Curiocity: Q&A With Don Shelby On ‘Rocky Horror’ Debut
I had to see it to believe it. Don Shelby in fishnets. Fishnets, high heels and well, I’ll save that final surprise for the show.
While it’s certainly been the buzz around town (Shelby’s ads for “Rocky Horror” can’t possibly be missed), I must say — Don makes a feather boa and drag heels look fierce.
And while he says he’s technically “retired,” our lovable former TV news anchor and Twin Cities living legend is adding yet another duty to his ever-growing resume. On Thursday, Shelby will officially take the stage as “The Narrator” in the Minneapolis production of “Rocky Horror Show.”
While some may think it strange, for many, it makes perfect sense. After all, who better to narrate one of the biggest cult classics to ever hit the silver screen better than the comforting voice that’s come into so many Twin Cities homes for decades?
Still, there are a number of questions that come to mind when deciphering the words, “Don Shelby” and “Rocky Horror Show.” But no worries, I went digging for some answers.
Q: Did you ever think your retirement would include narrating a show about transvestites?
A: No, I didn’t think about being in any kind of theatrical production until I was approached by (Director) Andrew Rasmussen, who said he had a part specifically for me and he wasn’t going to ask anyone else. And I said, what does the part entail? And he said, it entails a pompous bragger, know-it-all and I don’t have anybody else I can turn to for this. I said, I’m not much of an actor. And he said, no, don’t act, just be yourself. And so that’s how I got the part.
Q: So once you took the part, what did your wife think of all of this?
A: She actually loved it, because we’ve been watching “Rocky Horror Picture Show” for a long time. It came out in September of 1975 and when my daughters, the three of them, were 9, 10 and 11, I made them watch the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” And after it was over, the youngest one turned to me and said, “Daddy, what’s a transvestite?” And I said, that’s a good question but it’s not the right question. The right question is, “What is an alien transvestite?” So she was very ashamed of herself that she didn’t ask the right question. But then they grew up, unusually, very healthy, successful women. And I never went to jail. Child protective services never came after me. (Laughs)
Q: So you’ve had a long history with the show, have you always been a fan?
A: Yes, been a great fan of this show. Part of the reason I’ve been a fan of this show is because when it first came out, it was such an in-your-face show. It said, “Look at me, we may be different, but we’re here.” That always resonated with me because part of the job of a journalist, the other side, is to tell the story of the voiceless. And the voiceless had been the immigrants, the African-Americans, the women, the children and certainly, the people in the GLBT community. And the first voice you ever heard for that was “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Q: What has surprised you the most about this Minneapolis production?
A: I wish I weren’t so surprised because I’ve always been a great, big bragger when it came to the talent that was available here in the Twin Cities, which of course, New York and Los Angeles has known for a long time. But I am swept away by the incredible talent of the dancers, the singers, the choreography, the band, the arrangements, the principal actors and singers in this are just amazing. I can’t take my eyes of this. We’ve been in rehearsals eight hours a day, six days a week for almost a month now and we’ve got 45 days of shows and I still can’t take my eyes off the show. It’s just amazing.
Q: Do you think anchoring helped you in your role of narrator?
A: Anchoring didn’t help me, Dave Moore helped me. Dave, many people may remember — or some younger, may not remember — but Dave was originally an actor. He wanted to be an actor. In fact, he and James Arness and Peter Graves went out to Hollywood, the three Washburn graduates went out to see if they could get a big start in Hollywood. Dave came back, the other two stayed. One became Matt Dillion, the other one became “Mission Impossible,” among other things. Dave came back but he never forgot his acting roots and he said that a good anchor person has to be a good actor. You have to act through the fact that you have the flu, you have to act through the fact that your children are ill and you’re worried about them at home, you’ve got to act through the most horrendous news, that is getting to you personally, but you have to be measured, calm and deliberate in delivering that news. And he said acting is a great part of that. And word interpretation, which is a lost art, but never on Dave, was one of the things he taught me and one of the things I remember the most.
Q: If you weren’t hand-chosen to be The Narrator, what character would you most like to play?
A: Dr. Felix Frank-N-Furter, thank you very much. I have dressed up like — I’m afraid people who have watched me over the years, might not believe this — but I have dressed up like Dr. Felix Frank-N-Furter and I have marched into Halloween parties in garter belts and fishnet stockings and high heels and I have sung, “How do you do I, see you’ve met my, faithful handyman.” I should’ve started newscasts like that way. Then we would’ve had better ratings.
Q: So obviously the ads with you are out for ‘Rocky Horror,’ there’s a lot of buzz about your involvement, what can your faithful nightly news fans expect from you in this show?
A: When they see me in this part, half of them will say, “Good for him and I’m glad to see he’s enjoying his retirement and doing some kind of fun things that he enjoys doing.” The other half will say, “I knew he was crazy all along. He never fooled me. He’s a nut bag.”
Q: Have you been getting that feedback already from some people?
A: Yeah, they ask what I am. Am I actually the transvestite — the alien transvestite? Or am I the narrator? They’re not too sure, because they know I’d be willing to jump in that role if given a shot at it.
Q: What’s it like for you to rock those heels and fishnets every night?
A: Well here’s a little known fact. My mother was 4-foot-11 and as a ninth grader, I was 6-feet-tall. But I would put on her high heels and wear them. Her heels, which were 5-inch stilettos and backless, strapless — which was helpful — came actually to the arch of my foot. So I learned how to walk in high heels with the heel in the arch of my foot. (Don then struts on a pretend runway, spins, poses and walks back.) You’d think I’d done that before. (Evil laugh)
“The Rocky Horror Show” starts at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15 and runs until Oct. 31. For tickets, more information and showtimes, check out the website.