TV LEGEND: Donatello’s out-of-control crying when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were interviewed by Barbara Walters for her Oscar special was an intentional gag.
In 1991, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were about as hot as any pop culture property could possibly be. They were the top-selling toy line, they were the top-selling characters for licensing, they had a hit movie and they still had a TV series. After the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was a blockbuster in 1990, a second film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – II – The Secret of The Ooze, was quickly put into production, with its release date almost precisely a year after the first one came out, in March of 1991.
Well, guess what else is around that time of the year? Yep, the Academy Awards, and every Academy Awards, Barbara Walters would do a special Oscar edition of her regular interview special. So she interviewed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in something that Walters would later recall as a career lowlight.
One of the cliches of Walters’ interviews was that her subjects would often cry, and Donatello begins to cry when Walters asks if they know who their parents are. However, instead of just regular tears, water begins to pour out of him. Walters laughs hysterically at the spectacle…
Now, as you might imagine, often, things like this are staged, and a number of fans over the years have assumed that this was just a gag, and it was all intentionally over the top. However, that is not the case.
In a great Alan Siegel Oral History of the first Turtles movie for the Ringer, Michaelangelo’s actor inside the suit, Michelan Sisti , as well as Donatello’s actor inside the suit, Leif Tilden, both explained what went down:
Tilden: Barbara Walters contacted the group to do the Barbara Walters Special. … Barbara Walters filmed this thing with the Turtles like eight months before the Oscars. In costume. And we rigged up this whole thing. Because every time she interviewed someone back then they cried.
Sisti: Donatello was going to break down and cry and the Creature Shop had made a little squeeze pump with a tube up to his eye holes. And we tested it out and they turned it on and water came spraying out.
Tilden: It malfunctioned. It was a flood of water. I had to pretend I was having a nervous breakdown.
Sisti: Leif was turning his head side to side, he got both sides of her and up and down the dress. She was not pleased about that. But it was very funny at the time.
The legend is…
Thanks to Alan Siegel, Michelan Sisti and Leif Tilden for the great information!
Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org (or you can use email@example.com).