They’re peeved and litigious
When we last saw them, Wooderson, Slater and “Pink” Floyd were stoned out of their gourds, driving into the East Texas sunrise in Wooderson’s souped-up Chevy Chevelle, off on a sacred quest for Aerosmith tickets and smoking a breakfast joint as the end credits of “Dazed and Confused” began to roll.
But that was a long time ago, and it was just a movie anyway -- a made-up story with actors. Right now -- 11 years after the movie came out -- the real Wooderson, Slater and Floyd are here, in a Huntsville law office, looking a bit peeved. They’re explaining why they recently sued their old high school classmate Richard Linklater, who made “Dazed and Confused,” for “defamation” and “negligent infliction of emotional distress.”
“Like, for example, the scene that shows me showing somebody how to make a bong in shop class,” says Andy Slater, now 45. “I never did that. But they used my name and they show me making a bong in shop class.”
Slater pauses, then smiles. “I don’t sit around the house making bongs.” He laughs. So does Bobby Wooderson, 47. And Richard “Pink” Floyd, 46.
But their lawyers aren’t laughing. They’re trying to keep this whole thing very serious.
And it is extremely serious. There are important legal principles at stake here -- such as the right to privacy, specifically as it relates to the right to avoid having everybody know what a knucklehead you were back in high school. That’s why the lawyers get frustrated when all anybody wants to know is: Did you guys really smoke that much dope back in high school in 1976?
Slater smiles slyly. “Well, I wouldn’t say it didn’t happen,” he says. “But I don’t think there was any more here than anywhere else.”
“Certainly those things happened at that time,” interrupts attorney T. Ernest Freeman, “but that aspect of the movie was really exaggerated, particularly with respect to our clients.”
Well, of course. Making bongs in shop class -- that is a tad far-fetched. “Oh, no, they did that,” says Slater. “But it wasn’t me.”
To fully comprehend the subtle legal issues of the case of Wooderson et al. vs. Universal Studios Inc. et al., it helps to have seen “Dazed and Confused” six or eight times. Which is no problem, because the movie is, like, awesome. It’s an “American Graffiti” of the ‘70s, man.
Written and directed by Linklater, who grew up in Huntsville, it was made on a tiny budget with a cast of unknowns, including future stars Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck.
Set in an unnamed Texas town on the last day of school in 1976, “Dazed” is a delightfully comic anthropological study of adolescent behavior.
Critics raved: “The ultimate party movie, socially irresponsible and totally irresistible,” said Rolling Stone. “The most slyly funny and dead-on portrait of American teenage life ever made,” said Entertainment Weekly.
Floyd was eager to see it. He’d known Linklater a bit in school. So Floyd went to a local theater with his wife, brother, sister and cousin, Bobby Wooderson.
“I watched the movie, and I felt like they’d kicked me in the stomach,” says Wooderson, now a computer systems engineer and a divorced father of two.
He was stunned to see a character named David Wooderson (played by McConaughey), a heavy-lidded Lothario who graduated years ago but is still hanging around, smoking weed and chasing high school chicks.
Floyd says he was shocked to see a character called Randall “Pink” Floyd, the star quarterback, who wonders whether he’d rather smoke weed and drink beer than play football.
Floyd had been a second-string offensive lineman on the school team, but the cinematic promotion to quarterback didn’t make him feel any better about all the dope the Pink character smokes in the movie.
“My wife said, ‘Oh, my God! What are we going to tell people?’ ” recalls Floyd, now the service manager at a Huntsville Dodge dealership and the father of two sons.
When Slater saw it, he was peeved about the character named Ron Slater, a stoner in a pot-leaf T-shirt who launches into a stoned rap about how George Washington used to toke up, smoking righteous weed in pipes packed by Martha. “Who knows? I might have said that,” says Slater, a bachelor and a building contractor. “I was quite outspoken back then. That’s probably why Rick Linklater might have chosen me as a character -- because I disagreed with marijuana laws and I was vocal about that even in high school. But I was never walking around with a marijuana leaf on my shirt or handing out joints. I was not that character in that movie.”
After the movie came out, Slater happened to run into Floyd and Wooderson. “Somebody said, ‘I’m pretty [peeved],’ and everybody else said, ‘Me too,’ ” Slater recalls.
The guys asked each other: Did Linklater call you? Did you give permission to use your name? Did you get any money out of it? The answer to every question was: No. No. No.
They never mentioned suing Linklater that night, they say, because they figured this low-budget movie would fade away.
“People ask, ‘Why did you wait to sue?’ ” says Wooderson. “Well, I just wanted it to go away. Nobody knew who McConaughey was. Nobody knew who Affleck was. Nobody knew Rick Linklater from Adam. It was a low-budget, low-rent movie, and we figured it would just go away.”
Instead, it became a cult hit, McConaughey and Affleck became stars, and Linklater became a respected director. Slater, Floyd and Wooderson found themselves semi-famous.
“I was skiing in Colorado one time,” recalls Wooderson, “and I turned in my skis and said, ‘Wooderson,’ and the kid goes, ‘Wooderson? Like in “Dazed and Confused”?’ I didn’t say anything, but somebody with me says, ‘Yeah! This is him!’ And the kid says, ‘Dude, you need to come party with us!’ ”
Floyd recalls: “I have a nephew who was getting married in Bangor, Maine, so we went up for the wedding.... My nephew’s in his late 20s and he has all these friends, and we get out of the car and one of them yells, ‘Pink Floyd!’ It was good-natured fun on their part, but I’m there with my wife and kids, and it was rather embarrassing to me, especially when they go, ‘Man! “Dazed and Confused!” Love that movie! Let’s go burn one!’ ”
The incident that sparked the lawsuit came last year when Slater picked up a woman for their first -- and last -- date.
“She got in the car,” he recalls, “and she says, ‘My mother gave me a hard time about going out with you. She wants to know if you’re still a dope dealer.’ ”
That did it. Slater called lawyer Freeman, who recruited Santa Fe entertainment lawyer Bill Robins to help him. Slater persuaded Wooderson and Floyd to join him as plaintiffs.
Robins filed the suit Oct. 8 in state court in Santa Fe because New Mexico has a longer statute of limitations than Texas. The suit accuses Linklater and Universal Studios of defaming Slater, Floyd and Wooderson, violating their privacy and causing them “severe emotional distress” and “mental anguish.”
The defendants filed papers requesting that the case be transferred to federal court but otherwise have remained silent. A Universal spokeswoman declined to comment; Linklater declined interview requests.