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Brothers Against The War Machine

Brothers Against The War Machine

by Walter Michael Harris

In the fall of 1967, with the war in Vietnam raging, a large scale antiwar demonstration was organized at the Pentagon. Many photojournalists were on hand, including Bernie Boston, who took a photo of my brother, George Harris III, age 18, inserting flowers into the rifle barrels of National Guard soldiers in a tense confrontation.

Bernie Boston told Curio Magazine interviewer Alice Ashe in 2005:

“I saw the troops march down into the sea of people, and I was ready for it. One soldier lost his rifle. Another lost his helmet. The rest had their guns pointed out into the crowd, when all of a sudden a young hippie stepped out in front of the action with a bunch of flowers in his left hand. With his right hand he began placing the flowers into the barrels of the soldiers’ guns. He came out of nowhere, and it took me years to find out who he was . . . his name was Harris.”

Boston’s iconic image of my brother George, answering guns with flowers, remains a metaphor for the message of the 1960s youth counterculture movement – that love can overcome political tyranny, unite the human family, break the war machine, and bring peace to the world.

Three months later, at age 16, I was cast in the rock musical HAIR as it was preparing to open on Broadway. HAIR has a reputation as a “hippie musical” but, in fact, it was (and is) a powerful anti-war statement. The show was an overnight sensation, broadcasting the hopes and dreams of the youth counterculture, and an earnest plea to end the war.

Boys from my New York City neighborhood were drafted, went to Vietnam and returned injured, or never came back. Inspired by my brother meeting guns with flowers, I poured my whole self into making my performance in HAIR a deeply personal statement against the Vietnam War. I believe the show’s many first-run productions around the world played a part in ending the war. In modern HAIR productions my brother’s courageous act of protest is reenacted.

Our full story is in the new memoir, Caravan to Oz: a family reinvents itself off-off-Broadway.

To order the book, CLICK HERE.

Photo credits for this blog:

“Flower Power” – Bernie Boston/RIT Archive Collections/Rochester Institute of Technology

HAIR Logo – courtesy Michael Butler

Flower_Power002a_dochair logo

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Walter Michael Harris – Youngest Cast Member Of Hair on Broadway

Walter Michael Harris – Youngest Cast Member Of Hair on Broadway

Hair Walter    hair logo

By Ann Harris and Walter Michael Harris

 Ann: In autumn 1967 Walter was sixteen and attending the High School of Music and Art. A friend of his asked him to play piano for his audition for HAIR. Walter said “yes” and when the audition ended, Tom O’Horgan, the director, asked if he would like to audition too. So Walt did, and got the part. It was a happy day. Walter was the youngest member of the original Broadway cast. HAIR rehearsed at Ukrainian Hall one-half block from our Ninth Street apartment, and opened April 29 the following year.

Walter Michael: My interest in education was waning. Exhausted from so much after-school theater, I was caught between adolescence and adulthood and surrounded by a seismic cultural shift. The youth counterculture movement was forcing the country to reevaluate its values and priorities.

Although busier than ever as a working actor and musician I was unsure of my place in the world. . My year with HAIR (April 1968 – March 1969) yanked me out of my insecurity and self-doubt and thrust me into the vortex of the youth counterculture, political awareness and a cathartic theatrical experience that changed everything.

The company included the co-authors, Gerome Ragni and James Rado, in the lead roles of Berger and Claude. A handful of actors from the initial Public Theater production were held over. New faces included La MaMa players like Jon Kramer and myself; plus amateurs, pros and people off the street. The chemistry between the authors, the composer and band, the cast and designers, our courageous producer Michael Butler and La MaMa director Tom O’Horgan, produced a hit musical that connected with audiences and critics. Clive Barnes, writing for the New York Times, declared that HAIR was “the first Broadway musical in some time to have the authentic voice of today rather than the day before yesterday.”

HAIR was a smash hit. The cast enjoyed delivering and living HAIR’s powerful anti-war message eight times a week, set to Galt MacDermot’s pulsating score. Shows sold out months in advance. After opening night our company knew that HAIR was more than mere entertainment. We believed it was an experience with the potential to end the Vietnam War, unite the planet and usher in the Age of Aquarius.

From the Harris family’s new memoir, Caravan to Oz: a family reinvents itself off-off-Broadway, © 2014.

www.caravantooz.com

Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

Playbill for Hair

 

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