5 Underreported Jerk Moves By Beloved Creators
They changed your life. You'd probably have grown up differently without them. And yet, that doesn't mean they weren't assholes, at least occasionally. Do you think that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel by saying please and thank you? Now, this doesn't mean that being a douche makes you a genius (seriously, stop that shit right now), but it does mean that geniuses (or at least successful creators) can sometimes act in a dubious way -- and by dubious, we mean "you'd totally TP their house if they were your neighbors."
Gene Roddenberry Screwed His Composer Out Of Half His Royalties
We won't be jumping the gun if we say that Gene Roddenbery's pitch about a Wagon Train to the stars was a hit. The Star Trek franchise has more movies and series that we care to count at this point, and it's still going strong after nearly 60 years. However, Roddenberry had no way of knowing any of that when he came up with his show about the importance of primary colors in space exploration. As it becomes immediately apparent if you watch a single Star Trek episode, Roddenberry didn't know the future.
"I have to get money somewhere," this true visionary has been quoted as saying. "I'm sure not going to get it out of the profits of Star Trek." Well, he might not have been right, but he wasn't totally wrong either -- Roddenberry was worth $500 million when he died (adjusted for inflation), but it's hard to know how much of that legitimately came from Star Trek. At least a bit of it should have rightfully gone to other people -- people like Alexander Courage, the composer of the theme tune that opened every episode.
Good ol' Gene wasn't the only one who didn't believe in the product he had just sold to Lucille Ball. No TV composer wanted to do music for a silly show that was certain to fail -- the only person they found willing to take the job was "Sandy" Courage, who mostly arranged music composed by other people. (Also, that whoosh sound when the Enterprise zooms across the screen? That's Courage whooshing himself). As the tune's creator, Courage was entitled to collect royalties every time it was played -- and while there's no record of his reaction when he learned that he had to share those royalties with a lyricist, we're guessing that it must have been along the lines of "What the f**king f**k in all f**ks are you talking to me about?" The piece was supposed to be instrumental, a word that according to the dictionary means "no goddamn lyrics anywhere." As it turned out, Gene "I have to get money somewhere" Roddenberry had quickly scribbled some corny verses on Courage's score and added his own name before submitting everything to the Copyright Office.
If you're curious, you can hear Tenacious D trying to sing Roddenbberry's lyrics -- and we do mean "trying." The words don't quite fit the melody, with syllables protruding and overhanging everywhere like alien appendages. Venomous alien appendages. Not that it mattered, as Shrewddenberry (sorry) never intended anyone to sing them -- he just wanted to be the tune's co-writer in the eyes of the law and share in those sweet royalties dollars. As far as the musician lifestyle goes, we don't know if Gene had any chicks for free, but he had the money for nothing part down pat.
The Maker of the Batmobile Kept Taking Credit for Other People's Famous Cars
"Which Batmobile?" you ask, like there's more than one. Yes, of course -- technically speaking, there are as many Batmobiles as there are Batmans (Batmen? Batmii? Whatever.) But we're talking about the classics here -- the modified Ford Lincoln Futura that took Adam West and Burt Ward to their appointments with Cesar Romero's painted-over mustache.
This lean, mean, crime-fighting bat machine was the work of George Barris, known in Hollywood as "the King of Kustomizers" (good thing it wasn't "Kar Kustomizers"). When Barris passed away in 2015, some of his obituaries (like this one in a car magazine) showcased his credentials as the creator of not just Go-Go Batman's car, but also K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider and the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard -- the most airborne cars this side of the DeLorean in Back to the Future Part II. Which he also made -- or at least, that's the impression you walk away with from this New York Times article about him.
Just one problem, though: Barris didn't make those cars.
Yes, his workshop did make the Batmobile, and also The Munsters' cars, and several others. He was a sought-out customizer, that's true -- too bad that he tended to exaggerate a bit on his resume, to the detriment of his colleagues. The official site of Back to the Future devotes a full paragraph specifically to say that Barris had exactly jack shit to do with creating Doc Brown's car. "Sad to say," it reads, "George Barris has a bad reputation in Hollywood of trying to associate himself with projects he had nothing to do with." Universal Studios sent him a cease-and-desist letter to stop him from using the DeLorean to promote his business. "He puts his name on a lot of things he had nothing at all to do with," fellow car dude Dean Jeffries said in 2006. "He also says he made the Green Hornet's car, still does to this day." That was a sore point for Jeffries, because he made the Green Hornet's car -- the Bruce Lee-driven Black Beauty.
Barris used to defend himself by claiming (probably with a wink) that he never went and said that he or his team created those cars. Nope, the words "I did this" never crossed his lips -- he just had replicas on display at his shop, and was it his fault if people assumed he had worked on the originals too? And if newspapers wanted to credit him with all those cool cars, well, what was he supposed to do? Set the record straight? Mention the real creators while he was tirelessly promoting himself in front of reporters, as he was wont to do? Come on, let's be real here.
Dr. Seuss Cheated On His Wife While She Was Sick (After She Launched His Career)
Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, needs no introduction (which is something often said before introducing someone). He's the kindly-looking man who taught countless American children to read, and caused people of all ages everywhere to question Mike Myers' career choices. Geisel himself might be off the hook for the Cat in the Hat movie, but he certainly isn't for the suicide of his first wife, Helen Palmer.
While overshadowed by her husband's fame, Palmer was an author herself, and wrote several children's books (some of them sometimes misattributed to Seuss). She was also a big reason why Geisel became Seuss in the first place -- she pushed him along that path when she first saw his drawings, and helped him come up with the plot of several of his books. After they got married, she busted her ass to drive his career forward. Seuss dedicated his book Yertle the Turtle to the friend who introduced them in college during the '20s. A nice story, even heartwarming.
If this were TV, the music would become ominous now. We might drop a heavy-handed metaphor involving storm clouds, and use the words "horizon" and "looming." We won't do that. We have dignity. Yeah, really.
In the late '60s, the happy couple was living in La Jolla, California. Except that they were no longer very happy -- Helen was often sick, and Ted was often with their younger neighbor, Audrey Dimond. Put these two "oftens" together, and you get an overwhelmed Helen Palmer Geisel swallowing 300 prescription pills in one go. Even at that point, she was still looking after her shitty husband: "My going will leave quite a rumor, but you can say I was overworked and overwrought," her suicide note reads. "Your reputation with your friends will not be harmed."
The widowed Seuss didn't remain single for long -- he married Dimond the very next summer, after she divorced her husband. Her daughters, aged 9 and 14, were sent away to school -- Geisel, who became rich and famous writing for children, didn't like having them around.
The Creator Of Scrooge McDuck Was Cool With Exploitation
Man, don't you hate it when children's creators shoehorn political messages into their content these days? Don't we all miss those simpler, purer times of our childhood, when shows like DuckTales were all about action, adventure, and how the Federal Reserve's monetary policy inevitably leads to inflation?
This economics lesson involving colorful ducks and impossible physics might be related to the fact that DuckTales came out during the Reagan years -- or it might be that the show was based on Carl Barks' work. Barks created many of the characters (including everyone's favorite penny-pinching uncle), and several of the episodes were taken directly from his comics -- and he never denied that his stories had conservative values. He'd disagree with you about something, though -- he thought that civilization peaked during his childhood, not yours.
"I think a lot of the philosophy in my stories is conservative -- conservative in the sense that I feel our civilization peaked around 1910. Since then we've been going downhill. Also, I believe that we should preserve many old ideals and methods of working: honor, honesty, allowing other people to believe in their own ideas, not trying to force everyone into one form. The thing I have against the present political system is that it tries to make everybody exactly alike."
Of course, having a politically conservative outlook doesn't automatically make you a jerk. Many are really convinced, rightly or wrongly, that free enterprise and tax cuts are the best way to achieve prosperity for everyone -- "a rising tide lifts all the boats" and such. In practice, a Republican administration successfully took on environmental issues back in the '90s (even though 21st-century Republicans are dead set against the exact same policies they came up with back then). All in all, conservatives believe that the way to get ahead is through fairly paid hard work, like McDuck did. There's nothing wrong about that, right?
Except that it's in the "fairly paid" part that we might run into some issues. According to Barks:
"They say that wealthy people like the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers are sinful because they accumulated fortunes by exploiting the poor. I feel that everybody should be able to rise as high as they can or want to, provided they don't kill anybody or actually oppress other people on the way up. A little exploitation is something you come by in nature. We see it in the pecking order of animals -- everybody has to be exploited or to exploit someone else to a certain extent. I don't resent those things."
But it's hard to see Barks as being on the same level as other people in this list. Yeah, he might have had some assholish views, but he seems to have been mostly on the receiving side of those.
"I knew that if I were doing this with characters of my own, I could be expecting future residual rights and all those things, but I was doing it with Disney's characters for this publishing outfit. There weren't any of the names of the creators on any of those comics. I was just one of a whole bunch of guys who were being exploited."
See? His values made him understand that he couldn't get credit or be paid more, because he was working with Disney's characters. Disney's characters that he, Carl Barks, had created himself. Plot twist: The real asshole was Disney all along! (Also, capitalism.)
But enough with politics in children's entertainment. The next entry will be very different.
The Creator of Maya The Bee Sucked Up To The Nazis
Yes, of course we left the story that features actual Nazis for the number one spot. There's no contest here -- in any list of jerks, Nazis will always come out on top. And yet, the Deutschland Uber-Assholes loved their Maya the Bee. Long before it was a wholesome cartoon (and a Croatian opera), Die Biene Maja was a best-selling children's book in Germany. This dude named Waldemar Bonsels got rich by writing about a young bee that rebels against authority and leaves her hive, only to find that the outside world is a dangerous, scary place full of thieving ants, godless wasps, and other hateful bugs that aren't bees. A simple yarn with no political subtext, as you can see.
These non-existent implications (stop saying they're there, you cuck) predate the Third Reich by a good 20 years, though. The book was published during the Second Reich, a.k.a. the German Empire -- and it shows, if you know your history. After the bees repel a hornet invasion, the queen bee warns the invaders that they must not come back -- the bees, she says, don't take prisoners and will never be defeated. That speech just happens to sound a lot like one given by Kaiser Wilhelm II during a rebellion in China in 1900. Or rather it doesn't sound like it -- as we have already established, only a snowflake would see political undertones in any of this. (Except that having a female lead makes the book part of the liberal agenda? We guess? We don't know, this crap is complicated.)
We don't know that Bonsels was actually a supporter of the Kaiser, or German imperialism -- by all accounts, the only ideology he ever held was that he should have a lot of money and influence (and girls), and everything else he might or might not have put there was just brown-nosing to achieve that. Likewise, he didn't go full Nazi in the '30s -- as he claimed later in life, he didn't hate Jewish people for considering them conniving devils, as the Nazis did. No, he hated them for actually good reasons, dammit, as a religious philosopher. That all-important difference, however, was lost when he rushed to publish anti-Semitic screeds in German newspapers just as the Nazis were coming into power. The Fuehrer was a really cool dude, he wrote, and the book burnings were a bit harsh, but ultimately good for the Fatherland -- too bad that this ass-kissing didn't stop the Nazis from banning some of his spicier books (not everything he wrote was kid-friendly). No one had pressured him into any of that -- Bonsels was enjoying his honey money abroad at the time, and could have afforded to stay away from Germany had he chosen to. But he didn't choose to -- instead of that, he bootlicked his way into a cushy position in Goebbels' Chamber of Literature.
In 1942, he thought that his jacket would look better with some more wear and tear from groveling -- so he published Dositos, a novel about an Aryan Jesus which included a foreword cheering the Fuehrer even harder. This foreword was removed when the book was reprinted in 1948, as the world had changed: Hitler had succeeded where every time traveler failed, the Reich was over, and Bonsels had tried to rebrand himself as a victim of Nazis, rather than their enthusiastic suck-up. This time it didn't work, though -- everyone had his number by then.
Top image: Paramount Television