Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Behind the Music
Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Donatello were brothers raised in Bakersfield, California. Their mother, Ornella Melato, was a little known B-movie actress in the sixties. She was forced outside the industry when her appetite for cocaine exceeded her talent. During what she referred to as “my dark period” she became pregnant. When Ornella gave birth, her children were horribly deformed. They had three fingers on each hand, green skin, and an unusual abscess growing out of each of their backs.
Ornella would serve court ordered rehab while the state took care of their children for the next six months. She would kick her habit, but her dark side only grew. Melato’s sister would later detail her cocaine addiction disappearing, only to be replaced by a growing sense that she must get famous at any cost. She would use her children to that end.
The kids would be shuffled from audition to audition. They were routinely dismissed, due to their unique features. A call back for a Green Giant television spot went particularly awful when Ornella threw a hot cup of coffee into Sprout’s face upon learning he had gotten the job over Leonardo. She was subsequently arrested and found to be in possession of ten different narcotics. One year later they would find their first success, ironically, from an antidrug campaign spear headed by Nancy Reagan. The exposure would lead to their first television series.
The show would showcase the four as ninjas who were mutated turtles. The producer of the show, Marty Krang, had performed in freak shows throughout Europe. He saved his money and eventually started his own touring company of freaks. He quickly realized that the real money was in television and movies. He took a handful of performers from his act (Aaron “Beebop” Jerghal, Tyrone “Rocksteady” Jones, and Akira “Splinter” Hahm) and coupled them with the turtles. The show was a giant success.
Krang promised Ornella fistfuls of cash as long as she signed off on any product he brought before her. She did and a merchandising empire was born. Two movies, a comic book series, their own line of parachute pants, and a countless amount of toys were produced. Krang realized there was untapped potential for his quartet in the music industry. The Coming out of their Shells Tour was born.
Raphael was the only turtle of the four to fully embrace the tour. Krang had forced them to put in long hours practicing The New Kids on the Block dance routines and learning to sing already established rock and rap songs. While the other three went through their routines like zombies, Raphael took to it with enthusiasm. He would write songs for the band late into the night. Krang routinely dismissed every song that was written.
Undaunted by rejection, Raphael turned his songs over to an independent publisher. Sun Dawg Records recorded a demo of We’re Coming Out of our Shells. Somehow a copy of the 45 fell into Krang’s tentacles, and he realized it was a hit. He attempted to buy the song back from Raphael, but had to agree to release the song on their album while receiving only half of the royalties from it. Years later, Krang would famously have Johnny “Boom-boom” Shredder hang Raphael out of a fifth story window until he signed the rights over to him.
In many ways, the beginning of the tour had been the high water mark. Fans had flocked to Radio City Music Hall to watch them with unequaled anticipation. The tour was a success, but fractured the turtle’s relationships with each other. Raphael’s brothers believed he had lost his famous sarcastic edge. Leonardo began to withdraw from everyone, eventually shutting himself into hotel rooms listening to Go Ninja Go Ninja Go repeatedly in a catatonic state. Donatello began a bizarre relationship with costar April O’Neil that eventually lead to her being brought up on charges of statutory rape, sodomy, and aggravated assault. Michelangelo turned to drugs, nearly overdosing and causing the end of the tour.
The turtles took a year off to collect themselves. They took Krang to court and are still engaged in a multimillion dollar lawsuit claiming they were forced to work for pizza instead of money. They formed their own production company and made two more movies, as well as starring in another show. But for all their efforts, it’s become clear that their time in the spotlight is over.
Taking one last shot at the big time, the green machine sold their story to Michael Bay to make a bio pic. Buzz was huge, but Bay started saying that in the movie, the turtles would be aliens. Disability Rights activists were outraged that they would infer that children born differently would be painted as “alien”. The project wavered but wound up hitting the big screen anyway, with CGI turtles instead of the originals. They contend that they took less for the story credit because they thought they'd be paid as actors, so they quickly filed a suit against Bay.
The turtles have had a turbulent roller coaster ride of a life. They may have lost many of the riches they earned over the year, but the memories remain. Now, their life has come full circle. They wait in a trailer park in Bakersfield,
CA for their big break, yet again.