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Julie Harris Dead: Broadway Star And 5-Time Tony Best Actress Winner Dies At 87

NEW YORK — Julie Harris, 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," died Saturday. She was 87.

Harris died at her West Chatham, Mass., home of congestive heart failure, actress and family friend Francesca James said.

Harris won five Tony Awards for best actress in a play, displaying 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. Her record is up against Audra McDonald, with five competitive Tonys, and Angela Lansbury with four Tonys in the best actress-musical category and one for best supporting actress in a play.

Harris had suffered a stroke in 2001 while she was in Chicago appearing in a production of Claudia Allen's "Fossils." She suffered another stroke in 2010, James said.

"I'm still in sort of a place of shock," said James, who appeared in daytime soap operas "All My Children" and "One Life to Live."

"She was, really, the greatest influence in my life," said James, who had known Harris for about 50 years.

Television viewers knew Harris as the free-spirited 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 had rolls in such films as "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1962), "The Haunting" (1963) and "Reflections in a Golden Eye" (1967).

Yet Harris' biggest successes and most satisfying moments have been on stage. "The theater has been my church," the actress once said. "I don't hesitate to say that I found God in the theater."

The 5-foot-4 Harris, blue-eyed with delicate features and reddish-gold hair, made her Broadway debut in 1945 in a short-lived play called "It's a Gift." Five years later, at the age of 24, Harris was cast as Frankie, a lonely 12-year-old tomboy on the brink of adolescence, in "The Member of the Wedding," Carson McCullers' stage version of her wistful novel.

The critics raved about Harris, with Brooks Atkinson in The New York Times calling her performance "extraordinary – vibrant, full of anguish and elation."

"That play was really the beginning of everything big for me," Harris had said.

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.

Harris won her first Tony Award for playing Sally Bowles, the confirmed hedonist in "I Am a Camera," adapted by John van Druten from Christopher Isherwood's "Berlin Stories." The play later became the stage and screen musical "Cabaret." In her second Tony-winning performance, Harris 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.

The actress was something of a critics' darling, getting good reviews even when her plays were less-well received. These included such work as "Marathon `33," "Ready When You Are, C.B.!" and even a musical, "Skyscraper," adapted from an Elmer Rice play, "Dream Girl."

Her third Tony came for her work in "Forty Carats," a frothy French comedy about an older woman and a younger man. It was a big hit, running nearly two years.

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 Harris, 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.

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by Anonymousreply 1308/27/2013

This is the first celebrity death I am truly sad about. I always loved Julie Harris, ever since her wonder Abra in East of Eden, with James Dean. Her Sally Bowles is tremendous too in I Am A Camera.

She excelled in so many things. In 1977 she brought her Emily Dickinson show to London, "The Belle of Amherst" and my then partner and I had booked, but I felt unwell on the night and did not think I was up to it, but he persuaded me. Of course I loved it and her as Emily, and without thinking anything more about it, sent her a note to tell her so, posted to the theatre. It must have been towards the year's end but some days later I love a lovely handwritten note from her, thanking me and wishing me all the best for 1978. RIP to a real lady and true star.

by Anonymousreply 108/25/2013

I lived in Detroit in the 60s and had the opportunity to visit her home. She was a very talented and complicated lady. I will miss her.

by Anonymousreply 208/25/2013


by Anonymousreply 308/25/2013

Richard Connema at ATC of course has to put his bit in.....

What a charming and wonderful lady. I met here thru a friend of mine back in 1955 after she appeared in "The Lark". I remember we all had supper and she regaled us with wonderful theatrical stories.

Later I met her again the 80's when she came to the Burbank studio for some unknown reason. She had remembered that supper.

by Anonymousreply 408/25/2013

We have very actresses of her generation left now. Angela Lansbury, who shared the record with her for winning the most competitive Tony Awards, is one of the last ones.

by Anonymousreply 508/25/2013

We have very few

by Anonymousreply 608/25/2013

Probably the last-surviving cast member of "East of Eden" (1955).

Also liked her role opposite Sigourney Weaver in "Gorillas in the Mist" (1988) as Roz Carr, the friend of Dian Fossey.

by Anonymousreply 708/25/2013

was she the nanny in "the nanny and the professor"?

by Anonymousreply 808/25/2013

Bump for a legend.

by Anonymousreply 908/25/2013

She's fine. She sends her love.

by Anonymousreply 1008/25/2013

No r8, that would be the much younger and very much alive Juliet Mills.

by Anonymousreply 1108/25/2013

Let's talk about Julie as Lilimae Clements on "Knots Landing". She was too young to be Joan Van Ark's mother!

by Anonymousreply 1208/27/2013

Julie Harris was 18 years older than Joan Van Ark. It was believable.

by Anonymousreply 1308/27/2013
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