Thursday, July 1, 2010

SPIN the MIDGET: The life and death of Herve Villachaize

Herve Villachaize: A troubled dwarf with “a sweet tooth for strippers from Hong Kong.”

A wise man named Billy Joel once said “Only the good die young.” I don’t believe that for a second and he did say it in a song he wrote to try and make a Catholic girl have sex with him, so some poetic license was used. Those Catholic girls love their poetic license. Nothing makes them give up the goods like poetic license. But to rephrase: some of the most interesting and memorable entertainers have died young - either by their own hand or by things they did with their hands - driving too fast, drinking too much, shooting up speed balls and punching the wrong people.

Anyone who’s seen even a few seconds of Aaron Spelling's mystical tropical cheese platter Fantasy Island knows who Tattoo is. Those of you who don’t can go do your homework, or fake tan your face or go to a suburban shopping centre and buy really tight unflattering jeans.

Tattoo was a tiny little dwarfism ravaged French dude who worked for the suave island owner Mr Roarke (played by Ricardo Montlebarn) and was kind of like a creepy little waiter, party planner, PA and bell ringer. No plane ever landed on that island without him loudly proclaiming, in his French accented wheeze “Ze plane! Ze Plane!" Oh...and him and his boss always wore matching white suits with kicky black ties. I hope to one day reenact this trend by dressing in such matching fashion with my boss, but at this point in time that fantasy is not for anyone but my therapist.

Tattoo was played by Herve Villechaize (pronounced “Erv-ay”, in case you want to throw it into the ring for potential baby names). He was like the Verne Troyer of his generation – only without the sex tape and fetal alcohol syndrome. I’m not sure if it was him or the cast of the Terry Gilliam move the Time Bandits that first ignited my misunderstood lifelong fascination with midgets (it’s not sexual!) but he is definitely the one who had the most impact.

Herve was famous not only for playing Tattoo but also for portraying the villain henchman Nick Nack opposite Roger Moore in the Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. It was during the filming of this movie that Roger Moore noted that Herve “had a sweet tooth for strippers from Hong Kong.” And why shouldn't he?

From 1978 to 1984, Villechaize played Tattoo on Fantasy Island, where guests would come to have their fantasies fulfilled - think Lost but nothing like it - except that there was an island. Due to the popularity of the show, Herve became a household name. He was even nominated for a Golden Globe for: Best Supporting Actor in a TV Series. He didn’t win. In this big person world the dwarves hardly ever do. However he was raking in the giant bucks and enjoying his new found popularity with the ladies. According to an online article (so fact checking is optional) when in a jovial mood Herve used to play a game called “Spin the midget”. The rules were pretty simple: Herve would lie on his back in the centre of a circle of women and have someone spin him around. Whoever he ended up pointing at got to take the little guy home for sexy time.

It was all fun and games 'til somebody lost his mind. Herve - after his second divorce and the pain caused by his dwarfism - developed a big time drinking problem. According to those on set, he was a furious and abusive drunk, often pointing loaded guns at people and yelling scathing abuse at them. If only footage of such a thing existed! One of the regular recipients of his outlandish behavior happened to be the shows producer Aaron Spelling. Not smart Herve. Threatening producers never ends well for anyone this side of the Godfather franchise.

Herve was eventually fired from Fantasy Island after multiple threats of pistol whippings, demanding a massive salary hike and sexually proposition one too many of his co-stars. Apparently not every woman is open minded enough to want to not only play “Spin the Midget” but actually collect on her prize.

After burning through his Fantasy Island millions, the last few years of his life saw Herve descend into alcoholism and depression. Even threatening his agent at gunpoint in a booth at an LA restaurant didn’t cheer him up enough to want to go on living. In 1993 Herve went into the yard of his Hollywood home, pointed a loaded pistol at his chest and pulled the trigger. There’s a suicide note - it’s pretty sad so I didn’t quote any of it. Despite working his apparent shortcomings to his advantage Herve never felt like there was really a place in the world for him. You don’t have to be a catch phrase spouting French Midget to feel that way.

A biopic called My Dinner with Herve is in the works. It's being directed by Sacha Gervasi who noted: "Herve wasn’t just a pop culture icon; he was one of the most charming, cultured and dangerous people I've ever met."

See you in the ticket queue.

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