All hail King Harry Anderson! The late street magician turned television star turned Hurricane Katrina recovery activist is the focus of a Mardi Gras mini krewe that parades on Monday (March 4). Anderson, who died in 2018, is probably best remembered as Judge Harry Stone on the TV sitcom “Night Court,” a fair-minded, fedora-wearing smart aleck.
The Krewe of Fools marching group is made up largely of French Quarter street performers, magicians, musicians and mimes. For the past eight years, they’ve marched on Lundi Gras afternoon in boisterous celebration of the liberated lifestyle they hold dear.
Before the mini parade, which begins at 2:30 p.m. more or less, the 35 members gather at a home near the corner of Chartres and Dumain Streets to lunch together and anoint a new king. They cheekily call the coronation ceremony “the passing of the hat,” said krewe spokesperson Erica Chompsky, the only non-performer in the bunch.
Over the years they’ve crowned King Warpo the magician, King Peter the glass harpist, King Grampa Elliot the bluesman, King Willow the folk singer, King Debbie the clown and others. As a tribute to their monarch, everyone costumes like the king.
In 2019 for the first time, the krewe has elected a king in absentia. At the suggestion of Warpo, the Krewe of Fools have named Harry Anderson as their leader, in spirit anyway.
“Harry was important, he was an inspiration as a street performer,” said Chompsky.
Anderson’s memory is especially important in the French Quarter. He was born in Rhode Island, but he plied his trade as a teen magician in New Orleans as well as other cities before making it big on television. Much later in life, Anderson returned to New Orleans to open a nightclub. Oswald’s Speakeasy had been in business for four years in the French Quarter when Hurricane Katrina hit.
In the aftermath of the storm, Oswald’s became the site of informal town hall-style meetings where residents bemoaned the condition of the battered and flooded city and Anderson became one of the best-known critics of local government. Eventually the near-extinction of tourism and other hardships of the recovery era got the best of him and he moved away, but he’s remembered as one of the political lightning rods of the post-K era.
Chompsky said that Anderson’s wife Elizabeth will accept the crown on his behalf during the passing of the hat on Monday. It is free to join the krewe, she said, and newcomers are welcome to show up on Monday and join the procession. There are Anderson-esque costume instructions on the Krewe of Fools website and there will be a few fedoras available for purchase before the parade.
Doug MacCash has the best job in the world, covering art, music and culture in New Orleans. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Doug MacCash and on Facebook at Douglas James MacCash. As always, please add your point of view to the comment stream.