Salvation Army Jousts With Hair in Paris
by John L. Hess
The New York Times - February 2, 1970

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Paris, Feb. 1 - The Salvation Army and the hippie musical Hair have been helping each other at the box office.

This unlikely bit of symbiosis is the achievement of Gilbert Abadie, commanding officer of the Armee du Salut in France, who says "Lots of people sing 'Onward Christian Soldiers' but don't want to live it."

Living out his hymns, Commissioner Abadie led a platoon of his troops into the Theatre de la Porte Saint-Martin one evening in December. Wearing civilian clothes, they blended into a solidly bourgeois audience that had paid $10 a person plus agency fees to see the latest shocker from America.

Early on, during a pseudo-religious episode featuring a crucifix, the commissioner used a portable loudspeaker to call a halt in the show.  His party climbed on-stage to exhort the cast and audience.

Bill Combs, one of the black American contingent that is the mainstay of the Paris troupe, recalls the incident with warmth.

"I feel everybody should express what they feel inside." he told a visitor.  "When they came up, we threw our arms around them and danced.  Some of them danced too, till the others said 'Hey, we didn't come here to dance.'"

Commissioner Abadie denies that his troops fraternized to that extent.  In any event, after making their objections known, they left quietly, although from time to time, whenever they can raise the funds, squads return to the theater to voice their indignation from the pit.

january is normally a slack month in the theater, and this year every show in town except Hair has had empty seats.  At the Saint-Martin the lobby is packed an hour before curtain time with solid citizens jostling for the nonreserved jump seats along the aisles.  Except for a sprinkling of young people, the crowds are the same as normally frequent the boulevard theaters, where the actors never undress and where the principal theme is cuckoldry.

Bernard Regnier, the young manager of the Saint-Martin, acknowledged that the Salvation Army crusade had brought him enormous free publicity.  But waving a !1.50 cigar wearily over a vast desk cluttered with contracts and social security forms, he said it worried him a little too.

"I'm afraid we'll get the wrong kind of public - people wanting to see swinishness." he explained.  "They'll be disappointed.  After all, it's not a very shocking show."

No such misgivings trouble the serene yet spirited 66-year old commissioner.  A bald, stocky little figure, moving restlessly behind another vast and cluttered desk, he told an interviewer: "The incredible success of our publicity shows that the mass of our youth is not corrupted.  The movement of resistance has awakened the zeal of our people.

"We did not aim at Hair because it was the worst in town, but because it was playing at one of our leading theaters." he went on.  "We acted not so much to close it as to awaken the public.  We've succeeded beyond my expectations."

He whipped a magazine out of a drawer, showed its cover, then put it back.

"It is this escalation of pornography," he said.  "I've received hundreds of letters from  parents anguished about their childrens descending into an ambiance where everything is permitted."

Commissioner Abadie demanded that the law be enforced against Hair which he described as "this wave of profanity and obscenity."

"It is no censorship," he declared, "to forbid a show that abandons 40,000 years of civilization to return to the cave."

Asked if the situation was so serious as to call for illegal action such as his own, he replied firmly "I think so."

Extremists on both sides of the issue agree. When authorities of the Roman Catholic and protestant churches and the Salvation Army held and ecumenical rally against pornography last Monday, youths in the audience chanted bawdy songs and slogans.  A hippie stripped off his trousers and a Salvation Army member pushed a scruffler off the stage.  A band of Leftist Catholics shouted for peace and liberty rather than modesty.

"I am free in Jesus!" Commissioner Abadie retorted.  "I don't have to be naked to be free!"

Shouting above the uproar he spelled out "Hair" as "H for hypocrite, A for abominable, I for impious, R for repugnant!"

It was good box office at the Saint-Martin, but it bore the seeds of violence.  When 150 Salvation Army troops marched past at matinee time on Wednesday, bearing placards such as "Porno Publications Into The Fire" some 30 young extremists greeted them with obscene gestures.  Then the youths turned and pushed into the theater, creating a new uproar.  They demanded that the show be free for all.

Hair has a scene in which two fake policemen tell the audience it is under arrest for complicity in pornography.  This time the management called real policemen who put the intruders out.

Copyright The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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