Five time Tony Award-winning actress Julie Harris has died at the age of 87 on August 24, 3013. Ms. Harris died at her home in West Chatham, Mass. of congestive heart failure, according to her friend, actress Francesca James. Harris was an incredibly versatile actress and found success on Broadway stages, on television and in film.
Julie Harris was born in Grosse Pointe Park Michigan to William Pickett Harris and Elsie Stivers Smith in 1925. She was the youngest student to attend Yale Drama School and was cast in her first Broadway production of "It's a Gift," in 1945. Harris would continue to find success on Broadway and she holds the record for the most Tony Award wins.
Her celebrated Tony Award wins were in 1952 for her performance in "I Am a Camera," 1956 for her performance in "The Lark," in 1969 "Forty Carats," in 1973 for "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln," in 1977 for her performance in "The Belle of Amherst" and in 2002 she was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Tony.
But Harris is just as well known for her on camera work in television and film as she was on Broadway. Harris' first television job was in the series "Actor's Studio," which ran in 1948 through 1949. And throughout her career, Harris could be seen in various famous television shows including "Rawhide," "Bonanza," "The Big Valley," "Columbo," "Family Ties," "The Love Boat" and her role as Lilimae Clements in the hit television series "Knotts Landing."
She churned out a lot of roles in television movies as well. Harris was nominated for 11 Primetime Emmys and won three Emmys for her work in television. Two of her Emmy honors were for roles in the very popular "Hallmark Hall of Fame," series.
In 1953 Harris received an Oscar nomination for her performance in first film role as Frances in "The Member of the Wedding." In 1955 she starred in the film version of her Tony Award-winning role in "I Am a Camera" and starred opposite James Dean in the drama "East of Eden." Speaking of James Dean, Harris stated "I wasn't attracted to him, I loved Jimmy's spirit, but I didn't want to 'make' him. We were comrades."
Her greatest achievement was in 2005 when she was honored as a recipient of the 2005 Kenny Center Honors along with actor Robert Redford, singer Tina Turner, singer Tony Bennett and ballerina Suzanne Farrell.
Harris fell backstage in Stamford, Connecticut in 1999, which required the actress to have brain surgery. She then suffered a stroke in May of 2001. She was married three times and had one son, Peter.
Although Harris was an extremely versatile actress and could translate easily from stage to small screen and then to the big screen, her love was the stage. In 2006 she stated "The Stage! I knew it was where I wanted to be, I loved it all. It became this great source of nourishment, spiritual nourishment, for me. I want to touch people with the meaning of life. What is thrilling about the theater is that it's a forum where people come and for those two or three hours belong to something, to ideas, to a feeling of being a member of the human race."
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Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cellphones and no texting, please don't talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don't forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged.
-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work at SilentHollywood.com