Fox River Deadfall
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A PERSONAL JOURNAL CHRONICLING FISHING ADVENTURES AT THE FOX RIVER AND BEYOND.
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OUR FISHING DAYS WITH HERVÉ: A POSTHUMOUS SOLUTE TO A MUSKY LEGEND

By Kevin Folta

Reproduced from the original 1997 article with permission from the author.

Most of us remember him as the dwarfen sidekick of “Mr. Roarke” in the 1980’s television series “Fantasy Island.” I called him friend. The late Hervé Villechaize, thespian and performer, was not only a tiny pawn of Hollywood industry, he also knew the pleasures of escaping to the northwoods of Wisconsin to fish. The elusive musky was his primary quarry.

In a strange turn of events, I had the pleasure of making acquaintance with Mr. Villechaize in the fall of 1989. At the time I was a first-year master’s student, sneaking away for a weekend of fishing with the great Buck Jennings in the Pike/Round Chain west of Minocqua, Wisconsin.

Buck and I were seated on the grass behind the Moosejaw Resort, taking a breather from what had started as a grueling day on the water. We watched the other boats cruise by, and one boat caught our eye. Perched on the bow almost like a maidenhead, we witnessed a tiny figurine of a person, casting musky lures with a rod twice his length. It was a sight that made us laugh and wonder if someone spiked our cocktails with hallucinogens or if this guy just had a really big boat.

As fate would have it, he would pull his boat up behind the Moosejaw Resort and walk right past us. We did that awkward thing that people do around midgets and dwarfs, where you pretend not to notice but really stare as if he/she just crawled out of a crashed saucer. I thought he looked familiar, so we followed him inside.

As we wiped our feet on the doormat we stood before a man enjoying a beer at the bar, a bar that took three Minocqua phone books and a Sears catalog to boost him up to. I knew that it was Hervé Villechaize, star of “Fantasy Island” and the kick-ass surreal freak movie “Forbidden Zone.” Buck and I stared at him silently from across the bar. He gazed at a college football game on TV and did not break his stare except when he would look into the beer glass because it would block his line of vision when he drank from it.

After about an hour I drank enough courage to approach him. “Mr. Villechaize? I’m glad to meet you,” I said, and extended my hand.

“You must have me confused with someone else (note: this will be funnier if you imagine his voice here) for I am not Mr. Villa-whatever, I am, uh, Mr. Smith,” he replied.

I knew at this point he would be a hard nut to crack, but the bar was loaded with liquid nutcracker. Soon we were doing shots with “Mr. Smith”, and soon the topic turned to musky fishing. He described that it was his life’s ambition to catch a musky bigger than himself, a tall order at 47”. He said that he was from California (nut started to crack here) and that he worked in television (crack, crack) and that he escaped to Wisconsin a few times a year to musky fish. To make a long story less long, pretty soon we were bouncing quarters into a shot glass with the little person, and soon it was obvious that we were going to be friends. It was only about an hour and a half later that a sloshed dwarf was telling us about his time in Hollywood, his career with Ricardo Montalbán, and how he “got it on” with each of the Landers sisters. It was Hervé Villechaize after all.

So tipsy was he from his pint-size alcohol tolerance that we offered to ferry him around on Buck’s boat and spend the afternoon fishing with us. He agreed, and genuinely appreciated having someone to talk to, and someone to drive the boat while he fished.

The afternoon was filled with laughter, as he went on to tell us about Hollywood, women, money and how he should feel so fulfilled. Still, he claimed to feel so empty, except when in the outdoors, especially fishing. He told us that in his native Samoa that he was a skilled angler and missed the time with his brothers and extended family. It was kind of sad, and despite how miraculous it was that we were fishing with Tattoo, the whole event was such a wet blanket. I felt so bad for the guy. To make matters worse, we only had one fish all day which shook off on Hervé on the side of the boat.

That night we exchanged good-byes and he asked for our names and addresses. We passed them along realizing that we would never hear from some Hollyweird Bighead who usually doesn’t associate with little people like us.

Strangely, late in November I received a letter with a photo from Hervé. The letter was dated November 16, 1989 and simply read, “Caught big one on a sucker, getting close, thanks again, Hervé.” The photo was of him standing in some goofy uniform holding a big musky, reported at 46”, an inch off of the mark he had established as a personal goal. I was touched by the fact that he would remember us.

Herve and musky
The next year he called Buck and asked if we wanted to join him, which we did. The weather did not cooperate and the fishing was dead. We got soaked, cold, and only raised one dink (no offense to our company of course). In 1991 he called and met us again, this time at Lake of the Woods. We had a nice time, got a few fish, none of any size to speak of. I got the impression that Buck and I were his only friends in the world. He would tell us all of his problems while we were trolling; it was obvious he was quite disturbed.

In 1992 he called me to go fishing, but wanted to go that weekend. There was no way I could go on such short notice, and Buck always had to plan stuff well in advance. Hervé went on about how he had nobody and that his fame was all based on his affliction. He told me that his health was failing him and that his kidneys were going bad and that he may not see another Canadian sunrise. I told him to cut the crazy talk and get some help. I told him we could not fish. I hung up and didn’t hear from him again until the next week.

I’ll never forget how the sound of the ringing phone pierced the night silence. It had an immediacy about it, an urgency that something was wrong. I answered to a sobbing Hervé Villechaize, a broken man, a man about to end his life.

“I wanted to kill myself, so I got all drunk up and tried to take the sleeping pills,” he said, “but my tiny hands could not liberate the child-proof cap -- the paaaain, the paaaain.”

His desperation was apparent. He was hysterical and I needed to get him off the line so I could call the police to assist him before he did something stupid. My efforts fell short, as the next transmission I heard was the ringing of a gunshot that took the precious life of my friend Hervé.

Herve up north
Several years have gone by, but I still think of him every time I am on the water, and think that maybe he’ll help me catch his 47”-er. He was a man who kept to himself, and truly enjoyed musky fishing.

This is why I would like to propose a new standard for reporting the size of a fish. Instead of simply reporting the length in inches, I think it would be a tribute to describe the length of the fish relative to Hervé’s height, and Hervé’s dream. If you catch a 45-incher, report it as “minus-two Villechaize”, a fifty would be “Villechaize plus three”, and a 47” on the button would simply be reported as an “Even Hervé”. Let’s band together and salute the man, the suffering he endured, and the relief he found in pursuit of the musky. It is the way he may have wanted it.

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© 2016 Fish The Fox. All Rights Reserved. | "Fox River Deadfall" artwork by Paul Turnbaugh. Used with permission.