By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

Tom Henderson: A star is born (just don't blink)

Photo by Amy Timshel##Tom Henderson appears as 19th-century columnist Edgar Wilson Nye in the indy movie “10 Days in a Madhouse.”
Photo by Amy Timshel##Tom Henderson appears as 19th-century columnist Edgar Wilson Nye in the indy movie “10 Days in a Madhouse.”
Photo by Tom Henderson##Caroline Barry stars as Nellie Bly, a 19th-century journalist who went undercover in an insane asylum in 1887, in the movie “10 Days in a Madhouse.”
Photo by Tom Henderson##Caroline Barry stars as Nellie Bly, a 19th-century journalist who went undercover in an insane asylum in 1887, in the movie “10 Days in a Madhouse.”

I now only work as a journalist between acting projects.

My first gig was in “Othello” at South Salem High School in 1980. Most recently, I appeared in last year’s motion picture “10 Days in a Madhouse.” Between you and me, I hit a bit of a dry spell in between.

Guest Writer

Tom Henderson covers city government and social issues for the News-Register. He has been a reporter and editor for Northwest newspapers for 38 years. The descendant of immigrants, he arrived in Oregon as a refugee from Iowa.

To be completely honest, those are my only two acting credits. Ever. Nonetheless, I can semi-honestly say I am a Shakespearean-trained film actor. I even have the Internet Movie Database page to prove it. “Tom Henderson is an actor, known for ‘10 Days in a Madhouse,’” reports IMDb.

Well, “known” might be stretching it — unless you count my immediate family and people who don’t blink. The story of 19th-century journalist Nellie Bly going undercover in an insane asylum might have fared better at the box office had it appeared in more actual theaters with actual box offices.

It had what the film industry calls a “limited release,” meaning it was seen by slightly fewer people than saw your aunt’s vacation slides.

And it had such an auspicious premiere.

After positive reviews at the Cannes Film Festival and other screenings, it debuted in New York at the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square. I proudly told my friends there to grab their tickets. “That’s the bed bug theater!” one friend exclaimed. “New Yorkers never go there!”

Yup. The theater closed because of bed bugs. Twice. The first time was after a showing of “Ant-Man.” There were more insects in the seats than on the screen. Ewww! When New Yorkers want that kind of creepy audience interaction, they see a revival of “Cats.”

The rest of the movie’s release was as epic as Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. In other words, it was a torturous city-by-city march that ultimately resulted in Cossacks eating everyone else’s popcorn. The movie eventually found its way to a small array of streaming sites. I have no idea what happens next.

I do know I have a new appreciation of movies and less zeal for criticizing the people who make them.

I got involved in “10 Days in a Madhouse” because I am a journalism and history nerd with a deep affection for Nellie Bly. I found a kindred spirit in indy filmmaker Tim Hines. I talked Tim into shooting “Madhouse” in Salem. That way, I could cover the making of the movie for my corporate overlords at 2Blue Media.

My favorite memory was when Tim cast my sons, my father-in-law and me as reporters at Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. Like I said, I am a history geek — especially when it comes to newspapers.

They set me up with an Underwood No. 5 typewriter. The No. 5 didn’t debut until the early 1900s. The movie is set in 1887. I pointed this out to the propmaster who promptly slapped a piece of electrical tape over the No. 5. “Do you know what this is for?” she said. “This is to shut Tom up.”

She meant that playfully (I think), but it was also a lesson I took to heart. These folks put their hearts and souls into a story that deserved to be told. The least I could do was shut my gob.

The movie received a wide assortment of reviews. Many were glowing. Others used language that would make a newspaperman blush. The latter were usually based on the confines of the movie’s indy budget and all sorts of factors critics couldn’t understand but were beyond filmmakers’ control. I think of that when I watch movies now. Purity of purpose mean a lot.

The friends I made during the filming of “Madhouse” are some of the most earnest, hard-working, good-hearted and idealistic people I’ve ever known. They chose to tell the story of Nellie Bly exposing corruption, comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable and generally making the world more humane and just.

Better that than making another superhero special-effects monstrosity to sell “collectible” Dr. Pepper cans and show kids violence is OK as long as you’re the good guy.

So let the reviews be good or bad. As far as I’m concerned, “10 Days in a Madhouse” is a masterpiece, and the cast and crew are geniuses.

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