Julie Harris, the unprepossessing anti-diva who, in the guises of Joan of Arc, Mary Todd Lincoln, Emily Dickinson and many other characters both fictional and real, became the most decorated performer in the history of Broadway, died on Saturday at her home in Chatham, Mass.
She was 87. The cause was not immediately known, said Francesca James, a longtime friend who was with her when she died.
She excelled on the stage, on the big screen, and on television. Most people probably remember her for her portrayals of Lilimae Clements on the television program Knots Landing, Abra in the movie East of Eden, or for supply the voice for Mary Chestnut in Ken Burns’s documentary, The Civil War but it was on Broadway that she ruled. She is the only performer to have been awarded six Tonies for her performances. The list of her great Broadway performances include
It’s a Gift
King Henry IV, Part II
The Playboy of the Western World
Alice in Wonderland
The Young and Fair
The Member of the Wedding (her breakout role)
I Am a Camera (the basis for the musical Caberet)
The Country Wife
The Warm Peninsula
Little Moon of Alban
A Shot in the Dark
and that just takes us from 1945 to 1962. She was on the Broadway stage almost continuously from 1945 to 1966. Other unforgettable performances include Forty Carats, And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, The Last of Mrs. Lincoln, her signature one-woman inhabiting of Emily Dickinson, The Belle of Amherst, that has inspired so many young actresses, and her last performance in The Gin Game.
Of her the playwright John Van Druten, who adapted Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories into I Am a Camera said “You pour in red wine, the pitcher looks red; pour in crème de menthe, it is green. When she’s by herself, Julie’s almost transparent, almost nonexistent.” It’s called “acting”. That’s a quality she shared with others of the greats like Alec Guinness and few performers have shown the depth and breadth she did in her performances.