Actor Chistopher Walken walked the walk through Harvard Yard Friday afternoon (Feb. 15), touring campus with a guide from Hasty Pudding Theatricals.
The 30-minute stroll was a traditional prelude to the glitz and crowds that will greet Walken this evening at the New College Theatre on Holyoke Street, where the Oscar winner is to be feted as 2008’s Man of the Year. (The first, in 1967, was Bob Hope. The first Woman of the Year, Gertrude Lawrence, was recognized in 1951.)
Hasty Pudding, the nation’s oldest collegiate theatrical society, was founded in 1795. The group’s “Fable Attraction,” a stage offering with the usual cast of men in drag, opens Friday and runs through March 16 before moving on to New York and Bermuda.
Some years, honorees stroll through the Yard tour at the head of a long train of handlers and hangers-on. But not Walken. He appeared in front of Harvard Hall at 2:15 p.m. accompanied by his wife, casting director Georgianne Thon Walken. (She won an Emmy for her work on “The Sopranos.”)
With him were a few Hasty Pudding actors. They had just had lunch at Z Square, where Walken was sidewalk-serenaded by the Radcliffe Pitches, a Harvard a cappella group.
The weather was different from the usual chill. Variations on New England ice and snow and biting wind usually greet the Hasty Pudding famous in February. For Walken, there were mild gusts, blue skies, sunshine, and temperatures in the 40s.
The distinguished actor is famous for playing villains, crooks, and psychopaths — as well as for his on-screen hoofing and deadpan comedy.
But on Friday, Walken was miles from being either crazy or crazy funny — just a slender quiet guy taking it all in at the heart of America’s most famous campus.
Doing the guiding was Hasty Pudding cast member Adam Goldenberg ’08, a 20-year-old social studies concentrator from Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Towering and deep-voiced, the Winthrop House resident has been guiding tours of Harvard Yard since his freshman year.
As roles go, Walken’s walk through the Yard was a cameo, since he barely had any lines. For all his time next to the talkative Goldenberg, he stayed quiet and contained, bare-headed and bundled in a long dark coat. Of medium height and lean, with his trademark backswept shock of hair, Walken wore soft black athletic shoes — the kind that would be easy to dance in — and he walked with the straight-footed precision of a cat.
The small tour group, including Goldenberg’s mother, strolled from Johnston Gate — where Walken emerged from a black limousine — to a point behind University Hall. Along the way, Goldenberg, in a red scarf and gray topcoat, provided stories of Harvard’s Revolutionary War days, Harvard Hall, Tercentenary Theatre, and the origins of Widener Library.
Walken, amused and attentive, took in the library story — the 5 million volumes, and the acres of below-ground stacks. “You can go in there?” he asked hopefully. “I don’t think you can,” said Goldenberg. (Getting in requires a University ID.)
Circling around to the other side of University Hall, Walken gamely touched the shiny golden toe of the John Harvard Statue, and cracked his first real smile of the tour.
Shaking Goldenberg’s hand, Walken made his way back to the waiting limousine. Next stop: A private afternoon seminar with the Hasty Pudding actors.
Goldenberg, who had never met Walken before, described his 30-minute companion as “extremely genial” and a good listener. “It’s rare you get a tour and someone is so attentive.”
As for Walken’s role as a man of few words, Goldenberg said, “We’ll get him talking tonight.”