August 25, 2013

"She wasn’t pretty, didn’t wear the right clothes, couldn’t find dates; and she had no intention of becoming a debutante..."

"... which was the dream of Mrs. Harris’s life. As a defense, Julie escaped into acting. As an actress she could be anyone she wanted to and her mother couldn’t stop her."

From the long NYT obituary for Julie Harris, who died yesterday at the age of 87. Her mother was a socialite (in Grosse Pointe, Michigan). Her father "was an investment banker who was also an expert on squirrels and a curator of mammals at the museum of zoology of the University of Michigan."
For decades, Ms. Harris worked almost constantly.... Her film credits include “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1962), a boxing melodrama with Anthony Quinn, Mickey Rooney and Jackie Gleason, in which she played a sympathetic but manipulative social worker; “The Haunting” (1963), as a spinster beset by evil spirits; “Harper,” a detective story starring Paul Newman, in which she played a nightclub entertainer and addict...

... “Reflections in a Golden Eye” (1967), an adaptation of a McCullers novel set on an army base in which she played the sickly wife of an officer, played by Brian Keith, who was cheating on her with another officer’s wife (Elizabeth Taylor); “The Bell Jar” (1979), an adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s novel, in which she played the mother of a suicidal young woman; “Gorillas in the Mist” (1984) in which [she] played Roz Carr, a friend to the murdered zoologist Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver), and “HouseSitter” (1992) a romantic comedy with Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin — she played his mother.
I loved Julie Harris, an actress from back in the days before all the plastic surgery, collagen, and botox, when it was so much more interesting to watch the faces in the movies. Harris was always the one who was not too pretty, though she was pleasant enough to look at. She seemed fragile and wan. I've never seen "Reflections in a Golden Eye," but that's the type-casting they did: She's the sickly wife, and the other woman is Elizabeth Taylor (who was incredibly beautiful, back in the days when great beauty was natural and rare). By the way, when I was in high school, we did the play version of "The Haunting" — which was called "The Haunting of Hill House" (which was based on the Shirley Jackson novel and should not be confused with the very amusing, campy Vincent Price film "House on Haunted Hill"). I got the role Julie Harris played in that movie. I'd also played Laura in "The Glass Menagerie" the year before, so our theater teacher must have seen me as the fragile, wan type. That's a hell of a self-image to inflict on a young girl, but who notices when it seems so exotic and satisfying to get up on the stage?


madAsHell said...

The Haunting.

It stands the test of time. It's still scary today, although I know not to be scared when the woman jumps out of the trap door.

Charles said...

I thought she was delightful in "East of Eden".

But then I'm more of a Mary Ann guy than a Ginger guy.

MadisonMan said...

I couldn't stand her character in Knots Landing. That's really the only place I've seen her, at least that I remember.

Cedarford said...

I am a Steinbeck fan and seeing "East of Eden" finally, the character that stood out to be the most was not James Dean, but Julie Harris as Abra. She was "luminous" - a quality you don't see much. Julie Delpy in "Before Sunrise" was luminous. ..It is a quality that goes past beauty.

It must have worked for her on Broadway as well, where Harris was so often the one that stood out even surrounded with other great performers. A "range" to play nearly anyone.
10 Tony nominations, 5 wins. A record. All in plays before my day..I wish film existed.

The number of film parts Harris turned down due to Broadway commitments is also remarkable. The ones she did get in are impressive. "I Am Camera" is another one that sticks, same with "The Haunting" and "Requiem for a Heavyweight". And her raunchy, conniving crook in "Harper".

Harris also was known for having no "diva" airs, and taking parts as guest star. Even cheesy TV shows, loved it, it seems. Julie Harris was actually there, when TV was just barely starting 65 years ago in 1948, on "Actors Studio".

Since I saw that Steinbeck film, in the 80s, I always "notice her".
But until she died and I looked up Wiki for things I might have missed that are sure to be on TCM for her sure to happen tribute, I did not know she was a main narrator for Ken Burn's documentaries and was still doing narrations for film projects even this year..

Best wishes, you luminous soul!

Christy said...

We did Jackson's The Lottery. I was but a mere stone thrower.

The problem with face-lifted actors is not being able to get a grip on the character. I'm okay with a 22 year old playing a tenured law professor on some plot driven show, but 20 or 45 does make a difference in character studies or psychological dramas. Not being able to tell irritates the dickens out of me.

William said...

She was a great actress, but, on the screen at least, she never had a great role.

David said...

Scared the living hell out of me in The Haunting.

Roger Sweeny said...

"fragile, wan"

Definitely not the persona displayed on the Althouse blog.