On July 14, 2015, T magazine assembled some of the artists, writers, performers, musicians and intellectuals who defined New York’s inimitable and electrifying cultural scene of the late 1970s and early ’80s. Happy to say we were a seminal part of that scene among many, many other influential creative people living and no longer with us who do not appear in this photograph or article. Click on the link above the picture to read about the remarkable times.
Not long after we arrived in the land of off-off-Broadway, we found ourselves in very good company. Marshall directed two of us in world premieres of Lanford Wilson plays in 1965: Dad (George Harris, Sr.) in “This Is The Rill Speaking” at the Caffe Cino; and Walter Michael Harris in “The Sandcastle” at La MaMa. In 1967, Marshall directed an all-star cast that included Jayne Anne Harris in Claris Nelson’s “The Clown” at the Cino. Also that year he invited Walter to reprise his role as Kenny in “The Sandcastle” – a revival that ran first at La MaMa and was extended at the Cino. These shows were rich experiences that helped us grow as artists. Marshall’s example became our gold standard of how a director works effectively with playwrights, actors and designers. He was a class act from Day One, and a pleasure to work with. So it comes as no surprise to us that Marshall is being recognized and honored in this way.
Here is the text of Marshall’s acceptance speech at the American Theater Hall of Fame “Class of 2014” induction ceremony on May 4th at The Gershwin Theater in New York City:
“I’m so grateful this honor is not being bestowed posthumously.
What a privilege to be inscribed among the names of the great directors of the past: David Belasco, Orson Welles, Tyrone Guthrie, Peter Brook, Garson Kanin, Mike Nichols and, my artistic hero, Elia Kazan.
This reward is for a lifetime of doing what I loved, so I must thank my mentors who guided my path to this moment: Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg and, especially, Alvina Krause. It would be disingenuous of me not to also mention Mel Gussow.
When I founded Circle Repertory Company, I followed visionary trailblazers like Eva La Gallienne, Margo Jones, Joe Cino, Ellen Stewart and Joe Chaiken.
Enlarging my vision were my inspirations: Tennessee Williams, Francois Truffaut, John Gielgud, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Laurence Olivier, Kim Stanley and Cat Stevens.
Always before me were the examples of enduring creative relationships: Chekhov and Stanislavski, Lindsay and Crouse, Rogers and Hammerstein, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Lanford Wilson and I were proud to join that list, with the longest collaboration between a playwright and director in the history of the American Theater. Lance, you’re still here.
This recognition is a celebration of my colleagues: John Lee Beatty, Rob Thirkield, Tanya Berezin, William Hurt, Trish Hawkins, Judd Hirsch, Nancy Snyder, Jonathan Hogan, Swoosie Kurtz, Jeff Daniels, Helen Stenborg, Richard Thomas, Debra Monk, Bill Hoffman, John Bishop, my Stage Managers Margo Channing & Eve Harrington, otherwise known as Fred Reinglas & Denise Yaney, and the amazing company of actors, playwrights and designers who were Circle Rep.
A personal thanks to Rand Mitchell, my Assistant for many productions, who advised me on details I was inclined to overlook, like the high-heeled shoes of my leading ladies. Also to my good neighbor George Atty for kindnesses too numerous to mention. And to my faithful friend, who´s here tonight, my Gal Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday, Glenna Clay.
Always sharing my journey to this peak was mi compañero of 40 years, and mi esposo for the last four, Danny Irvine.
As Ozymandias might warn us, unfortunately being designated an Immortal does not actually impart Immortality. But in my posthumous years, which I hope will be in some distant future when even Wicked will have closed, someone will look at this impressive list (in the South rotunda) and say: “Who was he? He must have been Someone.” Perhaps his companion will answer: “Of course: everyone is someone; but not every Has Been has been someone who is remembered.”
Thanks for remembering me.”
With love from The Harris Family
The review below was written by our talented friend performer, writer, radio personality Andrew Martin:
Anyone who has ever availed themselves of the Off-Off-Broadway experience in New York City, whether as a performer, a crew member or simply “one of those little people out there in the dark,” will truly sink their literary teeth into Caravan to Oz, a splendid history of one family’s journey into a most exciting period in the American theater in the Big Apple. Anyone who hasn’t ever availed themselves of the Off-Off-Broadway experience in New York City, whether as a performer, a crew member or simply “one of those little people out there in the dark,” will truly sink their literary teeth into the book all the same. And in any case, this two-hundred-and-seventy page tome laden with stunning photography, emerges as a wondrous history lesson even to those not necessarily theater-oriented. To be succinct, it’s nearly impossible to put down once begun reading. The book bears vague similarities to Edie, the smash recounting of Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick, except that in this case the story is actually told by the subjects in question, along with additional input by such legends of the Off-Off-Broadway scene and the cultural world at large as Tim Robbins, Bob Heide, Robert Patrick, Crystal Field, Mike Figgis, Mark Lancaster, Ritsaert ten Cate, and the late Ellen Stewart.
The caravan begins its initial drive down life’s highway in the Westchester, New York enclave of Bronxville, where actor-writers George Edgerly Harris II (hereafter referred to as George Sr) and his wife Ann launched a family of six eventual children, namely and in order George Edgerly Harris III (hereafter referred to as G3), Walter Michael Harris, Frederic Joseph Harris, Jayne Ann Harris (today Harris-Kelley), Eloise Alice Harris (today Harris-Damone) and Mary Lucille Harris, hereafter referred to as Mary Lou. After the family relocated to Belleaire, a suburb of Clearwater in Florida, and spent several years there in which all six of the children proved themselves extremely adept at both performance and self-producing various extravaganzas, the family once again headed north and took up residence on the Lower East Side, slowly assimilating themselves into the world of Off-Off-Broadway which had already begun coming into its own ten or more years earlier with the advent of LaMaMa Experimental Theater Company, the Living Theater, and the Caffe Cino. By the late 1960s, Walter Michael (not merely an actor-singer but a very impressive and self-taught musician) had established himself as the youngest original cast member of the hit musical Hair on Broadway, while George Sr took a role in The Great White Hope and subsequently took the show on the road, and mother Ann assumed a featured part in the classic horror film The Honeymoon Killers, alongside Shirley Stoler and Tony LoBianco. G3, meanwhile, trotted off to San Francisco to find his own path and, aside from being reportedly the first person to stick flowers into the gun barrels of the police during the Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury while living on a commune, also began exploring drag artistry under the name Hibiscus as a founding member of the pioneering troupe The Cockettes. Upon his self-imposed termination in Hair, Walter Michael also ventured to Northern California to join his big brother but opted for a more spiritual path, ultimately becoming a monk of the Holy Order of MANS (although he did eventually return to the theatrical fold after a fashion). Once reborn as the theater company The Angels of Light, the girls of the family along with their mother settled into a happy existence as literally the First Family of Off-Off-Broadway besides appearances on a triumphant tour of several European countries.
The story also has some disturbing twists and turns. Hibiscus ended up as one of the earliest-known victims to succumb to the AIDS crisis. It’s also notable that brother Fred offers no input to the book whatsoever, leaving a reader wondering exactly what his side to the story might be. The Harris Sisters, however, continued to find fame as a trio within the cabaret club spectrum during the 1980s and 1990s (occasionally making appearances with the renowned downtown actor-singer Bobby Reed), and the entire book is interlaced with lyrics written by mother Ann for such shows as The Sheep and the Cheapskate, There Is Method In Their Madness, and Sky High. It’s almost a little too much to take in upon just one reading, to realize exactly how incredible this superb family of eight managed to accomplish in one lifetime together. But by the last page, one can’t help but feel a sense of peace, as well as the hope that anything in life is truly possible given the right brand of dedication and talent.
Caravan to Oz is available by ordering here. Do yourselves a favor and grab a copy.
And it’s all, or mostly, there, told with humor, love, grace and honesty. From the early “Let’s put on a show!” days in Florida, to the risky transplanting of the whole tribe to New York, to the beginnings of the Theatre for the New City, the family-written and produced shows at La MaMa ETC, the groundbreaking and culture-changing phenomenon of “Hair”, to the founding of the Cockettes in San Francisco, the journeys through Europe, a monastery, and Bay Area communes, to the shattering new reality of the AIDS epidemic and the maturity and mellowing of seasoned performers with an amazing range of talents and accomplishments. They renewed themselves with each success, setback, and new inspiration, began new families and, through it all, retained their devotion to each other. The Harrises were, and are, in and of their times in a way that very few, if any, other families could have been. It’s a remarkable ride through a time that must have looked very different on the inside of the magic mirror, as they were. I found this ride to be enriching as I looked back over the years they describe, and saw those times from a fresh and exhilarating perspective.
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Caravan to Oz is narrated by family members and guests including Oscar-winning actor/director Tim Robbins, theater producers Ellen Stewart, Crystal Field and Ritsaert ten Cate, playwrights Robert Patrick and Robert Heide, filmmakers Scott Morris and Mike Figgis, and educator John Bernhardt. It’s not easy raising six kids in the arts. But the outlier Harrises answer every challenge on their personal yellow brick road with courage and commitment. Their pioneering journey offers something to anyone who is driven by a dream.
The candid pictures and narrations from the Harris siblings is a “how to survive guide” for any hopeful thespian or artist in this new depression era. The memoir answers every question, challenge, and tells it like it is … behind every TV, IMDB film credit or theater credit there is the day job or in the case of The Screaming Violets: Jayne, Eloise, and Mary Lou – a night job at the coat check at Studio 54.
Besides the nail-biting, high risk-taking for the sake of art making there is tragedy ranging from losing Hibiscus to HIV/ AIDS causes (the renowned performance artist and founder of the psychedelic theater troupe The Cockettes) to 9/11 and its effect on the Harris family and their own survival and need for further reinvention.
Caravan to Oz shares the highs and the “do or die” of the artist’s way (… and then some). What is refreshing is that book is full of living and not replete with backstabbing or name dropping of most memoirs. The names that are dropped however throughout the picture packed pages just happen to have graced the lives of Anne, George, Sr. Hibiscus, Walter-Michael, Frederic, Jayne, Eloise, and Mary Lou Harris. A must read for theater enthusiasts, academics or emerging D.I.Y. performers.