YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Al Martinez

'I spook people, I hold still, they think I'm fake and touch me . . . I touch 'em back.' : Lo, the Silent Indian

July 11, 1985|AL MARTINEZ

Henri Towers stood in the living room of his small Hollywood apartment, resplendent in an Indian war bonnet. The trailing feathers reached all the way to the floor and then some. They were of vivid reds and yellows and oranges, and if you squinted your eyes it was easy to evoke the impression that Henri was silhouetted against a Malibu sunset filtered through smog. Once the bonnet was in place, he spread his arms and said, "Ta-da!"

"Hey," I said, "that's, uh, really lovely." Well, it was in a way.

"Almost 400 bucks worth of feathers," Henri said, stroking them. "It's my favorite."

Then his face went blank, his eyes glazed over and he stood absolutely still. It was clear that I was in the presence of greatness. For this was Littlebird, the Cigar Store Indian.

Littlebird is the name he uses when he plays a human mannequin in front of Foster's Indian Store at Ports o' Call Village. He is known as Ricky Randy when he is performing as a screen extra, but at the moment he was demonstrating how he is able to remain motionless.

"Just last year," Henri had explained earlier, "I stood for five hours without moving, breathing or going to the bathroom."

What he meant, of course, is that he kept his breathing shallow, which is what he was doing at that very moment. I don't know about the bathroom part.

"That's good," I said, applauding Henri's Indian freeze, thinking that he would then thank me and we would get on with the interview.

It became clear after a moment or two, however, that he was not about to let me off the hook with just a cursory demonstration of his skill. So I looked around his apartment while he stood motionless near the television set, his close-cropped white hair gleaming in the morning sun that streamed through a window.

His apartment is in a black-and-white motif, right down to a white war bonnet flung over a naked statue of David in one corner. "Littlebird" is written in Indian beads on the front of the bonnet. Henri has 10 bonnets and 14 Indian outfits, including one that is made of fringed French silk, dyed Kelly green. He wears it on St. Patrick's Day.

"You must have a fortune in costumes here," I said.

Henri didn't move a muscle and he didn't say a word. It occurred to me as I stood there watching him that the man might be trying to equal the motionless record set by William Fuqua three years ago. Fuqua remained continuously motionless for 8 hours and 35 minutes. He is to human mannequins what Babe Ruth was to baseball.

But as Henri had explained earlier, when he was still among the living, the Guinness Book of Records permits you to blink and swallow.

"When I remained motionless for five hours last year, one hour and five minutes of it was without blinking," he had said. "I wrote to Guinness and claimed the record for the longest period without moving while not blinking. They never answered."

I looked closely at him. He certainly wasn't blinking. I could also discern no swallowing. That is another function Henri has managed to control.

However, if he thought I was going to spread my interview over 8 hours and 35 minutes while he didn't move, speak, breathe, blink, swallow or go to the bathroom, he was wrong. None of my functions are under very good control.

"All right," I said in a firm voice, "we probably should get on with this."


"For God's sake, Henri, move!"

Notwithstanding the irritation I was beginning to feel, I admire people who, as it were, go for the gold. Take Bozo Miller, for example. Bozo is a friend of mine. He is in the Guinness book for having eaten 27 chickens at one sitting.

I had dinner with Bozo one night in Oakland. It was like watching the performance of a great athlete. The flow of movement from plate to mouth, the tilt of the fork, the ripple of jaw muscles. When Bozo ate, the world stood still.

However, three entrees of prime rib is all I'm going to wait for anyone. I wouldn't sit through a 14-inning game either. Bozo, a very tidy fat man, was dabbing at his lips with a napkin and looking for the waiter when I left.

Back to Henri. He is 64 and was born in Gary, Ind., which, as he pointed out, also claims Michael Jackson, Tom Harmon and Karl Malden. He is a widower and when I asked if he lived alone, he replied, "Usually."

Henri did some photo modeling when he was young, which is where he learned to hold still. He's been holding still a good part of his life ever since. He is paid $65 an hour for remaining motionless, with a two-hour minimum. Eight hours, $500.

"I spook people," he had said in a conversation that seemed ages ago. "I hold still, they think I'm fake and touch me." An impish smile. "I touch 'em back."

Women faint and strong men tumble backward to get out of his way. They think he's the living dead.

"Well, Henri," I said, "I want to thank you for your time and your motionlessness."

Not a flicker.

"One of these days, I'll get you together with Bozo Miller. You'd be quite an act."

After I left, I peeked in a window. Littlebird the Cigar Store Indian had still not moved. No breathing, no blinking, no swallowing, no bathroom.

It was beautiful.


Los Angeles Times Articles