My Name Is Bill W. (1989)
Reuniting after a successful teaming in the 1986 telefilm, Promise, James Woods and James Garner brought their acting chops once again to the small screen for this inspiring story of the men who began telling each other of their drinking problems which ultimately led to the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s a perfectly executed Hallmark Hall of Fame production that brought Woods an Emmy Award for his performance as the title character.
Woods stars as Bill Wilson, a WW1 veteran who upon returning home rejoins his wife, JoBeth Williams, and begins to launch a successful career in the stock market game during the rush of the 1920’s. It’s a mixture of business meetings and speakeasy’s when Woods and his best friend and drinking pal, Gary Sinise, soon become players before the crash of ’29. The excuses for his drinking and his constant promises to stop are regular discussions by the time he turns up at home where the long suffering Williams is awaiting him. Eventually his excessive boozing will cost him a powerful business partner and ultimately his job. That combined with the crash leaves him all but broke, drunk and lost in a bottle of sorrow.
Still Woods hasn’t bottomed out just yet. Amidst the trembling hands, the liver damage, the disheveled look and handouts he receives from his former business partner, he continues to make excuses for his problems and turns his back on Sinise when he turns up sober having found trust in God. While Woods shines throughout, Miss Williams gets overlooked in the Awards category but has her scene when she finally fights back at the man she has stood beside far too long launching into a verbal tirade aimed at Woods that she fully deserves.
When all is nearly lost, Woods will experience a divine moment. A sort of out of body experience while restrained in a hospital bed. He leaves the hospital a rejuvenated man but wisely tells his wife in reference to his sobriety, “in order to keep it, I gotta share it.” For Bill W. that’s the key to his cure. To talk things out and share his experiences so he doesn’t fall back on them.
“One foot in front of the other. One day at a time.”
Slowly getting his foot back into the stock market business, it’s while out of town and trying to fight the urge to wander into the hotel bar that Woods’s Bill W. gets the idea to find another alcoholic to chat with which leads him to a Doctor played by James Garner. Another man with an unquenchable thirst for spirits that he can’t seem to shake. The initial scene between the two actors is inspiring when Garner thinks that Woods has asked to see him with some crazed cure for his drinking. Woods makes it clear that it’s own problem he’s trying to cure through chatting with Garner.
And so the idea is born that fully develops into what we know today as Alcoholics Anonymous.
The years pass and the men age as their story told in a flashback comes to a close. The ending of Woods finding another man in need of help at his first AA meeting is a fitting finale.
While I haven’t seen Woods in The Boost since the days of the VHS tape, I suspect this Hallmark Production was a much more successful outing for the actor at the time. The Boost was a 1988 release that saw Jimmy descend into a battle with Sean Young over a mountain of cocaine as opposed to the bottle. Overall Woods was on a hell of a roll around this time and I’ve been a fan ever since. Films like the two with Garner, Salvador, Best Seller and Cop had me hooked. Unlike Woods earlier film with Garner, Promise, this one puts him front and center where their previous collaboration was one of equal screen time though Jimmy had the flashier role as Garner’s younger brother suffering from schizophrenia. Both films paired together make for two fine examples of telefilms done right.
I suppose alcohol has pretty much touched most all of our lives and mine is no different. I still have fond memories of two Uncles who battled the bottle and demons I could never understand as a kid who idolized them when they would travel to our hometown for a visit. Usually drinking so heavy there was little point in the journey. They’re both gone now and while I’m a bit unsure of the one’s cause of death, the other was due to his dependency on alcohol. At the ripe old age of fifty.
I’ll dedicate this post to both their memories.
As for this film, it’s out on DVD if you want to hunt a copy of this Award Winner down.