- Ragni, Gerome
- Call number
- *T-Mss 1992-027
- Physical description
- 13 linear feet (14 boxes )
- Preferred Citation
- Gerome Ragni papers, Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library
- Billy Rose Theatre Division
- Access to materials
- Collection is open to the public. Library policy on photography and photocopying will apply. Advance notice may be required.
Gerome Ragni (1935-1991) was a stage actor and musical theater lyricist and librettist active from the 1950s through the 1980s, who achieved renown as one of the authors and original stars of the musical, Hair (1968). Born Jerome Bernard Ragni in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he attended suburban Scott Township High School, where he appeared in various school productions. In 1954, Ragni made his professional stage debut in a Washington D.C. production, Shadow and Substance. His acting career was put on hold when Ragni enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1955. Following his years in the Air Force, Ragni moved to New York and found work in the rapidly growing Off-Broadway theater community. In 1964, he met fellow actor James Rado, who would become a major figure in Ragni's personal and professional life. In 1965, Ragni and Rado began writing a rock musical that would depict contemporary life in New York's East Village, the hippie movement, the anti-Vietnam war protests, and the generation gap, symbolized in a central metaphor of long hair. In early 1967 they teamed up with Canadian composer, Galt MacDermot, who provided the music for their book and lyrics. Ragni and Rado's original intent with Hair was to introduce the uptown Broadway world to that other world downtown and they tried to interest mainstream musical theater producers, such as David Merrick and Hal Prince, but Joseph Papp, head of the Off-Broadway Public Theater, with whom Ragni had worked previously, was the only one interested in the project. Hair opened at the Public Theater on October 29, 1967, with Ragni in one of the lead roles, Berger. The Off-Broadway production was a critical and financial success and produced a cast album. Michael Butler, the heir to a Chicago fortune, decided to finance and produce the transfer of the show to Cheetah, a disco nightclub in the theater district in December of 1967 and eventually to Broadway. Ragni, Rado and McDermot made significant revisions to the show, writing several new songs and a largely new book. This new version of Hair opened on Broadway on April 19, 1968 to enthusiastic reviews and became phenomenally popular with audiences, running for 1,750 performances. A national tour and sit-down productions of the show played in other major US cities, as well as productions in dozens of other countries and in many different languages In 1979, Hair was made into a film directed by Milos Forman. Its hit songs, such as "Aquarius" and "Let the Sun Shine In" have been covered by many singers. After their success with Hair, Ragni and Rado played themselves in Lions Love (1969), a film by Agnes Varda about Hollywood celebrity. Ragni's next Broadway musical, another collaboration with Galt MacDermot, Dude (1973), was not successful critically or commercially. In the 1980s, the Hair trio of Ragni, Rado, and MacDermot reunited for another musical, YMCA (also titled Sun) which was not produced. The Gerome Ragni papers consist mainly of professional files pertaining to theater and film projects written by Gerome Ragni, or in which he appeared as an actor. There are items from productions Ragni acted in during school and later in New York, such as Hamlet (1964), Hang Down Your Head and Die (1964), The Knack (1964) and Viet Rock (1966) but the majority of the material in this collection pertains to the original Broadway production of Hair (1968). There is also some material on subsequent projects with which Ragni was involved, including the show, Dude (1973), and the film, Lions Love (1969). This collection also contains personal items, including correspondence with Ragni's family and friends and documents on his Air Force service. The strength of this collection is its extensive coverage of the many productions Hair in the United States and internationally, represented here with photographs, programs, posters and press materials. The collection includes material as early as 1952, when Ragni was in high school and as late as 1984.
Source of acquisitionGift, Ragni, Irene, 1992
Using the collection
LocationBilly Rose Theatre Division
New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center
40 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023-7498