Remembering Bill

I did not know Bill Henry very well. Actually, I didn’t know Bill at all. I was a freelance journalist for the Washington Examiner’s entertainment section, back before the Washington Examiner transitioned into the conservative news and politics publication it is now. Each year, my editor had me write a story previewing the area’s Academy Award viewing parties. So, naturally, I included the Drafthouse event that Bill was part of.

In 2010, instead of just writing a few sentences covering the basics of the event, I reached out to Bill and requested an interview to talk not just about the event, but that year’s crop of contenders. Each year I try to watch as many Oscar nominated films as I can, so I really looked forward to talking about the movies with someone.

I ended up interviewing Bill four straight years -- 2010 through 2013 -- each time over the phone for 20 minutes or so, hearing his thoughts on “The Artist” and “The Descendants” and “Argo” and “Lincoln.” The Examiner changed formats and I eventually moved out of the area and moved out of journalism. When Oscar time came around in 2014, I realized I would not have the opportunity to continue my conversations with Bill to discuss “Gravity” and “Twelve Years a Slave.” I actually missed it, a sentimentality rarely repeated with my other sources through the years.

Bill Henry was always kind to me and generous with his time. Though I did not know Bill intimately, my few conversations with him revealed Bill to be a goodhearted man. I’m saddened by his passing, and my thoughts are with his friends and family. (Robert Fulton)


He was a great all-around guy, very knowledgeable of course about movies (including great discussions with him at the Oscar evenings); but also just a great all-around guy with great humor and insight into many subjects. He'll be sorely missed. (Clint Gerdine)


Sitting in the front row, always with a book and willing to chat with everyone about whatever they wanted to discuss. I will miss him. (Anita Glick)


We are so sorry to hear about Bill. He was a friend, one of us. (Tony Gittens)


He was so knowledgeable on many topics---politics, history, religion, sports, and of course movies. Nowadays people look to their phones or other devices for info. He was a human imdb---before that site existed. He could talk about movies, both old and more current. He would help plan trivia questions to help stump people at DC Film Society events. When he was watching a film, he would sit through till the end of the closing credits. Sometimes, for an advance screening, the theater would cut off midway through the end credits (guess they wanted to hurry people out of the theater!). Well, Bill, not one to mince words, would make his voice heard on this point. To him, he wanted to see all the folks involved in a movie.

I think of all the opinions he was going to voice---upcoming movies (like “The Hateful Eight” or “The Force Awakens” -- or everything from art house fare to superhero films), the upcoming Jets season/recent draft picks, or even the recent British elections. Well, not sure about that last bit, but still curious about what he would have said, even if he simply joked about those “pompous Brits.”

In addition to his movie knowledge, he was also an expert on comic book history. He would talk about the publishing origins of these works, and would head to comic conventions like in San Diego.

Anyway, on a more serious note, he was family minded, taking time to visit his parents in FL, and calling them during the recent Oscar party. He was good at getting people involved as part of a social group or as part of a conversation. He would help pick the restaurants for post-event discussion. Bill was a highlight at any gathering, whether he was MC-ing or not. His is a presence that will be missed. (Andrew Haas)


I will always remember Bill as an incredible, special guy. He will be truly missed. (Charles Kirkland, Jr.)


Bill Henry was an excellent, respected and successful journalist, film critic, television and radio film commentator, film events host, film discussion group host, cable television supervisor, and film events attendee and supporter in the D.C. and Baltimore areas for many years. He was smart, educated, insightful and involved, and he had a huge passion for the movies. He was also a dedicated reader, and he loved books. He also had an interest in television, popular culture, entertainment history, literature, history and sports. So he had a variety of interests, and he made sure that he knew his facts when he focused on a particular area. That’s journalism—making sure that you conduct the proper research before making general statements in public. Bill did the research, and, again, that’s journalism.

I was fortunate enough to attend a monthly film discussion group hosted by Bill and the late Joe Barber for a while at the Columbia, Md., Borders bookstore. Bill and Joe would have this banter back and forth, discussing movies, often disagreeing with each other, sometimes agreeing, but always having fun and enjoying themselves. Often, watching Bill and Joe go at it talking about movies was far more entertaining than the movies that they were talking about. I also enjoyed Bill and Joe hosting the Coming Attractions, or Trailer Program, movie preview screening events hosted twice a year by the D.C. Film Society. That could be funny and entertaining, also.

Additionally, I was fortunate enough to often go out to dinner after the film discussion groups and after the Trailer Program events with Bill and Joe and a group of loyal film fans. Those were fun, too. Finally, I always looked forward to seeing Bill at the local advance film screenings in the D.C. area. Bill would usually sit far up front, front and center, and he usually had a book with him, which he would read before the screenings. I always made sure that I talked with Bill before and after the screenings. And that was the last time that I saw Bill—a couple of weeks ago, in April 2015, at a local film screening. Bill will be missed by many people, but he’ll always be remembered. See you at the movies, Bill. (Matt Neufeld)


Of course, Bill could entertain me -- with a remark about a film (or filmmaker) he didn't like, or with one of the most fascinating moviegoing stories I've ever heard. He once went to the old Jenifer Theater despite all the snow that had kept everyone away -- including the theater personnel. The Jenifer was empty but automated, so at the appropriate times, it unlocked itself and started the movie ... for an audience of one William Henry.

Bill had other sides, too ... carrying me and my wheelchair on the stairs rather than wait for the elevator ... checking with me and my wife Rita to make sure we were handling a snowstorm okay ... or gently informing me of the deaths of old friends. And while Bill might do a curmudgeon routine and pretend to disrespect my service dogs, I remember him quietly expressing his sympathy the day that one of our pet dogs died ... a dog he'd never met.

I knew a movie was doing something right when I heard a distinctive laugh coming from the front rows. I miss it. I miss Bill. (Chuck Rich)


My two favorite Bill stories:

1. As you know, Bill was well-versed in all matters related to film, baseball, history, and other topics as well. In 1998, we gave him business cards that quite simply read "Bill Henry - Expert".

2. Bill and Joe used to co-host a film discussion group at the Borders in Columbia in the early 2000s. The event was very popular - there was usually a core group of about 15-20 people always in attendance. When the store ran short of space for the event, it was moved into the Children's Books section. One night, Bill got a little carried away and started to quote the lyrics from one of the more profane songs from the "South Park" movie. Everyone cringed as he delightfully quoted away. Moments later, a store employee whispered something in Bill's ear, and he silently turned red. Everyone in the group sensed the content of the comment; Bill confirmed later that he was told to keep it clean. Very funny.

Bill was a unique person, but one that I proudly called a friend. He will be missed. (Murray Siegel)


Adam would take me with him to Bill and Joe’s Movie Guys talks at the Silver Spring Borders. Shortly after I moved here from Israel, Adam was out of town and sent me as his “delegate” for Bill and Joe’s talk. Bill right away volunteered to drive me from Falls Church to Silver Spring and back. He knew I was intimidated by the Metro. All evening he treated me as his responsibility and made sure I had a good time, and that I was not OD’d on “movie talk.”

In 2009, Adam and I had a civil marriage. We invited a small group of friends only for a dinner afterwards. But Bill misunderstood and thought we invited him to the ceremony. Adam and I looked at each other and couldn’t say no. So we designated Bill to be our photographer. At the ceremony, it was me, Adam, the official, Adam’s mother, and Bill. Adam and I looked back and realized that Bill was a part of every important event in our lives together except our religious wedding, as that was in Israel.

In February 2014 Adam and I missed the Beatles special that aired on CBS. Bill mentioned that he had it on his DVR and that we should stop by and watch it. It took a while, but Bill was patient and saved his valuable DVR space for us. Finally, on January 1, 2015, Adam and I made it to Bill’s apartment and we all watched the special together. It was my first and only time at his place, and being there helped me peel another layer and get to know him better. When Adam told me of Bill’s passing, I felt devastated knowing we lost, that Adam lost, a close, loyal friend who will be sorely missed. (Sarit Cioban Spector)


I knew Bill Henry through a mutual friend, Murray Siegel, who invited me to a monthly movie discussion group at Borders Books in Columbia, MD almost a decade ago. Henry and fellow movie critic Joe Barber would hold court and discuss the current release of movies and explore various themes. They would have a giveaway of promo items at the end which was fun for our little group. I appreciated the duo for keeping us all up to date about the latest films and news, and while I wouldn't always agree with them, it was fun to see the two of them bicker about a given film. The conversation would become animated and outrageous at times, but there was always their enthusiasm that showed through. Their interplay could be downright hilarious. Bill had a very strong mindset on his opinions of films and he was not afraid to share it. Afterwards, a few of us would regularly venture to a nearby restaurant for late night food and continue the discussion which would range from film to television, to sports and even the general news.

Bill always had his take on things and when it came to baseball, he loved his New York Mets. I felt privileged to be able to engage in these discussions, and felt I could hold my own although I could see how someone who was not knowledgeable or serious about film or related matters could feel intimidated by him. When the movie group was moved to Silver Spring, I was unable to regularly make the more distant trek. I followed Bill and Joe's website, The Movie Guys, and was saddened when Joe passed away a few years ago. I felt blessed to have known Bill, and my hope is that he and Joe are in the heavens still bickering and comparing notes about the best and worst in film. (Clint Tsao)


I would gladly never see a movie again if we could have our friend back and I could only hear about them from Bill. (Bill Woods)


I really came to know Bill after 2005, when I went to more DC Film Society events. In order to make sure to get into screenings, you’re supposed to arrive an hour early, so once you get in, there’s a half-hour or 45 minutes until the film starts. With Bill sitting one row behind me, I quickly learned that Bill always had smart and intelligent things to say. I learned a lot from him. Over the years, I learned about his dedication to film. He had a streak, which began when he was in college in the late 1970s and lasted for at least 20 years after that and possibly longer, where he saw every film released in a theater in the Washington, D.C. area. That’s between 300 and 400 films a year—and Bill saw them all, often showing up at 10 PM screenings late in the week to keep his streak going. He eventually realized that he didn’t have to see everything, but he still saw over 200 films a year.

Bill’s dedication to films also extended to the past. Most of us feel we’ve achieved something if we see all the Best Picture nominees each year. Bill had seen all the Best Picture nominees in history, with the exception of about eight of them. I’m pretty sure he once told me he had seen all the films nominated for Best Picture since 1943. The eight missing films were ones that no one has seen for decades—because they’ve never been released on DVD, or because no one knows who owns the copyright to them.

In addition, Bill read a great many books that were turned into movies. Every time I saw him at a screening, he was reading something. This meant he often had to consume some junk.

Finally, Bill had a particular dedication to the James Bond films. He knew more about Bond movies than anyone I knew. We both agreed that Christoph Waltz was an excellent choice for a Bond villain, and I’m sorry Bill will never learn if Waltz is really playing Blofeld in “Spectre.”

I’m grateful to Bill for the hours and hours of good conversation we had at screenings and over dinner. He was a smart guy who was a lot of fun to be with. I will miss him. (Martin Wooster)


I met Bill more than 30 years ago when he invaded my front-row territory at the Kennedy Center's AFI. Who was this young interloper? He was working at the Hill Rag then as film reviewer and managing editor. At that time, we were both going to the AFI many times per week mostly watching old movies but also anything else the AFI was showing. Sitting together in the front row for so many years, we talked mostly about movies and books. He was always eager to know what I was reading and told me that his love of reading was sparked by Treasure Island. We talked about other things also including politics and his love of baseball. He always spoke fondly about his family and would miss movies to drive up to New Jersey and visit them (and later to Florida). Anyone would be glad to have him for a brother, son, nephew, uncle or friend.

When Bill told me about his new radio show with Joe Barber on the Derek McGinty show, I listened with a little nervousness at first, but he sounded like an old pro. He had a great radio voice--calm, knowledgeable and never lacking for something to say. Later he hosted talks at Borders Books with Joe and both of them became the regular hosts for the Film Society's Oscar Party. He would prepare trivia questions for the party and sometimes would try them out on me. Of course, I never knew the answers. Bill was a walking encyclopedia and a fount of information. He knew everything about movies and the movie industry. Once, and this was before google, I had been trying to find a film title from just a half-sentence and finally got it. When I mentioned it to Bill, he knew the film right away; I should have just asked him to begin with.

In those early years, I would see Bill at other theaters--the Key and Biograph (both gone), Filmfest DC, the French Embassy, the Archives, the EU Festival and many other places as we both pursued our film educations. As time passed, he stopped going to the older movies I had first seen him at and I would only see him at preview screenings of new releases. He was a good movie buddy. (Annette Graham)

Go here for "My Friend Bill."

Adam Spector
June 1, 2015

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