Julie Harris, one of Broadway's most honored 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 Saturday. She was 87. Harris died at her West Chatham, Mass. home of congestive heart failure, actress 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 theater 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 was honoured again with a sixth Tony, a special lifetime achievement award in 2002. Only Angela Lansbury has neared her record, winning four Tonys in the best actress-musical category and one for best supporting actress in a play.
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.
"I'm still in sort of a place of shock," said James, who appeared in daytime soap operas "All My Children" and "One Life to Live."
"She was, really, the greatest influence in my life," said James, who had known Harris for about 50 years.
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).
The 5-foot-4 Harris, blue-eyed with delicate features and reddish-gold hair, 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," Carson McCullers' stage version of her wistful novel. The critics raved about Harris, with Brooks Atkinson in The New York Times calling her performance "extraordinary — vibrant, full of anguish and elation."
"That play was really the beginning of everything big for me," Harris had said.
The actress appeared in the 1952 film version, too, with her original Broadway co-stars, Ethel Waters and Brandon De Wilde, and received an Academy Award nomination.
Harris won her first Tony Award 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 a much more spiritual character, 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.
The actress was something of a critics' darling, getting good reviews even when her plays were less-well received. These included such work as "Marathon '33," ''Ready When You Are, C.B.!" and even a musical, "Skyscraper," adapted from an Elmer Rice play, "Dream Girl."
Harris' last Broadway appearances were in revivals, playing the domineering mother in a Roundabout Theatre Company production of "The Glass Menagerie" (1994) and then "The Gin Game" with Charles Durning for the National Actors Theatre in 1997. In 2005, she was one of five performers to receive Kennedy Center honors.
Before "Knots Landing," Harris made numerous guest-starring television appearances on dramas and was a regular on two quickly canceled series — "Thicker Than Water" in 1973 and "The Family Holvak" in 1975. Her Emmys were for performances in two "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentations: "Little Moon of Alban" in 1958 and "Victoria Regina" in 1961.
Harris was married three times, to lawyer Jay I. Julian, stage manager Manning Gurian and writer William Erwin Carroll. She had one son, Peter Alston Gurian.
The PICs are saddened by the loss of such a great actress and their hearts go out to her family. She left us such a wonderful legacy in her tremendous and varied body of work that we will never forget her.