Rocky Horror 'Glee' Episode a Time Warp for Original Floor-Show Frank

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Rocky Horror Frank dori hartley picture

The author, in 1979, as Frank-N-Furter and now, as a mom. Photo by Mort Swinksy

Flashback 1978: It's taken me just a few short months to get to this place, but here I am, standing backstage at the Calderone Concert Hall in Long Island, NY. It's the first Rocky Horror Picture Show Convention, I'm 18 years old and about to sing "Sweet Transvestite" live, on stage, in a corset and fishnets, before 5,000 screaming fans. My heart is pounding and stage fright all but cripples me. I've never been on stage before ... but they're chanting my name! Tim Curry, who created the role of Frank-N-Furter for the 1975 cult film, approaches and grasps my hand, holding it tightly.

"They're calling for you," he says warmly. It feels like he's passing the baton in a way. With my hand in his, it's as if he's imbuing me with everything I'll ever need to know about this amazing, flamboyant character. He releases my hand, I walk out on to the stage and for the first time in my life, I know what it's like to be a star.

Flash forward 2007: My 9-year-old daughter comes home from dance camp, eager to show me her new moves. Happy to oblige, I kick back and settle into my well-worn parental role as supportive audience member. It's a real production number and she tells me she's going to sing it while performing. I can't wait.

"It's just a jump to the left," she belts out.

I couldn't believe it. I was expecting a rendition of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," or something similarly camp-friendly. But instead, here I was, watching my daughter reenact a number from Rocky Horror that I had performed on stage three decades earlier.

Her body lifts off the floor, her hands reach up and gently come down in time for the second line.

"And then a step to the ri-i-i-i-i-ight."

Right leg extends three times, coordinated with crossing hand movements: check.

tim curry picture

Tim Curry, the film Frank, hugs his protégé when she came off the stage in 1979.


And as I watch her put her hands on her hips and bring her knees in tight, I realize that I'm no longer simply enjoying her performance -- I'm monitoring it for accuracy.

Pelvic thrust: check. Good hip action.

"... really drives you in-sa-a-a-a-a-ane." Nice swivel. She's on her game with that one.

Instinctively, I know the chorus is coming ... and I want in. This is no mere compulsion. My enthusiastic desire to participate comes from a program that was written on my psyche 32 years ago. In unison, and much to my daughter's surprise, I join in on a song that represents one of the greatest experiences of my entire life.

"Let's do the Time Warp again!"

"Wait, you know this?" she asks, stopping the dance in her tracks.

I let out a semi-snooty laugh. "Let's just say, if it weren't for me, you wouldn't be doing this dance today."

My take was that she thought I somehow influenced the camp's summer dance selections. I, on the other hand, felt the kind of thespian pride that only someone who'd paraded around Greenwich Village wearing nothing but a corset, a black cape, fishnet stockings and a pair of badass six-inch platforms could feel.

Now was the perfect time to tell my kid who I'd been back in the olden days and what I'd contributed to this world.

"Oh, your mother was quite the pioneer," I gloat. "I was the first Frank. I was the first person to dress up as a character. Because of me, the Rocky Horror Picture Show was launched into fame, and back then, I was the hottest thing in New York City. People lined up for my autograph."

My 9-year-old looked at me with a mildly annoyed, somewhat bored expression. She had no idea what I was talking about. She had no idea who Frank was.

"OK. So, um, can I finish the dance now?"

Humbling to say the least. Clearly, she had no interest in my autograph.

But eventually, I told her the details of my glory days and over the years, my daughter has come to witness how this weird phenomenon called Rocky Horror seems to follow me wherever I go. She's seen the hundreds of photos of me as Frank, which she equates with old-fashioned goth and glam. And for a kid who's as into rap and hip-hop as she is, goth and glam ain't cool.

I was one of New York's original art-goths. First edition "Interview With a Vampire" in hand, black lipstick, blue hair. Debbie Harry was my neighbor, I hung with Sid Vicious at the Palladium and Joey Ramone dug my artwork. Cool, huh? If you're of a certain age, absolutely. But to a 12-year-old, my past is about as cool as someone like, um, Pat Boone might be to me. Some time warp.

Oddly, even with all the exposure, my daughter has never expressed an interest in seeing the film, and I've never really felt the overwhelming desire to show it to her. I've always been of the mindset to encourage her to find her own path. I don't force her to see things my way, and I really do try to open my mind to see things her way, for her sake. I figure that she'll appreciate my *cough* greatness someday, when she's feeling sentimental.

Dori and cast members Picture

Dori, center, and her fellow floor show cast members, circa 1980.


But for now, her disinterest in my Rocky Horror experience is still intact. When I heard that "Glee" was doing a Rocky Horror episode, I half jokingly blurted, "I can't believe they didn't ask me to do a cameo. I mean, come ON. They could have had me pitted against Sue Sylvester. I could have been her dark nemesis." (Which, by the way, would have been fabulous.)

Well, you don't know what terror looks like on a child's face until you tell her that you'd like to appear on a major network series.

"No! Mom, no! You can't! Please, Mom, if they call, please don't go on "Glee." All my friends watch it."

Wow. OK. The kid does not want me to be on TV. And it's all about what her classmates would think. What I came to accept was that my kid wants her life to herself. She wants to go her own way, and she doesn't want me inserting myself into her world. Sounds familiar.

I was only a teenager when it all started happening for me. Only a few short years older than my daughter right now. I was a kid on the cover of magazines, interviewed by the top television hosts of the day and I was endlessly photographed. I met dozens of celebrities and I performed for them all. I knew no such thing as competition, nor did I feel the need to climb to the top, simply because I created the precedent. I was the top. And, for a few years, I was the reigning Queen of the Misfits. I ruled a part of New York City with a goth-punk flare and a glam touch. Suffice it to say, I went my own way.

And so, my feeling is that my daughter will get around to it eventually. Until then, it's just a jump to the left side of the kitchen, where the big show tonight is all about macaroni and cheese. No meatloaf.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.