The Greed for Speed

[The following is a commentary. Opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by all contributors to this web site.]

Given the immense popularity of Speed Racer, it is amazing that the voice actors make absolutely no income from the show. In the 1960's it was common for contracts to have a ``zero residuals'' clause, meaning that you get a paycheck for your work today but nothing from any future success of the show. The Brady Bunch actors, for instance, had this in their contract. Unfortunately, so did the folks providing the voices for Speed Racer.

The voice actors for the show, according to Corinne Orr, made 50 episodes and were paid US$100 per episode. (Actually, there were 52 episodes. She may have been rounding off the numbers.) Of the $5,000 made, they later spent $4,000 on lawyers in the hopes of getting some of the earnings they deserved. They failed in their attempt and so lost a substantial fraction of the little they did receive.

Sure, you can say no one forced them to sign the contract, that it was simply common practice, or that the people with the money are doing everything legally. But is it fair that the people who had a major role in the success of the series don't benefit?

In a similar vein, three or four years ago (Feb. 97 at this writing), MTV began showing Speed Racer, catalyzing a resurgence of interest in the show. Peter and Corinne were flown to Hollywood and appeared on many talk shows chatting about the days of Speed. They were compensated only for their expenses; apparently their time was not deemed worthy of pay. To make matters worse, they had to pay for everything out of pocket and wait for the reimbursement. It took nine months. What a great display of respect. Flying cross country, staying in hotels and eating out for two or three weeks is not cheap.

But through it all, Peter and Corinne are able to keep their sense of humor about it. Knowing Speed fans are happy to see them, they still attend conventions and similar events. Recently, for instance, they signed a contract with Tooniversal (which seems to be part of Time/Warner). They were driven by limo to the Time/Warner studios to sign some posters -- making a whopping $5 per poster signed. During the ride, Corinne wryly remarked to Peter that the limo driver was no doubt making more than them.

Since the greed is hidden behind faceless corporations and unfair contracts, nothing can be done until these businesses put ethics before money. No doubt it'll be a long wait. As a result, the people who made the series what it is and who most deserve to enjoy its success can't.