From the Olympics To Harvard
It's The Tommy Walker Show
Years from now, people probably won't remember every word that Charles, Prince of Wales or Secretary of State George P. Shultz utters at Harvard's 350th anniversary celebration. They may recollect bits and pieces of what they heard at the symposia they attended. They will, however, definitely remember the stadium concert finale of the five-day celebration.
Complete with musical and dance performances, tableaux, laser projections, and fireworks, the hour-and-a half-long show should contain something to please everyone. 350th officials are estimating that a total of 700 people will appear on the stadium stage with about 25,000 watching in the stands.
But yesterday, Tommy Walker, who will produce the entire event, was one of few people standing in the stadium, surveying the grass which is greener than it ever is during the season. Walker gestures towards the empty field indicating where the main stage will sit and where the auxilary stagewill be.
"It's a challenge," said Walker of planning theevent. "I want to do this job. Because I can onlydo a few events as an individual, this is apersonal challenge."
And Walker has seen many challenges over theyears. He has become renowned for producing someof the world's most spectacular events, includingthe opening of Disneyland in 1955, the opening andclosing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympic Games andmost recently, the fireworks show and specialeffects for Liberty Weekend.
But despite all of these credentials, Walkeraccepted an invitation from Harvard last year toplan the gala stadium concert. The former Directorof Entertainment at Disneyland says that he doesnot think of coming to Harvard as taking a stepdown. "Harvard's been so much to the nation. It'sa great honor to produce their 350th and it's achallenge because there are so many differentideas."
"This doesn't mean Harvard is different," saysWalker, pausing and then adding, "Harvardis different." Harvard's party is differentfor Walker as well. Accustomed to organizinggeneralized, international shows, Walker says thatthe 350th will be on somewhat of a smaller scale,aimed at a somewhat smaller audience.
"This is kind of pin-pointing. You are zeroedinto what was a certain few. It is specialized toa degree. It is a specialized audience," Walkersays. "All the people here belong to a tradition,the way they were raised as a family and they areproud of that family."
He adds, "These are people who have reached outacross the world who have always had an influence.There's original spirit." Some of this originalspirit came across in the first few planningmeetings that Walker had with 350th officials. Hesays that he did run into a few problems with thealumni: "Some wanted a little more celebrity and alittle less history and some wanted a little morehistory and a little less celebrity."
When the group switched from using anon-Harvard writer to Mark Woodcock, who graduatedfrom Harvard in 1965, the plans really started tocome together, remembers Walker. "We started toopen up thoughts and ideas on how we could bothreflect on history modestly--not to bebraggadicio--yet keep the evententertaining and one that would be a celebration."
At first, says Walker, the group also haddifficulty working out how much Harvard historyand U.S. history the event should contain. "Wewere doing a whole kind of parallel between thehistory of our country and the history of Harvard.Then we decided we shouldn't try to link it thatmuch."
With all of the Harvard tradition, though,Walker could feel a little left out, not being apart of the family. But, he says, the Universityhas made him feel at home and he has spoken tomany representatives of it to give him a betteridea of the school's history. And now Walker has acrew of a seven people, including his wife, fromTommy Walker Productions working with him.
The group has set up shop in the Bright HockeyRink, and Walker's office is the ticket box whichdirectly overlooks the site of the big concertless than a month away. It is obvious the officeis temporary; Walker says as soon as the show isover, he will start work on his nextproduction--the International Special Olympicswhich will take place next year. But now his mindis on another show. Staring out his window, Walkersays, "I think people are going to enjoy thisshow."
By no means, however, says Walker, will thisshow be "glitzy." Although his previous energieswere centered on the Liberty Weekend, Walker saysthat he had nothing to do with the 200 Elvisimpersonators. Walker did, however, organize theceremonies with French President FrancoisMitterand and President Ronald Reagan and theevening fireworks spectacular.
"I don't think there was any glitz there," saysWalker. "It was a formal, serious ceremony." Forany ceremony, says Walker, "the key issensitivity." He adds, "It is important to beflexible enough to fit the occasion."
And in Walker's business one must be flexible,for often one doesn't see the final product untilthe night of the performance. For now, Walkersays, he is working on getting everything set foropening (and closing) night of the stadiumconcert. "I think we will achieve what we plan toachieve," he says, adding, "you never know if itwill happen until it happens." As Walker glancesonce more at the stadium that will be transformedinto a stage come September 6, no hitches are insight.
Walker should feel at home, for now, with hisstadium view. Although he himself through theUniversity of Southern California by taking jobsas a stuntman, Walker also managed to play varsityfootball and be drum major. A 1946 graduate of theschool, Walker was famous in college for the"Charge Song," which is now played at almost everysporting event, and setting the school footballrecord for kicking.
Gesturing to the adjacent field, Walker jokes,"I'm glad the goalposts aren't still up. Iprobably would want to go out and kick a few ifthey were."