James Rado (1932-2022) was an actor, songwriter and co-creator of the characters, story, dialogue and lyrics of HAIR. His daydream, since he was a teenager, was to write a Broadway musical. He taught himself how to write lyrics from intense study of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter, etc., as well as pop music from the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. In college, he wrote the music and lyrics for two shows: Interlude at the University of Maryland and Cross Your Fingers at the Catholic University of America.
After a two-year gig in the U.S. Navy, in 1956 he moved to New York to be an actor. Five years later he got his first Broadway break when the famed director and teacher Lee Strasberg plucked him from an acting class for a small part in June Havoc’s Marathon ’33 starring Julie Harris. This led to a string of acting roles in Luther, Generation, The Knack and, in 1964, Hang Down Your Head And Die, where he met fellow actor Gerome Ragni. He told Ragni about his daydream of creating a Broadway musical and proposed that they team up to write a show about the hippies and the antiwar movement which was happening all around them. Ragni came aboard with some of his exciting experimental poetry.
In 1966, in the midst of writing HAIR, Rado got a leading role as Richard the Lionhearted in the James Goldman play The Lion in Winter, starring Robert Preston, Rosemary Harris and Christopher Walken. By 1967, Rado and Ragni had a presentable script of HAIR, which they gave to the producer Joseph Papp. Papp liked what he read and decided HAIR would be the inaugural production of his newly-founded New York Shakespeare Festival at The Public Theater on New York City’s Lower East Side. HAIR opened on Broadway in the spring of 1968 and starred Rado and Ragni in the lead roles. The rest is theatrical history. In his later years, Rado continued working on two other pieces: American Rainbow and Sun.
James Rado photo by Marc B. Weiss.