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12 People Who Hated Their Own Biopics

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While it might seem fun to be the subject of a feature film, not every person-turned-character has loved seeing his or her life play out on the big screen. As Stephen Frears' The Program, about the fall of Lance Armstrong, hits theaters today, we're taking a look back at 12 people who hated the movies made about their lives.

1. MARK ZUCKERBERG // THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)

There aren’t a lot of college students whose (sober) exploits would be interesting enough to sustain a two-hour running time. But Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t your typical co-ed. While many of the key players involved in the multi-billion-dollar Website’s founding have pointed out inaccuracies in David Fincher’s The Social Network, Zuckerberg has been more lighthearted with his criticism. In an interview with 60 Minutes, he noted that “it’s pretty interesting to see what parts they got right and what parts they got wrong. I think that they got every single T-shirt that they had the Mark Zuckerberg character wear right; I think I own all of those T-shirts. And they got the sandals right and all that. But … there are hugely basic things that they got wrong, too,” he added. "[They] made it seem like my whole motivation for building Facebook was so I could get girls, right? And they completely left out the fact that my girlfriend, I've been dating since before I started Facebook.”

2. HUNTER “PATCH” ADAMS // PATCH ADAMS (1998)

A lot of people hated Patch Adams, in which Robin Williams plays a medical student attempting to prove that laughter is indeed the best medicine by running around in a red nose. Even Patch Adams hated Patch Adams. In an interview with New Renaissance Magazine, the good doctor and founder of the Gesundheit! Institute, which promotes the importance of “humanitarian clowning” by sending clowns into war zones, refugee camps, and orphanages, noted that, “After the movie, there wasn't a single positive article about our work or me. There were dumb, stupid, meaningless things ... it made my children cry. They actually thought that they didn't know the person they were reading about … I knew the movie would do this,” he continued. “I would become a funny doctor. Imagine how shallow that is relative to who I am. I just got back from taking 17 clowns to Cuba, which was hit by the worst hurricane in their history. The month before that, we took 30 clowns from seven countries, ages 16 to 65, to Russia for the 17th year in a row.”

It wasn't Williams' first brush with a bad review from the person he was playing: Adrian Cronauer, the military DJ portrayed by Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam, wasn’t thrilled with his representation either, though he liked the movie just fine. “It was never intended to be an accurate point-by-point biography,” Cronauer told The Fayetteville Observer. “It was intended as a piece of entertainment, and [Williams] was playing a character named Adrian Cronauer who shared a lot of my experiences. But actually, he was playing Robin Williams. That's what he always does. He was nominated for an Academy Award; I can't argue with that.”

3. JULIAN ASSANGE // THE FIFTH ESTATE (2013)

Prior to shooting The Fifth Estate, Bill Condon’s 2013 WikiLeaks film, star Benedict Cumberbatch reached out to Julian Assange to request a meeting so that the actor could better get to know the man he would be portraying. What he got instead was a very, very long letter back, in which Assange laid out the many reasons why Cumberbatch should quit the film—which Assange called "toxic," "deceitful," and "wretched."

“I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe that this film is a good film,” Assange wrote. “You will be used, as a hired gun, to assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it. To present me as someone morally compromised and to place me in a falsified history. To create a work, not of fiction, but of debased truth.”

4. SARAH PALIN // GAME CHANGE (2012)

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Shortly before the 2012 premiere of Game Change, HBO’s take on the campaign trail relationship between John McCain (played by Ed Harris) and Sarah Palin (portrayed by Julianne Moore) during the 2008 presidential election, Palin told Fox News that she was “not concerned about an HBO movie based on a false narrative when there are so many other things to be concerned about.” Separately, in a conference call with ABC News, foreign policy consultant Randy Scheunemann remarked that, “To call this movie fiction gives fiction a bad name,” while Meg Stapleton, Palin’s former spokeswoman, admitted that: “Looking at the trailers alone gets my blood boiling.”

5. DAVID LETTERMAN // THE LATE SHIFT (1996)

David Letterman has never made a secret of his feelings toward late-night competitor Jay Leno (a few years ago, he told Oprah that Leno, whom he used to consider a friend, may be “the most insecure person I have ever known”). Nor has he made a secret of his disdain for The Late Shift, the HBO movie which recounted the duo’s battle to replace The Tonight Show chair left open by Johnny Carson’s retirement. For months, Letterman mocked the film in his opening monologues and made John Michael Higgins, who portrayed him in the film, a favorite target. “I've seen a clip reel, and it's just bizarre,” Letterman said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “The guy who's playing me—and I'm sure he's a fine actor—but his interpretation seems to be that I'm, well, a circus chimp. He looks like he's insane, like he's a budding psychopath. And afterward I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is how I strike people as being.’”

6. ART HOWE // MONEYBALL (2011)

Shortly after Moneyball's release, Art Howe revealed his disappointment in the film to The Houston Chronicle. “First of all, Philip Seymour Hoffman physically didn’t resemble me in any way,” Howe noted. “He was a little on the heavy side. And just the way he portrayed me was very disappointing and probably 180 degrees from what I really am, so that was disappointing too… I’ve spent my whole career trying to build a good reputation and be a good baseball man and someone who people like to play for and all of the above,” he continued. “Then in two hours, people who don’t know me—and Brad Pitt’s a big name, [so] people are going to see his movies—and all these people across the country are going to go in and get this perception of me that’s totally unfair and untruthful. So I’m very upset.”

7. WINNIE MANDELA // WINNIE (2011)

Winnie Mandela has nothing against Jennifer Hudson, who played her in Winnie, the 2011 big-screen adaptation of Annè Marié du Preez Bezdrob's biography, Winnie Mandela: A Life. But she had a point when she complained to CNN that she felt it was irresponsible of the filmmakers to not consult her on the project. “I have absolutely nothing against Jennifer, but I have everything against the movie itself,” she said. “I was not consulted. I am still alive. And I think that it is total disrespect to come to South Africa, make a movie about my struggle, and call that movie some translation of ‘The Romantic Life of Winnie Mandela.’ I think it is an insult. I don’t know what would be romantic in our bitter struggle.”

8. HUNTER S. THOMPSON // WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM (1980)

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Where the Buffalo Roam isn’t a straight biopic, but that didn’t stop Hunter S. Thompson from picking on it. When asked what he thought of the film, Thompson responded: “Horrible pile of crap. [Bill] Murray did a good job. But it was a bad script. You can't beat a bad script. It was just a horrible movie. A cartoon. But Bill Murray did a good job. We actually wrote and shot several different endings and beginnings and they all got cut out in the end. It was disappointing. Not to mention that I have to live with it. It's like go into a bar somewhere and people start to giggle and you don't know why, and they're all watching that f*cking movie.”

9. IKE TURNER // WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT (1993)

Regardless of its accuracy, you can’t blame the late Ike Turner for not being thrilled with how he was portrayed by Laurence Fishburne in 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It, the story of his life with ex-wife Tina. Fishburne earned an Oscar nomination for the role, but Turner was not as generous with his praise. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Turner announced his plans to hold a press conference in order to win back his good name and that he would be writing his own autobiography, entitled That’s What Love’s Got to Do With It.

“The only time I ever punched Tina with my fist was the last fight we had,” Turner said. “I hit her after she kneed me in the chest. Prior to that, our fights, or our little slaps, or whatever they were, were all just about attitude. Me and Tina never fought about other women or about her not keeping house or her not taking care of the kids. It was always because she was looking sad and wouldn't tell me what was wrong with her. She would take that attitude with her on to the stage and that would really depress me. So after the show, I'd end up slapping her or something. But then we'd be okay.”

10. MICHAEL OHER // THE BLIND SIDE (2009)

Sandra Bullock may have nabbed an Oscar for her role in The Blind Side, playing the adoptive mother to Michael Oher, a troubled and homeless teenager who went on to become a first round NFL draft pick, but Oher himself isn’t handing out any accolades. And the 2013 Super Bowl champ has made it clear that he’s tired of being asked questions about filmmaking instead of football. “I'm tired of the movie,” he told the Los Angeles Times in early 2013, shortly before his Super Bowl face-off with the San Francisco 49ers. “Football is what got me here, and the movie, it wasn't me … The movie is great, it's very inspiring to tons of people all over the world, but the main problem I have is with the football part of it. Sports is all I had growing up, and the movie made me look like I didn't know anything.”

11. LIL’ KIM // NOTORIOUS (2009)

It’s probably best to stay on rapper Lil’ Kim’s good side, but it’s a lesson the makers of 2009’s Notorious, about the life and death of Notorious B.I.G., learned a little too late. In a 2009 cover story interview with Hip-Hop Weekly, Kim (who dated Biggie) blasted the film, stating that “most of the story is bullsh**” and confessed her disappointment in the decision to cast actress Naturi Naughton to play her, saying that she had been sent a copy of the actress’s audition tape and thought she was the worst possible choice.

12. MARC SCHILLER // PAIN & GAIN (2013)

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Moviemaker Michael Bay is not known for being funny. Which made his decision to shoot Pain & Gain—the story of a trio of Florida bodybuilders who kidnapped, tortured and murdered for financial gain—as a comedy more than baffling. Marc Schiller, one of the victims of the group known as the Sun Gym Gang, was particularly unamused (he is played by Tony Shalhoub in the movie, and renamed Victor Kershaw). “Obviously at the end they tried to kill me—and it wasn't that funny when they tried to kill me,” Schiller told The Huffington Post. “They did run me over with a car twice after trying to blow me up in the car. I was in a coma and somehow I got out … The way they tell it made it look like a comedy. You also gotta remember that not only I went through this, but certain people were killed, so making these guys look like nice guys is atrocious.”

An earlier version of this story ran in 2013.

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11 Surprising Facts About Fatal Attraction
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Paramount Pictures

Written by James Dearden and directed by Adrian Lyne, 1987’s Fatal Attraction showed audiences just how dangerous sex could be. Michael Douglas plays Dan Gallagher, a married man who has a weekend-long affair with single career woman Alex Forrest, played by Glenn Close. When he breaks off their affair, Alex goes a little nuts. Despite drawing the ire of feminists and frightening men everywhere, the film grossed an impressive $320 million worldwide, earned six Oscar nominations (including one for Close), and ranks number one in the “Psycho/Stalker/Blank from Hell” genre. Here are 11 scintillating facts about the movie, which was released 30 years ago today.

1. THE MOVIE IS BASED ON THE SCREENWRITER’S SHORT FILM.

In 1980, Fatal Attraction screenwriter James Dearden wrote and directed a short film called Diversion. “I was sitting at home thinking, ‘What is a minimalist story that I can do?’ My wife was out of town for the weekend, and I thought what would happen if a man who has just dropped his wife at the railroad station rings this girl who he's met at a party and says, ‘Would you like to have dinner?’” he told The New York Times. “It’s a little fable about the perils of adultery. It is something that men and women get away with 99 percent of the time, and I just thought, ‘Why not explore the one time out of 100 when it goes wrong?’”

Fatal Attraction producers Sherry Lansing and Stanley Jaffe saw the short and asked Dearden to elaborate on the story. “To turn it into a mass-audience film, I knew there would have to be an escalation of the psychological violence, which in the end becomes physical,” Dearden explained. He says he wasn’t trying to make a social statement about AIDS, but he was trying to say “we can have the most intimate sexual relationships with somebody we know nothing about.”

2. GLENN CLOSE WANTED TO PLAY AGAINST TYPE.

By the time Fatal Attraction came around, Glenn Close was a three-time Oscar nominee who had never been asked to play a sexy role. “When Glenn made it known she was prepared to test, I became fascinated with the idea of using her,” Adrian Lyne told People. “She’s a person you’d least expect to have this passion and irrational obsession. When she and Michael tested, an extraordinary erotic transformation took place. She was this tragic, bewildering mix of sexuality and rage—I watched Alex come to life.” 

Close recalled her nerve-racking audition to Entertainment Weekly: “My hair was long and crazy. I’m very bad at doing my hair. I got so nervous, I took a little bit of a Valium. I walked in and the first thing I saw was a video camera, which is terrifying, and behind the video camera in the corner was Michael Douglas. I just said, ‘Well, just let it all go wild.”’

A year after Fatal Attraction’s release, Close kept the sexiness going in Dangerous Liaisons, which garnered her yet another Oscar nod.

3. ADRIAN LYNE WANTED TO DO A DIFFERENT TYPE OF SEX SCENE.

According to Lyne, the only thing audiences remember about the movie is the spontaneous and somewhat goofy kitchen sink sex scene. “But what people take away from the movie is not Glenn Close putting acid on the car or even the last 10 minutes when they are flailing around in the bathroom,” he told MovieMaker Magazine. “What they remember is Michael f*cking her over the sink early on—which was like 30 seconds—and another 30 seconds of them making out in the elevator … but there’s another two hours and five minutes! And I guess it worked or they wouldn’t have gone to the movie.”

In John Andrew Gallagher’s book Film Directors on Directing, Lyne said he didn’t want the love scene to take place in a bed “because it’s so dreary, and I thought about the sink because I remembered I had once had sex with a girl over a sink, way back. The plates clank around and you’ll have a laugh. You always need to have a laugh in a sex scene.” During filming he yelled at the couple, praising them. “If they know that they’re turning you on, it builds their confidence.” He used a handheld camera to film it “so there was no problem with the heat going out of the scene.”

4. CLOSE HAD A HUGE PROBLEM WITH THE NEW ENDING.

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Two endings of the film were shot: The first had Alex planting Dan’s fingerprints on a knife and then killing herself while Madama Butterfly played in the background. Test audiences felt unsatisfied, so Paramount decided to re-shoot the ending and make it more violent. They had Dan’s wife, Beth (Anne Archer)—the only untainted character—shockingly shoot and kill Alex as a statement on preserving the American family.

“When I heard that they wanted to make me into basically a psychopath, where I go after someone with a knife rather than somebody who was self-destructive and basically tragic, it was a profound problem for me because I did a lot of research about the character,” Close told Oprah. “So to be brought back six months later and told, ‘You’re going to totally change that character,’ it was very hard. I think I fought against it for three weeks. I remember we had meetings. I was so mad.”

In Entertainment Weekly, Close said she thought Alex was a deeply disturbed woman, but not a psychopath. “Once you put a knife in somebody’s hand, I thought that was a betrayal of the character,” she explained. The main reason the ending was changed was because moviegoers wanted revenge. “The audience wanted somebody to kill her,” Michael Douglas told Entertainment Weekly. “Otherwise the picture was left—for lack of a better expression—with blue balls.” Though audiences wanted Alex dead, Douglas saw that as a compliment. “You were so good in the part that everybody wanted you to be killed,” he told Close on Oprah.

In hindsight, Close thinks they did the right thing in changing the ending. “Bloodshed in a dramatic sense brings catharsis,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “Shakespeare did it. The Greeks did it. That’s what we did. We gave the audience my blood. It worked.”

5. THE MOVIE CAUSED THE PHRASE “BUNNY BOILER” TO BECOME A PART OF THE LEXICON.

In probably the most disturbing scene in the movie, Alex boils Dan’s kid’s pet bunny. The phrase is listed in Urban Dictionary and on the U.K. site Phrases.org. Urban defines it as “after a relationship break-up, the person who wants some kind of revenge, like stalking, or harassment,” and Phrases says, “an obsessive and dangerous female, in pursuit of a lover who has spurned her.” Close herself was uneasy about the scene. “The only thing that bothered me was the rabbit,” she said on Oprah. “I thought it was over the top.”

6. CLOSE HAD THE KNIFE SHE TRIED TO KILL MICHAEL DOUGLAS WITH FRAMED.

In the theatrical ending of the movie, Alex comes after Dan with a knife but doesn’t succeed in getting away with murder. Close told Vanity Fair that she framed the fake knife, and that it’s hanging in her kitchen. “It’s all an illusion. It’s a cardboard prop!” she said. It’s also a rather creepy reminder of the film.

7. THE MOVIE SAVED MORE THAN A FEW MARRIAGES.

The film shows what happens when a married man lets his guard down and embarks on an affair, only to have it destroy his life. “That movie struck a very, very raw nerve,” Close told Daily Mail. “Feminists hated the movie and that was shocking to me. They felt they'd been betrayed because it was a single, working woman who was supposed to be the source of all evil. But now Alex is considered a heroine. Men still come up to me and say, ‘You scared the s**t outta me.’ Sometimes they say, ‘You saved my marriage.’”

8. CLOSE WOULD PLAY ALEX DIFFERENTLY TODAY.

One of the reasons the film was so controversial is the negative way it depicted mental illness. Psychiatrists have said Alex suffered from erotomania, a condition in which a person wrongly believes a person is in love with them. Close spoke to two psychiatrists in preparation for her role, and neither said Alex’s behavior—especially the bunny-boiling—was because of mental illness. “Never did a mental disorder come up. Never did the possibility of that come up,” Close told CBS News. “That, of course, would be the first thing I would think of now.” She also said, “I would have a different outlook on that character. I would read that script totally differently.”

9. DEARDEN ADAPTED FATAL ATTRACTION INTO A PLAY, WITH THE ORIGINAL ENDING INTACT.

In 2014 a stage version of the movie went up in London, starring Natascha McElhone as Alex and Kristin Davis as the long-suffering wife, Beth. Dearden reimagined the script in making Alex more sympathetic, Dan more blameworthy, and returning to the original ending.

“[I] wanted to return to my original conception of the characters in a sense to set the record straight,” Dearden told The Atlantic. “Because while Alex is undeniably borderline psychotic, she is also a tragic figure, worn down by a series of disappointments in love and the sheer brutality of living in New York as a single woman in a demanding career. So whilst remaining faithful to the storyline, I have introduced the ambivalence of my earlier drafts … nobody is entirely right and nobody entirely wrong.”

10. DEARDEN AND CLOSE DON’T BELIEVE ALEX IS A MONSTER.

“Alex is emphatically not a monster,” Dearden wrote in The Guardian. “She is a sad, tragic, lonely woman, holding down a tough job in an unforgiving city. Alex is not a study in madness. She is a study in loneliness and desperation.” He goes on to write that he regrets “that audiences shouted ‘Kill the bitch!’ at the screen … Did Fatal Attraction really set back feminism and career women? I honestly don’t believe so. I think that, arguably, it encouraged a vigorous debate from which feminism emerged, if anything, far stronger.”

Close doesn’t see Alex as monstrous either. “I never thought of her as the villain, ever,” she said on Oprah.

11. A TV VERSION OF FATAL ATTRACTION WAS KILLED.

In 2015 it was reported that Paramount would be bringing the film to the small screen in what was described as “a one-hour event TV series.” Mad Men producers Maria and André Jacquemetton were set to write and executive produce the show, with Deadline writing that the TV version would show how “a married man’s indiscretion comes back to haunt him,” just like in the movie. The show was set to air on Fox. But in early 2017, it was announced that the project was being killed—at least by Fox—after the producers encountered troubles with both the title and casting (The Hollywood Reporter wrote that both Megan Fox and Jenna Dewan Tatum were both said to have passed on the project.)

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13 Stylish Facts About dELiA*s
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Lucy Quintanilla

Millennial women across the United States will remember rushing to their mailboxes after school to grab the hottest catalog of the ‘90s: dELiA*s. The groundbreaking magalog, which debuted in 1994, was, by 1998, sending out 55 million catalogs a year. REaD oN fOr A fEw fUN fACts aBoUt dELiA*s.

1. THE COMPANY WAS FOUNDED BY TWO MALE YALE GRADS.

Stephen Kahn and Christopher Edgar, former Yale roommates, were in their 20s when they started dELiA*s in New York in 1993. Kahn—who, after Yale, had studied political philosophy and Victorian history at Oxford—had taken a job at the brokerage firm PaineWebber and was studying for his MBA at night. But he was bored. He wanted to run his own company. “I was interested in being more creative,” Kahn told Crain’s New York Business in 1998. “And I wanted to make a lot of money.” He convinced Edgar to leave his comparative literature Ph.D. program at Columbia University to start the company. Kahn provided $100,000 of his own money, and his father provided another $100,000.

2. DELIA*S WAS ORIGINALLY AIMED AT COLLEGE-AGED WOMEN.

In the early ‘90s, 90 percent of catalogs were aimed at women aged 30 to 50; it was seeing fashionable undergrads at Columbia that inspired Kahn and Edgar to launch a catalog aimed at selling clothes to college-aged women. They called the catalog dELiA*s. (Where that name came from is a mystery.) Initially, they created 20,000 catalogs and, in 1994, hired students to distribute them around college campuses.

But the response from college women, Kahn told Chief Marketer in 1998, was “lukewarm.” After running ads for the catalog in a few magazines, they found a new market: the college students’ little sisters. “We got a huge response from high school kids,” Kahn said. “So basically the market found us.”

They expanded their customer base to include 10- to 24-year olds with the goal of giving girls who might not live in areas with tons of shops for them an opportunity to buy cool clothes. (Fortune’s summation of the company’s strategy, from a 1997 article, is too amazing not to share: “Today’s average 14-year-old girl in Des Moines is just as hip to what’s hot as the 14-year-old in suburban Los Angeles … She, too, wants shiny avalanche pants and baby-T’s, but she’s stuck in the backwoods with nowhere to shop but her local Wal-Mart. Delia’s body glitter, like Dorothy’s red shoes, transports her from the farm to Melrose Avenue.”) “We felt that this group was not well served,” Edgar told The New York Times in 1997. “There wasn’t a recognition of these kids as real consumers.”

The first catalog hit campuses in the fall 1994, and quickly became a hit: Within four years, the company had annual sales of $158 million. When it went public in 1996, Kahn’s 57 percent share of the stock was worth $163 million.

3. KAHN AND EDGAR WOOED INVESTORS BY COMPARING dELiA*s TO MTV.

In the ‘90s, it was tough to get investors to put their money into catalogs. According to the Los Angeles Times, they “often doubted that teens will bother to leaf through pages and manipulate measuring tapes.” But dELiA*s was able to land financing by comparing its catalog to MTV’s programming. “We told them to think of us as a ‘channel’ through which you can program different types of apparel brands,” Evan Guillemin, the company's chief financial officer, told the Los Angeles Times in 1997. “We, like MTV, stay constant … but we’ll provide them with a constantly changing assortment of designs and brands.”

4. CREATIVE DIRECTOR CHARLENE BENSON HAD A DAY JOB AND WORKED ON DELIA*S AT NIGHT FOR THE FIRST YEAR.

The cover of the first-ever dELiA*s catalog
The cover of the first-ever dELiA*s catalog.
Courtesy of Charlene Benson

With its irregular capitalization and engaging photos, dELiA*s was a standout from the start. That strategy came from creative director Charlene Benson and her collaborators. Benson was the art director of Mademoiselle magazine when she got the dELiA*s gig—and she kept that day job for a full year while producing the catalog at night.

How Benson got the dELiA*s job is what she calls a “folksy” story: One of her friends, the writer Hilton Als, met Kahn at an art show, and they got to talking about the catalog. Benson went in for an interview. The office was casual; “it looked like they had collected all the furniture off the street,” Benson tells Mental Floss. “They didn’t really have an idea of what it should be yet. They wanted to know if I knew how to put together a photo shoot, how to do the layout, how to talk to printers. It was more of the business part of it.”

Given pretty much free rein—albeit on a shoestring budget—Benson hired some help and got to work … at night, after she finished at her day job. And though she loved working at Mademoiselle (which was, she says, “wonderful”), dELiA*s gave her a different kind of opportunity. “I did all of the things that I didn’t get to do at Mademoiselle—choose the pictures where the girls were making faces, and have kind of more chaotic layouts, and just have a certain kind of fun and a certain kind of real girl-ness that I always missed working at a Condé Nast fashion magazine,” she says.

That included randomly capitalized type. “We really liked that mixed up and down type,” Benson says. “Sassy had kind of done something like that [before dELiA*s] and we really liked it. But because I was such a bad typist a lot of times my typing would kind of look like that, so it was like, ‘This feels right.’”

Benson didn’t do any market research to create the catalog, but she did look at teen magazines that were available at the time. “When I looked at teen stuff it was a lot of ‘how to kiss a boy,’ or ‘how to know if he likes you.’” She and her team decided to do the opposite: “It was kind of like, ‘Let’s do something where that’s not in the picture yet or maybe it’s not the most important thing to her—that she’s more creative, and she’s more interesting, and she’s more about her friends still.”

The copy in the catalog (an example: “wOulD YoU rAtHeR bE iN a cAve oF sNakEs oR a bAthTub fUlL oF sluGs?”) also reflected that—something Benson says parents appreciated. “I got a lot of nice notes from moms that would be like, ‘Oh thank you for the funny copy. My daughter and I had a really beautiful moment reading it together.’”

The first catalog, which Benson says “wasn’t totally baked,” was a huge success; Edgar came back to Benson in two months and said they’d sold every piece of merchandise. “He was like, ‘So we want to do another one,’ and I was like ‘Wow, didn’t you find that first one really difficult?,” Benson says, laughing. “And so we did another one. ... I did that for a year and was still working at Mademoiselle and I just basically had no life,” Benson says. After that year, Kahn and Edgar asked Benson to come on full-time, and she left Mademoiselle. “That’s really when we made the catalog grow.”

5. THERE WAS A “FICTIONAL DELIA.”

Though no one knows where the name Delia came from (Benson calls it "one of the great mysteries"), according to Jim Trzaska, dELiA*s' photo producer, there was a fictional Delia who “was supposed to be a girl’s girl who loved hanging out with her friends above all else, and dressed for herself rather than to attract boys. That naturally set the tone at the photo shoots as well.”

6. THE CREW HAD A STRATEGY FOR MAKING PHOTO SHOOTS FUN.

A page from the Summer '97 dELiA*s catalog.

Rarely will you find a girl in a dELiA*s catalog smiling; she’s more likely to be making a funny face or looking like she’s having the time of her life. They were looking for a particular type of girl, Benson says—someone who was expressive. "Sometimes I would ask them, 'Do you want to be an actress someday?' The actual shoots were super fun. We just had the funniest crew, and the stylist that we worked with consistently, Galadriel Masterson, was just really, really funny and she had this way of teaching the girls how to be on set and how to express themselves. She had a really good idea for how to put the stuff together because we weren’t match-y and we weren’t outfit-y. We just shot a lot of film until we got the funny pictures we wanted." Benson brought on Kevin Hatt to photograph the early catalogs, and later, Mei Tao shot them.

According to the models who participated in those shoots—who typically had already appeared in teen mags like Seventeen—they really were awesome. “Every single one was fun,” model Kim Matulova told MTV. “There was always a lot of energy and it was very natural, unforced, and spur-of-the-moment. [The photographer] would just turn on the music and let us girls do our thing, and he’d capture it.”

The photographer shot on Polaroid, and the models would get to take some photos home at the end of the shoot. “I have a huge box at my mom’s house full of old Polaroids and outtakes,” Matulova said.

A page from the Summer '97 dELiA*s catalog.

The crew also had a strategy for getting girls to let loose. “One thing that always got a big reaction from everyone on set was a fake boy named ‘Billy’ who was invented by our lead stylist, Galadriel Masterson,” Trzaska told Refinery 29. “Depending on what kind of mood we needed from the model, ‘Billy’ could be anyone from a shady ex-boyfriend to a bratty little brother or a gay best friend. He definitely helped us get the shot on more than one occasion.”

7. YOU MIGHT FIND SOME FAMOUS FACES IN YOUR OLD CATALOGS.

Miranda Kerr, Brooklyn Decker, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Cassie, and Krysten Ritter all struck a pose for dELiA*s back in the day.

8. AT ITS PEAK, THE COMPANY GOT THOUSANDS OF CATALOG REQUESTS DAILY.

Courtesy of Charlene Benson

According to Chief Marketer, by August 1998, Delia’s was receiving 3000 to 5000 catalog requests every single day. (Some outlets suggest the number was as high as 7000 requests a day.) The company had a whopping 5 million names in its database, each one accompanied by its precise order history.

According to The Cut, 4 million people—or 10 percent of the 40 million female Millennials currently living in the United States—have requested a dELiA*s catalog.

9. THERE WERE PLENTY OF COPYCATS.

Not surprisingly, dELiA*s' massive success led to a number of “magalog” competitors, including Zoe, Wet Seal, moXiegirl (or mXg), Alloy, Airshop, and Just Nikki. But Kahn was not threatened by the competition. “People will try to play catch-up,” he told Chief Marketer. “There will be a shakeout on the imitator side. Most of these guys will lose a lot of money for a long time.”

10. THERE WAS A SPIN-OFF FOR BOYS.

Droog, a.k.a. dELiA*s for boys, launched in 1998. Though it, too, aimed for a market Kahn and Co. thought was untapped, its approach was different than its big sister’s: Instead of being shot in a studio, Droog was shot in fields and parking lots. Its centerfold featured a car, shot head on, bearing a license plate which read “Droog.” The name was the result of a company contest. It was, Kahn told Catalog Age in 1999, a “natural progression from dELiA*s” that featured “streetwear, workwear, and urban and athletic lines.”

Sadly, Droog did not find the same success as dELiA*s; according to Catalog Age, it folded in 2000.

11. THERE WAS A CATALOG FOR HOME FURNISHINGS, TOO.

Contents, which featured roomwares for teens, launched in the late ‘90s. Says Benson, who collaborated with a designer named Whitney Delgado on the catalog: "I love the pictures so much, and those crazy rooms that we built."

12. THE BRICK-AND-MORTAR STORES POSED A PARTICULAR CHALLENGE FOR BENSON.

A Delia's storefront.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Following the launch of its website in 1998 (which, according to Chain Store Age accounted for two to three percent of the company's total sales in just two weeks online), dELiA*s began opening brick-and-mortar stores in 1999. Creating the look of the stores was, according to Benson, a tough but rewarding assignment.

To help, the company enlisted visual merchandiser Renee Viola and hired store designer John Farnum, who had worked with Nike. “The tricky part was like ‘OK, we have this thing, it looks like this and feels like this in print. How do we bring what’s happening here into the stores?’” she says. “We didn’t want to lose what we had. From a design standpoint and a building creative team standpoint, it was super fun—I haven’t been in a store development process that was so collaborative since. It was quite wonderful.”

13. THE COMPANY WAS SOLD, WENT OUT OF BUSINESS, AND CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD.

In 2003, amidst decreasing sales, dELiA*s was sold to Alloy, its former competitor, for $50 million. (Catalog Age called it “one of the hottest pairings in teendom since Britney and Justin.”) Alloy at first absorbed the company; then, two years later, spun it off again so it was a separate entity. In 2014, after it lost $57 million, dELiA*s filed for bankruptcy; all of its retail locations and its website were shuttered by March 2015.

But that wasn’t the end. In early 2015, Delia’s was purchased by Steve Russo and other investors and relaunched that August. “In speaking to women who came of age in the ‘90s, they all said they couldn’t wait to receive their dELiA*s catalog in the mail after school,” Russo told The Huffington Post. “The company in those days was visionary, with its inclusive product assortment. We saw an opportunity to revive that excitement in every girl again through print catalogs, exciting new social media campaigns, and a strong e-commerce presence.” You can shop here.

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