5 Famous People Side Projects That Seem Weird Now
Most creators experiment with genres outside of what they're famous for, either for variety or out of financial necessity. J.K. Rowling writes mysteries under another name, Garth Brooks had his bizarre rock alter-ego, and even we've secretly been ghostwriting most of the New Yorker. This isn't inherently surprising, but sometimes an artist's side-project is the absolute last thing you'd expect from them. For example...
Louisa May Alcott Wrote Gritty Thrillers
Little Women has experienced a popular resurgence thanks to the recent Greta Gerwig film, the tie-in Nintendo Switch platformer, and a promotional Denny's menu that featured the Meg-a Pancake Stack and the Scarlet Fever Shake. While you may not be able to name another Louisa May Alcott novel, the fact that she wrote a sequel called Little Men would allow you to make an educated guess. Big Boys, You Won't Believe The Size Of These Gals... more tales of the transition into adulthood, right? But before Little Women catapulted Alcott to literary fame she dashed off potboilers under the name A. M. Barnard.
The Fatal Love Chase, for example, features a young woman offering her soul to Satan in exchange for a year of freedom from her daily drudgery. This freedom comes in the form of a lover, who our heroine eventually discovers to be a cruel adulterer. She flees to Europe, and the title kind of gives away what happens next.
In Agatha's Confession, Agatha is set to marry a rich nobleman while her jealous friend, Laura, plots to steal him away. After some increasingly bitter romantic drama, Laura comes down with a fever and Agatha, figuring that her friend is already mostly dead, has her buried alive. The guilt then drives Agatha mad, and all of this would be difficult to work into a movie that also features a wacky Bob Odenkirk role. Murder plots, psychological manipulation, and hauntings from beyond the grave were common tropes in stories like Fatal Follies and The Mummy's Curse.
But Alcott just wrote this salacious nonsense to pay the bills until her more literary work found success, right? Not quite; Little Women was written "in record time for money" at the suggestion of Alcott's editor and, validating high school students everywhere, both found the end result boring. But her editor's niece loved it and so, to the complete surprise of Alcott, an American classic was born. Strong sales encouraged her to keep writing what she dubbed "moral pap for the young," and while she certainly took pride in her work, she did comment in an interview that "I think my natural ambition is for the lurid style." So she probably would have written Gone Women if given the chance.
Roald Dahl Wrote A James Bond Movie
Roald Dahl is famous for writing childhood staples like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and kid-friendly Doom novelization The BFG. But he also wrote the screenplay for You Only Live Twice, Sean Connery's second-last and first-dumbest Bond film. It sends Bond to Japan with all of the lack of subtlety you'd expect from the '60s, but how did Dahl end up writing a film that ends in a ninja assault on a volcanic rocket base?
We've told you before that Roald Dahl was a fighter pilot turned spy whose greatest weapon was his penis, that he wrote weird erotica for Playboy, and that he was an all-around maniac, so penning a Bond flick wasn't totally out of character. But his screenplay experience was limited, and he only got the job because the writer of the first four Bond films was unavailable. So, the producers thought, why not give an old pal of Ian Fleming the unenviable task of adapting a novel that ends with an amnesiac James Bond working as a Japanese fisherman and knocking up a woman named Kissy who's hiding his real identity from him?
The result is one of Bond's campiest and horniest outings. At one point, Bond is "disguised" as a Japanese man with questionable eye makeup and a terrible toupee, making him look like a grandpa roped into inept anime cosplay. It's also the film where Bond finally comes face to face with archrival Blofeld, and he's an underwhelming goof who inspired a generation of parodies.
It's not exactly remembered as a classic although, to be fair to Dahl, he did his job in helping the studio make a giant pile of money. It was, however, far from his fondest professional memory, as he seemed disappointed he was never asked to write another Bond film but later called screenwriting an "awful job" you should never do unless you need the scratch. Weirdly, Dahl's official website says that some of You Only Live Twice's ideas were reused in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, presumably in reference to the part where Willy Wonka pops up to muse, "Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?"
Justin Timberlake Gave McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It"
This won't be news if you're wearing a hideous Von Dutch trucker hat, but for those of us who have moved on from 2003 it's easy to forget that McDonald's iconic "I'm Lovin' It" earworm was given to us by Justin Timberlake. They were confusing days: N*SYNC was no more, wardrobes had malfunctioned, and Timberlake hadn't yet brought sexy back to us like a horny Prometheus. And, like so many of us when we're unsure of what to do with ourselves, Timberlake found himself at McDonald's.
The struggling fast food chain was trying to reinvent itself as the cool source of slurried chicken fragments and hypertension, and that meant hip music. Their $1.37 billion dollar ad campaign didn't just produce a slogan and jingle, but created a full-fledged Timberlake single that otherwise had nothing to do with the brand. The approach was dubbed "reverse engineering" -- McDonald's would look more credible if they were borrowing from a pop star's latest hit than if they got Timberlake to drop a track about how the only thing he loves more than booty is sharing a McFlurry with his boy Grimace. That's all well and good if you're a cynical marketing drone, but "I'm Lovin' It" is a weird music video to revisit from this, the future.
A Timberlake who is clearly thirsty for far more than cheap Sprite stalks a woman who has clearly never eaten at McDonald's. The lyrics are about how this hard-working, stressed out lady needs and deserves a taste of Timberlake's quarter-pounder, and what Timberlake is loving specifically is her ass. Which is all standard pop music fare, but while McDonald's still uses the jingle to this day they don't follow it up with "Girl go on and shake your booty."
Looking back at the "CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW HIPPITY-HOP THIS MONOLITHIC TRASH FOOD TITAN IS" ads that followed, it's hard to believe that McDonald's wasn't immediately mocked into non-existence. Timberlake would later claim outsized credit for the campaign's success while also saying he regretted doing it, although the gigantic bag of money they handed him probably eased the pain.
A Sweet Old Mystery Writer Also Cranked Out Children Of Men
Children of Men was both one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the 2010s and one of the grimiest. We've already told you that the book was even bleaker than the film, but just who wrote this dark tale of a future where humanity has lost the ability to procreate? An edgy sci-fi firebrand? Some sort of crazed Alan Moore type? How about a 72-year-old grandma?
Author P.D. James was incredibly talented and, if you're in a retirement home book club, she's a superstar. But Children of Men was her only foray outside of the mystery genre, where she was considered the successor to Agatha Christie. Her most famous creation is a detective who loves poetry and theology, she had a coat of arms adorned with cats, and she wrote Jane Austen fanfiction. A soft-spoken septuagenarian Anglican Baroness who had written about nothing but cozy murder since 1962 just woke up one day and said to herself "Eh, I think I'll spend some of my golden years revolutionising dystopian sci-fi."
The movie is a pretty loose adaptation, but if you thought a depressed Clive Owen getting the shit kicked out of him for 100 minutes was a downer, be glad they didn't include the human sacrifice fertility rituals, the government enforced senior citizen mass suicides, and the pets raised as kids by people who make the "fur parents" on your Facebook page look sane. So don't be surprised when, say, Gillian Flynn pivots to writing disturbing Cthulhu mythos stories in her 80s. Speaking of which...
Master Of Horror And Racism H.P. Lovecraft Wrote Awful Patriotic Poetry
H.P. Lovecraft is famous for two things: creating the Cthulhu mythos and having racial views that could most generously be described as "Well, at least he hated blacks and Jews a bit less as he got older." Whatever you think of the aloof and elitist antiquarian, you probably do not think of him as a motherfucking American. But, if Lovecraft were alive today, he would have a "Love it or leave it" sticker on the bumper of his imported Mini that he drove 15 miles under the speed limit. Instead, he wrote god-awful patriotic verse. Here's the start of "Ode for July Fourth, 1917."
As Columbia's brave scions, in anger array'd,
Once defy'd a proud monarch and built a new nation;
'Gainst their brothers of Britain unsheath'd the sharp blade
That hath ne'er met defeat nor endur'd desecration;
So must we in this hour Show our valour and pow'r,
And dispel the black perils that over us low'r:
Whilst the sons of Britannia, no longer our foes,
Will rejoice in our triumphs and strengthen our blows!
Lovecraft was a devout Anglophile to the point of decrying the American Revolution as a senseless tragedy, so his pride in America comes from viewing it as England's plucky child. Here he is mocking Americans who didn't want to go defend the Motherland in the Great War with the "Pacifist War Song."
We are the valiant Knights of Peace
Who prattle for the Right:
Our banner is of snowy fleece,
Inscribed: "TOO PROUD TO FIGHT!"
By sweet Chautauqua's flow'ry banks
We love to sing and play,
But should we spy a foeman's ranks,
We'd proudly run away!
Our fathers were both rude and bold,
And would not live like brothers;
But we are of a finer mould --
We're much more like our mothers!
Lovecraft calling other people wimps should have made him vanish in a puff of irony but, in his defense, the then 27-year-old was actually among the first Americans to enlist. His overbearing mother then raised hell to get him out of it, which should have killed his trash-talking credentials but at least spared us some truly awful trench poetry. Here's part of another call to war, "The Peace Advocate," about a vicar deciding to stop the cheek turns and kick some ass instead.
Then quick to his brain came manhood's thought,
As he saw his erring course;
And the vicar his dusty rifle brought
That the foe might at least by one be fought,
And force repaid with force.
One shot -- the enemy's blasting fire
A breach in the wall cuts thro',
But the vicar replies with his waken'd ire;
Fells one arm'd brute for each fallen spire,
And in blood is born anew.
Two shots -- the wife and daughter sink,
Each with a mortal wound;
And the vicar, too madden'd by far to think,
Rushes boldly on to death's vague brink,
With the manhood he has found.
And yes, it's World War I he's trying to rally support for with that writing style, not the Napoleonic Wars. Lovecraft wrote hundreds of poems and yet, at least when it came to jingoistic commentary, he never got very good at it. But it wasn't all rabble-rousing: Lovecraft also wrote dorky tributes to Christmas, his friends' cats and, of course, noted American patriot Robert E. Lee.
Whilst martial echoes o'er the wave resound,
And Europe's gore incarnadines the ground;
Today no foreign hero we bemoan,
But count the glowing virtues of our own!
Illustrious LEE! around whose honour'd name
Entwines a patriot's and a Christian's fame;
With whose just praise admiring nations ring,
And whom repenting foes contritely sing!
It goes on like that for another few dozen lines, but you don't deserve to have them inflicted on you. Just remember that while Lovecraft may have mastered the horror story, he also mastered being a gigantic dweeb.
Mark is on Twitter and wrote a book.