Rosemary Harris

Active - 1954 - 2015  |   Born - Sep 19, 1927 in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, England  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Romance, Theater [nf]

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Known for her stage work and solid supporting performances in film and television, Rosemary Harris has earned particular praise for her ability to skillfully portray formidable characters, despite a petite frame and delicate features that would normally belie such a strong aura of authority. Harris grew up in India and did not plan on pursuing a career in acting -- in fact, her original career choice was nursing. She would, however, change course and begin acting studies at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. By 1951, Harris made her U.S. stage debut with great success in a Broadway production of Moss Hart's Climate of Eden, and returned to England to participate in the British premiere of The Seven Year Itch.

Harris continued to act -- both on-stage, on the small screen, and in the film world -- throughout the '50s and '60s, starring opposite some of the industry's most prominent figures, including Richard Burton, Jason Robards, Rex Harrison, Laurence Olivier, and Peter O'Toole. After winning a British Tony award in 1966, Harris impressed critics and audiences with her portrayal of a Jewish doctor's wife in the multi-Emmy award-winning television production of Holocaust in 1978, and again in 1979, when she played the matriarch of an 1844 Virginian pioneer family in The Chisholms. Holocaust wasn't Harris' introduction to the Emmys -- one of the actress' most celebrated performances was for her role in the 1975 Masterpiece Theatre production of The Notorious Woman, a portrait of flamboyant novelist George Sand.

Harris' 1954 film debut as the unrequited love interest of Stewart Granger in Beau Brummell was met exceedingly well; in fact, the actress was offered a variety of long-term roles from Hollywood, but she turned them down to pursue theater. Ten years later, however, Harris would return to the big screen for her supporting role in the thriller The Boys From Brazil (1978), and later co-starred in TV's The Ploughman's Lunch, a 1983 political drama. After performing at her typical standard in film and television, as well as traveling across continents for her theater career, Harris gave a volatile performance as renowned author T.S. Eliot's mother-in-law in Tom & Viv (1994) -- earning her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. This, however, was only after earning critical praise for a series of mid-'90s theater roles, including those of a diabetic's mother in the 1991 tearjerker Steel Magnolias, an imposing grandmother in Lost in Yonkers (1992), and a troubled wife in An Inspector Calls (1994). After Harris' Oscar recognition, Kenneth Branagh felt it only appropriate to cast her as the Player Queen opposite Charlton Heston's Player King in Hamlet (1996). In 2002, Harris portrayed Peter Parker's aunt in Spider-Man, and reprised the role in Spider-Man 2 (2004).

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Factsheet

  • Acted in an Eastbourne production of Kiss and Tell in 1948, before training at RADA.
  • Made her Broadway debut in Climate of Eden (1951) and her West End debut in The Seven Year Itch (1953).
  • Married her first husband Ellis Rabb in 1959, shortly after he established the APA (Association of Producing Artists) theater company.
  • Appeared in Laurence Olivier's 1962 Chichester production of Uncle Vanya.
  • Played opposite Peter O'Toole in the Royal National Theatre production of Hamlet in 1964.
  • Was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1986.
  • Has acted alongside her daughter Jennifer Ehle, appearing together in The Camomile Lawn (1992) and Sunshine (1999).
  • Received the North Carolina Award for Fine Arts in 2007.