The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Timothy Hutton Story

In order for this story to make any sense, you need to know two pieces of exposition.

Expository Bit #1: In 1981, nineteen year-old Timothy Hutton won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance in Ordinary People. Anyone who has seen the film can clearly understand why. It was a phenomenal performance, however nothing could possibly match Timothy’s acceptance speech. Sadly, a few scant months before the awards, Timothy’s father, actor Jim Hutton, died of liver cancer. Timothy dedicated his award to his father, amidst floods of tears. By the time he was finished, everyone in the audience was sobbing, too.

Expository Bit #2: In 1973, Jim Hutton made a low-budget horror flick called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. It was a wonderful bit of Americana-gone-wrong. In the film, a young couple moves to an abandoned farmhouse which, for some reason, has a bricked-up fireplace in the living room. The scary old caretaker (why is there always a scary old caretaker?) warns the couple not to unbrick the fireplace.

Which the wife (Kim Darby) immediately does. What she doesn’t know is that living in the fireplace, beneath the bowels of the house, are terrifying little creatures that like to reach up through the fireplace, grab people, and drag them down to their lair. The only thing the creatures are afraid of is light, and of course once the wife smashes through the bricks, the power goes out and, well, you can imagine what happens.

The point is, I loved this movie as a child (of course, I also loved The Exorcist) and was very sad when Jim Hutton died because I’d never get a chance to tell him how much I enjoyed this schlocky horror film.

In my third year of repertory, I somehow got shanghaied into entering a competition in which veteran, professional actors would be paired with schmos like me to perform various scenes. It was kind of like the Pro-Am Golf Tournament, only without Bob Barker. By sheer luck of the draw, I was paired with Timothy Hutton, whom I had never met but always thought was a marvelous actor. The whole competition was called An Evening With Noel Coward.

Timothy and I talked at great lengths about what we’d like to perform. We finally decided on Blithe Spirit, with me as Ruth and Timothy as Charles. Surprisingly, we both got very into it and we were determined to win. (I especially had a gripe with a very serious rival actress who was doing Private Lives, and I was determined to beat her).

In the weeks of rehearsal that followed, I kept trying to tell Timothy that I had been a fan of his father’s, but it just didn’t seem to work itself into conversation. Finally, with only a few days to go, I decided to just come out with it.

“You know, Tim,” I said, casually one day as we were being pinned for costumes, “I’ve always wanted to tell you…I really was a big fan of your father’s.”

He seemed delighted to hear that. “Really? That’s great! Did you watch him in Ellery Queen?”

“Well, yes, but my favorite…” (and here I stumbled—was I actually going to admit this?) “Well, my favorite movie of his was Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.”

Timothy laughed and laughed. “Oh my God,” he said, “I wasn’t even allowed to watch that until I was fifteen!”

We both giggled and then I said, “man, I haven’t seen that movie in years.”

There was a thoughtful silence. “You know,” Timothy said, “I’ve got that movie on videotape.”

I blinked. “There’s a VCR in the green room,” I said.

“What are you doing tomorrow night?” he asked, grinning enthusiastically.

“Bringing popcorn. You bring the tape.”

And that’s how it happened. Twenty-four hours later, Timothy Hutton and I were sitting in the green room, eating very bad store-bought popcorn and watching Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

We both jumped nervously a number of times, and for the rest of the rehearsal period we kept sneaking up behind each other and doing the scary voices that the creatures did in the film. Then we’d collapse in laughter and no one knew what the hell was wrong with us.

As it turned out, Blithe Spirit wound up taking second place, but I was consoled by the fact that I did end up beating the girl I hated.

Timothy, of course, went on to a stellar career and I still get a friendly feeling every time I watch him. Occasionally I get the urge to contact him and see if he remembers me and our terrifying night in the green room.

Only, you know, he might think I was weird.

Next time: The legendary Larry.


  • At 7:06 AM, Blogger Paula Johnson said…

    Okay, that was just incredibly cool! And hey, it can't hurt to just drop a note and say hi! I did that recently with someone, and they actually wrote back!


  • At 8:46 AM, Blogger Aithne said…

    That is wonderful! How exciting you got to meet someone like that. Very cool. :)

  • At 7:57 PM, Blogger lolarennt34 said…

    Hi, your writing is beautiful. This is LilacFields. I'm having trouble with my account elsewhere. I'd love to continue to discuss On the Road with you. Please contact me at - your insights are making the book so much fun for me.



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