The Playbill Vault Remembers Julie Harris

News   The Playbill Vault Remembers Julie Harris
Julie Harris, one of the foremost actresses of the American stage, died August 24, 2013, at the age of 87. The Playbill Vault looks back on some of her most notable performances throughout her award-winning Broadway career: 

Julie Harris
Julie Harris Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Julie Harris made her Broadway debut at 19 in 1945's It's a Gift. Below is her first Playbill Who's Who bio:

"Julie Harris (Atlanta) is new to the Broadway stage. However, by way of preparation she brings to it years of dramatic study at the Grosse Point (Mich.) Country Day School, Miss Hewitt's Classes, the Yale Drama School, invariably as the feminine lead of their productions. A pre-Broadway appearance in New York was made last season as St. Joan in G.B. Shaw's drama of that name at the Barbizon-Plaza. Her many play appearances include leading parts in such productions as "The Importance of Being Earnest," "Letters to Lucerne," "The Cradle Song," "The Swan," "Family Album," among others."

Julie Harris' breakout role came in 1950 in the stage adaptation of Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding. Harris, then 24, played the 12-year-old Frankie Addams to critical acclaim.

Brooks Atkinson wrote: "In the long, immensely complicated part of the adolescent girl, Julie Harris, a very gifted young actress, gives an extraordinary performance -- vibrant, full of anguish and elation by turns, rumpled, unstable, egotistic, and unconsciously cruel."

Two years later, Harris brought to life the insouciant Sally Bowles in I Am a Camera, the iconic role now best remembered from its musical adaptiation Cabaret.

Again, Brooks Atkinson praised her "brilliant and searching" performance:

"If there were anyone less obvious to cast in the part of a Bohemian, egocentric trollop, it would be Miss Harris, who captivated the town with her restless, dreamy, innocent adolescent in The Member of the Wedding two years ago... Now we all know what we have always wanted to believe: Miss Harris can play just about anything."

Harris won her first Tony that year; it would be her first of 10 nominations and 5 wins.

Her next two Broadway appearances were in plays by Jean Anouilh: Mademoiselle Colombe in 1954 and The Lark in 1955.

In The Lark, Julie Harris starred as the martyr Joan of Arc. "Although the story of St. Joan is old," read the New York Times review, "the spirit is endlessly new. Lighted by the radiance of Julie Harris, it is magnificent again... The luminous Miss Harris has bestowed on it her finest, most touching performance."

She won a second Tony Award for her acclaimed performance.

Thirteen years and two Tony nominations later, Harris made a rare foray into comedy in Forty Carats. She starred as a 40-year-old divorcee having an affair with a 22-year-old suitor. 

Though the show and her performance garnered mixed reviews -- Clive Barnes found her "delightful" if "overdetermined" -- she won her third Tony for the performance.

Julie Harris' next career highlight came as the presidential widow in 1972's The Last of Mrs. Lincoln. "As the play proceeds," Clive Barnes noted in his New York Times review, "we see her journey from slight mental disturbance to a more profound, yet never ugly, state of alientation, her recovery and her reconciliation with life."

For her performance in the transformative role, Harris received her fourth Tony Award.

In 1976, Julie Harris opened in The Belle of Amherst, in which she portrayed the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson and more than a dozen other characters. New York Times reviewer Mel Gussow called her performance "luminous... she makes us see the enormous passion that went into the art."

She earned her fifth Tony for the one-woman play, a record unmatched until 2009 by Angela Lansbury and again in 2012 by Audra McDonald.

Harris earned subsequent Tony nominations for Lucifer's Child and The Gin Game (her final Broadway appearance). In 2002 she received a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award, citing her lifelong commitment to live theater and her record-setting five Tony wins.

Look back on her entire Broadway career in the Playbill Vault.

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