From petty pranks to criminal acts, Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet has been a hotbed of vengeance.
THE RUSSIA CONNECTIONS. The worst occurred in 2013, when a masked man flung acid at Sergei Filin, the company’s artistic director. Turned out the attack was the work of a dancer named Pavel V. Dmitrichenko, who was angry that he hadn’t been cast in a ballet.
But there are so many stories that you’d think the place was cursed. As the New York Times details, there was “the rival who hid an alarm clock in the audience, timed to go off during Giselle’s mad scene; [the one] who threw a dead cat onto the stage at curtain in lieu of flowers. There are whispers of needles inserted in costumes, to be discovered in midpirouette, or—the worst—broken glass nestled in the tip of a toeshoe."
It’s hard to imagine a more delicious rivalry.
THE DESSERT WARS. In a 2014 feature called “Conscious Coupling,” Martha Stewart Living wrote: “Our holiday pies honor such partnerships, each spotlighting the perfect marriage of crust and filling so there’s a pleasant mix of textures and flavors in every bite.” However you feel about mixing chocolate mousse pie with phyllo crust (OK: wow), the first thing you probably noticed was the not-so-sly adaptation of a much-mocked phrase, “conscious uncoupling.” The term was used by an equally famous actress turned Stewart wannabe, Gwyneth Paltrow, in her own version of Living, called Goop, when she split from her first husband, Chris Martin, earlier that year. Petty! And lest you think that was the end of it, less than a month later, Goop posted its own “tribute” to Stewart: a recipe for “Jailbird Cake,” an obvious reference to Stewart’s time in jail.
WHO MADE IT BETTER? But which tastes better: Conscious Coupling pie or Jailbird Cake? Points for Goop for not referencing the “jailbird” part of its pie in the recipe itself (other than with the dessert’s black stripes down its side). But not only does Conscious Coupling have solid concept (partnerships! mixed textures and flavors!), who wouldn't want to dump some chocolate mousse on a piece of premade phyllo dough?
WINNER: Conscious Coupling
HONESTLY ... Just read the lyrics.
MEET THE BUNNIES. You can watch hours and hours of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, or you can take our word for it: former soap star Lisa Rinna and former child star Kim Richards straight up don’t like each other. While they’re both equally crazy (and being on reality TV certainly doesn’t help), it was Richards who, in 2017, took things to the next level—in a scene-stealing moment that is now remembered by rabid RHOBH fans as “Bunnygate.”
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED. Bunnygate began after Rinna gave Richards a stuffed bunny meant for Richards’s brand-new grandson, Hucksley. During the first part of the season’s three-part finale, when asked about said bunny, Richards stunned just about everyone in the room (well, except maybe her sister, Kyle) when she pulled out the blue bunny, still encased in his cellophane wrap. “It didn’t feel like it had good energy,” she explained, and tried to hand it back to Rinna. (Rinna refused the offer.) Housewives executive producer and reunion host Andy Cohen, for his part, was delighted: “I didn’t realize she was going to pull it out at that moment,” he told Bravo later. “I was thrilled that she did, because it was unbelievable.”
You can also buy your very own petty bunny.
Comedy legend Joan Rivers excelled at insult comedy, but like many of her brethren, she was incredibly sensitive to slights.
FROM MENTOR TO STRANGER. Johnny Carson gave Joan Rivers her big break as a stand-up comic on The Tonight Show, first beckoning her over to his desk for a chat in 1965. By 1983, she was a regular guest host. It wasn’t such a crazy idea that she would replace him when he eventually retired, but after those negotiations with NBC stalled, she accepted an offer from Fox in 1986 to become late-night TV’s first female host. She claims Carson was the first person she called; he disagrees. Either way, he would never speak to her again—neither when she left the show after only a year, nor after her husband committed suicide.
IN HER OWN WORDS. Several years after Carson’s death, in 2005, Joan wrote in the Hollywood Reporter: “I think he really felt because I was a woman that I just was his. That I wouldn’t leave him. … I think it was a question of, ‘I found you, and you’re my property.’”
For fans of these pop superstars, keeping up with intricate feuds is just part of the job.
HITTING HER WHERE IT HURTS: ALBUM SALES. At midnight on June 9, 2017, in celebration of her album 1989 selling over 10 million copies worldwide (and the Recording Industry Association of America announcing that her song catalog had hit 100 million certified units), Taylor Swift posted her entire back catalog on every streaming service. (Although her music was available on Apple Music, she had famously pulled it from Spotify three years earlier, and users were thrilled that she’d decided to return.) But it didn’t take fans long to notice something else: that Swift’s return to streaming was also happening on the exact day that Katy Perry was dropping her fifth album—an ill-fated record called Witness. One could argue that the timing was just a coincidence, except the pop stars already had “bad blood” dating back to around 2013, when allegations surfaced about one of the women stealing the other’s dancers.
THE DARK HORSE RIDES. When asked directly about the timing of Swift’s catalog release, Perry answered: “I don’t know. I can only do me.” (A source would tell Billboard the timing of Swift’s return was “not an attempt to steal Perry’s thunder.”) Anyway, the two reportedly “made up” in early 2018, after Perry sent Swift a literal olive branch. Are we out of the woods yet? It may be too soon to tell.
There are divas and then there is Mariah Carey.
GOD BLESS MARIAH. Sure, she hasn’t “known” Jennifer Lopez for years (an iconic burn), but Mariah Carey’s pettiest power move came in the form of a post-breakup “inconvenience fee” she levied on her ex-fiancé, Australian businessman James Packer. They were never married, never signed a prenup, and if you’ve never heard of an “inconvenience fee” before ... well, you’re not alone.
SO DID SHE CASH OUT? Some outlets reported that the singer asked for a paltry $50 million, while The Blast reported that the singer ended up getting $5 to $10 million (including a 35-carat engagement ring). Aside from the demand for money, according to a source, Carey requested that Packer “apologize for breaking up with her so publicly. She feels like he used her to increase his profile in America and globally to help further his business interests.” As it turned out, he’d rather fork over the millions.
Taking “write what you know” to its logical extreme.
CSI: DEFAMATION. Melinda and Scott Tucker are two characters from a 2009 episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation—part of a story involving a “hard-drinking extensive porn-watching man” who kills his wife during kinky sex.
According to a $6 million defamation suit filed later that year, the characters were based on Melinda and Scott Tamkin, real estate agents who were part of a deal by CSI producer Sarah Goldfinger, whose first draft of the script used the couple’s real names. (The suit was eventually dropped.)
Burt Reynolds died on September 6, 2018. RIP, you petty giant.
TABLOID TRASH. Throughout the 1970s and until his death in 1988, Generoso Pope Jr., then the owner of the National Enquirer, proudly put up a huge Christmas display at the tabloid’s Florida headquarters—lights, lights, lights, and a huge tree. This became a target for one of the paper’s big subjects in the 1980s—Burt Reynolds, who hated the tabloid’s ongoing coverage of his private life. His retribution took a most unusual form in 1985. Here he is in his own words, from a 2015 interview with ESPN radio host Dan Le Batard:
“I had about 100 horses at the time, and that’s a lot of horse shit. So I took two huge nets and filled them both, and about 3:00 in the morning, my ranch foreman and I took the helicopter down to the wonderful National Enquirer—which was just down the street here from me in Lantana. I didn’t think it was right that they had the largest Christmas tree in the United States. It wasn’t right. So I dumped it right on top of the tree, and it just cascaded down. It was a beautiful sight! I felt so much better.”
Curtis Jackson is really an unstoppable force for petty.
THE GOD OF PETTY. “Something you always got to think about when you go to war with somebody: ‘Do I give a fuck more or less than this person?’” once advised the radio personality Charlamagne tha God. “You do not want to go to war with someone who gives a fuck less than you.” He’s talking about Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, a man who could be credited with bringing the word “petty” back into style. 50 has used social media to come after Ashanti, Jim Jones, Diddy, Ja Rule—and even blocked his own son on Instagram, posting a child-support-countdown clock. (“Child support release party Friday 13, Club Lust 1:00 AM Happy Hour drinks on me. Tom petty is alive! Ladies with no kids, free admission. Ladies who didn’t collect child support, free admission.”) He once challenged professional boxer Floyd Mayweather to an “ALS/ESL challenge,” writing on Instagram: "I will donate $750k to a charity of your choice, If you can read a full page out of a Harry Potter book out loud without starting and stopping or fucking up.” In return, Mayweather FaceTimed Curtis’s estranged son.
IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY. When you’re this petty, you can only inspire other people to get on your level. 50’s petty is so powerful, it’s even genetic. His son responded to his child-support gag by commenting, “Damn, if only your new TV show was this funny.”
BREAKING PETTY NEWS! 50 Cent just won’t quit! In late October, he took to social media to brag that he had purchased 200 seats close to the stage at rival musician Ja Rule’s show—just to leave them empty. Their social media war is ongoing.
It will not surprise any viewer of the film Amadeus (1984) that Mozart was petty.
MAESTRO, PLEASE. Many books about Mozart’s Così fan tutte opera (loosely translated as “All women do it, but it depends on whom you ask”) mention his distaste for soprano Adriana Ferrarese del Bene, who was his librettist’s mistress and for whom the role of Fiordiligi had been created. (The opera, first performed publicly in 1790, centers on two couples who both claim to be faithful; Fiordiligi, the fiancée of Guglielmo, becomes the lover of Ferrando.) “Madame Allegranti is far better than Madame Ferrarese, which I admit is not saying much,” Mozart wrote after first hearing Ferrarese in Dresden in April 1789, comparing her to another singer.
But only one book, William Mann’s The Operas of Mozart, goes as far as to say that the composer put that distaste into his composition. He knew she would drop her chin on low notes and throw her head back on high ones, so he filled her aria with jumps from low to high to make her head “bob like a chicken” onstage.
In addition to the petty behavior detailed below, Michael Crichton has taken a firm position—against the science of global warming.
FULL DISCLOSURE. “And now, like a mighty t-rex that has escaped from Jurassic Park, Crichton stomps across the public policy landscape, finally claiming the influence he has always sought,” wrote journalist Michael Crowley about the author’s 2004 book, State of Fear, in the New Republic. “In this sense, he himself is like an experiment gone wrong—a creation of the publishing industry and Hollywood who has unexpectedly mutated into a menacing figure haunting think tanks, policy forums, hearing rooms, and even the Oval Office.”
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW? In return, Crichton would cast Crowley in his next book, Next, as a child rapist (with a small penis): “The defendant, thirty-year-old Mick Crowley, was a Washington-based political columnist who was visiting his sister-in-law when he experienced an overwhelming urge to have anal sex with her young son, still in diapers.”
YOUR MOVE, MICHAEL. Crowley would respond, again in the New Republic: “In lieu of a letter to the editor, Crichton had fictionalised me as a child rapist. And, perhaps worse, falsely branded me a pharmaceutical-industry profiteer.”
The Queen of Soul ruled over a petty empire.
JUST THE FAX. Who has a fax machine in 2017? Luckily, the Associated Press did, because in came a clarification from the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, to comments made by Dionne Warwick at Whitney Houston’s funeral five years earlier. “Ree’s not here, but she is here,” Warwick had said of Franklin, who was busy performing at Radio City Music Hall. “She loves Whitney as if she were born to her. She is her godmother.”
SO WHAT DID ARETHA SAY? Well, in said fax, Franklin felt the need to address Warwick’s statement, explaining that she was never Whitney’s godmother: “She first met Houston when Houston was a child,” summarized the AP. “And she was far too busy to be anyone’s godmother.” End transmission.
“I might quit trolling. This wouldn’t be a permanent retirement as much as it would be a shift in focus. I intend on doing fewer in frequency but higher-impact public performance art style trolls (e.g. Wu-Tang). I have been heavily influenced by a loved one in this regard.” —Martin Shkreli’s blog, August 12, 2018.
#FREETHEALBUM Martin Shkreli, the “Pharma Bro” who became infamous for inflating costs of prescription drugs as the owner of a pharmaceutical company, has had a whirlwind past few years. He is a self-admitted troll and now felon, having been sentenced to seven years in prison in the spring of 2018 for securities fraud. But perhaps his pettiest act was buying Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, an album by the Wu Tang Clan, in 2015 for $2 million just so no one else could listen to it. (Only one copy of the album has been made and it was sold at auction.)
OUR TAXPAYER DOLLARS AT WORK. The album was seized by the Feds after Shkreli tried to sell it on eBay, where bidding went over $1 million.