End Credits #84: Cinema's 2018 Lost Treasures Barbara Harris
Noted stage and screen actress, the beautiful and effervescent Barbara Harris (July 25, 1935 - August 21, 2018) has died at age 83.
Guest contributor Bob DiMucci has provided a tribute to her motion picture acting career:
The Film Appearances of Barbara Harris
After more than a half dozen television roles during the early 1960's, Barbara Harris made her feature film debut in the 1965 comedy-drama A THOUSAND CLOWNS. In this filming of Herb Gardner's 1962 play, Jason Robards stars as free-spirited "Murray Burns," unemployed for 5 months since quitting his job as a writer for the Chuckles the Chipmunk television show. He must find a means of support for his precocious 12-year-old nephew, "Nick" (Barry Gordon). Nick, an illegitimate son of Murray's sister, has lived with Murray for 7 years but has never been legally adopted. One day "Sandra" (Barbara Harris) and "Albert" (William Daniels), social workers from the New York City Child Welfare Board, visit Murray and threaten to take Nick away.
Fred Coe directed the film, in which Jason Robards, Gene Saks ("Leo"), William Daniels, and Barry Gordon recreated their stage roles. Barbara Harris replaced Sandy Dennis, who had played "Sandra" on Broadway, and won the 1963 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play. Harris was nominated for a Golden Globe award as "Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy," but lost to Julie Andrews for THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Although Don Walker was Oscar-nominated for "Best Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment," the film's music remains unreleased.
Barbara Harris co-starred with Rosalind Russell and Robert Morse in the 1967 comedy OH DAD, POOR DAD, MAMMA'S HUNG YOU IN THE CLOSET AND I'M FEELIN' SO SAD. The film finds "Madame Rosepettle" (Russell) arriving at a tropical island with her doting 25-year-old son, "Jonathan" (Morse), her collection of Venus flytrap plants, and a coffin containing the stuffed body of her late husband. Her actions are carefully watched from a heavenly cloud by "Dad" himself (Jonathan Winters). Determined to make a man of his simpering son, Dad arranges for "Rosalie" (Harris), a seductive babysitter, to meet Jonathan.
Richard Quine directed the film, which was adapted from Arthur L. Kopit's 1961 play. Barbara Harris had originated the role of "Rosalie" in the Off-Broadway production of the play. Even though Harris won an Obie Award as Best Actress for her role in the play, when the production moved to Broadway, she was replaced by Alix Elias.
Neal Hefti's score for the film was released on an RCA LP, which was subsequently re-issued on CD by RCA Spain (1999), Kritzerland (2014), and Vocalion (2015).
A stage actress at heart, Barbara Harris appeared in her third film based on a play, with Neil Simon's 1968 comedy PLAZA SUITE, which was filmed in 1971. It was the second Simon-penned film to be directed by Arthur Hiller. The story is comprised of three segments, all taking place at New York's Plaza Hotel.
The Broadway show starred Maureen Stapleton and George C. Scott, who played the main roles in all three segments. But for the film, it was initially decided that the six main roles would be split among six actors.
Paramount announced that the movie's three vignettes would pair George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton; Peter Sellers and Barbra Streisand; and Walter Matthau and Lucille Ball. However, Walter Matthau requested to play all three male roles, and the producers acceded to his wishes, despite Simon's reluctance to have him do so. Barbara Harris replaced Streisand, and Lee Grant replaced Lucille Ball.
Harris appears in the second segment. In that tale, famed Hollywood producer "Jesse Kiplinger" (Matthau) arrives at the Plaza. The smarmy, lecherous middle-aged man flirts with every woman within sight, and once in the suite, calls several women to find one who will visit him for an afternoon tryst. Finally, high school flame "Muriel Tate" (Harris) agrees.
Maurice Jarre's score for the film was released by Intrada in 2014.
Barbara Harris co-starred with Dustin Hoffman in 1971's WHO IS HARRY KELLERMAN AND WHY IS HE SAYING THOSE TERRIBLE THINGS ABOUT ME?. Hoffman plays songwriter "Georgie Soloway," a man who, while wildly successful, has been contemplating suicide. Harris plays "Allison Densmore," an aspiring actress who auditions for Soloway's latest show. She sings weakly and is too fearful to leave the stage. Entranced by her vulnerability and warmth, Georgie talks to her until she is calm enough to leave with him.
When adapting his short story into a screenplay, Herb Gardner wrote the character of "Allison Densmore" with Barbara Harris in mind. Gardner, Harris, Hoffman, and director Ulu Grosbard were friends and had worked together for years before the inception of the film. In 1965, Harris had starred in the film version of A THOUSAND CLOWNS, which Gardner produced and adapted from his stage play.
Although most reviews considered the film a failed experiment, the entire cast was lauded, especially Harris and Hoffman, and the Hollywood Reporter called the picture "a classic of sorts, and one of the best American films of the year." Barbara Harris received her only Oscar nomination, as Best Supporting Actress, for "Who Is Harry Kellerman..." She lost to Cloris Leachman for THE LAST PICTURE SHOW.
Since the film did not have a background score, the LP/cassette release of the soundtrack consisted of two songs by Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show, two Shel Silverstein songs warbled by Dustin Hoffman, an existing Ray Charles tune, and to fill out the remaining rather lengthy running time (50 minutes), considerable dialogue from the film. The album has not had a CD re-issue.
After appearing with Walter Matthau, Barbara Harris next co-starred with the other half of the "Odd Couple," Jack Lemmon, in 1972's THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN. Harris also appeared again with Jason Robards, her co-star from her first film, A THOUSAND CLOWNS. In this new film, two quirky Manhattanites crash into each other at an ophthalmologist's office. "Peter Wilson" (Lemmon) is a grouchy cartoonist/author whose vision is failing; divorced mother "Theresa Kozlenko" (Harris) is also reluctant to plunge into a relationship right now. It's not love at first sight - both have their eyes dilated, plus Peter constantly lampoons women in his work, which bookseller Theresa knows well.
The film was loosely based on James Thurber's drawings, writings, and life. The comedy-drama was directed by Melville Shavelson. Marvin Hamlisch's score has not had a release.
In MIXED COMPANY, Joseph Bologna portrays a racially prejudiced basketball coach who is persuaded by his wife (Barbara Harris) to adopt three (more!) kids of mixed ethnic backgrounds.
MIXED COMPANY was Harris' first lead role in a feature film. It was also her second film for writer-producer-director Melville Shavelson, who stated that the film’s budget was limited to $1 million because United Artists felt it was not appropriate to hire a cast of celebrities and instead wanted the script to be the “star.” Additionally, UA stipulated that it did not want to cast older actors who were unknown to young audiences and preferred to use up-and-coming talent with whom kids could identify. In the deal with UA, Shavelson agreed to defer half of his salary as a completion bond, which insured that he finished the film within the stipulated time frame and budget.
The film was shot in Phoenix, AZ and San Diego, CA. Shavelson used Phoenix television stations, radio shows, and newspaper advertisements to recruit two thousand locals to sit in the audience of a staged Phoenix Suns basketball game at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, which was planned to be filmed over seven days. Fred Karlin's score for the 1974 family comedy-drama has not had a release.
In the ensemble cast of Robert Altman's 1975 NASHVILLE, Barbara Harris plays "Albuquerque," a woman whose real name is Winifred. Hitchhiking toward Nashville, she plans to have a singing career. But she keeps an eye out for her husband "Star" (Bert Remsen), a farmer who is intent on finding her and taking her back home. The role of the runaway wife had first been offered to Bette Midler and then Bernadette Peters.
After seeing the first footage of her work in a traffic jam scene, Harris reportedly ran out of the projection room, went home, and asked Robert Altman to meet with her immediately. Unhappy with her performance, Harris offered to put up her own money to have the scene re-shot. Altman refused.
In the final scene, Harris sings her one song in the film: "It Don't Worry Me" with music and lyrics by Keith Carradine. Although her character has presumably been performing on other occasions, Robert Altman reportedly did not want the audience to hear her voice until that finale.
Barbara Harris and her co-stars Ronne Blakley, Geraldine Chaplin, and Lily Tomlin received four of the six Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress that year. The four cancelled each other out, and Brenda Vaccaro received the award for ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH.
NASHVILLE did not have a background score. The film's songs were released on an ABC Records LP, which was re-issued on CD by MCA Nashville in 2000.
Barbara Harris starred with Karen Black, Bruce Dern, and William Devane in Alfred Hitchcock's last film, FAMILY PLOT. As the film opens, “'Madame' Blanche Tyler" (Harris) holds a séance in the elegant Victorian home of "Mrs. Julia Rainbird" (Cathleen Nesbitt), elderly matron of a wealthy family. Liza Minnelli, Beverly Sills, and Goldie Hawn were all considered for the role of Blanche. Barbara Harris eventually was cast in the role. Apparently, Alfred Hitchcock was happy with the casting of Harris as Hitch had reportedly tried to hire her before. John Williams' score for the 1976 film was released by Varese Sarabande in 2010.
n the original Disney version of FREAKY FRIDAY, a mother (Barbara Harris) and daughter (Jodie Foster) find their personalities switched and have to live each other's lives on one strange Friday. The pair also sang the song "I'd Like to be You for a Day" in the film. However, neither Foster nor Harris performed any actual water-skiing in the movie. All this was done in the studio in front of blue screens. Foster stated that she trained on water-skis for three days, but ended up not actually doing any real water-skiing in the movie. Professional water-skiers were used as doubles for the long shots.
Both Foster and Harris were nominated for Best Actress - Musical or Comedy at the 1977 Golden Globes for this film. Technically, as they also played each other's characters, they were both nominated for playing the same characters. The pair lost to Barbra Streisand for A STAR IS BORN. Gary Nelson directed the 1976 film, which has an unreleased score by Johnny Mandel.
Unlike the rest of the principal cast, Barbara Harris did not play two roles in Stanley Donen's 1978 "double feature" film MOVIE MOVIE. Harris did not appear in the first film, "Dynamite Hands," a boxing story. In the second film, "Baxter’s Beauties of 1933," Harris played veteran chorus girl, "Trixie Lane," who nurses a secret crush on Broadway producer "Spats Baxter" (George C. Scott). Ralph Burns scored the film and wrote the songs for the musical segment. The songs were released on an LP from Filmscore Records, but it has not been re-issued on CD.
Barbara Harris appeared in her second film for Disney in THE NORTH AVENUE IRREGULARS, in which she co-starred with Edward Herrmann. In the film, soon after "Reverend Michael Hill" (Herrmann) reports for duty as the new pastor at North Avenue Presbyterian Church, two special investigators from the U.S. Treasury Department, "Marv Fogelman" (Michael Constantine) and "Tom Voorhees" (Steve Franken), discreetly enter the church office and request Michael’s help in recruiting reliable citizens to work undercover to expose a gambling racket. Unable to interest any men, Michael appeals to five of his most loyal female parishioners, "Rose" (Patsy Kelly), "Cleo" (Virginia Capers), divorcee "Claire" (Cloris Leachman), housewife "Vickie" (Barbara Harris), and bride-to-be "Jane" (Karen Valentine).
Bruce Bilson directed the 1979 comedy, which had an unreleased score by Robert F. Brunner.
In 1979's THE SEDUCTION OF JOE TYNAN, Alan Alda plays "Joe Tynan," a promising Democratic Senator from New York State. Barbara Harris plays "Ellie," his wife of nineteen years. When the respected liberal Senator is asked to lead the opposition to a Supreme Court appointment, it means losing an old friend and fudging principles to make the necessary deals.
In preparation for playing “Ellie Tynan,” Barbara Harris read The Power Lovers: An Intimate Look at Politics and Marriage by Myra MacPherson, a collection of interviews with political wives that caused a sensation in Washington D.C. society when it was published in 1975.
Jerry Schatzberg directed the film, which had an unreleased score by Bill Conti. The film would be the final co-starring role in a major Hollywood movie for Barbara Harris.
Barbara Harris had a supporting role in the Kathleen Turner film PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED. In this fantasy comedy-drama, "Peggy Sue" (Turner) faints at a high school reunion. When she wakes up, she finds herself in her own past, just before she finished school. Barbara Harris and Don Murray play Peggy Sue's parents, "Jack and Evelyn Kelcher." Francis Ford Coppola directed the 1986 film. John Barry's score shared the Varese Sarabande soundtrack release with songs, but Varese released an expanded version of the score in 2014.
Glenne Headly co-starred with Steve Martin and Michael Caine in 1988's DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. The two male stars play con men who try to settle their rivalry by betting on who can swindle a young American heiress (Headly) out of $50,000 first. Barbara Harris appears early in the film, playing one of Michael Caine's first marks, "Fanny Eubanks" from Omaha, Nebraska. The film was a remake of BEDTIME STORY (1964), which starred David Niven, Marlon Brando, and Shirley Jones. Frank Oz directed the film. Miles Goodman's score was released by La-La Land in 2010.
Barbara Harris' final screen appearance was in the 1997 action comedy GROSSE POINTE BLANK. The film finds "Martin Blank" (John Cusack), a professional assassin, being sent on a mission to a small Detroit suburb, Grosse Pointe. By coincidence, his ten-year high school reunion party is taking place there. Harris has a small role as Martin's mother, "Mary Blank."
George Armitage directed the film. The film had some uncredited background music by Joe Strummer, but only songs appeared on the London Records soundtrack release.
Barbara Harris retired from acting and began teaching. When asked in 2002 if she would resume her acting career, she said, "Well, if someone handed me something fantastic for $10 million, 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."
Although Barbara Harris' roles over a 30-year screen career were relatively few, she always kept them interesting.