Jay H. Harris, Broadway Producer, Dies at 77

By Robert Simonson
25 Jun 2014

Jay H. Harris, a wealthy businessman who produced a few shows on Broadway, including the recent Wonderland and Stick Fly, but had his greatest impact on Florida theatre, died June 20 in Boca Raton. He was 77.



His Broadway credits also included Say Goodnight, Gracie, the one-man show starring Frank Gorshin as comedian George Burns, which was nominated for a Tony Award, and the 2008 revival of American Buffalo. In London, he helped produce All About My Mother and Nilo Cruz' Anna in the Tropics.

However, as a theatre figure, Mr. Harris was best known in Florida circles. He moved to the state in 1980 and, through frequent attendance, became involved in the then-nascent theatre scene. He often worked behind the scenes, contributing funding to a variety of Florida theatre companies and specific productions. By the end of the 20th century, he had donated more than $1 million to Florida theatre.

“Just say that without Jay Harris, South Florida theater could not have existed," Deborah L. Sherman, a co-founder of The Promethean Theatre in Davie, told Florida Theatre On Stage. "It would have collapsed without his patronage of the entire community.”

In 1999, Mr. Harris provided the monies that allowed the New Theatre in Coral Gables to stage Tony Kushner's Angels in America, a production other funding sources considered too controversial.

In 2012, Mr. Harris was given the George Abbott Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts from the Carbonells, an awards organization on which he had worked as a judge, a board member and a president. Other honors include the Dean Lott Spirit Award presented by the Arts & Business Council of Miami-Dade County; the 2000 Pro Bono Award presented by ArtServe of Broward County; the Curtain Up Lifetime Achievement Theater Award; The Remy “Pioneer Award” from the Theatre League of South Florida; the Jack Zink Spirit Award presented by the Mosaic Theatre; and the 2002 Carbonell Howard Kleinberg Award.

Jay H. Harris was born in The Bronx and attended Hunter College and City College of New York. While holding down various jobs in business, he began to invest in the theatre in the early '70s, putting money into two Off-Broadway productions of Ibsen starring Claire Bloom.