August 25, 2013

Julie Harris Dead at 87

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 honored 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 rolls in such films as "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1962), "The Haunting" (1963) and "Reflections in a Golden Eye" (1967). Yet Harris' biggest successes and most satisfying moments have been on stage. "The theater has been my church," the actress once said. "I don't hesitate to say that I found God in the theater." 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." 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 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. The actress liked to tour, even going out on the road in such plays as "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Lettice & Lovage" after they had been done in New York with other stars. 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. Harris was born on Dec. 2, 1925, in Grosse Pointe, Mich., 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 persons. She made her stage debut at the Grosse Pointe Country Day School in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" at age 14. In the years that followed, she studied drama in finishing school, prep school, Yale University and the Actor's Studio. 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. Funeral arrangements are pending.

August 24, 2013

Ted Post Dead at 95

Director for Film and Television

Ted Post, a prolific director who collaborated with Clint Eastwood on two hit films, directed hundreds of episodes of television series like"Gunsmoke," "Peyton Place" and "Rawhide," and made a low-budget film about the Vietnam War that was widely ignored when it was released in 1978 but is now regarded by many critics as one of the best in its genre, died on Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 95. His son, Robert, confirmed the death.

Mr. Post directed Mr. Eastwood in two of his hyper-violent action films: the 1968 western "Hang 'Em High," the first American movie Mr. Eastwood made after gaining fame in Italian westerns like "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"(1966); and "Magnum Force," the 1973 police thriller that was the second of the"Dirty Harry" films.

The two men became friends in the early 1960s during filming of "Rawhide," the CBS television series in which a young Mr. Eastwood starred. They had a well-publicized falling-out over directorial control while making "Magnum Force" but renewed their friendship in later years, Mr. Post's son said.

Mr. Post worked as a director from the late 1940s to 1999, when he made his last film, "4 Faces," a low-budget feature. He made 13 feature films, including "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" (1970); "The Harrad Experiment," a mildly controversial film about college sex (1973); and "Stagecoach," a 1986 made-for-TV remake of the classic 1939 western, with Kris Kristofferson in the role originally played by John Wayne.

For television, he directed 56 episodes of the CBS western "Gunsmoke," 90 episodes of the prime-time ABC soap opera "Peyton Place" and innumerable segments of "The Twilight Zone," "Wagon Train," "Route 66," "Perry Mason," "The Defenders," "The Rifleman" and other shows.

Among film buffs Mr. Post was probably best known for "Go Tell the Spartans," set during the Vietnam War and based on the 1967 novel "Incident at Muc Wa," by Daniel Ford.

Burt Lancaster starred as an American Army major who carries out orders to secure a remote jungle outpost in 1964 despite his fears that the mission will end badly, as it does. Mr. Lancaster put up his own money when budget problems threatened the film before it was completed.

On its release in 1978, "Go Tell the Spartans" received respectful reviews in major newspapers and a few raves. Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic called it "the best film I've seen about the Vietnam War." But appearing in theaters at virtually the same time as the better-financed and better-publicized Vietnam films "Coming Home" and "The Deer Hunter," it failed at the box office.

"Spartans" began receiving a second look when the influential film quarterly Cineaste published an article in 1983 comparing it favorably to "The Deer Hunter," "Coming Home" and Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 epic, "Apocalypse Now." The article, by the film historian Rob Edelman, helped spur the movie's re-release in 1987.

Upon the re-release, the film historian Burt Cadullo wrote, "It's time that this film received the recognition it deserves," but "Spartans" still performed poorly in theaters.

Mr. Post — known to his family only as Ted — was born on March 31, 1918, in Brooklyn to Jacob and Dena Post, Jewish immigrants from Ukraine who took the name Post when they arrived in the United States. Mr. Post attended public schools and worked at various jobs before starting his show business career in 1938 as an usher at Loew's Pitkin Theater in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

He studied acting briefly, but soon began directing plays in New York. Among his first productions were one-acts performed by members of the Laundry Workers Industrial Union in New York, a 1942 production of an antitotalitarian play called "The Fascist's Holiday," and several dramas for the American Negro Theater. During World War II Mr. Post served in the Army directing music and theater productions for the troops.

He taught acting and theater arts in the 1950s at the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan (now called the Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts) and, in later years, at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Besides his son, Robert, the dean of the Yale Law School, Mr. Post is survived by his wife of 72 years, Thelma; a daughter, Laurie Post; a brother, Joe; a sister, Ruth Post; and four grandchildren.

Reflecting on his career in a 2001 interview for the archive of the Directors Guild of America, Mr. Post said that while he was always grateful for the work, he realized after about 10 years of directing westerns like "Gunsmoke" and "Rawhide" that he was not that fond of horses.

"I'd get home and have to use horse's soap to get the odor away," he said. "When I started neighing instead of shouting, 'Action!' — well, that's when I decided it was time for a change."