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Mike McMurray and Bill Hartman's Thespian Award

By Chappie Pinkston

Have you looked at the Graduation Program on the website and noticed that Mike McMurray's name is not listed? Do you remember why? Of course you remember the Honors Day incident, don't you? The part where Mike refused to accept the Thespian Award and was dragged by the scruff of the neck out the side door of the auditorium by Mr. Fondren. Do you remember the near riot after the program was over?

But do you know the real story?

I do.

 It all began the night before the Junior-Senior Banquet when Bill Hartman and I made a trip to that purveyor of fine mineral spirits, Johnny's to lay in a supply of booze for the banquet. Neither of us had dates the next night so we thought we'd go to the banquet for a short time, then go somewhere and drink. We went halves on a bottle of blended whisky and left the bottle in Bill's VW so we'd have it the next evening.

The next night, I had the bright idea of wearing something a little different to the banquet, arriving fashionably late in a blue blazer, white shorts, and loafers with no socks. Maybe it would have turned out differently if I had saved some of those old Boy Scout knee socks (with the little red tassles) and worn them, but who knows.

I never made it far enough into The Mansion to find Bill before I was accosted by Mr. Fondren who informed me that I was inappropriately dressed. He strongly suggested that I return home an select more appropriate attire. So I left the restaurant and went home to change.

Sometime later I returned and passed Mr. Fondren's appropriate attire inspection. Now off to find Bill and relieve him of my half of the whisky. Bill, however, had long since drunk my half of the bottle which was evidently on the top in a valiant attempt to get to his half. He must have been persistent because when I found him, it was obvious that suddenly and mysteriously, gravity had increased in that corner of the room to the point that it was steadily trying to drag him out of his chair and on to the floor. He was forced to expend so much energy trying to remain in the upright position and in the chair that he could barely talk.

"Bill, where's the whisky?"

"Gone.....all gone!"

"Where's your car?"

"I don't remember!"

"Is it in the parking lot?"

"Hell, I don't know, it's out there somewhere!"

I took an immediate trip to the parking lot, reached in the back seat of his car, and grabbed the bottle only to find that there was a good bit less than one good drink left in it! Damn! So I downed that and went back inside.

As Bill became less coherent, I became more angry at him. I only stayed about 30 minutes before I found somebody, I don't even remember who it was, who wanted to make a trip to Johnny's. So we left. I really wish I hadn't done that. What Bill might do or what migh happen to him never occurred to me. I was just pissed that he drank almost all of my whisky!

In the end, I never made it back to the dance but I don't remember drinking very much. I just went home and went to bed.

The next afternoon, I caught up with Bill only to find that he was in bad trouble. He didn't remember much about what had happened, but he did remember telling Mr. Fondren how much he loved him. At that point, Mr. Fondren realized that perhaps Bill was, shall we say, impaired and ushered him out the door. A meeting with Bill's parents and Mr. Fondren was scheduled for Monday morning.

Mr. Fondren suspended Bill for three days, one of which was Honors Day. Though Bill wouldn't be able to attend Honors Day, it as promised that Bill would receive any awards that were his.

You might not remember, but during our senior year, we did three one act plays in the fall and the school play in the spring. Although Bill only accepted a bit role in one of the plays, he was the driving force behind all of them. As stage manager, he designed the flats and spent lots of nights and weekends building and painting them. He even got the students at the Drama Department at Ole Miss to do the lighting and the makeup for us. We couldn't have done it without Bill.

Yet on Honors Day, they called Mike McMurray's name as the recipient of the Thespian Award.

Mike walked down the aisle, not bothering to go around to the stairs at the side of the stage, but jumped onto the stage instead. He grabbed the microphone and loudly announced that he couldn't accept the award as the rightful person to receive that award was Bill Hartman. At that point, Mr. Fondren tried to grab the microphone out of his hand. The two of them wrestled with it for a minute and finally Mr. Fondren literally dragged him out the side door of the auditorium telling him never to come back.

Mike was expelled from school the next day. In order to get a high school diploma, he went to summer school at Columbia Military Academy.

Looking back on it, most of the memories I have of that episode are not good.

First of all, many of us were really hot about the whole thing. If it had not been for Danny Smith and Mit Hobbs trying to calm everybody down, we might have broken out some windows and torn up the place a little. Maybe we should have....

To the parents and other adults, Mike McMurray was portrayed as the bad guy in this scenario, but the real bad guy or guys were the faceless adults who took the award away from Bill even after they had promised it to him.

I'll always be a little angry at myself for my part in it. Knowing what I know now, it was stupid of me not to drag Bill Hartman's drunken butt out of there before he professed his love for Mr. Fondren. But I was too worried about myself and the near empty bottle.

The real hero of the whole affair was Mike McMurray. He knew what the administration was doing was wrong and he did everything he could, even sacrificing his diploma, to do what was right. Even though I haven't seen him since then, I will always respect him for what he did that day.


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