Jacko’s Wacko Grape-Throwing On Captain EO Set
A few years ago, I wrote a book of humorous essays revolving around Star Wars fan culture entitled Star Wars Ruined My Life. I came really close to getting the thing into book stores, but every interested publisher was upset I wasn’t already some famous dingus from the movies, TV, or the Internet. They all told me to go “build an audience” and come back when I was a profitable commodity. Instead, I bought a gun and tried to shoot the President.
No, I’m kidding. I tried to “build an audience” by not leaving my house and eating ice cream all day, but that didn’t work. Fast forward to 6/25/09. Michael Jackson dies, and I remember that one chapter in Star Wars Ruined My Life extensively covered Jacko’s 3-D EPCOT attraction Captain EO (1986). You all remember that one. It had singing, dancing, puppets, and Anjelica Huston. On the whole, far more entertaining than that crap inside the giant golf ball OR Ellen’s Energy Adventure.
Like Star Wars, but with more squealing and crotch-grabbing.
Captain EO was produced by George Lucas, who at the same time was burdened with the task of creating a separate Disney attraction based on his blockbuster Star Wars movies. Obviously EO, directed by George’s buddy Francis Ford Coppola, was of higher priority. That fact was punctuated sharply when the lackluster Star Wars ride, Star Tours, finally debuted at MGM Studios in 1987. The five minute zip around space with C-3PO, R2-D2, and some robot voiced by Pee Wee Herman was less exciting than some of the bathrooms in the park.
So I wrote this chapter that directly blamed the King of Pop for the suckiness of Star Tours. The whole EO project was his idea in the first place; since he was the almighty MJ, all he had to do was call a few people and that was enough to make everything else on the entire planet secondary. The original text I cobbled together makes it clear just how ridiculous Michael Jackson’s Seventeen Minute Intergalactic Third Tier Muppet Freak-Out was in terms of time and money:
Captain EO was one of the most expensive movies ever made, at one million dollars per minute of film. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, especially when you consider the fact that 1997’s Titanic cost about 12 jillion dollars per nanosecond, but in 1986 seventeen million dollars was a lot of money. The highest-grossing movie of that year, Top Gun, was budgeted at $15 million, and they used real fighter jets and aircraft carriers in that one. Captain EO cost two million dollars more, and the majority of the cast was foam rubber. Plus, Captain EO was ninety-three minutes shorter than Top Gun! It was the 1980s, though, a time when money was thrown around like Styrofoam packing material, especially by people like Michael Jackson.”
Aw, he did the same shit in “Thriller.”
Indeed, Captain EO was pricey. Yet, it was all up there on the screen, and the thing must have been popular. Disney didn’t remove EO from their parks entirely until 1997, long after MJ’s career had imploded and most people were afraid of leaving the guy alone with minors. That has to speak to the film’s quality, right? Tourists won’t put up with any ol’ kind of 3-D puppet-related crap, no matter HOW good that icy seventeen minutes of air conditioning feels. Then again, Disney replaced Captain EO with Honey, I Shrunk The Audience, a show based on a decade-old Rick Moranis franchise. Maybe they have no idea what they’re doing down there (and maybe all tourists are complete heat-exhausted idiots).
But I digress. I interviewed a handful of people who actually worked on EO for this chapter, but only one managed to provide me with the strange, funny, and sometimes sad background stories I craved as a gossip-hungry member of John Q. Public. That person was Terri Hardin, a Hollywood costume builder/sculptor who not only created creatures for EO but also portrayed two of its characters—Idy and Ody—and did stunts for Anjelica Huston. I didn’t include much of what Terri said in the original chapter because it didn’t seem all that relevant, but now her stories/insights prove to be most interesting (because, you know, Michael Jackson just died). Here now, some selected quotes from Terri about the Captain EO experience.
On working with Coppola:
“He always wears Bermuda shorts. He is so casual that the first time I met him I did not recognize him. This was good, because I handled myself well, instead of [acting like] a blubbering fan.
“Coppola had us improv. There I was, acting with Angelica Huston and Michael Jackson. In one scene we did, Angelica was the boss of a camp, Michael was the camp counselor, and we were the spoiled children. Francis [went] to Angelica and whispered, ‘you are going to fire Michael.’ And to Michael, he whispered, ‘You must get these kids to behave.’ And to the rest of us, the children, we were told not to behave under any circumstances.
“Well, Michael kept asking us to behave, and we just kept being brats. Then Angelica storms in, grabs Michael by the shirt, and literally lifts him off his feet and says, ‘You insignificant little worm – YOU’RE FIRED!’ She then throws him across the room. We rehearsed in large studio and the floors were slick; Michael slid a long way on his butt, and shuttered in fear. Real fear. After that, he would not go near Angelica. He was very frighted of her.”
“Where’s that little shit Prince? I wanna throw him around, too.”
On working with MJ:
“Working with Michael was quite interesting. So many people loved this guy in ’85. Not like today, where he is labeled as a freak. He had the mind of a twelve year old then, and I used to talk to him as I would a young boy. He loved to have grape fights in the morning. He would have a crate of grapes sent to his trailer every day just for this purpose.
“Michael also loved to play jokes on me, as I can be very gullible. His favorite was the rattlesnake egg joke. This is the one where you approach someone and tell them that you have just gotten some rattlesnake eggs sent to you and you hand your chosen victim the envelope. When they open it, there is a bobby pin with a rubber band and it makes a rattling sound and scares the crap out of your victim. I was always the victim. Michael would pull this prank again and again on me. As far as dancing or music, though, he was the master. Never had I seen such raw talent.
“[And he] could remember you name, no matter who you were. Once you had met him, he could call you by name from then on. Think of all the folks who have crossed his path. Amazing!”
On the kids from SpaceCamp being total dicks:
“On one occasion, the kids from that production walked over to Michael’s trailer and when he did not come out, they grabbed hold of it and began to shake it violently. Chucky, a security guard lent to Michael by Stevie Wonder, had to literally pull these assholes off the trailer. And these are supposed to be professionals.”
Every single one of these kids is an epic douchebag.
On Anjelica Huston’s star trip:
“When I first met Anjelica, she was an angry, demanding woman. She insisted she play the queen as well as the witch, and the girl who was to play the princess originally and be a love interest for Capt. EO was fired. You see, Angelica was up for an Academy Award, and the Disney folks really wanted her in the film.
“I thought that she could not really be this angry. So each day, I would open her trailer, say, ‘Morning, Angelica!’ and slam the door. I did this for about three days before she demanded I step inside. When she asked me what my problem was, I told her that I knew she could not be as angry as she seemed and that I felt she needed a smiling good morning to cheer her up. She laughed and we were friends from that day forward.
“It was Angelica who suggested me to stunt double her for the flying sequences as she would not do those.”
Interesting stuff, and nothing too freaky. Grape fights, LOL—way to waste food, you rich asshole. Guess that’s where all that money went. I wonder what Anjelica Huston has to say about her Captain EO experience. Would she own up to being such a mega-bitch at the start of the production? I don’t know, I’ve never even met her!
Just for the record, Terri also mentioned that no less than Sophia Loren and Babs Streisand were calling MJ on a daily basis during EO’s production and leaving him breathy, lovey-dovey messages. Also, Tony Cox (the little person from Bad Santa) played Hooter in EO, and there was apparently an incident one day where Cox almost passed out from heat exhaustion and no one did anything until Terri picked up Hooter’s head and threw it across the floor out of anger/disgust.
Lotta throwin’ on that movie! I guess that’s just how people communicate on film sets.
Another interesting note to end on: the kids from SpaceCamp got a karmic kick in the ass when their stupid little movie was forced to come out shortly after the Challenger explosion. The shuttle malfunction that befell Lea Thompson and wee Leaf Phoenix in the film was almost identical to the one that blew up the real rocket ship in January of 1986, claiming seven lives; moviegoers trying to forget the disaster stayed away in droves. So fuck you, Larry B. Scott and Kelly Preston, for fucking with Michael Jackson’s trailer!