Sunday, August 25, 2013

Remembering Julie Harris

So there I was, my first time on the set of Knots Landing, expecting to interview a star or two.
"All are currently busy," cackled the Lorimar publicist.
"So Julie Harris will have to do."
Julie Harris will have to do?
The lady was a Broadway and Hollywood legend and over a hurried lunch turned out to be a delightful conversationalist.
What she wanted to talk about above all was her magical summer in 1960 as she appeared opposite Bruno Gerussi in Rome And Juliet at Canada's Stratford Festival.
"I live in Manhattan. It's very noisy there. But Stratford! At 9 every morning the lawn mowers would be powered up and that's all you'd hear every morning!"
"He was a perfect Romeo, robust, a street urchin type," she enthused. "The audiences were so enthusiastic. One of my greatest memories."
Harris who died Saturday at her Massachusetts home aged 87 was long retired from acting.
When I met her she was indignant at being asked the same question by packs of TV critics.
"They always ask 'What are you doing in a TV series?" she laughed.
"My answer? I tell them more people will see me in just one episode of Knots Landing than in all the plays I ever did on Broadway."
And Harris certainly had enough hits under her belt.
First up there was her star turn as 12-year old Frankie in The Member Of The Wedding  (1950) which was turned into a movie several years later.
"It was easier pretending to be 12 on the stage.  I was an old lady of 24 by then. Those movie close ups are murder. My partner was little Brandon De Wilde who really was seven when we started. He was word perfect in rehearsals. The first night in front of an audience he blinked when the curtain went up then became the character before thousands of people."
Harris won her first Emmy for playing hedonist Sally Bowles in I Am A Camera which later became a 1955 movie --the musical Cabaret came much later.
It was enough to jump start a Hollywood career that included playing opposite James Dean in 1955's East Of Eden.
"What Jimmy didn't know about the human condition. But it was director Elia Kazan who knew how to harness that phenomenal energy and drive. Jimmy and I planned on working together on stage and then he was dead the very next year aged only 25."
Harris later starred in such movie hits as Requiem For A Heavyweight (1962) opposite Anthony Quinn, The Haunting (1963) with Claire Bloom, Harper (1966) with Paul Newman and Reflections In A Golden Eye (1967) with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando.
"Movies and I never quite clicked," she laughed.
"Next to Liz Taylor I was considered very plain indeed.
Instead she won four More Broadway Tonys for The Lark, Forty Carats, The Last Of Mrs. Lincoln and The Belle Of Amherst.
The lunch was over. The bells were ringing for the actors to rehearse the next scene.
"Time to be Lilimae Clements once more" quipped Harris.
And the most gifted Broadway actress of her time walked back into the TV sound stage and waved goodbye as she disappeared into the dark.

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