One-man show: Walt Willey bringing legendary Wild Bill Hickok to Marco Island

Sharing the same attributes as "Wild Bill Hickok," 6 feet 2 inches tall with blonde hair and blue eyes, Walt Willey (pictured here) transforms himself to the character on March 22-25 at Rose History Auditorium on Marco Island. Submitted

Sharing the same attributes as "Wild Bill Hickok," 6 feet 2 inches tall with blonde hair and blue eyes, Walt Willey (pictured here) transforms himself to the character on March 22-25 at Rose History Auditorium on Marco Island. Submitted

Walt Willey, who played the character of Jackson Montgomery in television's daytime drama "All My Children," will present a one-man show as "Wild Bill Hickok" on March 22-25 at Rose History Auditorium on Marco Island. Submitted

Walt Willey, who played the character of Jackson Montgomery in television's daytime drama "All My Children," will present a one-man show as "Wild Bill Hickok" on March 22-25 at Rose History Auditorium on Marco Island. Submitted

If you go

‘Wild Bill! An Evening with James Butler Hickok’

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, March 22-24, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 25

Where: The Rose History Auditorium, 180 S. Heathwood Drive, Marco Island

Cost: $20

Tickets: Centennial Bank, 615 Elkcam Circle, Marco Island; Marco Island Historical Society Gift Shop, 180 S. Heathwood Drive, Marco Island or www.theateronmarco.com

This weekend a legend will visit Marco Island when Wild Bill Hickok rides into town.

Actor and writer Walt Willey will portray the famed Hickok in "Wild Bill! An Evening with James Butler Hickok" presented by the Island Players from March 22-25. The show is Willey's tribute. He had been looking for a one-man show on the order of Hal Holbrook's "Mark Twain" when he discovered that he and Wild Bill were born in the same county.

"I was doing 'Arsenic and Old Lace' with my theatre company in my hometown of Ottawa, Ill., when my son, Chance, who was also in the show, and I were heading over to the Amtrak station in nearby Mendota and saw a sign which read: 'Tray Grove, Birthplace of James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok'," Wiley said. "After some research, I found him a fascinating character and one of the first media-created celebrities. Two years of research and writing later and here we are."

Willey returns to Southwest Florida after previous visits as part of SoapFest in Marco Island. He played one of daytime drama's most celebrated characters, Jackson Montgomery, on "All My Children" for almost 25 years. While working and living in New York and New Jersey over the years, Willey says Southwest Florida weather was certainly a draw, but over time he fell in love with the beauty, activities and the people.

"I have made some great friends across the years in Southwest Florida and the Island Players honored me by asking me to be on their advisory board to which I gladly accepted," says Willey, who is juggling his one-man-show with multiple other projects. "I have a new comedy DVD coming out in about month, touring with 'Bill' of course, back on the stand-up circuit and we are about to open a restaurant in Santa Fe, N.M., called 317 Aztec."

In May, Willey plans for the show to be part of Wild Bill Hickok Day in Troy Grove, Ill., and in Deadwood, S.D., in August on the anniversary of Hickok's death. Plans for that leg of the tour are in the works.

Willey says it was tough to decide how Hickok should sound, talk and walk.

"We have photographs and eyewitness descriptions and he had certain physical characteristics such as a limp from a wound by an Indian's lance, but the sound is really tough, because one expects that 'plainsman' drawl we know from movies. But he wasn't Southern and his people came from Massachusetts," Willey contemplates that Hickock probably adopted the twang of his fellows on the frontier.

Willey has amassed a massive following as "All My Children's" Jackson Montgomery, his stature, blonde hair and blue eyes a close match to Hickok, who had the same characteristics. Willey is thrilled that fans of the TV show are so excited to see him and his fellow characters in diverse roles.

"The fans are aware that the characters they so loved were played by actors and that many of those actors are multi-faceted," says Willey, who as an actor's actor, loves roles that challenge him. Transforming into a character that requires such a distinctive costume and props can be tricky, but Willey has had to become practiced at wearing the wig, moustache and costume.

"I can go from Walt to Bill in about 20 minutes and, believe it or not, I already owned the hat, vest, shirt, pants and that snappy tie," says Willey, who has learned enough about the character of Hickok to qualify as a historian in his own right. " 'Bill' is a man who was, in his lifetime, a farmer, a plowman, a teamster, a scout, a spy, a marshal, a sheriff, a gunfighter, an actor and a gambler — and a legend in his own time, and he died at thirty-nine."

In the role of Bill, Willey was attracted to the dichotomy within Hickok.

"It's a war between the reputation and the man, the legend and the human being, the role and the one playing it — and that last one is something with which I certainly can empathize," he says. "Essentially, the show is Hickok's life story from his own mouth and the sources I've used are the ones that lean on provable truth, but whether Hickok could separate his truth from legend, well, that's the journey."

In the show, first-person narration tracks Hickok's life from birth through his time as a scout and sharpshooter, spy and lawman, gunfighter and gambler, to his assassination in Deadwood, the infamous mining camp, followed by discussion, question and answer.

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