Part 4: Non-Cannonical

William Stout: Well, one of the big issues that occurred during the making of them was the art department and I were working away and the people from Mattel were walking through the offices. And one of the guys was going, he pointed at a picture, “oh, that’s going to be a great toy.” And then another guy, he pointed to a different picture, and said, “no, this one is gonna be an incredible toy.” And I stopped them and I said, “Gentlemen, you hired me to design this motion picture. You did not hire me to design your next year’s toy line. I own the rights to all of this material.” And they just went white, they panicked. They threatened to shut down the film eight times. Trying to get me and the rest of the designers to sign agreements giving up our rights,

This, however, was just the beginning of the on-set problems that plagued the film.  


Gary Goddard: It was kind of crazy because I didn’t want to worry the actors or actresses or anyone on the creative team. But behind-the-scenes, it was pretty hairy. With regards to the money not being there and the, you know, the problems that Cannon was going through.

Joe Morrison: What was it like dealing with Cannon? Those guys were crazy. And they were running out of money. They were having their problems.

Gary Goddard: They were going out of business slowly. So there were always challenges. That was a movie where practically every day there was a challenge. But what got me through it was Bob Fosse’s movie All That Jazz. I would get up in the morning, take a shower, look in the mirror and go: It’s Showtime [laughing] just like his character did. Then I would walk out the door, buck up and go on that set and say, “okay, let’s go, everything’s good.”

Chelsea Field: Gary did a great job of protecting us. I don’t think that we ever knew any of it; that Cannon was running out of money. We knew that the shoot was going on for a really long time, but we didn’t have any idea how bad things were. And it was probably good that we didn’t know, because there would have been a revolt from the actors. So Gary really did a great job of protecting us.


Despite problems behind-the-scenes (of behind-the-scenes), things on set really did go smoothly. Many cast and crewmembers likened the experience to summer camp. 

Chelsea Field: He was like the counselor and we were like the campers. We had a ball. It was so much fun. We laughed our asses off every single night and made really lasting relationships.

Gary Goddard: It was kind of like a little family. Like a summer camp family. It was great. We used to have these get-togethers, Courtney and Chelsea would organize these things. It was pretty cool, actually.

Chelsea Field: We used to have dinner parties—Jon, James Tolkein, Robbie and Courtney. Billy Barty of course, he was so sweet. And Gary. And Anne Coates, who was the editor. Either at my house, or Courtney’s house and we’d all cook. It was really fun Oh, and Frank Langella too, but he was going back and forth to New York.

William Stout: I enjoyed the whole process. I had an incredible team working for me. Even my art department production assistant, which is like the lowest job on the films—it’s basically a go for—was Josh Olsen who a few years later ended up being nominated for an Academy Award. And I loved Billy Barty. He was such a great guy to work with. He’d been in films since the 30s. He was in the Wizard of Oz as one of the little munchkin children waking up in the bird nest. And every morning there’d be a tug on my coat and it was Billy. And he had a new joke for me. Every single day. He was just a great guy to work with.


Together, the cast and crew limped to the finish line. But just as they thought they were about to cross it, that finish line disappeared. Cannon cancelled the final shoot days— meant to capture the film’s climactic battle—for budgetary reasons.  

Joe Morrison: They were running out of money. They were having their problems. And we needed to shoot a couple of last scenes. So we were on the phone with Menahem saying can’t you do this, can’t you do that? I think maybe John said: can’t you sell that big set? It was one of the largest sets ever. And he said [in Israeli accent], “I don’t need you to tell me that I can sell my shoes!”

Gary Goddard: They weren’t going to let us shoot the final battle. How can you have an ending without that final battle between He-Man and Skeletor?

Joe Morrison:  Contrary to some beliefs, Mattel never put up any money for the film. But what we did do was this: I can’t remember the exact figure overall, but it was either a million or a half-million that Cannon paid us as a rights fee. But whatever it was, they had only paid us half up front. So what I said was, “Look, we’ll forego the last payment that you owe us if you finish that last scene. Two nights shooting, I negotiated that on the phone with them and we got the film finished.

Gary Goddard: The funny thing is that I think the best lines Dolph delivered in the movie came on that final day when everyone was so exhausted. I said, “Just whisper this, just whisper this” and he says—through gritted teeth, in a whisper, “It’s always been between us.” It was the perfect tone and energy, which had been the problem all along. I mean, the funny thing was that in the rehearsals he would get it; low-energy, but intense. And I would go: that’s perfect, do it just like that. Okay, let’s roll. Action! And he had just said, for instance, [normal voice] “I will never kneel to you” but when the cameras were rolling it was “I WILL NEVER KNEEL TO YOU!” Dolph, do it like you did in the rehearsal: low-energy, intense. He’d go uh-huh and he’d nod but then we’d roll the cameras and something in his brain—at that time—was that when the cameras rolled… No matter what I did, when the cameras were rolling something in his brain clicked and the energy went up and his voice would suddenly get that booming deep voice, which would emphasize all of his speech issues. I felt like if I’d gotten that out of him for the whole rest of the movie…who knows?


Part 5: Only One of You, Only One of Anybody

Masters of the Universe hit theaters on August 7, 1987. The film earned less than $5 million on its opening weekend (finishing in third place at the box office, behind The Living Daylights and Stakeout). Three weeks later, it was no longer in theaters.   

William Stout: I expected a cast and crew screening, but Cannon didn’t give us one. I thought they were punishing us, but then later I’d found out, no, they were just bankrupt. They’d run out of money.

Chelsea Field: But I remember whole bunch of us went to a theater in Hollywood on opening night. And I just remember it being like: OH MY GOD! There’s my name on a single card!” And of course we all hoped it was going to be a big hit, but I think by then we all had a feeling that it wasn’t gonna do very well.

William Stout: I was just pleased that we ended up with a beginning, middle and end. That was kind of a shock to me, because I wasn’t sure we had that.

Gary Goddard: My relationship with Mattel was such that I couldn’t even be at my own opening. Because I was in Canada handling problems with the Captain Power show! But, yeah, I was definitely disappointed in some of the reviews.

Anthony De Longis: I don’t have the answers to why it didn’t do well. Maybe there wasn’t enough publicity to tie into the fan base or to win new fans.


Gary Goddard: There were two great reviews: The Los Angeles Herald Examiner compared it to the movies of Lucas and Spielberg, and there was a radio reporter that gave it a bad review. So, you know, if you get all bad reviews, you kind of have to suck it up and go “oh well, that was bad.” But if you get a couple of good reviews, you can always say “difference of opinion, some people loved it, some people hated it” [chuckles] And I knew going in that this was based on a toy. When something is based on a toy, critics have a built in resistance to it and you’re going to get those comparisons.

William Stout: I think the timing was just off.

There’s definitely some truth to Stout’s comment about timing. In addition to Cannon falling apart, Masters of the Universe was also up against the fact that by the time the film came out, the toy line had declined tremendously. 

Tim Kilpin: ‘84 was a big year for Masters. And ‘85 was big too, but we shipped too much merchandise and left a lot behind. So it was a tough year for us in ’86.

John Weems: And like everything else, you start to reach, you know? We brought She-Ra, Princess of Power to television [in 1985] and that worked .It was not nearly as big. But little girls sure bought into She-Ra and that had a pretty good run there too. But then we brought out a toy line that was just being launched, called Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors. And that really didn’t work as a TV show…or a toy line. That one was a bridge too far. And then we did a couple of soft girls things, Popples being one of them. But none of them…He-Man, that was the lightening in a bottle.

Joe Morrison: We had had a phenomenal run. From ’82 to ’87, it was a huge chunk of Mattel’s business. But eventually things slowed down and the retailers started to get stuck with it.

John Weems: The toy business is a difficult business because the retailers are screaming for the product—you’re making a fortune as a toy company—until all the sudden the screaming stops and they cancel shipments and they want to send it back. And then, of course, everybody else figured out what we were doing with syndication and then all of the sudden here comes GI Joe. And here comes Thundercats. Here comes Voltron, and all the rest of them. Once He-Man showed you how to do it, everyone dialed in.

Tom Kalinske: Of course I had hoped for a great film that would add new life to the Masters Brand, but it’s hard to complain. The line had been very, very good to us for most of the decade, and it happened at a critical time for us. Of all the products that I’ve been involved with in my career—at Mattel, at Sega, at Leapfrog, whever—Masters of the Universe owes more of its development to market research than anything else. We created it from scratch and we were able to pull it off because we had a great team in place. And, of course, a little bit of luck.

Chelsea Field: Luck always plays a big role in everything. Being in the right place at the right time. Getting the right script for the right show. [laughing at a memory] I’ll tell you something funny. This must have been a little bit after Masters. And Courtney—she and I stayed in touch—she lived in Hollywood and I lived over in Burbank. So sometimes if I had an interview over in Hollywood or Beverly Hills, I’d stop by her place and we’d read lines together. I’d go by her house and have a cup of tea before I hit my audition. And if it was a scene where I had to muster up tears or something she’d just be looking at me like, “Oh my god, how do you do that? How do you do that, Chelsea?” And I’d look at her and I’d be like, “you go to class. You’re welcome to come to mine. Would you like to go with me?” And literally this was her answer: “Oh no, I just have to get lucky once.” And I’d be like, “what? No, come to class.” And she’d be like “No, really, I just need to get lucky once.” That was her philosophy. And that’s not to take anything away from her, because I think she’s a very talented actor. I was just so happy when she got Friends because it was the perfect show for her…and it meant that her philosophy had worked!

Anthony De Longis: Being an actor is kind of like professional boxing, you have to sustain a lot of body blows. And I love the work because it demands your very best, but I hate the business because you depend on someone else for the opportunity to work. The only thing you can control is the quality of your own work and that’s what I work very hard on. I never stop training and trying to be better at every aspect of my craft.  I have a little mantra that I came up with a couple of years ago: “If I’m not getting better than I’m just getting older. And only one of those things I can do anything about.”

Gary Goddard: To me, the whole movie was really—yes, the action and, yes, there were all these cool things—but to me the movie was really all about the scene when Kevin has to pull the notes out of the space. And Kevin says, “Aw, I can’t do that. I’m just a stupid high school kid in a stupid high school band.” And he goes “only one of you, Kevin. Only one of anyone.” And I was hoping some kids would get that message [talks about experience at convention] Cause that to me was the message of the film. Everyone is unique, with their own unique talents. There is only one of you, so you need to find out what it is that you do that makes you special. That was the message I was trying to get to the younger people. That’s what the movie was really about.

If you’re interested in learning more about the creation of He-Man, there’s a great documentary called Toy Masters, which is directed by Corey Landis and Roger Lay, Jr. The film will be out soon on VOD. Follow them on Twitter @toymastersmovie for updates about the release. 

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