Julie Harris

Julie Harris Headshot

Actress

Birth Date: December 2, 1925

Death Date: August 24, 2013

Birth Place: Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan

A Tony-, Emmy- and Grammy-winning actress and an Academy Award nominee, Julie Harris distinguished herself early in her diverse career a model for perseverance in the American entertainment industry. Though she made her Broadway debut in the forgotten 1945 flop, "It's a Gift," Harris returned to the Great White Way in a string of critical successes, drawing raves for her lead roles in "The Member of the Wedding" in 1951 and "I Am a Camera" the following year.

In Hollywood, Harris coaxed a charismatic but inexperienced James Dean through his film debut in Elia Kazan's "East of Eden" (1955) and later specialized in neurotic older woman roles, from the psychic spinster of "The Haunting" (1964) to the self-mutilating Southern belle of "Reflections in a Golden Eye" (1969). As lead roles in film dried up, Harris dove into work on stage and television, where she recreated several of her theatrical successes, including "The Belle of Amherst" (1976) and "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln" (1976).

A diagnosis of breast cancer did not stop Harris from becoming a series regular on the long-running primetime soap opera "Knots Landing" (CBS, 1979-1993), nor did a stroke in 2001 keep the elderly actress from plying her trade by sculpting her characterizations around her physical limitations. Awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 1994, Harris was also the recipient of a 2002 Tony Award for lifetime achievement and a 2005 citation from the Kennedy Center for contributions to American culture through the performing arts. Julie Harris died at the age of 87 in August 2013.

Julia Ann Harris was born on Dec. 2, 1925, the daughter of William Pickett Harris, an investment banker, and the former Elsie Smith, a nurse. In her native Michigan, she was raised in an atmosphere of affluence and privilege and attended Grosse Point Country Day School. Her parents had intended for their daughter a debutante's entry into society, but even as a teenager, Harris had other ideas.

Trips with her parents into nearby Detroit to see Broadway plays making their national tours had given Harris an idea that she might like to make a living as an actor. She spent the 12th grade in New York City at an elite boarding school known as Miss Hewett's Classes (now The Hewett School). Upon graduation, she set off for Yale University in New Haven, CT, where she became the youngest person ever to be admitted into the prestigious School of Drama.

A classmate at Yale urged Harris to audition for a Broadway play that her parents were producing and so she wound up taking a six-week leave from her studies in the spring of 1945 to make her Broadway debut in "It's a Gift." After the production closed, Harris returned to the Yale campus long enough to pack her bags and head back into the city to begin a new life as a working actor.

Harris spent the next few years honing her craft as she leapfrogged from one production to the next, on Broadway and on the road. In 1949, she participated in the inaugural venture of the newly-minted Actor's Studio. Directed by Elia Kazan, "Sundown Beach" was the story of soldiers reentering society after World War II. Savaged by the critics, the show closed after only seven performances but netted Julie Harris a Theatre World award for "Best Actress."

In 1950, the 24-year-old Harris won the role of Frances "Frankie" Addams, the 12-year-old tomboy protagonist of "The Member of the Wedding." This Broadway adaptation of the 1946 novel by Carson McCullers ran for over 500 performances at New York's Empire Theatre. Harris won a Tony Award for Best Actress as Sally Bowles in the Broadway premiere of John van Druten's "I Am a Camera," adapted from Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. She was Joan of Arc in Joseph Anthony's staging of Jean Anouilh's "The Lark" at the Longacre Theatre, for which she won her second Tony.

Harris received an Academy Award nomination when she recreated the role of Frankie Addams in Fred Zinnemann's big screen adaptation of "The Member of the Wedding" (1952). The Stanley Kramer production was distributed by Columbia Pictures and marked Harris' film debut at the age of 28.

For "East of Eden" (1955), Warner Brothers' CinemaScope adaptation of the 1952 John Steinbeck novel, director Elia Kazan relied on Harris to help coax a strong performance out of James Dean, who was making his screen debut. Accustomed to the more improvisatory nature of live stage acting, Harris was able to adjust her performance moment by moment to complement whatever impulse the brilliant but inconsistent Dean chose to follow.

Studio head Jack L. Warner had opposed Harris' casting as the compassionate, independent-minded Abra, expressing to Kazan his preference for a younger, prettier actress in the role; Kazan stuck with his casting choice, even though Harris was seven years older than Dean. The actress received a BAFTA Award nomination the following year for starring in the film version of "I Am a Camera" (1955), directed by Henry Cornelius and lensed in England.

Harris and her "I Am a Camera" co-star Laurence Harvey reteamed for "The Truth About Women" (1957), a flashback-driven melodrama directed and co-written by Muriel Box, one of the few female directors at work in the British film industry. Harris next traveled to Ireland to star in George Pollock's comedy "The Poacher's Daughter" (1958), an adaptation of George Shiels' "The New Gossoon," whose supporting cast was comprised principally of members of Dublin's Abbey Theater.

Upon her return to America, Harris divided her time between stage work (principally in the works of Shakespeare, both in the United States and Canada) and appearances on live television; she won an Emmy in 1962 for playing "Victoria Regina" on "Hallmark Hall of Fame" (NBC/CBS/PBS, 1951- ). Although she still commanded the odd ingénue role in the theatre (she was a 38-year-old Ophelia to Alfred Ryder's 48-year-old Hamlet at the Public and Delacorte Theaters in New York in 1964), she had by this point, as far as Hollywood was concerned, entered the neurotic older woman phase of her career.

In Ralph Nelson's feature film version of the award-winning Rod Serling teleplay "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1962), the actress was in ugly duckling mode as a social worker who falls for Anthony Quinn's down-at-heel prizefighter. In Robert Wise's "The Haunting" (1964), she was an emotionally fragile spinster with latent psychic abilities. In the whodunit "Harper" (1966), based on the 1949 novel The Moving Target by mystery writer Ross MacDonald and starring Paul Newman, Harris painted the minor role of a drug-addicted lounge singer with disarming pathos and a touch of vestigial sensuality.

Harris played a mentally unstable soldier's wife who has cut off her nipples with a pair of pruning scissors in a gruesome fit of postpartum depression in John Huston's "Reflections in a Golden Eye" (1967), based on the Carson McCullers novel of the same name.

After playing a criminal mastermind who partners with Jim Brown to rob the Los Angeles Coliseum in the heist drama "The Split" (1969), Harris' feature film roles grew fewer and farther between. Still active in theatre, she also classed up episodes of such popular TV series as "Bonanza" (NBC, 1959-1973), "Daniel Boone" (NBC, 1964-1970), "Run for Your Life" (NBC, 1965-68) and as African missionary Charity Jones in four episodes of "Tarzan" (1966-69).

The actress perfected her stock-in-trade of potty older woman roles in the made-for-TV thrillers "The House on Greenapple Road" (1970), "How Awful About Allan" (1970) and "Home for the Holidays" (1972) and was a series regular on the short-lived ABC sitcom "Thicker Than Water," which was canceled after only nine episodes were aired in 1973. Around this time, Harris recreated for television a number of her successes on the legitimate stage, including "The Belle of Amherst" (1976) and "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln" (1976).

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1980, she endured a radical mastectomy and while undergoing chemotherapy accepted a recurring role on the primetime soap opera "Knot's Landing" (1979-1993), as duplicitous Southern belle Lilimae Clements.

Subsequent films included "Gorillas in the Mist" (1988), Michael Apted's biopic of martyred naturalist Dian Fossey, the Frank Oz comedy "HouseSitter" (1992) with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn, and "The Dark Half" (1993), George Romero's adaptation of the Stephen King bestseller. In 1981, Harris began a long association with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, contributing voiceovers to his films "Brooklyn Bridge" (1981), "The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God" (1984), "The Civil War" (1990) and "Not for Ourselves Alone: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony" (1999).

Injured in a backstage fall in 1999, Harris suffered a stroke in 2001, which left the 75-year-old actress with impaired speech. Following her rehabilitation, Harris would use her handicap to play a stroke victim in the independent feature "The Way Back Home" (2006) and enjoyed limited screen time in "The Golden Boys" (2008) and "The Lighthkeepers" (2009), both directed by Daniel Adams and set on Cape Cod at the dawn of the 20th century.

Julie Harris died at home in West Chatham, MA, of congestive heart failure on August 24, 2013, at the age of 87.

By Richard Harland Smith

Credits

The Way Back Home

Actor
Movie
2006

Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony

Voice
Show
1999

Love Is Strange

Actor
Sylvia McClain
Movie
1999

The First of May

Actor
Carlotta
Movie
1998

Frank Lloyd Wright

Voice
Movie
1998

Ellen Foster

Actor
Show
1997

Bad Manners

Actor
Professor Harper
Movie
1997

Ellen Foster

Actor
Leonora Nelson
Movie
1997

Passaggio Per Il Paradiso

Actor
Martha McGraw
Movie
1996

The Christmas Tree

Actor
Sister Anthony
Movie
1996

Gentle Into the Night

Actor
Martha McGraw
Movie
1996

Ruth Orkin: Frames of Life

Narrator
Movie
1996

Lucifer's Child

Actor
Show
1995

The Outer LimitsStream

Actor
Hera
Series
1995

Secrets

Actor
Caroline Phelan
Movie
1995

Carried Away

Actor
Joseph's Mother
Movie
1995

ScarlettStream

Actor
Eleanor Butler
Miniseries
1994

Directed By

Actor
Show
1994

One Christmas

Actor
Sook
Movie
1994

They've Taken Our Children: The Chowchilla Kidnapping Story

Actor
Odessa Ray
Movie
1993

The Dark HalfStream

Actor
Reggie DeLesseps
Movie
1993
62%

When Love Kills: The Seduction of John Hearn

Actor
Alice Hearn
Movie
1993

Fais comme chez toi

Actor
Movie
1992

HousesitterStream

Actor
Edna Davis
Movie
1992
36%

The Civil WarStream

Voice
Mary Chestnut
Miniseries
1990

Single Women, Married Men

Actor
Lucille Frankyl
Movie
1989

Isadora Duncan: Movement From the Soul

Voice
Isadora Duncan
Movie
1989

The Christmas Wife

Actor
Iris
Movie
1988

The Woman He Loved

Actor
Alice
Movie
1988

Gorillas in the MistStream

Actor
Roz Carr
Movie
1988
84%

Too Good to Be True

Actor
Margaret Berent
Movie
1988

Mortelle rencontre

Actor
Movie
1988

Family TiesStream

Guest Star
Series
1982

The Voyage of Odysseus

Actor
Show
1982

Brooklyn Bridge

Voice
Movie
1981

Knots Landing

Actor
Lilimae Clements
Series
1979

Knots Landing DFN

Actor
Show
1979

Tales of the Unexpected

Actor
Mrs Foster
Show
1979

The Bell Jar

Actor
Mrs. Greenwood
Movie
1979
0%

The Gift

Actor
Elizabeth Holvak
Movie
1979

Voyage of the DamnedStream

Actor
Alice Fienchild
Movie
1976
77%

Family Holvak

Actor
Elizabeth Holvak
Show
1975

My Love

Actor
Elizabeth Holvak
Movie
1975

Long Way Home

Actor
Elizabeth Holvak
Movie
1975

The Hiding Place

Actor
Betsie ten Boom
Movie
1975

The Greatest Gift

Actor
Elizabeth Holvak
Movie
1974

Hawkins

Guest Star
Show
1973

Thicker Than Water

Actor
Nellie Paine
Show
1973

Die, Darling, Die

Actor
Janet Hubbard
Movie
1973

Columbo: Any Old Port in a Storm

Actor
Movie
1973

Quand le vin est tiré

Actor
Movie
1973

Home for the Holidays

Actor
Elizabeth Hall Morgan
Movie
1972

ColumboStream

Guest Star
Karen Fielding
Series
1971
84%

Men From Shiloh

Guest Star
Jenny
Show
1970

How Awful About Alan

Actor
Movie
1970

The House on Greenapple Road

Actor
Leona Miller
Movie
1970

The People Next Door

Actor
Gerrie Mason
Movie
1970

How Awful About Allan

Actor
Katherine
Movie
1970

So Long Baby, and Amen

Actor
Ruth "Doc" Harmon
Movie
1970

The Name of the Game

Guest Star
Series
1968

The SplitStream

Actor
Gladys
Movie
1968

Journey Into Midnight

Actor
Leona Gillings
Movie
1968

The Bobby Currier Story

Actor
Verna Ward
Movie
1968

Garrison's Gorillas

Guest Star
Series
1967

Reflections in a Golden EyeStream

Actor
Alison Langdon
Movie
1967
55%

Tarzan

Guest Star
Charity Jones
Series
1966

You're a Big Boy Now

Actor
Miss Thing
Movie
1966

HarperStream

Actor
Betty Fraley
Movie
1966
95%

Laredo

Guest Star
Series
1965

The Big Valley

Guest Star
Series
1965

The Holy Terror

Actor
Florence Nightingale
Movie
1965

Daniel Boone

Guest Star
Series
1964

Pygmalion

Actor
Eliza Doolittle
Show
1963

The HauntingStream

Actor
Eleanor "Nell" Lance
Movie
1963
87%

Requiem For A HeavyweightStream

Actor
Grace Miller
Movie
1962
89%

The Heiress

Actor
Catherine Sloper
Show
1961

The Power and the Glory

Actor
Maria
Movie
1961

Victoria Regina

Actor
Queen Victoria
Movie
1961

The Poacher's Daughter

Actor
Sally Hamil
Movie
1960

BonanzaStream

Guest Star
Series
1959

RawhideStream

Guest Star
Series
1959

A Doll's House

Actor
Nora Helmer
Movie
1959

Little Moon of Alban

Actor
Brigid Mary Managan
Movie
1958

The Truth About Women

Actor
Helen Cooper
Movie
1958

I Am a Camera

Actor
Sally Bowles
Movie
1955

East of EdenStream

Actor
Abra
Movie
1955
86%

The United States Steel Hour

Actor
Shevawn
Show
1953

Cruel Desengaño

Actor
Movie
1953

La Boda de mi Hermano

Actor
Movie
1953

The Member of the Wedding

Actor
Frankie Addams
Movie
1952

What's My Line?Stream

Guest
Game Show
1950

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