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Notes to Zehme on Andy Kaufman's "The Huey Williams Story"

Bill & Mike,

The public perception of Andy Kaufman's short life reminds me of the story of Henri Matisse's painting, "Le Bateau". When it was first shown at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1961, it was mistakenly hung upside-down. For a month and a half no one realized that this classic work of art was being looked at from the wrong viewpoint.

Here's hoping your biography of Andy turns the canvas of his life right-side up for all to see. Thank you for the opportunity to assist you with this project. I am thrilled beyond words to have met and worked with both of you. Additionally, I hope this report is free of errors of usage, grammar, syntax, and spelling.

The Huey Williams Story, the fictional biography of "the world's greatest entertainer."

Generally, the overall quality of the writing is quite remarkable. Andy Kaufman is a good storyteller, and portions of "The Huey Williams Story" are very entertaining. The work suffers a bit from lack of proofreading and editing, but still provides some interesting insight into Andy nonetheless.

The excerpts reviewed were composed between September 3, 1979 through November 29, 1980. The time period prior to (and during) the dates noted above comprised a busy and dynamic time in Kaufman's career. A year earlier (September 20, 1978) marked the debut of "Taxi" on ABC. Throughout 1979, Andy appeared in "Cher and Other Fantasies" (NBC); performed in a charity benefit for the NYPD, "VIP Night on Broadway" (Andy sang "Tomorrow" from the musical "Annie" with a very young Sarah Jessica Parker); four days later he starred in perhaps his crowning accomplishment, "Andy Kaufman Plays Carnegie Hall"; his ABC comedy special (originally taped in 1977) was finally broadcast; he made a guest appearance on, "A Johnny Cash Christmas (CBS); performed on "HBO's 2nd Annual Young Comedian's Show"; and was nominated for a Golden Globe award as Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy of Musical Series for his work as "Latka" on Taxi. In addition to the big events listed above, Andy continued an ambitious schedule of nightclub shows and college concerts all across the nation. He began his intergender wrestling career during this time period, even conducting one of his matches on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" (February 24, 1979). Considering Andy's tireless schedule, writing "Huey" in his spare time (most often during late night hours) seems simply amazing.

(Page numbers quoted below are the actual page numbers found on Andy's hand scribed manuscripts.)

The story of Huey Williams is really the story of Andrew Geoffrey Kaufman, and this part of the Huey Williams saga clearly captures snippets of what life (and the world) looks like through the eyes of a youngster/teenager. Andy was 30-years-old when he wrote this, and it's obvious that his childhood memories and impressions were still fresh in his mind. However, despite the innocence, many of the passages are tempered with the realities of life that Andy came to understand during his adult years. For example, on Page 12, while explaining the character of John Smith an old black man known as the town drunk, Andy writes, "The boys secretly want to be like him when they grow up. What a life that would be just being drunk all the time... They see it as some sort of fantasy like a movie. They don't realize the reality of it. They don't perceive the pain. To them, he is a man who decided that this is what he wanted to be in his life and so he is that. There is no reason to them; no woman who has broken his heart, no financial situation..., no failure..., or whatever the reason might be. To them, all adults are part of a distant, unreal world in which problems don't really exist like they do so badly in the teenage years."

His poignant remembrances of Huey's childhood suggest that Andy was an extremely sensitive, and intelligent boy. His ability to observe and understand the subtle nuances of child and adult relationships are very interesting. He clearly describes the emotions and dialogue of a kindergarten student attending his first day of school (Page 30-37). You can share the terror that Huey feels as he fights to build the courage to say his name when called during the daily attendance (Page 38-47). Huey's painful shyness and his sensitivity seem very similar to descriptions of Andy as a young boy. On Page 47-49 we find a strange scene in which Huey's teacher, Miss Ware (who has been verbally abusive to Huey) lies to his mother and tells her that she's never been anything but nice to young Huey. Huey is devastated. As a teenager, Huey struggles with how to correctly kiss a girl, and how to relate to girls in general. Andy devotes page after page of detailed accounts of Huey's devotion to the opposite sex. Much like Andy did as a boy.

Andy (as Huey) also delves into how children naively comprehend adults. On Page 26 we learn about Dobbsy, the kindly operator of the ice cream concession at Huey's grandparent's country club. This short snippet reveals a nice and polite man who graciously gives the boy an ice cream. Yet later, on Page 151, an older, wiser Huey Williams in confronted by Dobbsy in an angry manner. He describes the scene thusly: "No one ever socialized with Dobbsy. He was known among them as the most ornery and bitter man to ever walk the earth. Eventually the ladies left to go back to work, and Huey sat alone thinking about this man who was introduced to him when he was about four or five years old as a kind man. ... Maybe he was a good actor and acted nice in public...(O)r maybe Huey's perception had become refined over the years...Huey couldn't tell and wondered about it...on his way out of the dining hall, he watched from the kitchen door for just a few minutes as he saw Dobbsy giving out balloons to the children in the same disdainful manner in which he had spoken to Huey...as each mother stood alongside her child and said, "Isn't Dobbsy a nice man? Yes Mommy."

Huey (like Andy) stayed to himself and entertained imaginary friends. On Page 49 we read, "He withdrew into his little shell... During recess, on the playground, while all the other kids were playing ball, hopscotch, and other social games, he would go everyday into the little wooded area... just out of sight of the others, and play with his imaginary friends... when he got to know his imaginary friends better and felt comfortable with them, he really looked forward to recess just like the other kids.

This passage rings very similar to a quote from Andy (prominently displayed on The Andy Kaufman home Page, by the way) that reads as follows, "While all the other kids were out playing ball and stuff, I used to stay in my room and imagine that there was a camera in the wall. And I used to really believe that I was putting on a television show and that it was going out to somewhere in the world."

The portion beginning on Page 127 is rather ironic in that it talks about the evils of smoking cigarettes and later how Huey's Grandpa fakes a sickness just to fool everyone. Several of the scenes take on eerie tomes of Andy's own death/faked death legacy. There's some real humor amid the weirdness, and it goes on for several pages.

Grandpa is a put-on artist and Huey's biggest inspiration. After Huey is pulled from class, he's taken to the hospital to see his dying grandfather. Grandpa lies in a hospital and fakes that he doesn't recognize anyone. He's delirious. He begins to call for Huey and asks everyone else to leave the room.

(Page 130)

"Hi Grandpa."

"Hi Huey."

"What's the matter with you?"

"Not much, really. It's just another practical joke."

"Really?

"Say Huey, could you please pass me that carton of cigarettes?"

Grandpa deflects Huey's warning about the evils of smoking by saying that it's just a joke. He then pulls the needles and tubes out of his arm, gets out of bed and dances a cha-cha.

"Huey was relieved. Grandpa had done it again. He would go to any lengths to fool people. But how did he fool the doctors? At just that moment, Grandpa suddenly stopped dancing, clutched at his chest and staggered to the bed.

Grandpa you're going to die.

That's right.

I thought nothing was wrong with you.

I was joking.

(Later - Page 135)

Grandpa was almost motionless now, and his mouth moved as he barely spoke. `Huey, listen to me and remember what I'm going to say.'

`Yes, Grandpa.' There was a lump in his throat and he wanted to cry.

`Huey, you can do anything you want to do.'"

(Later - Page 137)

"He seemed not to move and Huey felt death start to fill the room. Huey cried. The tears started pouring from his eyes. `Good-bye Grandpa, I'll miss you.' And he kissed him on the forehead... `Grandpa,' he said through his tears to the lifeless body. `I know we'll be together again someday,' and he continued weeping.

Suddenly Grandpa opened his eyes. `Don't cry,' he said. `It's all right. We'll meet again.'

`Why don't you go get the others.'

They all grouped around the bed. Grandma went up close to him, feeling hurt that he hadn't remembered her before, trying for one last time. `Harry,' she said. `Harry, it's me. Daisy.'

`Daisy, Who's Daisy?' he winked subtly at Huey.

Then he closed his eyes for the final time.

...Huey just stared at him, trying to comprehend the concept of death, and kept staring at him as he lay in the casket and stared at Grandpa's now waxlike face...

Several scenes re-appear more than once throughout the story, each time they are similar, but with slight variations. For example, a scene on Page 5 involving an unidentified teenaged boy who has been humiliated by an older (college age) man who took his girlfriend away and beat him up is repeated (with variations) later in the story on Page 227. In the later version, Huey's mentor, "Tiny" loses his girl. This compounds Tiny's already sullen state, as he is suddenly realizes that dropping out of school, losing friends to graduation, and other perceived inadequacies are driving him to make a drastic change in his life.

A paragraph on Page 245 describes the friendship between Huey and Tiny (as they make-out with two girls). However, upon closer review this paragraph could serve as a description of Andy and Bob Zmuda's relationship(?):

"It was a feeling that was shared by two men who had shared many experiences together. The girls didn't quite understand it. They couldn't. It was a very unique kind of feeling that could be understood by two men who, for instance, have survived a war together. Huey and Tiny were just beginning to understand this feeling, and as it hit them, they called out about it freely in the silent darkness as they learned and explored their respective female partners."

In Laurie Anderson's "Stories from the Nerve Bible" she recalls her short relationship with Andy Kaufman. She was impressed by Andy's ability to manipulate the confusion between art and life, and how Kaufman staged events to explore this theme.

During her story about Andy, she explains how, suitably plied with whiskey, she served as one of Andy's opponents during his nightclub intergender wrestling matches. She claimed that it was a combination of the whiskey and Andy goading her with offensive behavior that prompted her to participate.

Yet, according to Anderson, Andy's boundaries between his art/work and everyday life were blurred. She illustrates this by telling another story of being at a carnival with Andy and preparing to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl. Andy would wait until everyone was strapped in and the crew was doing the safety check, and then he would begin to scream, "We're all going to die!!" "Help!!" "Stop this thing, let me out!!"

(The elusive Ms. Anderson was never corraled for an interview about her short time with Andy.)

On Page 320 of The Huey Williams Story, we see the exact same scene played out between Huey and the lovely Susan Brown. This part of the book was composed by Andy between November 22-23, 1980, and introduces us to Susan Brown, the former Homecoming Queen, who Huey has a crush on. He takes her to the amusement park and Susan proceeds to complain about everything and refuses to go on any rides. Finally, Huey breaks her down and she agrees to go along on the smallest roller coaster. As the car goes slowly up to the top of the first hill we read:

"A chain pulled it up the first hill. As it did, Huey decided to have some fun with her. He said, as though surprised, `Oh no! I just remembered!' and snapped his fingers.

`What?'

'I forgot: This is the one that goes upside down and sometimes falls off the track!'

"Really?!'

`Oh no!,' he screamed. `Let me out of here! Stop the ride! Stop the ride!"

Cast of Characters:

Huey - Andy

Jack - Stanley

Waldo - Michael

Kate - Carol

Harry - Papu

Daisy - Grandma Pearl

Eddie Dunbar - ?

John Smith - Old Black Man, Town Drunk

Miss Ware - Huey's Kindergarten Teacher

Dabbsy - The "Kindly" Operator of the Ice Cream Concession

Tiny - "F-Troop"

Tommy - "F-Troop"

Danny - "F-Troop"

Scott - "F-Troop"

Jill - "F-Troop"

Marla - "F-Troop"

Ralph - The Retarded Boy at the Bowling Alley

William Dupree - ?

Carole - Curly Redheaded Girl with Large Breasts

Janet - The Blonde

Major Events/Persons in Storyline:

First Day of Kindergarten

Attendance in Kindergarten

John Brown

The Amusement Park

The Mountain

Imaginary Friends

King of the Hill

Doll on the Top Shelf

Dream Girl With the Diamond Birthmark

Grandpa the Trickster

The Evils of Cigarette Smoking

Grandpa's Death

How To Kiss a Girl

Graduation

Taxi Driver

Susan Brown the Homecoming Queen

Additional notes about Andy's unpublished writings:

Andy completed his first novel, "The Hollering Mangoo" when he was sixteen. "He had an unusual style, kind of like James Joyce's "Ulysses," offers Stanley, a graying version of his son in dark-rimmed glasses. "Once, in a story when a character had to laugh, Andy wrote an entire page of him laughing. Ha ha, hee hee, tee hee, ho ho. All the laugh sounds filled the page. I couldn't believe anyone would sit through it, but when he read it aloud, everyone was hysterical at the end."

He gave readings from his second novel, "God". "There was only one close friend who was ever able to understand this," he began the introduction to the novel "God," which he wrote when he was only twenty and has such mixed feelings over now. He had given it a new title, "Gosh." "It's...it's infantile, some of it. Some of it's stupid. But then again, it's okay. Do you want to know the plot?" Andy Kaufman ran down the somewhat Byzantine plot of "Gosh" while I leafed through the manuscript. The narrative, I thought, had lots of charm; Andy Kaufman's prose style has antecedents in James Thurber, and perhaps "Naked Lunch." "You happen to be hitting a of the good pages," he protested. "Actually, it was my reading of it that I was getting sick of." But I sensed he was impatient now: The prospect of watching me read seemed to frustrate Andy Kaufman, and soon he was leafing through it for me, while keeping up a commentary. "Here's Larry, the truck driver who becomes Elvis Presley later on," he was saying. "And the king of Malagadonia...the people of China...Gina. And here's Tinctured speaking," he said, referring to Tinctured Puncture, Gosh's protagonist. He turned to a page of single spaced unpunctuated gibberish.

"The Hollering Mangoo," written at sixteen, during Andy Kaufman's "obscene period," was even longer than "Gosh," more visceral, in fact quite brutal, and, frankly, more to my liking. It featured dinner-table scenes of mothers forcing eggs and liver at whip point, lots of beating, a lot of defecation, a lot of sex, especially a lot of different boys. Andy Kaufman describes them as "different aspects of myself." Correctly, he described the theme as "the ultimate fantasies of a sixteen-year-old," His high school teacher hated it. Andy Kaufman seemed pleased I liked it. "I wrote this book so people would vomit," he said..

I knew Andy throughout most of our junior high and high school days... I think elementary too, matter of fact, but I never knew him! He was always so quiet and alone... He never participated in any school extracurricular activities. I never even knew if he had friends! Andy sat right in front of me in English in 10th or 11th grade and I remember specifically one time as we were leaving class, I saw that he had a thick manuscript and noticed that it was written in longhand. I asked him what it was and he said he had written a novel! I asked to see it. He showed it to me and I started to read. It was total, absolute gibberish to me! I was convinced that Andy Kaufman was insane at that point. I knew nothing of his show business aspirations and if I had, I'm sure I would have been convinced without a doubt in my mind that he needed to be committed.

Joan Saltsberg, Great Neck North High School, Class of 1967.

1978 - Begins work on his third book titled, "The Huey Williams Story." The fictional biography of "the world's greatest entertainer." It also has never been published..

David Hirshey, "Andy Kaufman: Beyond Laughter," Rolling Stone, April 30, 1981, pp. 15-21..

Janet Coleman, "Don't Laugh at Andy Kaufman," New York Magazine, September 11, 1978, pp. 50-54..

The Andy Kaufman Home Page, Timeline.

The Huey Williams Story - Part II

The excerpts reviewed (Page 1 is missing) were composed between Christmas Day, 1980, through March 11, 1982. During this time period Andy was busy with his Intergender wrestling career, this includes his famous match with the now missing Playboy Playmate Susan (Miss September) Smith (October 11, 1981). He also appears on "The Midnight Special" and opens for Rodney Dangerfield at the Fairfield Theatre, San Francisco, California (January 29-31, 1981). Or should I say, Tony Clifton performed in the last two referenced performances? Andy's controversial "Fridays" shows also aired during this time period (February 20, 1981 and September 18, 1981). His critically panned and box office disaster, "Heartbeeps" premiered on December 18, 1981. (Recently a Walter Brady celebrity profile in the Sunday "Parade" magazine featured Bernadette Peters. Her list of film credits curiously omitted her co-starring role in "Heartbeeps.") When not shooting "Taxi," Andy worked evenings as a busboy at "Jerry's Famous Deli."

Again, Andy's commitment to his writing is phenomenal.

The majority of Part II was penned at homes on Greenvalley Road and Grassfield Road. Andy apparently carried this notebook/journal with him at all times. Passages were written in Chicago (Rick & Carol's), New York City, a Carson City whorehouse, and hotels in both Boston and London. The final pages (371-373) are written in New York City while Andy stayed at the New York Hilton preparing for his first appearance on David Letterman's new show, "Late Night with David Letterman." This appearance (February 17, 1982) marks the first of 10 visits that Andy makes to the show. As you know, the following day (February 18, 1982) Bob Zmuda appeared on "Late Night" as Tony Clifton. Most of the Late Night crew were unaware that he wasn't Andy Kaufman. During the early days of Late Night, Andy was Dave's favorite guest. "In those early days," said Letterman, "there was no better guest than Andy Kaufman. You never knew what to expect from Andy, but it was always exciting and unpredictable."

In Part I, Andy lays the foundation of the Huey Williams Story. Huey's childhood days, from his first day of kindergarten to the weeks after his high school graduation are revealed. We learn of Huey's deepest fears and wildest dreams, and begin to know his family and friends in some detail.

Part II (all 373 pages) explodes into multiple layers, multiple characters, and multiple storylines. And much like Part I, the stories revolve around tales of courage, inner-strength, happiness, silliness and joy. Huey (and friends) strive for acceptance and understanding in a world where they are viewed by many as misfits. Part II features Cowboys, Indians, Country & Western singers, bullies, occasional violence, common folk, medically trained postal workers, foreigners, strange beautiful women, and assorted outcasts. As Martin Buber once said, "All actual life is encounter," and Andy fills Part II with an assortment of colorful encounters in the magical life of Huey Williams.

In Part I, Andy built the history of "The Mountain," and reference to The Mountain continues in Part II. In Andy/Huey's world The Mountain appears to represents life's possibilities and everyone's hopes and dreams for the future. Everybody secretly wants to climb The Mountain but few dare. The journey up The Mountain was lifelong and treacherous and those who did, did so at great risk. If they successfully reached the top they gained great personal and material riches, and a better understanding of themselves(?) The Mountain is the focal point for the town, a place where a family can gather at it's foot to have a picnic and admire it's beauty.

In the beginning of The Huey Williams Story, The Mountain stands alone - untouched and adored. This changes when The Mountain is purchased by "a rich man or conglomerate." The Mountain is soon surrounded by a fence, installed by the rich owner. They also install a Tram which provides quick and easy access to The Mountain, but the owners of The Mountain control who has access.

During the "western town history" portion of Part II, Andy continues to build the history of The Mountain with rich descriptions of the town of Auburndale. Auburndale was, established at the edge of The Mountain and named after one of their more prominent citizens, "(T)he citizens of the community named their town, 'Auburndale,' after Jack Auburn of General Store fame." Andy's writings exhibit a flair for old west storytelling as such, ".an old friend of his, Dame Lady May, known as Mrs. Martha May Ray, of Scotsboro fame, built a hotel not too far from Jack Auburn's General Store, and the two became neighbors." The people of Auburndale view the changes to The Mountain, particularly the Tram, with suspicion and skepticism. The Tram leads to their economic downfall, not to mention some general bad behavior.

Huey's first night in Auburndale is quite eventful. After securing his belongings at a local shop, Huey explores the town and finds the Auburndale jail, home of Auburndale's one and only prisoner. The prisoner committed the town's first and only crime, and as punishment is now on permanent display behind bars.

For dinner, Huey chooses Jake Ormsby's Restaurant. The rowdy brand of people in the saloon/restaurant make Huey uncomfortable. Despite the drinking, cursing and bawdy behavior, Huey stays and eats his entire meal. Huey even tolerates the rude treatment he receives at the hands of his waiter.

As Huey begins to eat his salad a floor show begins. A toothless old man with a guitar and a gravelly voice begins to sing boring songs. Andy describes thusly, ".sputtering curses in between songs, and looking mean like he'd just come off a pirate ship and had cut the hearts out of many a man and raped many a woman." (Page 251)

In shades of Tony Clifton, the singer treats the audience terribly, "During his set of music, he kept reminding the customers in the place that he resented being there and didn't have to put up with any of them, 'So shut up when I'm on the stage! I could be home right now with my shoes off, relaxing with my woman.'" (Page 251)

Huey finally gets a room for the night at Lady May's Hotel, and while there meets Curly, a famous Country & Western singer. (Perhaps it wouldn't a great stretch to believe that the character of Curly was inspired by Andy's admiration for Slim Whitman.) At Curly's behest Huey puts on a private show for Curly and his friends. After Huey fancies them with songs, pantomimes, magic tricks and some home movies, (Does this sound an awful lot like Andy, or what?) Huey plays the instrument his late Grandpa taught him to play (in Part I), the exotic "Wamagadoon." Curly is blown away by this new and mysterious musical creation and greatly admires Huey's proficiency on this weird new instrument. The Wamagadoon is described as follows, "And Huey proceeded to play the instrument just the way he had for various children years ago. He started slowly, and then let the music build gradually, until the instrument was practically playing itself as Huey just plucked it at random and arched his body forward, letting it bounce up and down with the music, smiling and eventually saying such phrases as, 'We're playing the Wamagadoon! Hey, it's time to play the Wamagadoon!' And with every pluck of the fingers or hands on the surface or strings of the instrument, waves of bliss were felt throughout the room and even outside where the men were waiting for their leader but did not start without him because they were so entranced by the sound and vibrations." (Pages 270-271)