5 Meltdowns That Went Viral Before The Internet Existed
Everybody loves a good old-fashioned meltdown. And thanks to the internet, we have the capacity to enjoy seemingly endless streams of prominent people utterly losing their shit over any perceived slight. But back in the day, these precious bits of audio and video gold had to be carefully passed around by hand, copied and circulated on tapes to be played at parties. It took something really special to make all that effort worth it. Here are five of the best such meltdowns.
Orson Welles Went Off While Recording A Frozen Food Commercial
War Of The Worlds and Citizen Kane turned Orson Welles into a giant of the entertainment industry. By 1970, though, he had long been on a downward trend. Along came Findus, a Swedish frozen food company, which pursued the director to read some ads for their peas. Welles took the gig, hated every second of it, and the result has a treasured place in celebrity meltdown history.
For his part, Welles needed the money to finish his masterpiece Shakespeare mashup Chimes At Midnight. All that effort didn't translate into a stellar reception at the time, though. A critic described Welles performance as Falstaff as "a dissolute, bumbling street-corner Santa Claus." One listen to the Findus sessions, and it's probably fair to characterize his reading of frozen food copy the same way, though add "really pissed off."
From "One more word out of you, and you go. Who the hell are you, anyway?" to "What is it that you want, in the depths of your ignorance?" to "No money is worth this shit," Welles rags away at the director with all the irritation someone being made to do the ads against his will. Except he could reportedly command 15k for work like this, so it's not like he wasn't compensated.
None of this seems all that outrageous in an age in which pissy celebrity outtakes get tossed to us daily. But in the mid-1970s, it was absolutely world-crashing to learn that such a revered director had stooped to blathering about frozen peas for money and then hear him pretty much go insane doing it.
Known colloquially as "Orson Welles Frozen Peas," the tape surfaced first at radio stations, then copies were made and traded among friends. British actor and My Cousin Vinny director Jonathon Lindus, who worked with Welles, has described bootlegs going around Europe, and tells of how Welles fucked with the producers of the commercials for having the temerity to make him audition by then forcing them to chase him all over Europe to get the sessions done.
Casey Kasem Melted Down Over A Dead Dog
Casey Kasem, the host of American Top 40 for four decades, sounded like someone grown in a vat specifically for the purpose of reading pithy copy about popular songs. One "touching" feature of American Top 40 was "Long-Distance Dedication." Listeners sent letters to the show (gather yourself, it gets even more precious) detailing heartfelt reasons Kasem should play a specific song for a loved one or family member. Kasem would read each impassioned letter and then play the song requested.
Then, while trying to record a Long-Distance Dedication to a dog, magic happened:
Kasem begins by reading a letter in his usual chipper, velvety tone, but locks up the brakes when he realizes the request is a song for the family's dead dog, who of course was named "Snuggles." But Kasem is unhappy with the transition from the last song, so he tears into the engineer.
His rant builds, gaining speed as it picks up profanity, until he breaks the Bill O'Reilly Fuck It, We'll Do It Live Barrier with the line "I want somebody to use his fucking brain to not come out of a goddamn record that's up-tempo, and I got to talk about a fucking dog dying!"
A 1985 bootleg of the rant circulated with Top 10 energy, but it should be noted that Kasem eventually handled the situation like a pro and delivered the Long-Distance Dedication to Snuggles.
The Winnebago Man Hated Everything About Filming A Commercial For Winnebago
"What we're doin' is filmin' a fuckin' industrial film -- tryin' to give these guys everything we got. I mean that's it, fuck it!"
Never have truer words been spoken on a recreational vehicle commercial shoot, and with that begins "Winnebago Man," a series of outtakes from a 1989 video for the Winnebago company. What follows is one long meltdown in the hot sun, a master class in profanity.
The pitchman, Jack Rebney, loses it from get-go: screwing up copy, whining about the heat, bitching about this and that not working, and finally declaring all-out war on flies, which he thinks must be visible in the shots. Rebney's frustration is absolutely electric, and anyone who loses their cool from time to time will be sympathetic. He flails about, waving his arms erratically enough to leave no doubt that his blood pressure is overriding any medication.
At perhaps the video's most memorable point, Rebney sits in the driver's seat and, after admonishing some poor bastard named Tony ("Don't slam the fuckin' door!"), proceeds with the calm direction of a born Winnebago pitch man:
"Listen, I gotta give a clue here now. I don't want any more bullshit any time during the day, from anyone. That includes me."
However, at the video's nadir, a despondent Rebney is back in that seat, ready to surrender. "Ain't worth it. Not this shit. Not fuckin' worth it."
"Winnebago Man" initially spread via the passing around VHS tapes that people hand-dubbed by daisy-chaining VCRs together. Much later, the clip enjoyed massive success on YouTube. It even spawned a documentary, Winnebago Man, in which a Texas filmmaker tracks down Rebney, who lives in a remote cabin. The film ends with Rebney meeting fans, who tell him the outtakes help them through tough days. You get the sense that Rebney was totally wrong back in that driver's seat. It was SO worth it.
Buddy Rich Berated His Band Relentlessly
Buddy Rich is considered among the greatest drummers in history, but he was also a notoriously cantankerous and a short-tempered bandleader. Once, Miles Davis drummer Billy Cobham asked Rich to sign his snare drum, and Rich "dropped it down the stairs."
Between 1983 and 1985, pianist Lee Musiker decided to record several of Rich's more inspired meltdowns aboard the tour bus by secretly placing an Aiwa tape recorder inside a folded-up newspaper on his lap. The resulting compilation features Rich pounding his band with the intensity he always delivered on the kit:
"I'm accustomed to working with #1 musicians. I'm NOT accustomed to working with half-assed kids who think they wrote the fuckin' music business. You got a long fuckin' way to go. You're all a bunch of fuckin' children! There's not a man among you ... not one man who can go out there and play the job like a man!"
At one point, Rich and Australian trombonist Dave Panichi nearly come to blows over Panichi committing a sin for which there is no forgiveness: having a beard. Rich actually fires him for it.
"I'm tired of puttin' up with you, I'm tired of signin' for ya, I'm tired of you period!" Listen, go back to Sydney and, er ... whatever you do over there, good luck. Not over here. You're through. I want him off the fuckin' band. Right now!"
Panichi actually played in Rich's band for over a year following that incident, and he feels that Rich respected that he stuck up for himself. As for his part in tapes that legions of jazz musicians, DJs, and aspiring players traded relentlessly, Panichi says, "the reality is that I will be forever associated with the speech tapes. If I live to be 150 years old, my fuckin' epitaph will be: Here lies Dave Panichi, the guy on the Buddy tape." Sorry, Dave, sounds like you pretty much got the set of steak knives.
"Shut Up, Little Man!" Is A Biography Of Meltdowns
In 1987, two dudes moved into a pink building they dubbed "The Pepto-Bismol Palace" in San Francisco's Lower Haight District. Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D soon discovered that they were neighbors with two drunks who could argue harder, nastier, and longer than they'd ever thought possible. So they did what anyone would do in that situation: They started taping the drunks.
Peter J. Haskett and Raymond Huffman had what can only be called The Toxic Relationship. Raymond is a gay-bashing, petty homophobe ("I despise all queers!"), and Peter, who is gay, can be alternately demeaning ("Shut up little man!") and physically violent ("The next time, I will pop you!"). Add out-of-control alcoholism to that mix, and you've got a bomb that doesn't stop exploding for 14 hours' worth of tapes.
And that's what makes "Shut Up, Little Man!" so very different from almost any other meltdown. When Christian Bale self-destructs, it's over in minutes. He apologizes and goes back to being mega-star Christian Bale. "Shut Up, Little Man!" is a full descent into the murky, dark swamp of Peter and Raymond's unremarkable and sad lives that takes over half a day to get through. And then you have the rest of your life to get over it.
Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D shared the tapes with friends, who shared them with their friends, and so on, creating a massive cult following. In 1993, the tapes were released commercially on CD. The 2011 feature documentary Shut Up Little Man! -- An Audio Misadventure played Sundance. Both Haskett and Huffman passed away in the '90s from alcoholism-related illnesses. But 30 years after bootleg tapes made them stars, videos on YouTube have ensured their supernova relationship will never burn from our memories.
Chris would have melted down during the writing of this if not for the generous assistance of Anita Serwacki, who is a Highlander, and Joe Pickett, who co-hosts the very fantastic Found Footage Festival.
For more, check out 7 Celebrities Who Have Clearly Lost Their Minds - The Spit Take:
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