Arlene and I were still newlyweds in 1978. Our first born, Toby, was less than a year old and we were struggling. We had purchased a home in Bradley, Illinois, that was probably over our heads and a night out with dinner was never in our budget. I was selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door on straight commission. It was a feast or famine business. When you sell, you earn, when not, you struggle to survive.
The pressure of a new home and a baby was overwhelming. I was working six days a week and would arrive home Saturday early evening to enjoy our only real splurge. We’d make milkshakes and popcorn and watch a double feature of “Fantasy Island” and “The Love Boat” on TV. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was our date night and we looked forward to it each weekend. We remember it often and look back at those evenings in warm remembrance.
Tonight, we watched HBO’s newest movie, “Dinner with Herve.” Herve Villechaize is remembered best by his roles in “The Man with the Golden Gun” and as Tattoo, Ricardo Montalbán’s sidekick in “Fantasy Island.” Yes, it was Hervé who would exclaim each week, “The plane! The plane!”
I am not a film critic. I will not analyze this gripping and sad film other than to share I found it to be a story well-told. It moved me emotionally in a way I did not expect. As the closing credits rolled, I fought back tears. I had forgotten Herve tragically took his own life in 1993 at the age of 50. I filed the column I intended on writing today for a later date and instead decided to share my feelings about Herve and a simpler time in my life.
Herve Villechaize was born in occupied Paris, France in 1943. He stopped growing very early and his father, a physician, spent years trying to find a cure. As a child, Herve was bullied and harassed by the other children. He spoke of walking home from school and being kicked in the head by taller kids only because they could and because he was different. I cannot fathom the pain of growing up so different from everyone else and subjected to such cruelty by my peers. As an adult, he stood only a little over 3-feet tall.
I am guessing most of us never gave Herve a second thought. He was an interesting character in a popular television show that eventually ran its course and is now sidelined to the occasional rerun. The truth is Fantasy Island didn’t run its course and in fact, never finished its race. It ended because the costar, Herve Villechaize, left the show because of greed and insecurity, masked as pride and ego.
When he left the still popular program after six successful years. The show continued without Herve for an additional season, but the chemistry of the ensemble was broken and Herve’s character, Tattoo, had left the island. His ranting over money and equal billing to Montalban had created a bitter and unhappy undercurrent on the set. The incredible chemistry of the ensemble was destroyed, and Fantasy Island was cancelled.
Because of his unique stature, coupled with his now inseparable image as Tattoo, it made finding additional acting opportunities nearly impossible for his agent. He appeared in a Dunkin Donuts commercial a few years later but not as a different character … but as a parody of Tattoo.
From the accounts of many who knew him, Herve destroyed his career. The otherwise likable man became self-indulged, always thinking only of himself, as he fought to be taller in the eyes of those in the industry.
Before we become judgmental, as impossible as it is, try to place yourself in Herve’s shoes. When his mother found out her young son would never grow to a normal size, she emotionally abandoned him and Herve never experienced the nurturing love of a mother. He was scorned by classmates in school and physically abused. He was left to physically and emotionally fight for respect and love in every moment of his life. He was always in pain due to his affliction and was often left gasping for air because of his undersized lungs.
Herve’s life serves as a cautionary tail and an example of overcoming insurmountable odds to succeed. During his career and adult life, Herve was one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. He had wealth, fame and the love of an adoring public. Herve seemed to have it all, yet there was something that he always lacked.
I’m not a psychologist, but I do understand the need we have in life for the nurturing love of a mother. Herve not only didn’t experience that necessity but it was compounded by his understanding that his mother rejected him only because he was small.
The New York Times dated September 5, 1993 reported Herve had taken his own life with a handgun. Herve was only 50.
If you get a chance, and have access to HBO, see “Dinner with Herve.” I think you will be touched. Herve was a talented artist (a trained painter) and thespian. He was smart and charismatic. His only impairment was he was shorter than most and it drove his every thought and action.
I realize I have a little of Herve in me. I think in some way, we can all relate. For me, fighting for respect as a writer and novelist, growing up overweight and being called the names always associated with being fatter than others have shaped who I am both good and bad. My problems are miniscule compared to the giant issues caused by his physical smallness.
As an overweight kid, I could lose the weight and I did.
Herve could never grow taller.
May God bless you, Herve. I pray you rest in peace.
Gary W. Moore is a syndicated columnist, speaker and author of three books including the award-winning, critically acclaimed, “Playing with the Enemy.” Follow Gary on Twitter @GaryWMoore721 and at www.garywmoore.com.