IT WAS HENRY FONDA'S FAULT
by Owen O'Neill
- Written and performed by Owen O'Neill
- Presented by TTI at Edinburgh 2001 Assembly Rooms
- UK Tour Fall/Spring 2001
It Was Henry Fonda's Fault was acclaimed comedian/writer/actor Owen O'Neill's follow-up to his 1997 autobiographical, award-winning play, Off My Face. It hilariously chronicled his obsessive and ill fated attempt to take the show to Los Angeles in sad realisation of a childhood dream stimulated by watching cowboy movies in his local fleapit cinema and the naive swallowing of the tales of an ex-Hollywood stuntman mentor. But as his Hollywood dreams descend into la-la nightmare he blames his abject failure on Henry Fonda and descends perilously close to the same abyss as the play describes...
O'Neill's performance, theatrical but tinged with his experience as a stand-up, charms the audience; his writing, which won him the LWT New Writing Award '97 for Off My Face, combines laugh-out-loud humour with moments of real poignancy.
It Was Henry Fonda's Fault Reviews
"Written and performed by Owen O'Neill, this play is a biographical look at one young boy's desire to make it in Hollywood ... He is passionate in telling his story and re-enacting the colourful characters ... The play is very funny, but there are moments of self-despair when O'Neill's dream starts slipping away. A great play about realising when it's time to let go." (The List)
"A talented Irish actor with one helluva story and the ability to hold a room full of people rapt simply by chatting, swearing, shouting and weeping ... O'Neill weaves an often hilarious real-life story with charm, candour, incisiveness and eye-for-detail wholly reminiscent of Billy Connolly ... Highly entertaining." (Metro)
"Well-structured storytelling and a sharp comic performance turn O'Neill's disastrous story of trying to be a Hollywood star into a seriously heartwarming experience.. A warm, funny, ridiculous nightmare that drove O'Neill back to drink.. It's a very well produced, well-layered, thoughtful show that deals with themes of dreams, ego and contentment.. Never anything less than an excellent, intelligent writer and funny performer, emphasised by the delightful, full-circle conclusion." (Cameron Robertson, The Stage 24/08/00)
"Owen O'Neill will be known to many as an accomplished Irish stand-up... Here he deals with his life-long obsession to become a movie star after seeing the work of Henry Fonda as an impressionable teenager. O'Neill's performance is exemplary, playing out half a dozen characters with ease and conviction." (Mark Robertson, The List 24/08/00)
"He tells the story with incisive candour and hilarious self-deprecation.. O'Neill's vivid flashbacks.. pay rollicking tribute to his early misguided efforts. Pushing the theme a notch further, sometime stand-up O'Neill delivers anecdotes about the pursuit of Hollywood fame.. The bizarre humiliations of auditioning for commercials, or playing a bit part alongside the towering Liam Neeson are relayed with a genius that provokes tears-rolling-down-the-face laughter." (Katrina Dixon, The Scotsman 23/08/00)
"The telling is absolutely charming... O'Neill possesses a boyish cheek at odds with his actual age, and in a show that often consists of the telling of petty, though amusing, traumas of an actor's life, he never loses the audience's sympathy. His account of screen-testing for Neil Jordan's Michael Collins where he can't resist cracking a joke in front of the director and producer is hilarious... We get a fine 75 minutes worth." (Steve Jelbert, The Independent 22/08/00)
"Owen O'Neill's one-man show takes as its starting point his boyhood friend with Jazz Hegarty, the blarney-spinning owner of his local fleapit and a man who claims to have once done stunts for Henry Fonda... A mixture of straight-to-audience observations and vignettes between characters, O'Neill's skill with language and sense of comic timing make this an affectionate and funny portrayal of the gap between dreams and reality.. This is a breathless and amusing ride through the life of a small town boy with big city dreams." (Barry Didcock, Sunday Herald 20/08/00)
"It Was Henry Fonda's Fault..." What kind of a title is that? I hear you ask. It all started back in 1970...
Jazz Hegarty was the 'torchman' at the Searchlight Picture house. He was also bouncer, ticket ripper, sweeper-up and ice cream seller (even though he was strongly against eating in the cinema) On the rare occasions that he did sell ice cream in the interval, he wouldn't start the second part until everyone had finished and had disposed of their wrappers in the big corrugated tin bin he kept by the door. And, if things got out of hand, he would use the bin lid to crack heads and then to shield himself from flying missiles.
Jazz was obsessed about movies especially those of Forties Hollywood. He would tell anyone who'd listen about how he used to be a Hollywood stunt man. According to Jazz, he had done stunts for Gary Cooper and Jimmy Cagney but mostly for Henry Fonda. "Fonda had tiny hands" he'd say, "the smallest hands I've ever seen, like a wee bunch of pink mice. The directors were always telling me to keep my big hands up my sleeves when I was doing a stunt for Fonda".
Now, Jazz had a habit of switching the film reels so you never knew what film you were going to get. We'd take our seats, the lights would go down and it wouldn't take long to realise that we weren't watching the film we'd come to see... Once, it was John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath. "What's this crap?" we shouted. Jazz whipped out his torch like a gunslinger and shone it directly into our eyes. "Do you think that Henry Fonda spent weeks learning his lines only to be interrupted by the likes of you? Do you think that I risked my neck falling off horses and jumping out of trains only to be heckled by idiots? Shut your faces!" "You're full of shit Hegarty! You've never been out of this town in your life and you wear your pyjamas under your clothes! We want our money back!" And then a half eaten ice cream hit Jazz in the face. All hell broke loose. Jazz thew everyone out under the hail of coins and half full lemonade bottles rattling off his dustbin lid. I got under the seat with no excuse except cowardice.
When the dust settled, Jazz locked the doors, sat down in the front row, and ordered the projectionist to roll the film. Cramped and aching, I finally eased myself from under the seat and, with no means of escape, sat in silence and watched The Grapes of Wrath. It had a profound effect on me. It made me cry. I didn't know what was happening to me; I'd never cried at a movie before. I didn't want to cry. I tried to fight the tears but it was pointless. And they were tough tears, big salty bastards that flooded the whole of my head and I was exhausted trying to force them back, so I give in.
When the film was over the houselights came up and Jazz just stared at me. Without a word he got up, opened up the big double doors, took his broom in his huge hands and began to sweep up the debris. I didn't move. I couldn't. It was like I'd acquired some kind of longing, like I'd fallen in love, or something... a great unexplained ache in my heart. I wanted to be up there on the silver screen. I wanted to make people cry. I wanted to go to Hollywood. I wanted to be a movie star.
I think I saw all of Henry Fonda's films, certainly the ones he made in the forties and fifties but, no matter how hard I looked, I could never figure out if he had small hands or not. Jazz assured me that he had so I'd had to take his word for it. And my obsession to go to Hollywood stayed with me...
Twenty-five years later I finally got there. In 1997, I'd written a play about alcoholism called Off My Face. It was suggested that I should take the show to L.A. as there were lots of alcoholics in L.A. (L.A. was known as L.A. A.A!) I jumped at the chance. It was a disaster, probably the worst experience of my career. This play will tell you what happened...
Walking along Hollywood Boulevard, the boulevard of my dreams, dejected and very depressed, I found myself outside the world famous Mann Chinese Theatre where all the hand and footprints of the movie greats past and present are imprinted on the pavement... There, in the corner, was Henry Fonda's signature and... his handprints. Were they small? Was Jazz telling the truth...? Well, I can't give the end away now can I? Owen O'Neill