One of Broadway’s most honored performers, whose roles ranged from the flamboyant Sally Bowles in “I Am a Camera” to the reclusive Emily Dickinson in “The Belle of Amherst,”Julie Harris passed away Saturday at her West Chatham, Mass., home of congestive heart failure, She was 87.
Born on Dec. 2, 1925, in Grosse Pointe, Mich., the daughter of an investment banker. She grew up fascinated by movies, later saying she thought of herself as plain-looking and turned to acting as a way of becoming other persons.
She made her stage debut at the Grosse Pointe Country Day School in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at age 14. In the years that followed, she studied drama in finishing school, prep school, Yale University and the Actor’s Studio.
During her career Julia Harris won five Tony Awards for best actress in a play, she displayed a virtuosity that enabled her to portray an astonishing gallery of women during a theater career that spanned almost 60 years and included such plays as “The Member of the Wedding” (1950), “The Lark” (1955), “Forty Carats” (1968) and “The Last of Mrs. Lincoln” (1972). She was honored again with a sixth Tony, a special lifetime achievement award in 2002.
Harris had suffered a stroke in 2001 while she was in Chicago appearing in a production of Claudia Allen’s “Fossils.” She suffered yet another stroke in 2010.
Television viewers would have know Harris as Lilimae Clements on the prime-time soap opera “Knots Landing.” In the movies, she was James Dean’s romantic co-star in “East of Eden” (1955), and she had rolls in such films as “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1962), “The Haunting” (1963) and “Reflections in a Golden Eye” (1967).
Julie Harris, blue-eyed with reddish-gold hair, made her Broadway debut in 1945 in a play called “It’s a Gift.” Five years later, at the age of 24, she was cast as Frankie, a lonely 12-year-old tomboy in “The Member of the Wedding,” Carson McCullers’ stage version of her wistful novel. The actress appeared in the 1952 film version, too, with her original Broadway co-stars, Ethel Waters and Brandon De Wilde, and received an Academy Award nomination.
She won her first Tony Award for playing Sally Bowles, the confirmed hedonist in “I Am a Camera,” adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories.” The play later became the stage and screen musical “Cabaret.” In her second Tony-winning performance, Julie played a much more spiritual character, Joan of Arc in Lillian Hellman’s adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s “The Lark.” The play had a six-month run, primarily because of the notices for Harris.
Her third Tony came for her work in “Forty Carats,” a French comedy about an older woman and a younger man. It was a big hit, running for nearly two years.
Julie Harris won her last two Tonys for playing historical figures – Mary Todd Lincoln in “The Last of Mrs. Lincoln” and poet Emily Dickinson in “The Belle of Amherst” by William Luce. The latter, a one-woman show, became something of an annuity for Her, as it was a play she would take around the country at various times in her career.
The actress liked to tour, even going out on the road in such plays as “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Lettice & Lovage” after they had been done in New York with other stars.
Her last Broadway appearances were in revivals, playing the domineering mother in a Roundabout Theatre Company production of “The Glass Menagerie” (1994) and then “The Gin Game” with Charles Durning for the National Actors Theatre in 1997.
In 2005, she was one of five performers to receive Kennedy Center honors.
Julie Harris was married three times, to lawyer Jay I. Julian, stage manager Manning Gurian and writer William Erwin Carroll. She had one son, Peter Alston Gurian.
Funeral arrangements are yet to be announced.