Before George Harris III became part of the La MaMa family and later formed the gender-fluid theater troupe the Cockettes, the future Hibiscus put on shows with his family in Clearwater, Florida. George—who was also called G3, along with other nicknames—was the oldest of six siblings: three girls and three boys, sort of an avant-garde Brady Bunch. In the early 1960s, the kids formed the El Dorado Players, a theatrical troupe that put on shows in the Harris family’s cramped garage, where the backstage door led to the kitchen. They placed lawn chairs in their driveway and sometimes rented klieg lights to announce the latest premiere of their homemade shows. “Hibiscus had real leadership qualities,” said his youngest sister, Mary Lou Harris. “He came out of the womb as the grand marshal. He was just like the leader of the parade.” She compared her brother’s methods to a Hollywood studio system in the way that he conceived and cast his DIY theatrical productions, then put his family to work. George also got help from his mother, who wrote plays and music in college, and his father, a natural theatrical performer and drummer. “Just look at those Busby Berkeley movies, he was our idol,” his mother, Ann Harris, said. “We all liked Busby Berkeley. I made sure they saw those thirties movies and things that I loved, like Fred Astaire. I would take them to the movies and show them what I liked.” From these beginnings to the very end of his life—Hibiscus was among the very first who succumbed to the AIDS epidemic, in 1982—his colorful productions were a product of, and collaboration with, a family that cultivated his offbeat aesthetic.
From Chapter 7 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore