My favorite autograph: William Hickey (9/4/93)

Place to find reports on meets of the past.
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My favorite autograph: William Hickey (9/4/93)

Post by billysparrow » December 21st, 2016, 9:24 pm

Just got my favorite autograph professionally framed (it only took me 23 years), so I figured I'd put up a report here about the day I met William Hickey, aka Uncle Lewis ("Christmas Vacation"), Don Corrado Prizzi ("Prizzi's Honor"), Dr. Finkelstein ("The Nightmare Before Christmas"), Carlton Blanchard (the TV show "Wings"), Arthur ("Forget Paris"), and, most importantly (and, hence, my username here), Billy Sparrow ("My Blue Heaven").

It was Labor Day Weekend 1993 and I was riding in the car with my mom. I was reading that week's newspaper, and when I came to the Dining and Entertainment section I saw a headshot of William Hickey, who in the years prior had pulled off the amazing feat of having small but crucial parts in both "My Blue Heaven" and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," then (and now) among my all-time favorite movies. A lot of people would say being nominated for an Oscar for "Prizzi's Honor" was his top acting achievement. But I am not a lot of people. To me, being Billy Sparrow and Uncle Lewis was untoppable.
The newspaper article that started it all
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As I read the article accompanying the headshot, I discovered Mr. Hickey would be doing a play in Woodstock that weekend, which was not all that far from our summer rental. So...

"Mom, mom! We have to go!"

And so we went.

But this was in the pre-GPS, pre-Google Maps days, so there was that little matter of figuring out where exactly it was we were going. My mom seemed to have a vague idea of where the Byrdcliffe Theater was (Did we look at an actual map? Did she just know? I can't recall), so we set out that Saturday night to go to Woodstock. We made the turn onto Upper Byrdcliffe Road and began looking for the theater. And kept looking. And kept looking. And kept looking, until there started to be not that much to look at at all.

The road just kept going up. We figured the "Cliffe" part would indicate we'd be going high up, but not quite this high. Eventually, we reached a point where my mom finally had to say, "If we don't find it soon, we're gonna just have to turn around." I'm sure I took that well.

But soon after she said that, we went around a curve and--boom!--there it was!, We had arrived. And just before showtime.

The one-man play Mr. Hickey was in was called "Spared," and it was a monologue by a guy who was contemplating killing himself and recounting all the times he had tried to do so in the past but failed, and all the terrors of his life that had brought him to such despair. You know, fun stuff for a Saturday night.
Playbill, later signed by the playwright Israel Horovitz
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Anyway, the play ended and I decided to wait by the front door so I could get Mr. Hickey to sign an index card for me (I had recently started collecting autographs in NYC, so an index card and a Sharpie were never too far away). We were waiting there for a while, and soon just about everyone had cleared out. Then a woman came over to my mom and I and asked us if we were waiting for Mr. Hickey. I told her I was and that I just wanted his autograph, and she said, "Would you like to come back to his dressing room?"

Um, yeah.

So, there we were, me, my mom, this woman (who, to the best of my recollection, was either the director or the producer), maybe five or six other people, and William Hickey, just sitting in a chair and telling stories, inches away from my face. I didn't say much of anything. I was just enjoying listening to him tell stories about his dog and the Tim Burton movie he had just finished working on ("The Nightmare Before Christmas"). And then it was decided that Mr. Hickey needed to go, so I realized now was the time to say something to him. So, I finally got up the nerve to tell him how much I liked him, and how I especially loved him in "My Blue Heaven." And I explained to him there was one scene in particular, when all the guys in the Witness Protection Program are gathered for dinner, that, for reasons I could not quite explain, was my favorite. In that scene, one of the guys picks up a roll, tears it apart, and says, "What the frig is this?" And Billy Sparrow (Mr. Hickey's character) responds, in that incredible, glorious croak, "A popover." Hey, I told you I don't know why that thrilled me. It just did. The way he said it. The best.

I babbled some sort of version of all that to Mr. Hickey and he smiled and then signed my index card. He'd signed the other autographs for people "Love love love! Bill Hickey," but I got what surely must be the only known "Popover Popover Popover! Love, Bill Hickey" autograph in the world. He passed away a few years after, so I feel very lucky to have had the chance to meet him, and I'm glad to finally have the piece (with a screenshot from the scene in "My Blue Heaven") preserved.
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Re: My favorite autograph: William Hickey (9/4/93)

Post by AsianDave » December 21st, 2016, 11:16 pm

Very cool read dude!

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Re: My favorite autograph: William Hickey (9/4/93)

Post by AsianDave » December 21st, 2016, 11:17 pm

I do enjoy these walk down memory lanes.

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