The first time I met performer Susan Morse was in the spring of 1969 at the Psychedelic Supermarket head shop on Las Palmas Blvd. We were looking at the cool posters and started talking about music. I mentioned I was working at the Music Revolution record store on Santa Monica Blvd (in West Hollywood a block away from the Trop). I was helping Les Carter, one of the first FM radio DJs, to get his incredibly hip record store started.
She told me she was in the show Hair and invited me to come see it. (Susan Morse would later participate in the Rocky Horror Picture Show movie and Jesus Christ Superstar and become a member of the Ohio Players.) Hair was on a limited run at the Aquarius Theater down on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood. Meat Loaf and Ben Vereen were also in the show. For those of you not of a certain age, Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical was a cultural sensation in the 1960s, with its countercultural stance, nudity and profanity – along with some great music.
That night I met her at the stage door entrance, and she escorted me to the lighting booth where I’d be watching the show – which was amazing. (You have to remember, Hair was outrageous and groundbreaking for its time) and afterward, I wondered if I should go backstage and say thank you or hello. I was not sure; I did not get a vibe from her. So, I went home for the night.
Early next afternoon there was a knock on my door and to my surprise, it was Susan. “Why didn’t you come backstage after the show?,” she asked, looking kind of annoyed. “You did not ask me to,” I sheepishly replied. “That is dumb,” she answered. “I am sorry. Do you want to get lunch?” “Okay,” and off we went.
We made plans to meet for dinner after the night’s show. Then we went back to where she was staying, the Landmark Motor Hotel on Franklin in Hollywood. It was a warm night and we decided to go swimming in the motel pool. Next thing you know, we were fooling around in the water and some doors opened to see what was going on. We weren’t making too much noise, but it was around 11 pm and all the rooms in the hotel surrounded the pool.
After a few minutes Janis Joplin came down from room 105 (where she would sadly pass away a few months later) to the pool with a bottle of Southern Comfort in hand. She offered us a drink and I took a slug; Susan declined and we went back to playing in the water. I think Janis was tired of sitting alone in her room and was glad to have company and be with people who would not bother her. she didn’t know my name but anyone who stayed at the Landmark was considered to be cool. Maybe she recognized me from backstage or from the one time we chatted briefly on Sunset Strip.
Susan, a New Yorker, was being put up as a weekly guest at the Landmark, not far from the Aquarius Theater. A lot of rock people would stay there, including Janis, Iggy Pop, the legendary Supermensch producer Shep Gordon and pretty much any rocker who was in town. The Landmark was one of the two low-rent rock and roll motels in Hollywood, the other being Sandy Koufax’s Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood.
Sandy Koufax, the youngest player ever to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, bought the Tropicana in 1962 to supplement his Los Angeles Dodgers salary. Jim Morrison crashed there on occasion.)
The Trop had a great breakfast coffee shop, Dukes, that was street-level on Santa Monica Blvd. I would often see Rickie Lee Jones eating breakfast there. The Tropicana was the funkiest of all these two-star motels where touring musicians would stay, and was the victim of hard-partying rockers. You would not dare to go into the swimming pool – it was painted black and god only knows what was beneath the water’s surface. Yes, I had some interesting times in LA.
Next morning, Susan and I woke up and got dressed for breakfast. Frank Mills, Susan’s little dog (named after the song in Hair) had chewed all the elastic fasteners in my shoes. I was outraged, but Susan just laughed, and Frank Mills did not seem to be concerned either.
Things were going well between us, but the next week Susan was told to return to New York and join Hair’s Broadway production. It was an important gig and she had to do it. Heck, that was the whole point of her being an actress – she wanted to be on Broadway. She gave me her New York phone number, but because of the distance, the future did not look good for us. But she did leave a note in my apartment.
Life is strange though. About a month later my job at the Music Revolution ended and I was ready to return to New York anyway, where I was born and had lived most of my life. I got an apartment in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan. I settled in and called Susan, and left a message on her answering machine. Around midnight she called back. She was so excited! She could not believe I had moved back to New York.
The next day she told me to meet her at the theater around five o’clock after the day’s first performance. This time I was to come to the backstage entrance and ask for her. “Do you understand?,” she chided. After what happened in Los Angeles I deserved that, and I chuckled good-naturedly and affirmed her request.
The Biltmore Theater (now renamed the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre) was on West 47th Street just east of Eighth Avenue. I walked up to the backstage entrance and the security man knew I was coming. He hollered up the stairs for Susan and she came flying down the stairs. Big smile, kiss and hug. Nice. I knew she liked me, but this felt good.
She grabbed my hand and took me upstairs to the big community dressing room where everyone hung out. She introduced me to the “Tribe,” as the cast was called. They were friendly and welcoming. Shoot, I looked like I could be a cast member. Heather MacRae (Gordon and Sheila MacRae’s daughter), Susan and I went around the corner on Eighth Avenue to the Haymarket (an industry hangout for Broadway performers and stage crew) for a snack. We got back to the theater around 7:30 and everyone went to their dressing rooms to change into their costumes for the second show.
In no time at all I had the run of the Biltmore. I could walk in or out of the backstage entrance at any time. I would watch the show from the side of the stage or orchestra pit and was treated as a member of the cast by cast and crew alike.
We got closer during the fall and were definitely a thing. In the winter some of the cast members were contacted by Bruce Sachs, a CMA (Creative Management Associates) agent. Actor Paul Jabara, then in Hair, was his client. Paul had introduced Bruce to some of the cast. A friend of Bruce’s, Jay Koenig, had an idea to do a show when Hair had days off, and play concerts in colleges in the Northeast. The show would be called Peace Parade and feature cast members doing songs from Hair as well as hits of the day. It would be good money. Susan instructed Bruce that I had to go along as part of the deal, and I could be part of the Tribe on stage as an extra.
The first show was in Canada. On what might have been the coldest night that winter we all met in Grand Central Station at 6:00 pm and boarded a train to New London, Ontario. The idea was that the train was going to be quicker, cheaper and more fun than a bus. It was a disaster. It was so cold the railroad had problems with ice on the tracks and frozen switches and the train trip took about 14 hours. Not arriving until mid-morning, we were all exhausted. But that evening we did the show and it was rather good. The students loved it.
The next morning, we woke up to a foot of snow on the ground. The cast revolted and refused to take the train back to New York. Jay had to buy us all tickets on US Air back to LaGuardia Airport.
Bad news: Susan tells me the Peace Parade tour is over. After one show. Jay is already far over budget and has lost a lot of money and decided to pull the plug. “But aren’t there more dates scheduled?,” I ask. “Yes, there are.”
Lightning strikes me. I call Bruce Sachs and say, “let me fulfill the dates. The talent (performers) will work with me. I can keep to a budget and bring in a profit. I will direct and produce the Peace Parade.”
He answers, “I don’t know you and you have never done this before.” I reply, “We’ll be equal partners and split the profit, and besides, I’ll do all the work and take care of everything.”
“Come on Bruce, what can go wrong? If it screws up it will be on me.”
“I am still not sure,” Bruce says.
“I say, let’s not leave the money on the table.”
A brief pause and he gives me a hesitant yes, but must confirm. Fingers crossed, but I feel confident the money is too good for him to pass up.
I call Susan and she tells everyone. They say they are all in.
As much as Susan seemed to love me, she was happy living at home in Queens with her parents. Not that it bothered me; they gave her a lot of space and she came and went as she pleased, so it was never an issue for us. It was just her thing. I never did meet her folks. Also, not that it came up, my apartment was just a studio and didn’t have enough room for her and Frank Mills. After hanging out or whatever I would drive her home on my motorcycle.
But things were definitely looking up!