"Julie Harris, 87, the unprepossessing anti-diva who, in the guises of Joan of Arc, Mary Todd Lincoln, Emily Dickinson and many other characters both fictional and real, became the most decorated performer in the history of Broadway, died on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, at her home in Chatham, Mass," writes Bruce Weber in an obituary in The New York Times.
The cause of death was congestive heart failure.
The Times says: "Perhaps more than any other performer of her era and her elevated stature, she owed her stardom and reputation to the stage. Sometimes called the first lady of the American theater, she made her first Broadway appearance while she was still in college, and over the next half century-plus earned 10 Tony nominations, more than any other performer."
She won Tony Awards for her stage performances in "I Am a Camera" (1952), "The Lark" (1956), "Forty Carats" (1969), "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln" (1973) and "The Belle of Amherst" (1977). Her LP of the latter brought her a Grammy for best spoken-word recording.
She also won a sixth Tony Award for lifetime achievement. No other performer has six Tonys.
Her Emmy-winning tally is three, two for her performances in "Hallmark Hall of Fame" dramas — "Little Moon of Alban" and "Victoria Regina." Her third Emmy was for a voice-over performance as Susan B. Anthony.
Weber writes in The Times, "Ms. Harris made herself known in 1950 as a 24-year-old playing a 12-year-old, the loquacious, motherless, fiercely self-tormenting Frankie Addams, in Carson McCullers’ adaptation of her own novel, ‘The Member of the Wedding.’ With her hair cut tomboy short, she spent virtually all of the play onstage, dreaming aloud, remonstrating with the sage family cook Berenice (played by Ethel Waters), hectoring her young cousin John Henry (Brandon De Wilde) and berating herself with the incessant needy bleat of loneliness. It required a huge effort, and Ms. Harris received the kind of notices that can — and in this case did — propel a career.
“’In the long, immensely complicated part of the adolescent girl, Julie Harris, a very gifted young actress, gives an extraordinary performance — vibrant, full of anguish and elation by turns, rumpled, unstable, egotistic and unconsciously cruel,’ Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times.
"She reprised the role of Frankie in the 1952 film, directed by Fred Zinneman, before returning to Broadway that year in a role that couldn’t be more different, in ‘I Am a Camera,’ as the first Broadway incarnation of Isherwood’s bawdy, bohemian nightclub singer Sally Bowles [later made famous by Liza Minnelli in the musical movie version of 'Camera,' titled 'Cabaret']. Harris won exultant reviews, and after 50 performances, the producers affixed a seven-foot cutout of her to the theater marquee and placed ads in the newspaper declaring that ‘Gertrude Macy and Walter Starcke have the pleasure to announce the stardom of Miss Julie Harris.’ For her performance, she won her first Tony, and once again she re-created the role in the movies."
Harris was nominated for an Academy Award for the movie version of "Member of the Wedding." We here at TVWeek think she should have won for that performance, as well as for her supporting work in the 1962 movie version of Rod Serling’s "Requiem for a Heavyweight." Harris was not nominated for that performance.
On TV, Harris is probably best known for her eight years on "Knots Landing" playing Lilimae Clements. Not including her regular role on "Knots Landing," Harris was in close to 70 other TV shows over six decades.
As Weber writes in his obit, "Slim, red-haired, physically graceful though not especially athletic, Harris had the aura of delicacy but was not a mesmerizing beauty; nor was she a distinctive, public personality. In interviews, she was unremittingly humble, dwelling on what she deemed her failures far more than her successes and speaking of acting as an imperfectible craft for which the effort at rendering a character, not the finished result or the applause, is not only the challenge but the reward."