Barbara Harris

Biography

Barbara Harris (born July 25, 1935) is the American Tony Award-winning Broadway stage star and Academy Award-nominated motion picture actress. Early Life Barbara Harris was born in Evanston, Illinois, the daughter of Oscar Harris, an arborist who later became a businessman, and Natalie Densmoor, an accomplished pianist. She began her stage career as a teenager at the Playwrights Theatre in Chicago. Her fellow players included Edward Asner, Elaine May and Mike Nichols. She was also a member of The Compass Players, the first ongoing improvisational theatre troupe in the United States, directed by Paul Sills, whom she married. The great success of the Compass Players in Chicago attracted national attention. They debuted on Broadway at the Royale Theater on September 26, 1961 in a more refined and polished musical revue version, called The Second City. Barbara Harris is generally acknowledged to be not only one of the pioneering but also among the most gifted women in the field of improvisational theatre, along with Elaine May. Scenes that Harris created with Alan Arkin, Severn Darden, Paul Sand, and other celebrated members of the Compass and Second City companies continue to be studied and emulated as masterpieces of the form. Broadway Career Harris received a nomination for the 1962 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her Broadway debut in the original musical revue production From the Second City (1961), which ran at the Royale Theater from September 26 to December 9, 1961. The revue also featured the young Alan Arkin and Paul Sand. Produced by the legendary Max Liebman (among others) and directed by Paul Sills, the production presented Harris in such sketches as Caesar's Wife, First Affair, and The Bergman Film" winning critical and audience acclaim. In a rare 2002 interview in a Phoenix, Arizona newspaper, she recalled her ambivalence about even bringing the troupe to New York from Chicago. She said, "When I was at Second City, there was a vote about whether we should take our show to Broadway or not. Andrew Duncan and I voted no. I stayed in New York, but only because Richard Rodgers and Alan Jay Lerner came and said, "We want to write a musical for you!" Well, I wasn't big on musical theater. I had seen part of South Pacific in Chicago and I walked out. But it was Richard Rodgers calling!" While Rodgers and Lerner were busy working on their original musical for her, she won the Theatre World Award for her role in playwright Arthur Kopit's dark comedic farce, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad. Next, she received a nomination for the 1966 Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965), a Broadway musical created for her in the end by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane, but not by Richard Rodgers, who left the project. She starred as "Daisy Gamble", a New Yorker who seeks out the help of a psychiatrist to stop smoking. Under hypnosis, the apparently kooky, brash, and quirky character reveals unexpected hidden depths. In fact, during hypnotic trances, she becomes fascinating to the psychiatrist as she reveals herself as a woman who has lived many past lives, one of them quite tragic and melancholy. While critics were divided over the merits of the show, they praised Harris' performance. The show opened on October 14, 1965 at the Mark Hellinger Theater and ran for 280 performances, earning a total of three Tony nominations. Harris performed numbers from the show with John Cullum on The Bell Telephone Hour - The Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner, broadcast on February 27, 1966. She next appeared on Broadway with Anne Bancroft in a 1963 production of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage, staged by Jerome Robbins, at the Martin Beck Theater; the production received five Tony Award nominations. Harris gave another memorable performance in The Apple Tree, another Broadway musical created for her by composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick, known best for Fiddler On the Roof. The play, in which Harris co-starred with Alan Alda and Larry Blyden was directed by Mike Nichols, opened at the Shubert Theater on October 5, 1966 and closed on November 25, 1967. The show was based on three tales by Mark Twain, Frank R. Stockton, and Jules Pfeiffer and Harris starred in all three, again receiving exceptional reviews, even if the show did not. Richard Watts Jr. of the New York Post wrote "[t]here are many high triumphs of the imagination in the vastly original musical comedy", he added "but it is Miss Harris who provides it with the extra touch of magic." Walter Kerr famously called her "the square root of noisy sex" and "sweetness carried well into infinity". Harris captured the 1967 Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. Of her friend and colleague Mike Nichols, she said in 2002, "Mike Nichols was a toughie. He could be very kind, but if you weren't first-rate, watch out. He'd let you know." Just as Harris appeared poised to join the first ranks of Broadway stars, she stopped appearing on stage after The Apple Tree. That her Broadway career was so legendary but so brief has long been considered by theater fans to be a major and baffling loss. Always a mercurial, private person, in a 2002 interview, Harris shed some light on why she stopped performing regularly on stage despite all the acclaim. She said, "Who wants to be up on the stage all the time? It isn't easy. You have to be awfully invested in the fame aspect, and I really never was. What I cared about was the discipline of acting, whether I did well or not." Hollywood Career From 1962 through 1964, she appeared as a guest star on such popular television series as Naked City, Channing, The Defenders and The Nurses. In 1965, she made an auspicious feature film debut as social worker Sandra Markowitz in the screen version of A Thousand Clowns. She co-starred opposite Jason Robards, who played the freewheeling, eternally optimistic guardian of his teenage nephew whom authorities feel should be taken away from him. The New York Times critic wrote on December 9, 1965 that the movie "has the new and senational Barbara Harris playing the appropriately light-headed girl". Harris and Robards won Golden Globe nominations and the film won four Oscar nominations. In Neil Simon's Plaza Suite with Walter Matthau, the British entertainment magazine Time Out called the "delightful" Harris' gifts "wasted". She had only slightly better opportunities in The War Between Men and Women with Jack Lemmon, and the screen version of Arthur Kopit's darkly comic Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad with Rosalind Russell as the monstrous mother of Robert Morse who takes the stuffed corpse of her dead husband along on trips. Reviewing the latter film for the New York Times on February 16, 1967, critic Bosley Crowther wrote, "Barbara Harris from the original play cast is as wacky as she was on the stage -- casual and direct and totally blase about the biosterous business of sex. Her tussle to accomplish her purpose, with the corpse falling out into the roam every time she is about to score a field goal, is still the funniest scene." She earned an Oscar nomination for the 1971 film (which co-starred Dustin Hoffman) Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, about a rich, successful, womanizing pop song writer suffering a debilitating but oddly liberating mental crisis. Harris Vs. Two Master Directors In 1975, Harris appeared in one of her signature film roles in Robert Altman's masterpiece Nashville, playing "Albuquerque", a ditzy, scantily clad country singing hopeful who may be far more opportunistic and calculating than she would first appear. Accounts of the film's chaotic and inspired production, particularly in Jan Stuart's book The Nashville Chronicles: The Making of Robert Altman's Masterpiece, indicate a clash between actress and director. Still, even among rich and inventive performances by Lily Tomlin, Karen Black, Henry Gibson, Ned Beatty, Ronee Blakely, Shelley Duvall, Keenan Wynn, Keith Carradine, Barbara Baxley, Geraldine Chaplin and others, Harris' wildly eccentric performance and her singing of It Don't Worry Me in the devastating finale stands out. Harris earned a Golden Globe nomination (one of 11 for the film); as Oscar-nominated co-star Lily Tomlin put it, "I was the hugest of Barbara Harris fans; I thought she was so stunning and original." Although the two were set to reunite with Altman in a sequel, that film was never made. The following year, Alfred Hitchcock cast her in Family Plot as a bogus spiritualist hunting with her cab driver boyfriend for a missing heir and a family fortune. Among a cast that included Bruce Dern, Karen Black and WIlliam Devane, Hitchcock was particularly delighted by Harris' quirkiness, skill and intelligence. She received critical kudos for the film, which was based upon the novel The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning and which marked a reunion of Hitchcock with Ernest Lehman, who created the original screenplay for North by Northwest. In a rare interview published in a 2002 edition of the New Times of Scottsdale, Arizona, she admitted, "I turned down Alfred Hitchcock when he first asked me to be in one of his movies." But, finally agreeing to star in Family Plot, she recalled, "Mr. Hitchcock was a wonderful man." Later Career and Vanishing Act Harris continued to appear in films of the '70s and '80s including Freaky Friday with a young Jodie Foster, Movie Movie for director Stanley Donen, and The North Avenue Irregulars with Cloris Leachman. She co-starred in The Seduction of Joe Tynan with one of her former Broadway leading men, Alan Alda, in his self-directed tale of a liberal Washington Senator caught in an affair with a younger woman, played by Meryl Streep. In 1981, she starred in Second-Hand Hearts for esteemed director Hal Ashby as "Dinette Dusty", a recently widowed waitress and would-be singer who marries a boozy carwash worker named "Loyal", played by Robert Blake to get back her children from their paternal grandparents. The film, based on a highly sought-after "road movie" screenplay by Charles Eastman, was a disaster that tarnished the careers of all concerned. Critic Vincent Canby in his negative New York Times review on May 8, 1981 opined, the film's one bright spot is Barbara Harris, who plays Dinette as sincerely as possible under awful conditions. She looks great even when she's supposed to be tacky, and is genuinely funny as she tries to make sense out of Loyal's muddled philosophizing, which, of course, the screenplay requires her to match." A combination of career frustrations, personal challenges and other issues kept Harris off the movie screen until 1986 when she played a supporting role as the mother of Kathleen Turner in Peggy Sue Got Married for Francis Ford Coppola. Her last films to date were the 1988 black comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin and Grosse Point Blank, in which she played John Cusack's mother. Many have tried to lure back Harris with other film, stage, and television projects, including Bette Midler who called her "the greatest thing I've ever seen on stage", and tried unsuccessfully to cast her as one of the star strippers in the show-stopping You Gotta Have a Gimmick number in the 1993 TV version of the Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne musical Gypsy. Harris currently teaches and directs. Asked if she might one day be lured back to mainstream stage, film or television, Harris said in 2002, "Well, if someone handed me something fantastic for 10 million dollars, I'd work again. But I haven't worked in a long time as an actor. I don't miss it. I think the only thing that drew me to acting in the first place was the group of people I was working with: Ed Asner, Paul Sills, Mike Nichols, Elaine May. And all I really wanted to do back then was rehearsal. I was in it for the process, and I really resented having to go out and do a performance for an audience, because the process stopped; it had to freeze and be the same every night. It wasn't as interesting." In 2005, she briefly resurfaced, guest starring as "The Queen" and "Spunky Brandburn" on the Radio Repertory Company of America audio drama, Anne Manx on Amazonia, which aired on XM Satellite Radio.

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Known For
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Family Plot

Blanche Tyler

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Freaky Friday

Ellen Andrews

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The Seduction of Joe Tynan

Ellie Tynan

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A Thousand Clowns

Sandra

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Plaza Suite

Muriel Tate

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The War Between Men and Women

Theresa Alice Kozlenko

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Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?

Allison Densmore

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Cary Grant: A Class Apart

Herself - Interviewee

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Second-Hand Hearts

Dinette Dusty

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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Fanny Eubanks

Starring In
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Migration

Additional Voices (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Additional Voices (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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Minions: The Rise of Gru

Additional Voices (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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Sing 2

Additional Voice (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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Dr. Seuss' The Grinch

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Becoming Cary Grant

Self (as Barbara Jaynes)

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Sing

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Runaway

Police Voice #1 (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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Halloween

Voice Performer (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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Cary Grant: A Class Apart

Herself - Interviewee

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Lilo & Stitch

Additional Voice (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Additional Voices (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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Dinosaur

Additional Voices (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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Grosse Pointe Blank

Mary Blank

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Babe

Other Character Voices (voice) (as Barbara Harris & The Looping Group)

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The Crow

Additional Voices (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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The Pamela Principle

Waitress

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Bebe's Kids

Additional Voices (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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White Palace

Additional Voice (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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Ghost Dad

Additional Voices (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Fanny Eubanks

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Oliver & Company

Additional Voice (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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Casual Sex?

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Everybody's All-American

Cheerleader #1

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Fatal Attraction

Party Guest

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Jaws: The Revenge

Additional Voices (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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Some Kind Of Wonderful

Party Guest (as Barbara Iley)

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Peggy Sue Got Married

Evelyn Kelcher

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Runaway

Police Voice #1 (voice) (as Barbara Iley)

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The Day After

Cleo Mackey (as Barbara Iley)

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The House on Sorority Row

Mrs. Dorothy Slater (voice) (uncredited)

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Second-Hand Hearts

Dinette Dusty

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The Seduction of Joe Tynan

Ellie Tynan

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The North Avenue Irregulars

Mrs. Vickie Sims / Kiddie Car, Irregular

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Movie Movie

Trixie Lane

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Panic in Echo Park

(as Barbara Iley)

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Freaky Friday

Ellen Andrews

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Family Plot

Blanche Tyler

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The Radical

Lillian Colman (as Barbara Iley)

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Nashville

Albuquerque

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The War Between Men and Women

Theresa Alice Kozlenko

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Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?

Allison Densmore

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Plaza Suite

Muriel Tate

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A Thousand Clowns

Sandra

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