Former “SNL” Writer Brings “The Heartbreak Henry” to Oxford

David Sheffield (right), former chief comedy writer for “Saturday Night Live,” runs a comedy workshop at the School of Journalism and New Media. Sheffield is in Oxford to direct his play “The Heartbreak Henry”, which he based on his experiences running the Oxford hotel as a 19-year-old Ole Miss freshman in 1967. The play is based on his experiences running the Oxford hotel. will take place August 11-15 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Mississippi – David Sheffield, a University of Mississippi alumnus who went on to write for “Saturday Night Live” and several Eddie Murphy’s films, took the stage with “The Heartbreak Henry,” a comedy based on his experiences as manager of a flophouse hotel in Oxford in 1967.

The Theater Oxford production runs August 12-15, with a preview August 11 at the Mary Ann Mobley / Gary E. Collins Studio Theater at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets can be purchased at the Ford Center box office at 662-915-7411.

The production is co-sponsored by the UM School of Journalism and New Media.

“The School of Journalism and New Media has agreed to co-sponsor the production to provide students with the opportunity to hone their professional skills,” said journalism professor Kathleen Wickham. “Assistant Professor Michael Fagans joined the project to produce a documentary, along with students Margaret Bushway, Alexander Norris, Tucker Robbins and Billy Schuerman.

“It was also an opportunity for me to brush up on my professional skills in a new location, having worked in public relations at some point in my professional career.”

Wickham said she was drawn to “The Heartbreak Henry” after seeing him in Biloxi in 2018 at the Center Theater because of his treatment of the people who resided in the hotel in all their original, controversial and confusing character.

“David Sheffield was an innocent freshman, barely 19, who was so strapped for cash that he hitchhiked to campus from southern Mississippi,” he said. she declared. “He landed a job at the Henry Hotel as a theater major and had compassion for his tenants.

“It was this humanity that drew me to this project and why I worked to bring it to Oxford.”

The Henry Hotel was built in 1920. It had 30 rooms, but none had in-room telephones, just a pay phone in the lobby. In 1967, rooms were $ 4.50 a night, $ 5.50 with an in-room bath.

The Henry became a residential hotel in the 1970s, with rooms rented for $ 45 per month. Later the building was transformed into abbey apartments. Since 2015, the concrete building, with its gable roof, box cornice, molded frieze and closed gables, has housed Rafter’s bar.

The play features some of the cranky characters who frequented the dilapidated hotel during Sheffield’s tenure as manager. Much to Sheffield’s horror, he had to kick out two waitresses with illegal social concerts on a snowy Christmas Eve.

“This story happened about 50 years ago,” said Sheffield, who lives near Laurel. “I met a bunch of characters that I couldn’t get out of my mind. At Henry, the unexpected was the norm.

The show is also supported by grants from the Mississippi Arts Commission, Ford Center, and the Clancy Collins Fund, as well as community donors.

“I went to Ole Miss for an education, but the real education took place at the Henry Hotel,” Sheffield said. “I’ve seen things at the Henry that I’ve never seen at home.”

Sheffield was a co-writer on “Coming To / 2 America”, “The Nutty Professor”, “Boomerang” and other Eddie Murphy’s films, but he never forgot his time at the Henry Hotel. With “The Heartbreak Henry”, Sheffield returns to Oxford, where his career as a comedy writer began.

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