By Harry Haun
04 Dec 2013
The "we of me" that Julie Harris found in her life and profession — the theatrical community — filed into the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in adoring droves for her memorial service Dec. 3, the day after what would have been her 88th birthday.
A Harris memorial is tantamount to a Viking funeral where the elders of the theatrical tribe come forth with eloquent eulogies and testimonials to that oddly elusive-yet-accessible actress whose bag of tricks was a bottomless pit of emotional magic, still potent after 45 years of acting. Her dais was dominated by agile, alert, articulate octogenarians, moving a bit gingerly at this stage of the game.
Her most frequent co-star, Christopher Plummer, was the first to speak and set an impossibly high bar for the others, leading off with some Keats he thought apt.
Full beautiful, a fairy's child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild."
"For a great part of my life, Julie Harris has always lived — most vividly — in my imagination," he confessed. "I sometimes wonder, was she ever real? And then, of course, she was. She was a true, loyal and devoted friend, with a husky voice and a shy little laugh. But there was something else. There was a mystery about her — a kind of haunting — as if she were listening for her voices, guarding some deep secret that she could never reveal.
"Everyone who knew Julie was a little in love with her. Her wistful, vulnerable nature made one want to comfort her, protect her — but she wasn't having any of that! Oh, no, sir! Julie was her own master. She owned her own light, and one thing was dead certain: That light could never be extinguished.
"A will-o'-the-wisp surprisingly fraught with fire there was the tomboy Frankie in The Member of the Wedding where she brought us to our knees. She had also shown her soignée side in I Am a Camera. In the movies — in 'East of Eden' opposite James Dean — she once more touched us to the core. And on stage, her fury and her passion were thrilling to watch. There was no question this freckle-faced waif had already climbed into my heart."
The two were teamed six times: "The poor thing, she didn't deserve that," cracked Plummer. The first time out, he was the Earl of Warrick to her Joan of Arc in Jean Anouilh's The Lark. "After more than 200 nights, she flew to Heaven's gate and back, with matchless conviction in a performance beyond praise. There's a moment in the play when Joan, reliving her memories of the trial, suddenly burst out screaming blood and encouragement to her soldiers, and, in one swift movement, she jumped onto her little stool, with the lights going out on everyone — just one single spot on her. She shook her fists at her imaginary army, calling out into the darkened theatre each night, tears glistening on her cheeks, as we stood there — spellbound in the dark around her.Continued...