L'Affaire Hair And The Astronauts Who Walked Out; Slur To The Flag
by Abel Green
Variety -  June 18, 1970

After Capt. James A. Lovell Jr. and fellow Apollo 13 astronaut John L. Swigert Jr. walked out of Hair last Thursday night (4) at the Biltmore Theatre, N.Y. the Michael Butler production management of the of the rock musical pondered how things would have gone had they been with Mayor John V. Lindsay and bud Palmer, the cities protocol manager and seen the show the night before (Wed.) as had been previously scheduled.

Since the Mayor and Palmer had already seen Hair, they took the Apollo 13 astronaut party to Company on Wed. (3), followed by a show biz bash at Sardi's post-theatre.  Palmer then arranged with Mrs. Michael Gifford, the Hair press agent, for seats Thursday night.  That was when Lovell, Swigert and their group walked out in a pique over the first act American flag scene, which they considered an unpatriotic slur.

Bill Mark, a well known show biz photographer, was in closeup on L'Affaire Hair because of a long time friendship with Gene Marionetti, an official liaison with the National Aeronautics & Space Administration in Washington.  Mark in effect had been retained as quasi-official photographer for the occasion.

In order to preserve the astronauts' privacy, he even took command of the seating arrangements so that none of the group had aisle seats.  That was to avoid the chance that members of the Hair cast, who wander into the audience, might cutup with the airmen or otherwise embarrass them.

Thus, Capt. Lovell and his wife were purposely allotted first-mezzanine tickets, with two business-men friends from Dallas.  Swigert and Marionetti sat downstairs, but also off the aisle.  Only Mark and his wife and another couple had aisle seats.

All had dined at the Colony as gene Vall Cavallero Jr.'s guests.  Capt. Lovell, who dubbed his space module the Aquarius, from the Hair song of the same name, and had played and liked the Hair album during the Apollo 13 expedition, looked forward to the rock-musical show.

Hair was Lovell's specific request on the official visit to New York.  After Lindsay and Palmer had arranged the official ride from the Hotel St. Regis, where the spacemen were billeted, to a Lincoln Center ceremony, however, Palmer told them that Company was that night's legit musical.  He explained that hair was on their agenda for the following night because the Mayor and he had already seen it.

The plan, along with the strategic seating, was for the astronaut party to duck into a private green room backstage, while the audience, which comes on stage to dance with the cast for four minutes or so, would have time to leave.  Then the pictures were to have been taken of the visitors posing with various cast members, who were to receive a souvenir album.

The actual shots were to have been taken backstage in a large dressingroom rather than onstage.  Under union rules, there is an $800 charge when so-called "promotion" pictures are taken.

However, the picture-taking never took place, as the Lovell party left just before the first-act curtain, with the idea of ducking the theater's spotlight, which otherwise would hit him as he stood up in the first row of the mezzanine.  The arrangements with waiting cars in the Biltmore theatre alley, for similar security reasons, also went awry as the Lovells went directly to Raffles, a private club in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel.

Mrs. Gifford was understandably concerned at the walkout.  Marionetti, as the NASA representative, emphasized that the departure was not to be taken as a reflection on the show, nor was there objection to a possibly questionable Negro astronaut gag in the musical, which the spacemen said they didn't even notice.

Lovell explained that the American flag was on their uniform shoulder patches, and on the rocket that left Cape Kennedy.  The officers take their patriotism with great seriousness, Mrs. Gifford said.

Not reported in daily newspaper accounts of the incident was the fact that the City of new York's three official medals to the three astronauts, including Fred W. Haise Jr., were stolen and an official car was dispatched to dig up three blanks (to be filled in later with the suitable engraving).  Haise left after the Company party to be with his pregnant wife in Dallas, so he didn't attend Hair.

Actually Lovell and Swigert also would not have stayed over for Hair excepting that the latter was recipient of an honorary degree the next day of Doctor of Science from the American International College, Springfield, Mass., and then flew on for five speaking engagements in Alaska, in as many days.  Capt. Lovell also figured he's fly to a Milwaukee speaking engagement from New York instead of returning to Texas for a day.

Copyright Variety.  Al rights reserved.

To return to the Hair Articles Index click here.
                                                                          Or use your Back button to return to where you were.