Christopher Plummer, Alec Baldwin, Zoe Caldwell and More Remember Tony Winner Julie Harris

By Harry Haun
04 Dec 2013

Alec Baldwin
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"This was all in the mid-'50s, of course — Broadway's last Golden Age. And Julie stood alone — high — on her very own pedestal — not just the First Lady, but the First Actress of the American Theatre — a national treasure who, for more than 50 years, continued to illumine and hold together the fragile fabric of our stage.

"To me, she will always be the Peter Pan of actresses — part-human, part-sprite. She could never hide the mischievious gleam in her eye. And she never, never grew old. She took us by the hand and led us into the theatre, and, with one stroke of her talent, she managed to disarm us of our cynicism and give us our childhood. She will continue to live in my heart and in my imagination so long as there is something called eternity. No matter what fate lies in store for the theatre, her curtain will never come down."

Joan Van Ark, who played Julie's daughter on the "Knots Landing" series, made her entrance, modeling many of the gifts she got from Julie — a quirky pink hat, a bulky "prayer bag" and a flowing white shmata. "All her life, in so many ways, Julie was a gift-giver and a note-writer extraordinaire. Clothing, perfume, notes and purses, even little pillows — all of her gifts will stay forever in my house and in my heart."

Her "Julie-worship" started at age 13 when she caught her in The Lark at the Central City Opera House in Central City, CO. "Three or four years later, with three or four local plays under my belt, I interviewed her in Denver for the Rocky Mountain News: 'Young Actress Interviews Star.' We chatted about schooling and where a young actress might want to go to study and further her dream. Julie was the first to attend the Yale School of Drama out of high school, and, thanks to her, I was the second.

"It was during the 'Knots Landing' years Julie may have given me the most incredibly personal gift of all. When my mother died in Colorado, I'd flown home to attend the service and was standing at the gravesite when Julie suddenly appeared in a perfect little Julie-hat and black dress. She had flown in to give me the gift of her presence."

There was a big give-back to Julie from her castmates and colleagues on "Knots Landing." They funded a scholarship in her name at the Drama School at Yale in perpetuity to future Julie and Julian Harrises. Alec Baldwin, who played her son on the series, contributed the first $25,000 to The Julie Harris Scholarship.

Filming in Hawaii, Baldwin left a heartfelt note, which Van Ark read to the crowd.

If it's possible for Rosemary Harris to be verklempt, she was when she arrived on stage. "So many thoughts have been running through my head, listening to you all — I am just overwhelmed," she admitted emotionally. "I wish I could be as eloquent as everyone has been today. It has just made my heart almost burst with love for Julie."

Then she proceeded to do quite well for herself, mindful of the advice of her husband, writer John Ehle — "Remember: There has never been a bad short speech.'"

She still found time to flick off a telling little anecdote about the generosity of Harris. She and her sister, who is now 96, visited the actress at her home in West Chatham, MA, and, when Julie learned the sister lived in a small seaside town in England, she asked if there were any seagulls there. Told there was, she instantly presented the sister with a beautiful china porcelain seagull. "Would you take this to England with you because he would like to come and live with your British seagulls?" she asked. It's still on the sister's windowsill — a gift to a total stranger.