Hervé Birthday? Happy Hervday?
At any rate, as if to either reaffirm or retract our last post (I can’t decide which) we write now to celebrate the late Hervé Villechaize (1943-1993). Actually I can decide, it’s a reaffirmation. While Villechaize was the subject of ridicule during his life, his story is full of tragedy, and it ought to give you pause (which is why, I understand, Peter Dinklage is developing a screenplay about him).
A Paris native, the diminutive Villechaize originally studied and practiced visual art. He moved to the U.S. in 1964 and his size created opportunities in the theatre just as off-off-Broadway and the avant-garde were taking off. This led to underground and then mainstream film, including The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971), Greaser’s Palace (1972) by Robert Downey Sr, and biggest and best of all, the James Bond thriller The Man With The Golden Gun (1974). This naturally led to his very similar role as Tattoo on the TV show Fantasy Island (1977-1984), a classic case of success being a curse and familiarity breeding contempt.
Once you have pointed at the sky and yelled, “Ze Plane! Ze Plane!”, there is no escape from that island. He became reduced to a laugh line and a catch phrase, and all in a rather mean spirit. From the time of Fantasy Island going forward, almost all the work Villechaize could get consisted of humiliating cameos as himself, of the sort that were clearly based on the comedy premise, “Wouldn’t it be funny if Hervé Villechaize showed up?” After many earlier attempts, he finally successfully committed suicide at the age of 50 by putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger.
Here is his last gig, on The Ben Stiller Show:
To find out about the history of show business, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc