image

Biography

     Gregory Harrison was born on May 31, 1950 on Santa Catalina Island, California in the resort city of Avalon, located twenty-six miles offshore the teeming metropolis of Los Angeles. With a full-time population of barely twelve hundred islanders, Avalon didn't yet warrant a hospital, so Gregory was delivered on an examination table in the town's one-room clinic. The second of three children, he was the only one to actually be born, like his father "Captain Eddie" had been thirty-eight years earlier, right on the island. His mother, Donna, born in in 1928 in Hollywood and once an aspiring dancer, became mostly a stay-at-home mom to Gregory, his big sister Kathleen, and his younger brother Christopher. His father, like his father before him, worked for and eventually captained the famous Glassbottom Boat that carried tourists around pristine Avalon Bay. Often only a few yards away, Gregory spent his youth swimming, fishing, and diving for coins tossed by the tourists who lined the railings of the two-thousand passenger S.S. Catalina as it sailed into the bay each summer’s day at noon.

     It was during these early years that Gregory first discovered his flair for acting, and his ability provided immediate rewards. After only an hour and a half voyage from the mainland by boat, tourists would nevertheless arrive in the bay expecting something like a Polynesian village to welcome them, and Gregory and his schoolmates quickly learned to fulfill the expected scenario. Deeply tanned and nearly naked, dozens of the local boys would swim out to the end of the long pier to greet the arriving multitudes, often with accented cries of "Trow coin! Trow coin!". The thrilled crowds would always comply (especially on holidays, when liquor flowed freely on board), tossing everything from pennies to half-dollars (and even an occasional dollar bill!) out beyond the reach of the swimmers far below, whereupon the kids would splash and snarl and fight each other for every swirling, flipping coin, sometimes all the way to the sandy bottom thirty or more feet beneath them.   

      Gregory quickly learned that "the better the show, the better the dough", and he and his buddies would create dramatic scenarios that would thrill the spectators. Many days he would come back to shore with cheeks swollen like a chipmunk after stuffing dozens of coins into his mouth in the frenzy of the battle. From the age of six to thirteen he earned his spending money this way, supporting his pinball game compulsion at the local arcade, not to mention supplying the odds and ends of his ever-growing fascination with water sports. Twenty-two miles long and eight miles wide, with the town of Avalon being the only populated area, the rest of Catalina island is virtually uninhabited. It provided a natural playground for the local children, and Gregory spent countless days and nights exploring and enjoying the natural beauty and challenges of its many mountains, coves, and beaches. The isolated windward side of the island faces the open Pacific, and surf pounds its rocky cliffs and coves. Gregory often camped on those beaches with his school buddies, and at the age of nine was introduced to the sport of surfing by a sailor from an anchored yacht. A life-long romance with the sport began, and by the time the Beach Boys were singing about "Surfin' USA", Gregory was already an avid surfer. He continues to ride the waves to this day, traveling around the world in search of liquid perfection, and at this point he's surfed every continent on the planet except Greenland and Antarctica (and he's not through yet!).

     Avalon had, and still has, one cinema, The Casino Theater, and it's a glorious venue for seeing a movie. It was the first theater specifically built for "Talkies" (in 1928), and it sits beneath the world-famous Casino Ballroom overlooking Avalon Bay. From his earliest memories, Gregory recalls the thrill of sitting in the middle of this amazingly beautiful theater, watching the lights dim and the screen come alive like magic. With a new film arriving each week, Gregory caught every movie he could, losing himself in the fascinating stories and magnificent stars on the big-screen. Gregory's first experience with the making of movies was when the Audie Murphy war movie "The Battle of Bloody Beach" came to the island in 1957 to film battle scenes in a deserted cove down the coast from Avalon. His father was hired to ferry the actors and crew down the coast each morning and Gregory was allowed to tag along. He recalls getting Mr. Murphy's autograph on the boat one morning, and hiding up on a hillside watching actor/soldiers storm the beach with smoke and flames everywhere. He also remembers that there were beautiful women around at all times, something that even at the age of seven did not escape him. In ensuing years various other productions filmed on the island (ROUTE 66, most memorably) and Gregory was always intrigued by the fleeting glimpses he'd catch of the filming.

     In 1966 a feature film crew came to Avalon to shoot THE GLASSBOTTOM BOAT, starring Doris Day, Rod Taylor and Arthur Godfrey (as the boat captain). Requiring the full-time assistance of Gregory's father (not to mention his boat), Gregory had an opportunity to observe close-up the daily grind of moviemaking. It was a turning point for him, as he realized that the magic he had always been so captivated by in the cinema was not some mysterious process beyond his understanding, but a craft that required dedication, discipline and occasional dashes of inspiration. These were things that he knew he possessed, and it was during this time that a dream began to grow inside him.

     After graduation in 1968 Gregory spent several months exploring the beaches and waves of the central Mexican coastline, and upon his return he enrolled in a small community college near the Southern California beach-town of San Juan Capistrano, where he also performed in a local theater production. He greatly enjoyed the theater work, but his heart wasn't in the college courses, and his grades were poor. He dropped out of school and was preparing to explore the possibilities of a Hollywood career when he received his draft notice. After much consideration and soul-searching, Gregory decided to enlist in the Army for three years to become a medic rather than allow himself to be drafted for two years and most likely be assigned the job of a rifle-toting infantryman or ground soldier roaming the jungles of Viet Nam. In January of 1969, Gregory was sworn in at the Los Angeles Induction Center and was transported to Fort Ord, California to begin boot camp. It wasn't until after his enlistment that he became aware of the term "conscientious objector", and realized that he fit the description (although his non-religious background disqualified him from official consideration). Only a few weeks into his boot camp training, Gregory began to refuse certain dehumanizing or violent orders, and began a long, punishing, and exhaustive process to extricate himself from the military through legal channels. His training continued, however, and he became a helicopter medic after several months of schooling at Fort Sam Houston, Texas in the spring and summer of 1969. His C.O. case still in litigation, Gregory couldn't be sent to a combat zone, and he soon found himself assigned to an Army Hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where he flew Med-evac missions for the 63rd Medical Detachment. Though he performed his medical duties well, his non-violent leanings were considered a potential risk to the other soldiers, and when not actually flying on missions Gregory was ordered to be kept apart from the rest of his detachment, confined to a small room in the basement of his barracks. It was during the interminable hours spent in this room that Gregory took up the guitar and began to compose songs and music.  As the months passed, and he became more and more accomplished with voice and instrument, he began to enjoy the idea of actually performing his songs for an audience. 

     After twenty-five months of legal wrangling, painful harassment, and bureaucratic delay tactics, Gregory was awarded an honorable discharge as a Non-Religious C.O. on February 12th, 1971, setting a precedent for hundreds of others who have followed suit. Upon his release from the Army, Gregory returned to Catalina and soon began singing his songs at a local restaurant, as well as working as a door-man at a beachside night-club. Convinced that it might drum up some early evening business, the restaurant put together a production of the musical "THE FANTASTICKS," recruiting members of the club band, some waiters and waitresses, and Gregory, to play the roles." Taking on the central role of El Gallo, this was Gregory's first foray into musical theater, and he was enjoying the experience greatly when he was seen one late-summer evening by Jason Robards (who was on the island shooting the film "THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN", with Jack Lemmon). Mr. Robards made a point of coming backstage and praising Gregory's performance, suggesting that, with study and hard work, he had a chance of a career in the acting business. This was an epiphany for Gregory, who spent a sleepless night packing, and the following morning, September 19, 1971, boarded a boat for the mainland to pursue an acting/singing career in Hollywood.

     For the next six years Gregory bounced around several well-known acting schools in Los Angeles, picking up the techniques, connections and life experience required to successfully create an acting career in Hollywood. In addition to regularly singing his songs at The Troubador night club with the hopes of getting discovered by an agent, Gregory also worked at several odd jobs to support himself, including being a window-washer, a delivery boy, a handyman at an apartment complex, and a performer at a medieval theme restaurant. He occasionally worked in educational films for their $25 a day paycheck, and once tried being a non-union extra in the film "The Harrad Experiment". Mostly, though, Gregory spent countless hours in his classes preparing to be a leading man, and avoided extra work and bit part opportunities as much as his limited funds would allow. Gregory’s first big break came in 1976, when he was cast in a guest-star role in the CBS series "M*A*S*H". That was followed by roles in "Barnaby Jones" and the TV movie "Trilogy Of Terror" with Karen Black. In 1977 Harrison landed the title role in the science-fiction TV series "Logan's Run". He remembers the show fondly, if modestly. "I was thrilled that I was doing science-fiction, a venue I appreciated and enjoyed. I felt we deserved an A for effort and a C for the show itself, for how well it worked." The series was cancelled after one season, but Gregory was finally becoming an established leading man. Shortly after the cancellation of "Logan’s Run", Gregory was cast in the Christmas TV Movie "The Gathering", which was the first of many times he would work with Stephanie Zimbalist. After it won the Emmy for best movie of the season, it also led to his biggest break, the 1978 mini-series "Centennial", in which he had the central role of Levi Zendt. Based on the book by James Michener, "Centennial" also starred Richard Chamberlain, Robert Conrad, Richard Crenna, Stephanie Zimbalist, William Atherton, Cliff De Young, Barbara Carrera, Brian Keith, Cristina Raines, Lynn Redgrave and Tim Dalton, and featured a large portion of the actors in Hollywood in those days. The mini-series was twenty-five hours long and dealt with 200 years of the history of the old west and the town of Centennial, Colorado. With the help of prosthetics and bravado, Gregory aged from 22 years old to 76. In an industry of skeptics, it put him on the map.

     After "Centennial" wrapped it’s eight-month shooting schedule, Gregory was cast in "Festival", a new musical being prepared for Broadway. He recommended his friend Stephanie Zimbalist to the producer and she was cast opposite him in the show. After a short run in San Francisco, the show opened in Los Angeles to good reviews, then moved on to Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C., where Gregory was injured in a fall from a trapeze during one of his songs. A support rope broke and he fell twenty feet to his back, barely surviving the impact. After a few days of hospitalization, Gregory returned to Los Angeles to heal and the show went on to New York, where the critics mercilessly pounded it. Coincidentally, "Festival" had been seen in Los Angeles by the casting director for a new series pilot, who had been impressed by Gregory and one of his costars (Brian Stokes Mitchell) and recommended them to the producers. After many meetings and auditions, both were eventually cast into the pilot episode of "Trapper John, MD" for CBS’ 1979 season. Starring as Dr. Gonzo Gates, Gregory was thrilled to be part of an immediate hit on the network’s Sunday night schedule. From 1979 to 1985, Gregory shared the small-screen with Pernell Roberts, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Christopher Norris, Charles Seibert, Madge Sinclair, and Tim Busfield. He also enjoyed working with an amazing assortment of fine actors from old and new Hollywood who came to guest-star on various episodes. Gregory recalls this time as the period when he truly began to understand the craft of acting, and for the first few years he soaked up the experience like a sponge. When the learning began to taper off, he looked for other things to keep his interest, and spent thousands of hours in the editing rooms, or following the directors around as they prepared their episodes. Eventually, Gregory directed eight of the later episodes of the show, but halfway through its seventh and final season he moved on. Partly, it was out of boredom…after 156 episodes, he had done everything and learned everything he felt he could. But, also, he was anxious to spend time with his new daughter, due to arrive a month after his departure from the show.

     He was also keeping very busy with his production company and theater demands in Los Angeles. In 1980 he had formed, with Franklin R. Levy, the Catalina Production Group. Over the next eleven years, they produced numerous stage projects and nearly two dozen television movies. Catalina Productions was an important force in the Los Angeles theater scene from 1981 to 1992, and plays presented by the company were honored with over 150 local theater awards. Those plays included The Hasty Heart (1982), which won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award as Best Production (including Best Actor for Gregory) and Picnic (1986), for which Gregory won a Dramalogue Award. In 1990 he was supremely honored with a L.A. Ovation Award for Outstanding Contribution to L.A. Theater.

     In 1981 Gregory married former "CHiPs" actress Randi Oakes, a year after they met on the television competition "Battle of the Network Stars". The couple has three girls and a boy…Emma, Lily, Kate and Quinn. In the early 90’s, Gregory and his wife became determined to get out of Los Angeles and raise their children in a safer, more nurturing locale. Shortly after that, Gregory was filming the movie "Dangerous Pursuit" on location in Portland, Oregon, when he discovered the northwest coast on a day off. He reported back to his wife that he had found a paradise, and within a year they had chosen a house-site and begun building a home in southern Oregon. They live there happily to this day

 
image
image
image