15 Groovy Facts About Bruce Campbell

Travel Channel
Travel Channel

Once cited as the "Laurence Olivier of bad movies," no actor has done more with a strong chin and questionable scripts than Bruce Campbell. The 60-year-old Michigan native achieved B-movie infamy beginning with The Evil Dead films before garnering primetime employment on USA’s Burn Notice and a three-season stint on the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead. Campbell also frequently appears at comic book conventions, where his playfully combative repartee with audiences (choice quote: “You’re a dumbass!”) has further endeared him to the non-Oscar voting crowd.

Having closed the door on any further appearances as Ash, Campbell is jumping into hosting duties, headlining a revival of Ripley's Believe It or Not! that will premiere on the Travel Channel in summer 2019. In the meantime, check out all the gory details we’ve dug up on Campbell's formative years, his bid for superhero status, and why it took him so long to pick up another chainsaw.

1. Sam Raimi began torturing him in high school.

Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi attend STARZ' Ash vs Evil Dead At New York Comic Con at Jacob Javits Center on October 10, 2015 in New York City
Nicholas Hunt, Getty Images for STARZ

The Evil Dead director and frequent Campbell collaborator Sam Raimi has repeatedly expressed his delight in torturing Campbell for cameras, drowning him in fake blood and poking him with a stick in order to elicit his desired performance. Their dysfunctional relationship began in high school, where Raimi was fond of sitting behind Campbell and pressing a pencil into his back while his “friend” was attempting to answer a question from a teacher. Despite the acrimonious classroom behavior, the two began to collaborate on Super 8 films along with friends Josh Becker, Scott Spiegel, and Raimi’s brother, Ivan.

2. He was not a fashion plate.

As detailed in his 2001 autobiography, If Chins Could Kill, Campbell saw no need to sport blue jeans while cruising the hallways of his Michigan high school in the 1970s. They “wore through at the knees and butt too quickly,” he wrote, preferring Montgomery Ward’s work pants and his father’s dark brown smoking jacket as his ensemble of choice. By the time he graduated, he had gone on less than five dates.

3. He fended off the advances of prostitutes.

After dropping out of college to pursue acting, Campbell found work with a Detroit-area taxi company, Southfield Cab. While working the overnight shift, he sometimes found himself toting around prostitutes who would offer their services instead of paying the fare: Campbell declined the arrangement. He lasted a year as a driver before recommitting to film work in 1978 with Raimi’s low-budget, shot-in-Michigan short Within the Woods, which would become the proof-of-concept for their feature film, The Evil Dead.

4. He hated The Evil Dead as a title.

Blu-ray copy of Sam Raimi's 'The Evil Dead'
Anchor Bay Entertainment

When Raimi and his crew finally finished shooting their splatter flick The Evil Dead and began seeking a distribution deal, they were calling it Book of the Dead. Irvin Shapiro, a wheeler-dealer who had helped horror filmmaker George Romero find his audience, dismissed it, insisting people would think they’d have to read. Among the alternative titles suggested were Blood Flood, Death of the Dead, and The Evil Dead, which Campbell called “poor” but “the least worst of the bunch.”

5. The Evil Dead led to soap opera stardom for Campbell.

Flush with success from 1981’s release of the horror classic, Campbell returned to Michigan and got himself hired on the regional soap opera Generations. He played a teacher named Alan Stuart and received $35 a scene. As a bonus, he also met his first wife, co-star Christine Deveau. Having ditched his Montgomery Ward’s pants, Campbell says it was “the first time a woman had openly expressed an interest” in him.

6. He was bumped from his next starring role.

After filming a Chrysler commercial, Campbell agreed to jump back in with longtime tormentor Raimi for an action–comedy picture called Crimewave. Both men assumed Campbell would portray the lead, but the studio told them to slow down: They asked Campbell to film a screen test first. He did, and word quickly came down that he would not be the star of the film. Campbell took a supporting role instead; production was strained, and the movie (released in 1985) bombed.

7. He guarded beer.

While Campbell and his partners were eventually able to film 1987’s Evil Dead II, it did not result in any huge financial windfall for the actor. Needing some steady income between acting gigs, he took a job as a security guard for an Anheuser-Busch plant in the San Fernando Valley and worked from midnight to 8 a.m. After several nights together, his co-worker recognized him from the “Evil Death” films. When more Hollywood work came in—1989's Moontrap among the opportunities—Campbell walked away from the graveyard shift.

8. Raimi put him in a film just to shut another actor up.

By 1993, Raimi was an A-list director, shooting the Western The Quick and the Dead with Leonardo DiCaprio, Gene Hackman, Sharon Stone, and Russell Crowe. When Campbell visited the set, Raimi quickly put him into costume and tossed him into a “scene” with actor Pat Hingle—but the shot was never intended to make the movie. Raimi was indulging Hingle’s request for his character to confront a pimp who had sordid dealings with his onscreen daughter. Campbell found himself in the role of the villain, kicked and tossed around by Hingle, as Raimi cackled.

9. He got a gig by beating himself up.


Fox

For his first leading role in network television, in 1993’s The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Campbell auditioned for a series of executives who were eager to find an actor with the physicality to ride horses and perform stunts. Grabbing himself by the collar, he performed a forward-flip, a trick he and Raimi had taught themselves back in high school. The impressed casting director insisted he do the flip every time he was called back. (The show lasted one season.)

10. HE AUDITIONED TO BE THE PHANTOM.

After Campbell had finished shooting Brisco in 1994, he got a call from the show’s co-creator and executive producer, Jeffrey Boam. Boam was writing a big-screen adaptation of The Phantom comic strip for Paramount and invited Campbell to screen test for the title role. Though he wound up becoming a finalist, the part ultimately went to Billy Zane. Coming on the heels of the Batman films, the role was coveted—but the film bombed.

11. HE MIGHT BE THE BEST REVERSE ACTOR IN THE BUSINESS.


Getty Images

To achieve some of the more surreal effects shots in The Evil Dead series, Raimi had Campbell employ a “reverse-motion acting” technique, which required him to perform in reverse so Raimi could play a sequence backwards. In 1992's Army of Darkness, a miniature version of Ash is impaled by a fork: this required Campbell to begin the scene by dying, returning to life, getting a fork pulled out of him, then running. This difficult task became a Campbell trademark, but missed attempts would prompt Raimi to exclaim that, "This is some of the worst reverse-motion acting I've ever seen!"

12. He once had to carry dog food so wild animals wouldn't eat him.

Campbell began work on a script he titled Man with the Screaming Brain in 1983. Financing opportunities were spotty, and production didn’t actually start until 22 years later, in Bulgaria. Directing and starring in the film, Campbell took note of the fact that the country was home to packs of wild dogs. To avoid being attacked, he kept dog food on his person to feed any creatures that came around looking for a snack.

13. He built a movie set on his property.

For 2007’s meta-comedy My Name Is Bruce, Campbell cut costs by erecting sets on his lavender farm near Medford, Oregon. “It's so big I can't take it down,” he told The Portland Mercury. “It confuses the hell out of delivery people—some guy comes up and he's like, 'I didn't know there was a town [named] Gold Lick out here!' My wife and I say, 'Let's meet out by the tavern!' or 'I'll meet you in the livery!' It's a great conversation piece."

14. He officiated a zombie wedding.

Campbell’s devoted fans have made him a frequent guest of horror and comic conventions, where they flash Evil Dead tattoos and plead for him to sign body parts. One couple took it a step further and enlisted the actor to preside over their zombie-themed wedding. The ceremony took place at ZomBcon 2010 in Seattle. Campbell, resplendent in a red suit, married the two, then supervised 40 other couples who wanted to renew their vows.

15. Army of Darkness paid him about $93,000.

Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness
Universal Home Entertainment

To illustrate the plight of the working stiff actor, Campbell once provided a helpful breakdown of his salary for 1992’s second Evil Dead sequel, Army of Darkness. With a $500,000 salary nipped at by agents, managers, income taxes, and a now-ex wife, he figured he made roughly $93,000. But the film took two years to complete, meaning his net profit for portraying horror icon Ash in a major motion picture was less than $50,000 a year. No wonder he was in no hurry to return.

Additional Sources:
If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor, by Bruce Campbell
The Evil Dead Companion, by Bill Warren

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Good Gnews: Remembering The Great Space Coaster

Tubby Baxter and Gary Gnu in The Great Space Coaster.
Tubby Baxter and Gary Gnu in The Great Space Coaster.
YouTube

Tubby Baxter. Gary Gnu. Goriddle Gorilla. Speed Reader. For people of a certain age, these names probably tug on distant memories of a television series that blended live-action, puppetry, and animation. It was The Great Space Coaster, and it aired daily in syndication from 1981 to 1986. Earning both a Daytime Emmy and a Peabody Award for excellence in children’s programming, The Great Space Coaster fell somewhere in between Sesame Street and The Muppet Show—a series for kids who wanted a little more edge to their puppet performances.

Unlike most classic kid’s shows, fans have had a hard time locating footage of The Great Space Coaster. Even after five seasons and 250 episodes, no collections are available on home video. So what happened?

Get On Board

The Great Space Coaster was created by Kermit Love, who worked closely with Jim Henson on Sesame Street and created Big Bird, and Jim Martin, a master puppeteer who also collaborated with Henson. Produced by Sunbow Productions and sponsored by the Kellogg Company and toy manufacturer Hasbro, The Great Space Coaster took the same approach as Sesame Street of being educational entertainment. In fact, many of the puppeteers and writers were veterans of Sesame Street or The Muppet Show. Producers met with educators to determine subjects and content that could result in a positive cognitive or personal development goal for the audience, which was intended to be children from ages 6 to 11. There would be music, comedy, and cartoons, but all of it would be working toward a lesson on everything from claustrophobia to the hazards of being a litterbug.

The premise involved three teens—Danny (Chris Gifford), Roy (Ray Stephens), and Francine (Emily Bindiger)—who hitch a ride on a space vehicle piloted by a clown named Tubby Baxter. The crew would head for an asteroid populated by a variety of characters like Goriddle Gorilla (Kevin Clash). Roy carried a monitor that played La Linea, an animated segment from Italian creator Osvaldo Cavandoli that featured a figure at odds with his animator. The kids—all of whom looked a fair bit older than their purported teens—also sang in segments with original or cover songs.

The most memorable segment might have been the newscast with Gary Gnu, a stuffy puppet broadcaster who delivered the day’s top stories with his catchphrase: “No gnews is good gnews!” Aside from Gnu, there was Speed Reader (Ken Myles), a super-fast sprinter and reader who reviewed the books he breezed through. Often, the show would also have guest stars, including Mark Hamill, boxer “Sugar” Ray Leonard, and Henry Winkler.

All of it had a slightly irreverent tone, with humor that was more biting than most other kid’s programming of the era. The circus that Tubby Baxter ran away from was run by a character named M.T. Promises. Gnu had subversive takes on his news stories. Other characters weren’t always as well-intentioned as the residents of Sesame Street.

Off We Go

The Great Space Coaster was popular among viewers and critics. In 1982, it won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children’s Programming—Graphic Design and a Peabody Award in 1983. But after the show ceased production in 1986, it failed to have a second life in reruns or on video. Only one VHS tape, The Great Space Coaster Supershow, was ever released in the 1980s. And while fan sites like TheGreatSpaceCoaster.TV surfaced, it was difficult to compile a complete library of the series.

In 2012, Tanslin Media, which had acquired the rights to the show, explained why. Owing to the musical interludes, re-licensing songs would be prohibitively expensive—potentially far more than the company would make selling the program. Worse, the original episodes, which were recorded on 1-inch or 2-inch reel tapes, were in the process of degrading.

That same year, Jim Martin mounted an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to try and raise funds to begin salvaging episodes and digitizing them for preservation. That work has continued over the years, with Tanslin releasing episodes and clips online that don’t require expensive licensing agreements and fans uploading episodes from their original VHS recordings to YouTube.

There’s been no further word on digitizing efforts for the complete series, though Tanslin has reported that a future home video release isn’t out of the question. If that materializes, it’s likely Gary Gnu will be first to deliver the news.