Remembering Harry

DOUG COLE

I’ve only known Harry ten years. We met after a performance of Slacks and Tops and I fell instantly under his spell. At first I thought he was simply the funniest person I’d ever met in my life. But sometimes his wit took on a greatness — a kind of wisdom – -that reminded me of one of my heroes: Oscar Wilde. And the more I knew Harry, the more he became…my very own Oscar Wilde.

Harry’s razor sharp wit is known to many: in his plays, in his books. But there was also the silly side of him: scatological, pornographic, utterly outrageous. God, he made me laugh. It was all so innocent, as if from the mouth of a 7-year-old trying out “naughty” words. And he was unintentionally hilarious. I took Harry to Argentina and Chile several years ago. We rented a car in the Andes — I always drove, of course — and one evening we ended up in a tiny village with only one hotel. It was a charming place — a converted monastery — and all the rooms were the former cells of the monks. At dinner, Harry was not satisfied with the manner in which his turnips were cooked and he called over the waitress and started lecturing her on the proper method of preparing a turnip. Of course, she didn’t speak a word of English, and I tried my hardest to translate his demands.

They brought him another one, but it was, naturally, exactly the same as the first. Harry was put out by this. He just couldn’t understand why the “chef” was so inept. “Harry, we’re in the middle of nowhere, what do you expect?” He always expected the best. I told him my theory: he was the legitimate son of King Constantine of Greece and had somehow been switched at birth. He liked this idea. Anyway, at the end of dinner, the poor waitress, who was now terrified of Harry, brought the guest book for our signatures. Harry wrote some nasty bit of pornography about nuns and monks — just to let them know he didn’t appreciate the cooking.

Harry lived his life as an artist. He made no compromises. He demanded patronage — and he got patronage. He expected to be admired — and he was deeply admired. When he wanted something — no matter what the cost — he usually got it. I remember a $1500 leather jacket he charged to his father’s credit card in Copenhagen. “I’ll get a grant or something…” I loved his attitude, even when I found it irritating. I was cooking his dinner once and he was so unpleasant about my method of preparation, I finally threw everything down on the counter and told him to cook his own damn dinner. He did. It was delicious.

I’ll be forever grateful for our brief friendship — he was the most unique human I ever met. His was a life to emulate — and I often find myself doing just that. Countless times I quote Harry — to big laughs or to thoughtful silence — and take the credit myself. He would approve.

I’ll miss him — my very own Oscar Wilde.