Julie Harris, one of Broadway‘s most honoured performers, whose roles ranged from the flamboyant Sally Bowles in I Am a Camera to the reclusive Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst, died on Saturday. She was 87.
Harris died at her home in West Chatham, Massachusetts, of congestive heart failure, the actor and family friend Francesca James said.
Harris won a record five Tony awards for best actress in a play, displaying a virtuosity that enabled her to portray an astonishing gallery of women during a theatre career that spanned almost 60 years and included such plays as The Member of the Wedding (1950), The Lark (1955), Forty Carats (1968) and The Last of Mrs Lincoln (1972).
She received a sixth Tony, a special lifetime achievement award, in 2002.
Harris had suffered a stroke in 2001 while she was in Chicago appearing in a production of Claudia Allen’s Fossils. She suffered another stroke in 2010, James said.
Television viewers knew Harris as the free-spirited Lilimae Clements on the prime-time soap opera Knots Landing. In the movies, she was James Dean‘s romantic co-star in East of Eden (1955), and had roles in such films as Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), The Haunting (1963) and Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967).
But Harris’s biggest successes and most satisfying moments were on stage. “The theatre has been my church,” she once said. “I don’t hesitate to say that I found God in the theatre.”
Harris made her Broadway debut in 1945 in a short-lived play called It’s a Gift. Five years later, at the age of 24, Harris was cast as Frankie, a lonely 12-year-old tomboy on the brink of adolescence, in The Member of the Wedding.
Harris won her first Tony for playing Sally Bowles, the confirmed hedonist in I Am a Camera, adapted by John van Druten from Christopher Isherwood‘s Berlin Stories. The play later became the stage and screen musical Cabaret.
In her second Tony-winning performance, Harris played Joan of Arc in Lillian Hellman’s adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s The Lark. The play had a six-month run, primarily because of the notices for Harris.
Her third Tony came for her work in Forty Carats, a frothy French comedy about an older woman and a younger man. It was a big hit, running for nearly two years.
Harris won her last two Tonys for playing historical figures Mary Todd Lincoln in The Last of Mrs Lincoln and poet Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst by William Luce. The latter, a one-woman show, became something of an annuity for Harris, a play she would take around the country at various times in her career.
Harris was born in 1925, in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, the daughter of an investment banker. She grew up fascinated by movies, later saying she thought of herself as plain-looking and turned to acting as a way of becoming other people.