NEW YORK (AP) – 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 at her home in West Chatham, Mass., of congestive heart failure. She was 87.
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.
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 made her Broadway debut in 1945 in a short-lived play called “It’s a Gift.” Five years later, at the age of 24, she 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.”
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.
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.
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.