There is a frequent trope in movies and television where audiences throw rotten tomatoes at performers they don't like (for instance, the Onceler in the Lorax has tomatoes thrown at him). This goes back quite a ways in fiction; I seem to remember Huckleberry Finn containing a scene where people planned on throwing rotten vegetables at performers.

It is claimed by this site that:

Pelting unlucky victims with rotten produce is one of our oldest forms of expression, older even than tomato cultivation. Rotten tomatoes are often associated with Shakespeare's Globe Theater in Elizabethan London, but in actuality, tomatoes were still uncommon and weren't even mentioned in the first English cookbook until 1752, nearly 150 years later.

Are there published, factual accounts of audiences throwing tomatoes at performers?


Yes, this is a case of art imitating life since early theater patrons were quite rambunctious. An article from October 28, 1883 that was published in The New York Times describes an incident as follows:

He probably would have succeeded had not a great many tomatoes struck him, throwing him off his balance and demoralizing him. It was some time before the audience could induce him to go on with the performance.

The New York Times also summarizes some more recent incidents in a 1998 article.



From Magda Romanska, The Post-traumatic Theatre of Grotowski and Kantor: History and Holocaust in Akropolis and The Dead Class, Anthem Press, 2012 (p. 110), regarding performances of precursors to Grotowski's Akropolis in 1963:

Once the audience members understood the real — ironic — sub-context of the speeches and the intentions of the actors, they began throwing tomatoes onto the stage.

From Mario d'Angelo, Cultural Policies in Europe: Local Issues, Council of Europe, 2000 (p. 109):

In October 1969, a number of students from the Amsterdam Theatre School disrupted a performance given by the prestigious theatrical company, the Netherlands Comedy Theatre (Nederlandse Comedie), by throwing tomatoes.

From Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, Macmillan, 1991 (p. 206), regarding Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy's feelings during the opening night of The Playboy of the Western World in Boston in October 1911:

If she felt quietly offended by some parts of the play, however, she was far more embarrassed by the tasteless response of many of her kinsmen in the audience who, in their anger, began throwing tomatoes and eggs at the stage and hissing and booing loudly.

From Paul Binnerts, Acting in Real Time, University of Michigan Press, 2012 (p. 266):

In 1969, audiences in Dutch theaters revived the ancient tradition of loudly voiding their displeasure with what they saw on stage. When they began to throw tomatoes at performances in Amsterdam, their "Tomato Action" marked the beginning of many changes in the theater system in the Netherlands.

  • For the first and fourth quote, do you mind giving context of what year this was? – Oddthinking Jul 21 '13 at 8:27
  • Sure, I'll add that. 1st and 3rd, I assume? – user5582 Jul 21 '13 at 16:53
  • Whoops. Yes, sorry. – Oddthinking Jul 21 '13 at 17:07

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