Capt. James A. Lovell Jr. and John L. Swigert Jr., the Apollo 13 astronauts, walked out of the rock musical Hair at the Biltmore Theater here Thursday night, apparently over what they considered to be slurs directed towards the American flag.
Captain Lovell, his wife and another couple with them, left immediately after the first act. Mr. Swigert and his companion, Gene Marionetti, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration official, left minutes later.
As they walked to a taxi, a woman spokesman for the show stopped them and asked why they were leaving. " I don't like what you're doing to the flag." Mr. Swigert answered. " I don't like the way they wrapped the flag around that guy."
The productions spokesman, Mrs. Michael Gifford replied: "If they can wrap the flag around dead men, I don't see why they can't wrap it around a living one. It doesn't touch the ground and it's not abused."
In the scene in question three characters are onstage with an American flag. One of them wraps himself in it, then unfurls it, while a second says: "Folding the flag means taking care of the nation." Eventually one of the three is cradled in the flag. At the end of the scene there is a duet about the flag called: "Don't Put It Down" which is actually a tribute to the flag.
Mrs. Gifford said yesterday that NASA and the astronauts had been briefed about the show several weeks in advance when they called and asked for tickets. She said she thought that they had really been disturbed by a joke in the first act about a black astronaut, that she had not mentioned in the briefing.
"That's not true," Mr. Marionetti said. "That gag went by us so fast we missed it, and I asked her about it when I called to apologize about leaving early."
"You've got to remember the plight these guys were in a few weeks ago," he added. "The flag was on the rocket when they ;left Cape Kennedy and on their shoulder patches during the flight. Their country got them back when they were in trouble and they're grateful."
The astronauts had originally been scheduled to see Hair on Wednesday, accompanied by mayor Lindsay and his wife. Later, according to Mrs. Gifford, the plan was changed and the entire group went to see another musical, "Company", instead. Mrs. Gifford said that, at NASA's request, she had arranged for the astronauts to see Hair on Thursday. "They stayed in town another day just to see it." she said.
Mr. Marionetti said the astronauts had talked to many
persons about the show before they saw it. "SOme said it was great; some
said it was terrible," he noted. "Everyone sees a show he doesn't like
once in a while. It's certainly no reflection on the show that they walked
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