Broadway’s Most Decorated Actress Julie Harris Dies at 87

Harris originated the role of Sally Bowles with a Tony Award-winning performance in John van Druten’s I Am a Camera in 1952.

Julie Harris (1973)
Julie Harris (1973)

Legendary Broadway, film, and television actress Julie Harris died of congestive heart failure at her home in Chatham, Massachusetts on Saturday, August 24. She was 87 years old.

Throughout her prolific stage career, having performed in a total of 33 Broadway productions, Harris earned 10 Tony Award nominations and was the first actress ever to have won five (now joined by Audra McDonald and Angela Lansbury). In 2002, she was also honored with a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement, and in 2005, was named a Kennedy Center Honoree.

Harris made her Broadway debut in 1945 at the age of 20 in the Curt Goetz and Dorian Otvos comedy It’s a Gift. She earned both her first Tony nomination and win in 1952 for her portrayal of Sally Bowles in John van Druten’s adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel Goodbye to Berlin entitled I Am a Camera (later adapted for the classic Broadway musical Cabaret). She received her subsequent Tony Awards for The Lark (1956), Forty Carats (1969), The Last of Mrs. Lincoln (1973), and The Belle of Amherst (1977). She received her last nomination for her performance in the 1997 revival of D.L. Coburn’s The Gin Game.

Harris made her auspicious screen debut in 1952, reprising her 1950 Broadway performance as the lonely teenage tomboy Frankie in Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding, acting alongside her Broadway costars Ethel Waters and Brandon deWilde. Her performance in the film earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Harris’ other notable film roles include Sally Bowles in the film adaptation of I Am a Camera (1955), Abra in East of Eden (1955), in which she costarred with James Dean; Eleanor Lance in The Haunting (1963); Grace Miller in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962); Betty Fraley in Harper (1966), co-starring alongside Paul Newman, and Alison Langdon in Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967).

Harris also found success on the small screen, earning three Emmy Awards and 11 nominations. Her most notable Emmy Award-winning performance came in 1961 for her role as Queen Victoria in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Laurence Housman’s Victoria Regina. She also appeared in an earlier Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in 1959, playing the classic role of Nora Helmer opposite Tony Award winner Christopher Plummer. Harris spent nearly eight years with the 1980s primetime soap opera Knots Landing and appeared in guest spots on a number of other television series including Family Ties, The Love Boat, Columbo, The Name of the Game, Tarzan, and Medical Center.

Harris resided in Chatham, Massachusetts, while also maintaining a home in the Detroit area where she was raised. She is survived by her only son, Peter Gurian.