Celebrity endorsements are everywhere today. We live in a culture where “stars” will align their fame with appropriate brands, intentionally or even unintentionally, and consumers will lap it all up. Throw a few quid at David Beckham to pose next to a fancy blue bottle, and your whiskey sales will skyrocket. If Prince George happens to be sporting your new designer romper suit, you’re likely to sell out of that product in a matter of hours.
What does this mean for classic arcade machines? Well, not a lot as it happens, I’m just sounding off; other than to mention that there are quite a few famous fans of our hobby – both from back in the day and in more recent times. Given that arcade games are a legitimate form of entertainment (indeed the global video game industry is now thought to be worth more than the film industry), the connection between celebrity and video games has always been “a thing”.
So I thought it would make a cool piece to share some photographs of various “celebs” caught on camera playing arcade video games and pinball machines.
A good place to start would be with Steven Spielberg. Known to have a passion for video games back in the 80s, Spielberg allowed several of his films to be licensed on home and arcade machines. Of course the obvious game to come to mind is the ill-fated ET on Atari’s 2600 console – this was the game that ended it all for Atari according to those looking to apportion blame. There were others – Indiana Jones became both an arcade and pinball release, The Goonies, Jurassic Park etc.
All that aside, Spielberg personally owned several arcade cabinets within his offices:
Here he is with 1980’s Missile Command:
Relaxing next to Nintendo’s Donkey Kong:
And a Midway Space Invaders:
Another here leaning against a Williams Defender:
And a brilliantly appropriate shot of the man himself with a Project Support Engineering’s Maneater, which was presented to him by the firm and resided at his executive offices at Universal Studios:
Presumably there’s a Jaws connection there somewhere.
Continuing the movie theme, the film Tron of course inspired its own arcade game by the same name. Here’s Olivia Wylde, star of 2010’s reboot of the franchise, Tron Legacy, playing an original Tron arcade cabinet at the film’s launch party:
Based around video games itself, the original 1982 Tron film featured an Arcade, Flynn’s, which was owned by Jeff Bridges’ character:
I’m sure we all remember this famous scene of Flynn playing in his arcade, with us the viewer, looking up at him from inside an arcade cabinet.
Jerry Rees came up with much of the visualisation of what we saw in the movie Tron on-screen. He recounts his time on set during the making of the film:
We had a Battlezone video game on the set, where crew members gleefully trashed one another’s high scores – until Jeff Bridges trotted over in his unitard, easily blasting our best to bits. Every time! So fitting that Flynn would win.
And here’s a shot of one of the film’s stars, Bruce Boxleitner, in full Tron costume, playing what looks to me like a Stern Scramble during some downtime on the set of Tron:
Over here in England, similar things were going on. Legendary snooker player Steve Davis was a multiple world champion throughout the 1980’s. The master of the green baize used arcade machines to relax, and was a big fan:
I had a soft spot for Space Invaders and Defender as they were the pioneering years [of video games] and were in every snooker club in the country around 1980 and ’81. I must admit that Pac-Man was brilliant in its simplicity and I’m sure that if you connected people up to heart rate monitors they would be jumping off the scale. What a wind up! I used to panic more on that game than the World Championship at the Crucible.
Steve’s early obsession with arcade games got to the point where he had a lineup of machines backstage at the World Championships at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. He would play them to clear his head between playing sessions:
His favourite game was Defender:
And Steve is pictured here taking on the cabaret version of Atari’s Battlezone:
While we’re here, let’s jump back over the pond and check in on OJ Simpson playing Sega’s Daytona USA:
Good to see OJ keeping up his driving skills. You never know when they might come in handy.
Staying Stateside, the late great Michael Jackson had a well-documented love affair with video games. He even put his own name (and had personal input) to Sega’s Moonwalker arcade game:
Take a look at this panoramic view of his incredible home arcade at Neverland if you get a minute.
Meantime, here’s a young MJ playing a Nintendo Donkey Kong and a Bally Space Invaders pinball in the early 80’s:
Jackson would develop a huge love affair with videogames over the years. Here’s a shot taken in 1983 of him and his producer Quincy Jones visiting Atari’s head office:
Talking of pinball, how cool are these shots of The King himself, Elvis, and Evil Knievel with pinball machines?
That looks to be a publicity shot of Knievel promoting his own branded pinball machine. Love those.
Endorsements have always been a big part of pinball releases throughout the years, especially today. Manufacturers would look to secure a popular licence to give operators confidence that the public would put quarters into their machines.
Here, Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons pose next to a Kiss themed pinball made by Bally back in 1978:
And the franchise was reprised nearly 40 years later by Stern in 2015. Lead singer Paul Stanley took delivery of one of these updated machines:
Metallica received similar treatment from Stern in 2013. James Hetfield approves:
Rocker Slash of Guns N Roses fame is also known to be a true pinball aficionado. He has an impressive collection of pins, including Jersey Jack’s Wizard of Oz:
A brief aside – Megan Fox owns a large collection of pinball machines apparently.
Returning to arcade games, here’s filmmaker George Lucas in 1983 taking a cockpit Star Wars for a test run at Atari’s HQ in California:
The plaque on the side reads: “A special thanks for creating THE FORCE behind so much fun”. The cabinet was presented to Lucas as a gift after his approval of the finished game.
Another rock star here. Van Halen’s Michael Anthony sporting a Space Invaders tee:
And again with Pac-Man:
It seems the rock scene took to amusement machines in all sorts of ways. In his book “The Who: Maximum R&B”, Richard Barnes makes reference to arcade games being present backstage at the band’s gigs:
Backstage, before the show, it had been very tense. The promoters had provided amongst other things, a Space Invaders machine which helped take Pete [Townsend]’s mind off things and calm him down. The promoter was quite relieved that The Who hadn’t cancelled and I easily persuaded him to give us a Space Invaders Machine. At each gig it would be set up in the hospitality room and Pete would challenge the roadies to games. However if it was therapeutic for Pete, it was the opposite for Roger [Daltrey]. He hated the noise and it was agreed that at the end of the tour he would be allowed to smash it up with an axe.
I wonder if that actually happened? Regardless, here’s the album cover from The Who’s “It’s Hard” album, released in 1982. It features a kid playing Atari’s Space Duel:
Going back a few years previous, here’s The Who’s late drummer Keith Moon pictured at a 70’s pinball parlour:
That jacket is something else.
Short-lived 80’s video game magazine Vidiot, ran a series of photo shoots with various stars of the day. I guess in an effort to picture the stars as relevant to what was going down at the time, the collection of shots showing them next to arcade machines of the day was pretty cool. Here’s a young Dan Aykroyd playing Atari’s Space Duel:
Duran Duran and Atari’s seminal vector title Gravitar:
And the Wilson sisters from US rock band Heart about to convert a Space Duel into a Golden Axe or something:
We can date those from around 1982 given the titles photographed.
Back to pinball. Here’s Ronnie Wood looking pleased with how the Rolling Stones pin turned out:
And how’s this for a cool piece of trivia – Eminem is a Donkey Kong arcade player. He tweeted this back in 2010:
And here’s the screenshot of the score he refers to:
A score of 465,000 at level 13 is on pace for a 870,000 total at the kill screen, which is pretty impressive stuff. Better than me anyway!
A few more to rattle off before I go:
Pioneer of New Romantics pop music, the late Steve Strange is pictured here playing Space Invaders:
A young Todd Bridges (Diff’rent Strokes) sat at an Asteroids Deluxe:
Bridges’ late co-star in Diff’rent Strokes, Gary Coleman personally owned an arcade in California at one time, and himself had an impressive collection of arcade machines.
Here’s Laurel and Hardy to lighten the mood. Anyone know which film this scene is from?
Adding to the comedy, here is Dustin Diamond (that Screech dude from 90’s sitcom Saved by The Bell) leaning on a Universal Mr Do!
And I’ll leave you with my favourite picture. A shot taken in 1982 of Namco President Masaya Nakamura playing an original Pac-Man cabinet at a trade show in the USA:
A ton of arcade history in that one pic alone.
Well, there you go. If you enjoyed this weeks post, do spread the word using the social media buttons below.
See you next week.