Pages from Michael Butler's Journal

Clarence Petersen, Chicago Tribune, Thursday, May 22, 1969

Michael Butler Michael Butler was introduced to the assembled press agents who constitute the Publicity Club of Chicago as the world's hippiest millionaire. And there he sat, waiting to begin his speech, in his long hair and bushy mustache and love beads and his kind of hippie-looking, cocoa-colored suit. But the suit, you see, was not bought at one of those second-hand thrift stores or anything like that - it was pure suede.

Michael Butler is a name you might remember no matter which sections of the newspapers you read most. He has been on the main news pages as an adviser to President Kennedy on Indian and middle eastern affairs, as a special projects man for Gov. Otto Kerner, as an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for state senator from Du Page county [where he was something of a phenomenon even as a loser because no Democratic has won a state office in that county since the Civil war and Butler at least had his Republican opponent worried].

Butler has been on the society pages and in the gossip columns as a member of the jet set, seen with the best people in Chicago, New York, Palm Beach, Acapulco, and almost everywhere else the action is. His three marriages made almost as much news as his three divorces.

The financial pages have noted Butler's interests in paper, aviation, ranching, banking, utilities, and electronics. The real estate pages have remarked on the development of Oak Brook, the posh west suburban community developed by the Butler family. The sports pages have mentioned the Illinois Sports Core at Oak Brook, where Butler was a polo player and the managing director.

And now the entertainment columns are talking about Butler as the producer of "Hair," which is most often described either as "America's tribal love-rock musical" or as "that play where they dance nude on the stage." "Hair," which will open soon in Chicago, was the reason for Butler's appearance before the publicity club.

What everyone wanted to know was, would it really open? After all, "Hair" is pretty wild stuff for a city where the prostitutes are scrupulously kept off the streets, where movies have been more closely censored than even in Boston by a board consisting mostly of old police captains' wives. Where last August during the Democratic convention the mayor and police department became world-wide symbols of repression, and especially of repression of the very sort of thing "Hair" celebrates.

Many members of the audience expected Butler to talk about "Hair," even though his speech was titled "The New Communication." That's his term for what "Hair" is trying to do - to bridge the gap between the young idealists [and that's what they are, most of them, even if they don't always proceed in an ideal way] and what Butler calls "the great uncommitted semi-establishmentpeople."

Unfortunately, his speech was pretty dull. It consisted mostly of quotes, in which, for example, Arnold Toynbee, "a very establishment writer," said some "very heavy" things about the similarity between the early Christians and the modern hippies in a recent issue of Life magazine, "a very establishment publication."

When he was not quoting, Butler was saying things like everyone else in or attached to the Movement says: That the "new generation is a very alienated generation"; that "kids think they are at the forefront of a world-wide revolution," and that "the anger we see is often frightening, often comforting - frightening because it is so violent, comforting because we feel these things should be said.

"We hardly have a value they're not indifferent to," said Butler. "they want to change everything, most of all they want to change the way we relate to each other."

Butler, hhowever is not a kid. He's 42 years old and a playboy and a business man and a polo player and a jetsetter, and despite his new role and his new clothes, he has not renounced that life style. "I don't put it down," he told me before the speech.

"It's a good life." Some might say that makes him a hypocrite, but Butler doesn't much care because others are saying that if he, of all people, is listening to the young, the hippies, the revolutionaries, then maybe there is something there worth listening to. He's counting on that.

At the same time, he has a refreshing reserve: "Young people are rebelling in everything from the clothing they wear to the things they say. They're not really tuned in to violence but the do see themselves as romantic figures - that's the way of the young."

Yes! That is the way of the young! Surely no one is too old to remember that and to take that part less seriously.

Their pleas for change, Butler continued, sometimes seem to lack direction: "They say it doesn't matter [what the changes are] because if the motive for change is to find something better, then what will come will be better - and that too will change. The new generation accepts the state of constant change as a way of life." Much of the rest, Butler says, is "word games, so they investigate love: Spiritual love as an imperative and physical love as a fact of life."

All that, he said, is the message of "Hair".

Anyway, Michael Butler's speech wasn't very good, mainly because his delivery is kind of sleepy and shy and you have to listen too closely to make out the words. On the other hand, his evident modesty was apparent and appealing, more so than the aarrogantviolence of those who are saying the same things with profanity and bricks and Molotov cocktails on the streets.

Maybe Michael Butler, the world's hippiest millionaire, is just what we need right now because, aalthoughit was difficult to hear what he was saying, everyone in the audience, few of them under 30, was listening, really listening and trying to understand.

Entry added July 18th, 1999

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Copyright 1999, Michael Butler Presents