Ken Kragen's got a million and a half people in his pocket, and he's happy.
The man who's putting together Hands Across America, the May 25 coast-to-coast human chain to raise money for America's hungry and homeless, is counting miles sold, checking linkups on the 4,100-mile chain that will wind through 16 states, and making sure the momentum is sustained until 3 p.m. EST on the Sunday before Memorial Day.
"Right now we're absolutely on target," Kragen insisted yesterday as he scrambled around Washington, doing a little motivating up on the Hill, glad-handing politicians and corporate sponsors, coordinating the shooting of a project promo with Kenny Rogers (whom he manages), and mobilizing the troops for the great campaign. That will include a skirmish at noon today at Farragut Square, with Rogers, the cast of "Dreamgirls," lots of solid citizens and a few surprise guests.
With less than a month to go, Kragen is convinced that 5.5 million Americans -- the number needed to connect the coasts -- are going to wanna hold each others hands.
"Kenny's going to have one foot in Texas, one in New Mexico," Kragen sk,1 sw,-1 ld,10 says. "I told somebody he was going to stand with one foot in Texas and one in Arizona, and they said that's a real trick."
Without tricks, 1.5 million tickets, costing from $10 to $35, have already been sold (or bought in corporate-sponsored miles). And with the big push gearing up for the next few weeks, Hands Across America is already in the black, having raised $18 million through pledges, sponsorships and corporate support (production will cost between $12 and $14 million).
"People look at it and say, 'But you've only got 25 days to get all these millions of people in line,' " Kragen says. "They're going to be there, they're absolutely going to be there."
"We are exactly on target. I said all along if we had a million by May 1, we'd be home."
It's not just that Kragen's an incorrigible optimist (though he is). After all, as the guiding spirit behind "We Are the World," he saw that humanitarian project raise more than $50 million for African famine relief.
It's the little signals, the accumulation of vignettes, that have convinced Kragen that Hands Across America is not a pipe dream, but a pipeline to conscience.
"In Taft Calif. , even before we did any promotion, we shot a video for Super Bowl, and 1,200 signed up; but 4,300 came out. In St. Louis at Washington University, we organized a thousand students to stand in a circle around the campus, and 2,000 showed up. Five minutes before, there was nobody, and then it was like the cavalry came over the hill."
There is, he points out, no great incentive to sign up early. "It's like festival seating at a concert. You think in 4,152 miles there's not going to be place for you in line?" The momentum is beginning its swing toward the Memorial Day climax. Glitzy public service announcements, celebrity endorsements, community support -- all are coming together with an astounding organizational push involving 67 Hands Across America offices and 45,000 volunteers.
"It's almost organized like pyramid selling," Kragen points out. "We have 20-mile captains, or monitors, and they have 20 one-mile people, who each have 10 tenth of mile people, who have responsibility for 132 people . . . " According to Kragen, there are four phases to Hands Across America. "Phase 1 is awareness -- we already went through that. Phase 2 is sign up, which we're going through now. Phase 3 is line up, and Phase 4 is clean-up."
"People are going to come to this project when they believe it's a reality," he says. "Like anything else, it's a bandwagon and it's particularly true here since it's about joining hands: You don't want to be out there standing alone.
* "When you're talking about going out and participating in a communal event, the more people feel that the event is real, credible, happening and historic, the more likely they are to come out and do it."
The idea of holding hands is catching on, according to Kragen. All along the line, there will be weddings, family reunions; political and social events normally scheduled for the holiday weekend will now be wrapped into Hands Across America. The Hopi and Navaho peoples, who have been at odds with each over land issues, have "buried a feather," according to Kragen, and will join hands in New Mexico.
"Fort Wayne, Indiana, has adopted Denver, Indiana, which has only 650 people," Kragen says. "They're about 50 miles away and they're bringing all their people there, running a campaign to 'Take a $10 vacation in Denver.' Denver has put out a booklet for the people of Fort Wayne on 'What To Do in Denver, Indiana.' The place has got one restaurant, which is staying open on the 25th to feed the people that come over from Fort Wayne."
"The spirit of that is what the spirit of the event is to me," Kragen adds. The issues that we started with-hunger and homelesseness- as much as they're going to be helped by what we're doing-the event has somehow grown beyond that. "The significance of people of all races, religions and political persuasions standing together in a unified way has a significance that's sort of beyond that."
The media blitz, of course, is just beginning. Corporate-sponsored ads on television, radio and print are beginning to break; McDonald's 300 million tray liners are in place, as are Safeway's 60 million bags. On Mother's Day, Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" strip will feature his coterie of characters holding hands with some regular Americans and singing "Hands Across America." Trudeau also has organized his fellow cartoonists and comic strip artists to draw all their characters holding hands in a line (it's a pullout in the issue of Life magazine that hits the stands May 15).
The song, performed by anonymous studio musicians, has not yet had the impact, much less the exposure, that the all-star "We Are the World" did, which doesn't surprise or bother Kragen.
"This project is not dependent on a hit record, and that's very important," he says. "Granted, there are a lot of celebrities involved, but this is not a celebrity project. It only works if every American looks at him or herself as the star of the project -- or at least five-and-a-half million do -- and decide to be out there on the line. We're not trying to sell records to make money, as with 'We Are the World.' The record currently stalled at No. 69 on the charts is something to go behind our commercials, our video."
"Radio will play the song," Kragen insists. "In last two weeks we'll get all the airplay we need on the project.