By Alyssa Schnugg
Screenwriter David Sheffield only spent his freshman year at the University of Mississippi before moving on to the University of Southern Mississippi; however, the time he spent in Oxford in the year 1967 taught him much — and not just in the classroom.
While attending school, at 19 years old, Sheffield worked as the manager of the former Henry Hotel – a small establishment that attracted “bizarre” characters. It was located in the building that now houses Rafter’s Blues House.
“It wasn’t an upscale hotel,” Sheffield told Hotty Toddy News recently. “Our clientele was mostly runaways, alcoholics, drug users and people who would walk around the lobby naked. It was quite an education for a young man.”
Sheffield wanted to write a play about the Henry Hotel; however, his career would eventually carry him off to Hollywood where he wrote for Saturday Night Live from 1980-1983. From there, in collaboration with screenwriter Barry Blaustein, he would write for such comedic movies as “Coming to America,” “Boomerang,” “The Nutty Professor I and II”, and most recently, the newly released “Coming 2 America.”
His dream of writing his own play based on the Henry Hotel was put on hold for decades but never died. Finally, that dream came to fruition in 2018 when his play, “The Heartbreak Henry,” premiered at Center Stage in Biloxi.
Now Sheffield’s play will be performed where it began – here in Oxford at the Gertrude C, Ford Center for the Performing Arts on Aug. 12-15.
Sheffield was in Oxford this week for auditions that were held at the Old Armory Pavilion.
Theatre Oxford is producing the show.
“We had a fun cast and a great run on the Coast,” he said. “We had standing ovations and packed the house every night. So I’m hoping we’ll do the same in Oxford.”
The play features Ole Miss student, Jamie Pippen, who takes the job of manager and soon finds himself surrounded by con men, pool sharks, hookers, and quite possibly, the love of his life.
Sheffield lives on the Gulf Coast but will be staying in Oxford once rehearsals begin in June as he directs the play.
Sheffield’s career has seen him working in Hollywood with stars like Eddy Murphy, but writing and directing his own play has been the pinnacle of his career, he said.
“This is all mine,” he said. “I’m not having to collaborate with anyone else. I’ve been involved in TV and film for decades, and it’s always very collaborative. You usually wind up in an argument with the director, or the script gets rewritten by others, and so sometimes that can feel like a thankless task.
“I’m not doing this for the money, but just for the love of doing it.”