Singer and actor Meat Loaf died today apparently from COVID. I’ll stick a pin in his anti-vaxxism for a moment out of respect for his musical contributions. He was an icon of a particular kind of rock n roll. When I was at Vassar College in the 1978, we danced with complete abandon to Meat’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”. Same went for “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad”, “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth”, the title song “Bat Out Of Hell” and the couple of other songs on the album. I was a drama major and we loved that album and its glorious, over-the-top theatricality even more than the rest of the student body. That made it super special when – as a writer and producer on HBO’s “Tales From The Crypt”, I got to not only meet Meat, I got to hire and work with the man. And what did I do with that opportunity? I hung Meat Loaf in a meat locker.
The episode’s called “What’s Cookin” and it starred the late Christopher Reeves and Bess Armstrong as a down-on-their-luck couple who’ve put all their money and energy into their failing restaurant that has only squid on the menu. They tell Gaston (Judd Nelson), the homeless guy who sweeps up for them, that they’re closing for good which motivates Gaston to provide a different kind of protein. Meat Loaf played the couple’s landlord Chumley – who suddenly goes missing just as a mound of fresh steak suddenly appears in the restaurant’s walk in refrigerator – and whose intoxicating aroma as it cooks on the grill suddenly brings in the customers they’ve never had before. Of course, what Gaston’s done is murder Chumley the landlord and use him as the source of the steak.
The second our casting director Victoria Burrows suggested Meat Loaf for the part, it had to be. First, of course, because the whole idea of a show about cannibalism having Meat Loaf in it – well, that was just too funny not to do. And the fact that it’s Meat Loaf’s character3 who gets eaten? Second, I wanted to work with the guy whose music gave me so much pleasure.
Writing and producing “Crypt” was an amazing experience in part because I got to work with so many people whose work I adored: Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Walter Hill, Kirk Douglas, Dan Ackroyd, Michael J. Fox, Tim Curry, Steve Coogan, Ewan McGregor, Billy Friedkin, John Frankenheimer and (for me, the best of the best), Buck Henry who adapted “The Graduate” for the screen. Buck acted for us and I got to put words into his mouth!
So – Meat Loaf says yes, he’ll do the part but we won’t have access to him until the day before he works. That presents an immediate problem: we have a make up special effects gag in mind that will require a full bodycast of Meat.
The gag is the big reveal – that Meat Loaf is the source of the steaks. It happens when Judd’s Gaston leads Christopher’s Fred into the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator where Mr. Chumley’s naked, already carved-up carcass is hanging. As Fred gapes in horror, Gaston chops two fresh steaks from the body (in theory, Meat Loaf, hanging in the shot’s foreground).
It’s a great gag! To me, “Tales” was always black comedy rather than horror and this scene is one of my two or three favorite things we ever did. That’s Meat’s bodycast hanging in the foreground. Here’s another angle —
But, as I said, it got complicated… As I said, Meat couldn’t get there in time for us to use his body to do the bodycast. So, as we normally did under such circumstances, we hired a body double – calculating in our heads the correct body type to hire. Meat was a “well built” man. There was lots of him to love. Except, unbeknownst to us, there was now LESS of him to love.
Meat had been on a crash diet and he was proud of how he now looked – a sveleter , leaner and meaner Meat.
When Meat arrived at our production office for his wardrobe fitting, we saw that we had a problem. Then Meat wanted to see the the special effects bodycast we’d made without him – more out of curiosity than anything else. He was pretty upset when he saw how heavy it was. The body double we’d used looked like the old Meat, not the new, improved, lower in fat Meat. Our actor no longer looked like our bodycast. And the bodycast no longer looked like our actor.
To his infinite credit, Meat remained a consummate pro. We ended up using the heavier bodycast and, so that the actor would match, Meat agreed to wear a fat suit under his wardrobe. That was very menschy of him.
Meat’s great in the part – small though it is. Hey, you know what they say – there are no small part, only small actors. Meat Loaf was a big talent no matter what size he came packed in.
Rest in Peace, Meat. Thank you for being part of our journey. And thank you especially for being part of mine.
Now – with that all said? Meat was anti-vaxx. There’s a possibility that COVID got him. If so, he absolutely did not have to die right now. And that sucks more than anything.