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Profiles:

Spring 2019 Fan

Lisa Sutton

In September of 1975, at age 13, my father took me to see a movie at the UA Theatre in Westwood. The preview of coming attractions was for the R-rated "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." My head nearly exploded with excitement, but my father leaned in and said "I am NOT taking you to that." My opportunity came a few months later when Rocky turned up at a less age-conscious local theatre.

Lisa as Trixie, 1979
Lisa as Trixie, 1979

Cast and audience participation didn't exist yet, but I was so transfixed at my first screening that I went again the next night and sat through it twice. Thankfully a ticket was only 99 cents. I spent the next day scouring local record stores in search of the then nonexistent US movie soundtrack, then scored the Roxy cast and UK soundtrack that Sunday. This weekend shaped my entire future.

Lisa with the RH cast in 2016
Lisa with the RH cast in 2016

A couple weeks later I found a special 8pm screening at the Nuart in West LA, a barely-attended, one-night presentation as part of an on-going film series. A small group in the front row, dressed like Transylvanians, made occasional comments like "2-4-6-8-10-12-14, eat your heart out Ann Miller" from the Roxy soundtrack and "Meatloaf Again" at the appropriate times. They also got up from their seats to dance The Time Warp and again when the credits rolled. For no particular reason, my friend and I thought it would be funny to bring noisemakers to rattle at the creation scene, which got a big reaction from the maybe 50 people there. It might be the first time it had been done anywhere. I also held up a teddy bear during "Eddie's Teddy" which got a chuckle from those who could see me halfway back in the theatre.

The Tiffany in 1978
The Tiffany in 1978

We had so much fun, we decided to go see it again, and again, and so on. I watched the cult grow from a standard film release to near-empty theaters to an ever-growing group, spontaneously adding call backs and costumes. Over the next couple years it morphed into total insanity. My next stop was the Fox Venice, where Rocky played monthly on various nights. I joined other repeat visitors in the front row. In the early days we endured a lot of "shut up"s when we yelled things back at the screen, but the laughs grew, and it quickly became part of the show. After a few months, a new attraction was added; a group calling themselves The Rocky Horror Revue began to perform a floor-show between screenings. They were the first organized cast, traveling to various theatres, with applications and try-outs for the group. I eventually joined the Revue as a Transylvanian.

Stories of The Tiffany Theatre on Hollywood's Sunset Strip started circulating after they started playing "Rocky" at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays in June of 1977. It took me until July of 1978 to sneak out of the house at that hour, but being in Hollywood, the Tiffany was a Mecca-like destination for Rocky fans all over Los Angeles and beyond. Call-backs and traditions from all over made their way there, which contributed to the non-stop boisterous atmosphere. There were rice fights, flying hot dogs and everyone "flicked Bics" for "There's A Light" before the fire marshal put the kibosh on the practice in the '80s. The Tiffany had a transsexual playing Frank N Furter, joined by a rotating group of regulars in the other roles. The "floor show" was performed to the soundtrack before the film started, as patrons entered the auditorium. The biggest boost to the Tiffany's welcoming, party-vibe came in September of 1978, when a new manager started letting cast members in for free. Suddenly it went from one seat/one patron, to dozens sitting on the floor, in the aisles, and all over the theatre. It was nuts. Especially the couple of times a real motorcycle rode through the theatre during "Hot Patootie."

Jan 2009 Tiffany overlook: Lisa with the now demolished Tiffany
Jan 2009 Tiffany overlook: Lisa with the now demolished Tiffany

I became a performer at the Tiffany at the peak of the mayhem, long before we called ourselves "casts". One of my first costumes was as American Gothic Riff with a friend as Magenta who'd found a pitchfork in her garage. I became the regular Floor Show Columbia and occasionally Trixie in honor of our neighboring Roxy Theatre. Between July 1978 and July 1980, I don't think I missed more than a couple of screenings at the Tiffany while still going to the Fox Venice for their monthly prime-time showings. Some of the best antics inside involved the low-profile screen and an aisle-break in the middle of the auditorium that made it possible to create perfect, large shadows on the screen - like holding up big J-A-N-E-T letters during "Damnit, Janet" or caressing Janet's giant boobs during "Touch-Me." In order to pay for my "Rocky Horror" habit, I started a small business making badges, shrink-art pins and home-made T-Shirts that I sold outside the Tiffany. The sideshow outside the Sunset Strip theatre was almost as much fun as the midnight show inside, which was usually sold out by 11 pm, making a second 2 am show a necessity. Breakfast with cast and crew went past sun-up on weekends and there was an endless stream of good friends, good times, and a LOT of deviant behavior behind the curtains.

In fall of 1980, I entered college and my attendance abruptly slowed, though I remained involved, working for the LA conventions. After graduating, I landed in the art department at Rhino Records. As a known enthusiast, I was asked to help the A&R department propose a RHPS box set to Lou Adler for the 15th Anniversary in 1990. Everyone liked my suggestions so much, I was enlisted to compile and design it. Richard O'Brien was set to write the liner notes. When a few days before the project was due to go to press, all we received was the "letter from Riff Raff", I jumped in to write the booklet text myself with no time for interviews and no internet to reference. I still think I did a fine job regardless of the lack of time and resources. I must have done something right, because I was involved with all of the Ode to Rhino releases that followed.

Some of Lisa's original merchandise
Some of Lisa's original merchandise

It's hard to condense 5 decades of participation, but I've had countless adventures, including an unforgettable night as Richard O'Brien's date to a "Rocky Horror Show" revival at Tiffany in 1999, after it became a playhouse. This was the first time I set foot in the theatre since its final showing of RHPS in March 1983. It was as exciting to visit my old home as it was to be with Richard. When the Tiffany was razed in 2013, I participated in a bittersweet effort to save our beloved marquee, which now resides at LA's Valley Relics Museum. I still attend occasional events, and continue my involvement by writing write historic articles for RockyHorrorWiki.org, continuing my lifetime involvement as a regular Frankie fan.

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