Magenta Makes Arizona Debut

By Laura Latzko, June 2015 Issue.

It just takes a “jump to the left,” “a step to the right” and a “pelvic thrust” to master “The Time Warp,” a dance actresses Patricia Quinn and Nell Campbell and actor Barry Bostwick know very well.

The trio will get fans in the mood to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with appearances at Phoenix Comicon, May 28-31 at the Phoenix Convention Center. During the event, which marks Quinn’s first visit to Arizona, Comicon attendees are invited to take photos with the actors during photo ops in the Hall of Heroes. (Read Laura Latzko's Phoenix Comicon article here.)

Patricia Quinn as Magenta in the 1975's The Rocky Horror Picture Show. All photos courtesy of Patricia Quinn.

According to Quinn, the 40th anniversary has special meaning to her because of how important the film has become for fans who continue to pass it down from one generation to another.

“This film has never ever left the cinema, and that has never happened to any other film,” the Irish actress said. “That’s an extraordinary celebration. Every generation goes through this film. It doesn’t date.”

While Quinn is best known for playing Magenta, the flirtatious maid character who had relationships with different partners, including her brother Riff Raff, in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, she actually originated the role of Magenta at a 60-seat upstairs theater inside of the Royal Court Theatre in The Rockey Horror Show, in which Quinn doubled as Usherette and Magenta.

Quinn stayed on with the original stage version for three months before going off to play suffragette Christabel Pankhurst in the TV miniseries “Shoulder to Shoulder.”

The actress has worked in the entertainment industry since the 1960s, portraying roles as Lady Macbeth, palm reader Megan in Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem, Belazs in Doctor Who, Mrs. Williams in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Emperor Claudius’ sister Livilla in I, Claudius and Dr. Nation McKinley in Shock Treatment, the follow-up toRocky Horror.

According to Quinn, every role has been meaningful in its own way.

“They are all challenging, and I love them all,” she said. “I just like to act, so whatever part it is, you use your imagination and you become it.”

Little-known facts about Quinn include her work as a Playboy Bunny, her title “Lady Stephens,” which she was given when her late husband, Robert Stephens, was knighted. Additionally, it is Quinn’s lips – along with writer and actor Richard O’Brien’s voice – that appear in Rocky Horror in the opening credits with the song “Science Fiction/Double Feature.”

It is Patricia Quinn’s lips that appear on the iconic movie poster and in the opening credits. All photos courtesy of Patricia Quinn.

According to Quinn, the song was one the main reasons she decided to do the original stage show and, upon finding out she didn’t get to sing the song in the film version, she almost turned down the role of Magenta.

Thankfully, she accepted. And the stage, according to Quinn, is where she and the other cast members began to develop their characters.

"We really captured something because of our personalities," Quinn said. "When we were making the play, songs were being brought in every day, and things were being written. There was so real script or anything."

The movie, which went on to become a cult classic, originally flopped at the box office and closed within two weeks. It later years, midnight showings of the film, which included props, audience participation and, in some cases, live performances, became a rite of passage.

A Comicon-Cult Following

Clockwise: Nell Campbell as Columbia, Patricia Quinn as Magenta and Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). All photos courtesy of Patricia Quinn.

The role of Magenta has become iconic and has taken Quinn to different parts of the world for Comicon and fan events.

In May 2013, Quinn performed live and did a Q&A with fans during a concert put on by drag queen Peaches Christ, who told Quinn that seeing the movie forever changed her life. Similarly, Quinn said, a number of fans have told her that the movie helped them to find themselves.

"This film has changed so many lives because of people who have discovered their sexuality because of this film,” she said. “They thank me at the conventions for changing their lives."

Although fans have found deeper meaning within the film, Quinn said the cast wasn’t thinking about its message when they made it.

“We were just doing a musical on sex, drugs and rock and roll and kicking our heels up and having a blast. We weren’t out to change lives," Quinn said. "Richard O’Brien began to talk about the message. He didn’t talk about the message when we first did it, but now there’s a message.”

Quinn had only a few lines in the film, but everything she brought to the character – facial expressions, dance movements and body language – made Magenta memorable.

“The dialogue didn’t matter," Quinn said. "It was the characters that were fascinating.”

According to Quinn, the connections between the cast members made filming a great experience.

“We were like a family, because when we began it, we were very comfortable with each other,"  she said. "We knew exactly who we were when we hit the set."

What O’Brien and this extraordinary mix achieved through this single film, Quinn maintains, is beyond belief.

“You become a family very quickly. You need each other. It’s a very intimate thing, acting is," she said. "You rely on each other very much. You become a unit very quickly."

And, just as they have for the past 40 years, Quinn said the fans are keeping the film alive.

Writer Alison Carr wrote a play called "Patricia Quinn Saved My Life" which had domestic, diva and bunny-girl versions of Patricia Quinn. Two other avid Rocky Horror fans, Shawn Stutler and Larry Viezel, recently produced the fan documentary Rocky Horror Saved My Life.

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