Barbara Harris is an American actress best known for her roles in films like ‘A Thousand Clowns’, and ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’. A Tony award winner, the lady was an accomplished stage actress long before she ventured into the world of cinema. Barbara knew from a young age that she wanted to be an actress. She plunged head on into acting, when she was a teenager and became associated with the stage. Pretty with thick blonde hair which she wore in a signature style, she was blessed with a natural flair for acting. She was very passionate about her chosen field and put her soul into each one of her performances. Such was her love for acting that she never chased the fame or wealth it brings—she was happy to act as long as she was offered the roles she liked and eventually chose to become an acting teacher, away from all the glamour and glitz of Hollywood. She had all the qualities to become a sexy superstar—beauty, brains, talent, and a huge fan following—yet she always remained the pretty and sweet girl-next-door throughout her acting career. She enjoyed her Broadway career a lot and is a recipient of the prestigious Tony Award.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born on July 25, 1935, in Illinois, as the daughter of Oscar Graham Harris and Natalie Densmoor. Her mother was a pianist while her father was an arborist turned businessman.
Barbara took an interest in acting from a young age. She began her acting career as a teenager, taking up small parts in the Playwrights Theatre Club in Chicago. There she became acquainted with other aspiring actors like Edward Asner, Elaine May and Mike Nichols.
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She became a member of an ongoing improvisational theatre troupe, The Compass Players, which was run by her husband, Paul Sills. The troupe which later closed down served as the springboard for her career.
After the closure of The Compass Players, Sills started another theatre group called The Second City which opened in 1959. By now Sills and Barbara had divorced, but still respected each other as professionals. Thus she was cast in the new theatre troupe too.
The Second City started performing its sketches on the Broadway stage in 1961 and soon Barbara established herself as a very popular stage actress. In fact, she earned a Tony Award nomination for her first performance with the troupe, ‘From the Second City’.
As an actress Barbara was interested in exploring different aspects of the profession and eventually made her foray into television and films. From 1962 to 1964 she appeared on several popular television series as a guest star.
She made her film debut in 1965, playing a social worker, Sandra Markowitz, in the film ‘A Thousand Clowns’. The film revolves around an unemployed comedy writer who struggles to retain custody of his young nephew whom social workers plan to take away from him.
In 1966, she acted in the play, ‘The Apple Tree’ which was based on three tales by Mark Twain, Frank R. Stockton, and Jules Feiffer. It was a huge hit and ran for 463 performances, winning several awards and nominations.
In 1971, she appeared in the comedy-drama ‘Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?’ playing an aging actress who is depressed and contemplating suicide. Her role was much appreciated and she received an Academy Award nomination for the Best Supporting Actress.
She was a part of the ensemble cast that appeared in the musical drama ‘Nashville’ (1975), directed by Robert Altman. She portrayed a struggling country singer who is unable to find the success she wants.
She played Blanche Tyler in Alfred Hitchcock’s dark comedy thriller, ‘Family Plot’ in 1976. She played a woman who pretends to be a psychic—a role which got her nominated for Golden Globe for Best Actress – Musical/Comedy.
She starred along with a young Jodie Foster in the fantasy comedy ‘Freaky Friday’ in 1976. It is a funny story of a mother-daughter duo who magically switch their bodies and get a taste of each other’s lives. The audiences loved her goofy performance.
She played a crazy, ill-tempered widow in ‘Second-Hand Hearts’ in 1981. Separated from her three children, her character marries an insecure man believing that this move would help her recover her children from her former in-laws. The film did not do well at the box-office and she did not act again for some years.
In 1986, she played Kathleen Turner’s mother in ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’. She gradually moved away from acting during the 1990s and became an acting teacher.
She is best known for her performance in ‘The Apple Tree’, in which she played three different roles in three different acts. The ease with which she transitioned from one character to another in the play earned her critical acclaim from reviewers.
Awards & Achievements
In 1967, she won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for her role in the play ‘The Apple Tree’. She also won the Cue Magazine's "Entertainer of the Year" award for this role.
Personal Life & Legacy
She was married to director Paul Sills whom she later divorced. She is a reclusive person who prefers to guard the personal details of her life from the media.