Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

People We Like: Julie Harris

The last of this week's series of star appreciations - another batch soon !

An interesting comment a while back in some magazine was that we Londoners were lucky to have Maggie Smith or Judi Dench on stage here frequently, but New Yorkers were equally blessed in having Julie Harris or Geraldine Page on view. How true. Julie Harris is of course revered as one of America's leading actresses on stage and screen for over half a century, with an enduring legacy of great roles. I dare say every generation coming fresh to James Dean finds EAST OF EDEN their lodestone for romantic anguish and Cal and Abra remain one of the screen's most intense couples - as iconic as Dean and Taylor in GIANT and a perfect Kazan couple too, like Clift and Remick in WILD RIVER or Wood and Beatty in SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS.
Kazan, like Kramer, is a key director of the '50s even if his style seems overwrought or out of fashion now. Julie as Abra was 5 years older than Dean but they are such a perfect couple and her every move and gesture is so delightful. It's one of those films, like THE MISFITS, that I used to watch over and over back in those heady late teen and early twenties years when one was caught up in the early years of that Dean and Monroe cult appreciation.

Julie, born in 1925 was already an established performer by the early '50s and a very individual one too with that distinctive husky voice and mannerisms. She is amazing in Zinnemann's 1952 film THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING which she had played on Broadway (with the 9 year old Brandon de Wilde, who also reprised his role in the film). This Carson McCullers tale still resonates today. In 1955 Harris played Sally Bowles in the delightful English film I AM A CAMERA, directed by Henry Cornelius with Laurence Harvey and Shelley Winters. It's a bravura performance and this precursor of CABARET has its own delights. She was also teamed with Harvey in a 1957 British comedy THE TRUTH ABOUT WOMEN (also reviewed here), and she also played with the likes of Dirk Bogarde, Rex Harrison, Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn for television specials.

Julie continued alternating stage and cinema roles and also television - as detailed in her programme notes (below) from THE BELLE OF AMHERST programme which she played in London in 1977. I had not felt well the night I was going to see that but was persuaded by my companion to attend and it was such a joyful experience as both a great night in the theatre and seeing Julie perform as Emily Dickinson that I felt compelled to write and tell her by posting a note to the theatre. It must have been near the end of the year as I was pleased and touched to receive her good wishes for the new year - as per scans below, click to enlarge.

Her various other roles incuded Miss Thing in that delightful YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW, Francis Ford Coppola's first feature in 1967, that junky jazz singer in HARPER with Paul Newman and that great cast (Bacall, Leigh, Winters, Wagner etc); she was the leader of the criminal gang in the heist thriller THE SPLIT in '68, and she has kept busy in series like KNOTS LANDING and others. It is good to see her working into old age and one trusts she is recovering from illnesses. (right, with Angela Lansbury - two legends together).

Another key role for her was in the 1963 THE HAUNTING with Claire Bloom, where Julie is taken over by that haunted house.... and it was fun seeing her in the 1972 thriller HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS. There is also John Huston's REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, also by McCullers, in 1967 where she stars with Taylor and Brando in this very bizarre tale set in an army base in the deep south! It's a very prolific career by one of the great ladies of the American theatre and a much-loved iconic film actress and star.

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