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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Remembering Julie Harris 1925 - 2013

Although Julie Harris received six Tony Awards and an Oscar nomination during her long career, it was her role on TV's Knots Landing that made me a devoted fan. The actress, who died today at age 87, played Lilimae Clements, the mother of Valene Ewing, on 165 episodes of the popular primetime soap opera. After a guest star appearance during the show's first season in 1980, Harris returned as a regular in Season 3, and she remained on the series until 1987 when Lilimae left the cul-de-sac to travel the country with her boyfriend Al Baker (played by Red Buttons). She was, of course, wonderful in the part, which earned her a 1982 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

Harris first appeared on Broadway in the 1945 comedy, It's a Gift. She later starred in the 1950 play, The Member of the Wedding, as well as the 1952 film version - her screen debut - for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.

In 1952, Harris won her first Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance as Sally Bowles in I Am a Camera. She reprised her stage role in the 1955 film version.

Her other film credits include East of Eden (1955) with James Dean, The Haunting (1963), Harper (1966), You're a Big Boy Now (1966), Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), The Hiding Place (1975), Gorillas in the Mist (1988), Housesitter (1992) and The Dark Half (1993).

In 1977, Harris won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance as Emily Dickinson (and 14 other characters) in The Belle of Amherst, which was televised on PBS in 1976. She also won a 1978 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording of the production.

Her other Broadway credits include The Lark (1956 Best Actress Tony), A Shot in the Dark (1961) with Walter Matthau and William Shatner, Skyscraper (a 1965 musical with Peter Marshall and Charles Nelson Reilly), Forty Carats (1969 Best Actress Tony), The Last of Mrs. Lincoln (1973 Best Actress Tony), The Glass Menagerie (1994), and a 1997 revival of The Gin Game with Charles Durning, which I was lucky enough to see in both New York and Chicago (during its national tour). Harris also received a Special Lifetime Achievement Tony in 2002 (below is her appearance on The Rosie O'Donnell Show on June 20, 1997, to promote The Gin Game).

In addition to Knots Landing (which you can watch below), Harris's other television credits include the 1973 ABC sitcom, Thicker than Water, the 1975 NBC drama, The Family Holvak, the 1979 NBC miniseries, Backstairs at the White House (as First Lady Helen Taft), and the 1994 miniseries, Scarlett (as Rhett Butler's mother). She also won three Emmy Awards for her performances in the Hallmark Hall of Fame productions of Little Moon of Alban (1958) and Victoria Regina (1961) and for a voice-over performance in the 1999 PBS documentary, Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony. And, finally, Harris was deservedly named a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2005.


joel65913 said...

I had always been a fan of her work in film an TV but about a dozen years ago I saw he on tour in The Belle of Amherst and was completely blown away. It sounds facile to say she was amazing but I can think of no other term to describe what we in the audience witnessed on the stage that day. She had a cold which she made part of the performance and made seem as if playing Emily any other way wouldn't make sense. There was no fussiness or affectation just simple brilliance, a truly memorable experience. A huge loss to the performing world.

Marc said...

Thanks for sharing your sweet memory of Ms. Harris, Joel!

Quasi Homosapiotic said...

I absolutely loved her in THE HIDING PLACE. Corrie ten Boom was a special lady to our campus and Ms. Harris played her sister in the movie. That is when I really saw what a wonderful actress she was....

Marc said...

Thanks for your comment, Quasi Homosapiotic!