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11 Debuts That Got Booed

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1. Charlie Sheen's Torpedo of Truth Tour

Photo by flickr.com user Pranav Bhatt.

After Charlie Sheen's high-profile media meltdown that got him kicked off of Two and a Half Men, he capitalized on the attention and launched a 20-city live "comedy" tour. Nobody quite knew what to expect from the Torpedo of Truth tour, named after one of his many outrageous descriptions of himself. The event kicked off in Detroit and the crowd cheered when he entered flanked by his "goddesses," but soon it turned ugly. He joked about the city's history of crack cocaine, answered questions from the audience, and showed a short film he had written several years earlier. The crowd booed, chanted "refund," and had mostly filed out before the show ended. Sheen retooled the show for future dates to eventually focus on some of his outrageous Hollywood stories and pulled in comedian Jeff Ross to roast him in several more cities.

2. The Barber of Seville

It's believed that Gioachino Rossini wrote the music for his comic opera in less than three weeks, not out of the norm for a man known for cranking out two operas per year. Still, Rossini could not have been prepared for the opera's disastrous opening in Rome. During the show, one of the singers tripped over a loose board. Then a cat wandered onto the stage near the end of the first act, prompting laughter from the audience and overshadowing the performance. After the show closed to deafening boos on opening night, Rossini locked himself in his dressing room for the show's second performance the next day, and nearly missed the standing ovation from the more receptive crowd. Interestingly, the French play on which the opera was based, Le Barbier de Séville, was also booed on its opening night and was hastily rewritten.

3. Bob Dylan Going Electric

Bob Dylan had been known as a leader in the folk movement, but his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home marked a shift by backing him with an electric band. He brought his new sound to the 1965 Newport Folk Festival to mixed results. Dylan opened his performance with Maggie's Farm and some in the crowd instantly started booing, which continued throughout most of the set. It's unclear if the crowd was really booing Dylan's electric transition: some think the crowd was upset with festival organizers for only giving Dylan 45 minutes, and others said it had to do with poor sound quality. (Pete Seeger said in his memoir that he was standing backstage during the set and wanted to cut the microphone cord because of all the distortion.) Dylan wouldn't return to the Newport festival until 2002.

4. The Rite of Spring


Igor Stravinsky's ballet is now famous for its avant-garde structure, use of dissonance and unusual rhythms. But those features were far less appreciated during the ballet's debut in 1913. The audience famously began laughing just as the introduction started and continued as the dancers on stage performed unfamiliar, jerky moves. Some of the dancers even said it was difficult to hear the music on the stage, the audience was so loud. Theater managers even had to flash the house lights to suppress a possible riot. The controversial piece would eventually be recognized as a touchstone of 20th century music and even made its way into Disney's Fantasia.

5. 2009 Philadelphia Phillies

Coming off a World Series win in 2008—the city's first sports title in 25 years—the Phillies opened in front of a sellout crowd. Of course, being a sellout Philadelphia crowd, it naturally ended in booing (sound familiar, Santa Claus?). A lengthy ceremony honoring the championship win was marred when manager Charlie Manuel was stranded high on a platform in center field; the ladder had been removed. And the game only got worse from there: the Phillies failed to score a single run until the ninth inning, and starter Brett Myers gave up four runs on three homers to seal the loss and get the crowd jeering. The Phillies did eventually rebound, though, and made it to another World Series that season.

6. Lauryn Hill


As a 13-year-old, the future Grammy winner appeared on amateur night on It's Showtime at the Apollo. As she launched into Smokey Robinson's "Who's Loving You?," the normally raucous crowd almost immediately began to boo, and someone even shouted "Step up to the mike" to get her to project (check out the video here). Hill kept going and eventually won over the crowd. Just a few years later, Hill would go on to appear in Sister Act II and join the Fugees, launching a successful career. Hill is not alone in overcoming a tough Apollo crowd: Luther Vandross, James Brown, and Dave Chapelle were all once booed at the Harlem theater.

7. The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick's 2011 film stretched from the dawn of the universe to the end of the Earth (or the afterlife or something), all while being anchored in a story about a 1950s family led by Brad Pitt; it's tough to explain and even tougher to watch. And audiences reflected that at the film's debut at the Cannes Film Festival, where the screening was met with a mix of boos and cheers. The film got some critical appeal after its dicey reception, winning the Palme d'Or at that year's festival and scoring an Oscar nomination, but it continued to split audiences.

8. L'Avventura

There's actually a rich tradition of critics and the press booing films at Cannes. Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny, and Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain were all jeered during initial screenings. Audiences were even so noisy at the end of Lars von Trier's 2009 film Antichrist that they booed straight through a credit paying tribute to late Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. But one of the more famous negative reactions was to the 1960 Italian film L'Avventura, where heckling grew so loud that director Michelangelo Antonioni and star Monica Vitti fled the theater. A second screening was better received, and the film won a jury prize and is now regarded as a touchstone in film for its slow pacing and visual style.

9. The Seagull


Anton Chekhov's seminal comedy is regarded as a touchstone of theater for its use of subtext and subtleties. Its premiere in St. Petersburg, however, was an unmitigated disaster. Lead actress Vera Komissarzhevskaya lost her voice and was mocked by the audience. The crowd booed the performance, and Chekhov himself even hid backstage for the final two acts. After the performance, Chekhov vowed to never write another play, although thankfully he broke that promise.

10. Eminem

Eminem may be one of the best-selling artists of all time, but his rap career almost ended before it started. In one of his first public performances at a Detroit club, he remembers being booed. In an interview, he said the experience was "f***ing traumatic, and I think I went home and I was like, man, I quit."

11. Bryce Harper

Even before he made his major league debut, Harper had appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated (at age 17), won the Golden Spikes Award for the nation's best amateur baseball player, been the number one overall draft pick and had been hyped beyond belief. His reputation for brashness and showboating had also led many to form their opinion of him. And when the Washington Nationals called him up for his first game (against the Los Angeles Dodgers) on April 28 this year, the L.A. crowd let him know what it was: he was resoundingly booed before his first at bat (he would ground out) and even his first hit was marred by a fan mooning the camera. Harper ended up having a stellar rookie season and was even named to the All Star Game as a replacement player.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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15 Surprising Facts About Scarface
Universal Home Video
Universal Home Video

Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


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Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, but Stone—who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand—wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


Universal Home Video

De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
Universal Home Video

In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

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