After 20-year absence, newspaper 'Harry' returns to provide alternative voice

April 30, 1991|By Jean Marbella

Pretend for a moment that Watergate, Joan Collins, the Iran-contra hearings, S&Ls, Trump and, well, just about all of the malaise-dreary '70s and glitz-empty '80s never happened.

If your only source of information was the underground Baltimore newspaper named Harry, they never did happen. But this Friday, the newspaper -- which was named by a 2-year-old -- is returning after a 20-year disappearance.

And does it have a lot of catching up to do, according to publisher Tom D'Antoni. The Baltimore native said he hopes the new Harry will fill what he calls a vacuum in the local media.

"Basically, I didn't have anything to read -- that's sort of the glib answer," said Mr. D'Antoni, 44, of his reasons for reviving the paper that outraged and informed the public from November 1969 to April 1971. "The Sun has cut its local coverage so drastically, and the City Paper has dropped the ball completely. No one is being held accountable -- government institutions, health care."

City Paper editor Michael Yockel took exception to that statement. "I think we function pretty adequately as the alternative voice in Baltimore," said Mr. Yockel, who as a teen-ager was one of the old Harry's hawkers and said he wished Harry well. "We don't function in the political-radical way that is [Mr. D'Antoni's] version of the alternative press, or what he thought it was in 1968. But things have changed since then."

Sun managing editor James I. Houck offered a "welcome back" to Harry, adding, "I wasn't here 20 years ago, so I can't really compare the amount of local coverage [in The Sun] to what it was back then. But I think if you look at the full sweep of what we do, the answer is no," it hasn't declined.

The first issue of Harry the Second will be 32 pages long, including eight pages of reprints from Harry the First (including several pieces by P.J. O'Rourke, a nationally-known magazine writer, who has turned considerably rightward since his old Harry days).

The free paper will start as a monthly, but Mr. D'Antoni -- still bearded, but now short-haired and carrying a middle-aged spread -- hopes eventually to publish weekly. He would not divulge specifics on the paper's finances, but said advertising sales surpassed his expectations. Writers and artists are mostly working for free.

Additionally, Harry will benefit from "The Mother of All Parties," a concert on May 18 at Shriver Hall at Johns Hopkins University. Filmmaker John Waters will receive a special award as 1971's "Harry Man of the Year." (For ticket information, call 752-1633.)

Mr. D'Antoni is quick to stress that he isn't just an aging hippie reliving the Age of Aquarius. This time around, for example, contributors range in age from 11 to 50; before, the average age of the staff was about 22.

"We're not all living in the same house this time," said poet Sandie Castle wryly, referring to the Harry commune that put out the old version of the paper.

"It's real important that this not be viewed as counter-culture, an exercise in nostalgia," Mr. D'Antoni said, who's had a mainstream media career as a television producer and radio talk show host.

The first "Harry" had to be printed in Philadelphia because it was considered so radical, what with stories calling police "pigs," photos that bared breasts and editorials for counter-culture revolution and legalized marijuana. An undercover policeman infiltrated the staff as a photographer back then, and the office was raided for drugs. (Harry also angered groups on the left, and its staff was once taken hostage by a radical group protesting what it called Harry's "bourgeois tendencies.")

This time around, Mr. D'Antoni promises not to call police "pigs, unless they act like them." But he hopes to retain the spirit of the old Harry by investigating the government and powerful institutions. The first cover story, by former Sun writer Tom Nugent, will be about mustard gas testing at Hopkins, he said. Harry also will feature literary works, arts and sports coverage and comics.

"There is no repudiation of our past. If there was, we wouldn't call it Harry," he said. "Styles change, hair styles change, but the important things don't change -- peace in the world, respect for others, justice."

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