comedies until she got too old (read: turned 40). Her next project was a disrespectful triple whammy: It was titled Pink Tights, they wouldn't let her read the script beforehand, and she'd be paid a measly $1,500 a week -- a third of the pay of her male co-star, Frank Sinatra. So Monroe simply moved to New York, started her own production company called Marilyn Monroe Productions, and refused to act in any movie that she didn't pick herself.
Of course, Fox sued her for breach of contract, because that's exactly what she had done. However, Monroe had appointed her very shrewd lawyer as her only partner in her production company, and her lawyer proceeded to tie up the lawsuit for so long that Fox couldn't force her to do any of the shitty movies they wanted to put her in.
Shockingly, a lifetime of "LOL dumb blonde" jokes wasn't her idea of a good time.
20th Century Fox started throwing everything they had into the movies Monroe refused to do, hoping to prove that she was easily replaceable and they could put any busty blonde into their pictures and still make money. They were sadly mistaken, and a series of box-office bombs made them realize how crucial Monroe's star power was to their bank accounts. Fox was forced to cave and offer her a better contract, a phrase here meaning "the same contract they would offer a male star of similar popularity," making her the highest-paid actress in the world.
And she lived happily ever af- shit.
For more of Cedric Voets' attempts at witticisms or his famous recipes for toilet wine, do follow him on Twitter.
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