Jed Harris

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Jed Harris
Jed-Harris-1928.jpg
Jed Harris (1928)
Born Jacob Hirsch Horowitz
(1900-02-25)February 25, 1900
Vienna, Austria
Died November 15, 1979(1979-11-15) (aged 79)
New York City, New York
Occupation Theatrical producer, director
Years active 1925–1956
This article is about the theatrical producer and director. For the musician, see Jet Harris.

Jed Harris (born Jacob Hirsch Horowitz, February 25, 1900 – November 15, 1979) was an Austrian-born American theatrical producer and director. He was responsible for some of the most successful productions on the Broadway stage in the 1920s and 1930s, including Broadway (1926), Coquette (1927), The Royal Family (1927), The Front Page (1928), Uncle Vanya (1930), The Green Bay Tree (1933) and Our Town (1938). He later directed the original Broadway productions of The Heiress (1947) and The Crucible (1953).

Biography[edit]

Jed Harris was born Jacob Hirsch Horowitz[1] in Vienna, Austria, on February 25, 1900, to Meyer and Esther Schurtz Horowitz. His family moved to the United States in 1901. He attended school in Monmouth County, New Jersey, and entered Yale College at age 17. Although he was studious, he dropped out in 1920, telling a professor, "I'm neither rich enough nor dull-witted enough to endure this awful place."[2]

Career[edit]

Producer Jed Harris on the cover of Time (September 3, 1928) during the run of his Broadway hit, The Front Page

Harris produced and directed 31 shows between 1925 and 1956. By age 28, he had produced a record four consecutive Broadway hits over the course of 18 months[3] and was on the cover of Time magazine. Over the course of his career, his productions gained seven awards, including a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for playwright Thornton Wilder. Harris directed four actors in award-winning roles in Child of Fortune, The Crucible, The Traitor, The Heiress and Our Town.[citation needed]

Described by The New York Times as "a flamboyant man of intermittent charm", Harris was famous for his self-confidence, appeal to women, and sometimes outrageous and abusive behavior. Playwright and director George S. Kaufman, who worked with Harris on The Royal Family (1927) and The Front Page (1928), reportedly hated him and once said, "When I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes thrown in Jed Harris's face."[2] Although Katharine Hepburn received scathing reviews in the New York production of The Lake (1933) — an experience she later described as "a slow walk to the gallows" — Harris insisted that she and the show go to Chicago. "My dear, the only interest I have in you is the money I can make out of you," Hepburn recalled Harris saying. She extricated herself from the contract by offering Harris all the money she had, $13,675.75; "I'll take it," he said.[4] Laurence Olivier, whom Harris had directed on Broadway in The Green Bay Tree (1933),[2] called him "the most loathsome man I'd ever met." In revenge, Olivier used Harris as the basis for his makeup for his 1944 stage (and later screen) portrayal of Richard III.[5]:125

However despised he may have been in the theatrical community, Harris directed and produced such luminaries as Leo G. Carroll, Laurence Olivier, Lillian Gish, Basil Rathbone, Elaine Stritch, Ruth Gordon, Walter Huston, Osgood Perkins and Katharine Hepburn. Moss Hart wrote that "every aspiring playwright's prayer was: 'Please God, let Jed Harris do my play!'"

In an interview shortly before his death, Harris spoke of the ephemeral nature of the theatre. "The beauty of it is that you can create a whole world in a few weeks of rehearsal. But then the whole thing disappears like a breath of air. Nothing remains after your audience has gone. All it represents is a few moments of escape."[2]

While many of his hit plays were translated into cinema releases, Harris was hesitant to make the jump to working on films. His first foray into motion pictures was when one of his theatre productions, Broadway, was adapted for a 1929 film. However, starting with The Light Touch (1952), starring George Sanders, Harris wrote the story for a trio of films continuing with Night People (1954), starring Gregory Peck and Buddy Ebsen, and Operation Mad Ball (1957), starring Jack Lemmon, Dick York, and Mickey Rooney.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Harris was married three times: to Anita Green in 1925; to actress Louise Platt, with whom he had a daughter, in 1938; and to actress Bebe Allen briefly in 1957. All of the marriages ended in divorce.[1]

In 1929, Ruth Gordon was starring in Harris's production of Serena Blandish when she and Harris began a long romance. She became pregnant and their son, Jones Harris, was born in Paris later that year. Although they never married, Gordon and Harris provided their son with a normal upbringing and his parentage became public knowledge as social conventions changed.[7] In 1932 the family was living discreetly in a small, elegant New York City brownstone.[8] Harris's other romances included Margaret Sullavan.[3]

Harris recalled his life and career in five consecutive 30-minute episodes taped for The Dick Cavett Show on PBS, broadcast posthumously,[9][10] and in an autobiography, Dance on the High Wire, published a week before his death. Harris died November 15, 1979, aged 79, at University Hospital in New York City, after a long illness.[2]

Theatre credits[edit]

Date Title Role Notes
October 13–November 1925 Weak Sisters Producer Booth Theatre, New York City
Directed by Lynn Starling[11]
February 3–June 1926 Love 'em and Leave 'em Producer Sam H. Harris Theatre, New York City
Directed by George Abbott[12]
September 16, 1926–February 11, 1928 Broadway Producer Broadhurst Theatre, New York City
Directed by Philip Dunning and George Abbott[13]
Some ten duplicate productions in the U.S. and abroad supervised by Joseph Calleia[14][15][16]
April 4–June 1927 Spread Eagle Producer Martin Beck Theatre, New York City
Directed by George Abbott[17]
November 8, 1927–September 1928 Coquette Producer Maxine Elliott Theatre, New York City
Directed by George Abbott[18]
December 28, 1927–October 1928 The Royal Family Producer Selwyn Theatre, New York City
Directed by David Burton[19]
August 14, 1928–April 13, 1929 The Front Page Producer Times Square Theater, New York City
Directed by George S. Kaufman[20]
January 23–April 1929 Serena Blandish Producer Morosco Theatre, New York City[21]
April 15–July 1930 Uncle Vanya Producer, director Cort Theatre, New York City[22]
September 22–October 1930 Uncle Vanya Producer, director Booth Theatre, New York City[23]
September 30–October 1930 Mr. Gilhooley Producer, director Broadhurst Theatre, New York City[24]
December 23–December 1930 The Inspector General Producer, director Hudson Theatre, New York City[25]
April 6–May 1931 The Wiser They Are Producer, director Plymouth Theatre, New York City[26]
October 22–November 1931 Wonder Boy Producer, director Alvin Theatre, New York City[27]
February 9–27, 1932 The Fatal Alibi Producer Booth Theatre, New York City
Directed by Charles Laughton[28][29][30]
October 20, 1933–March 1934 The Green Bay Tree Producer, director Cort Theatre, New York City[31]
December 26, 1933–February 1934 The Lake Producer, director Martin Beck Theatre, New York City[32]
September 20–September 1935 Life's Too Short Producer, director Broadhurst Theatre, New York City[33]
August 25–September 1936 Spring Dance Producer, director Empire Theatre, New York City[34]
December 27, 1937–May 1938 A Doll's House Producer, director Morosco Theatre, New York City[35]
February 4–November 19, 1938 Our Town Producer, director Henry Miller's Theatre through February 12
Morosco Theatre from February 14[36]
January 14–31, 1943 Dark Eyes Producer, director Belasco Theatre, New York City[37]
December 6–12, 1943 The World's Full of Girls Producer Royale Theatre, New York City[38]
February 8–March 10, 1945 One-Man Show Producer, director Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City[39]
February 5–May 18, 1946 Apple of His Eye Producer, director Biltmore Theatre, New York City[40]
October 16–November 16, 1946 Loco Producer, director Biltmore Theatre, New York City[41]
September 29, 1947–September 18, 1948 The Heiress Director Biltmore Theatre, New York City[42]
December 4, 1948–March 12, 1949 Red Gloves Director Mansfield Theatre, New York City[43]
March 31–May 28, 1949 The Traitor Producer, director 48th Street Theatre, New York City[44]
January 22–July 11, 1953 The Crucible Director Martin Beck Theatre, New York City[45]
Tony Award for Best Play
November 13–December 1, 1956 Child of Fortune Producer, director Royale Theatre, New York City[46]

Film and television credits[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1950–51 Billy Rose Show, TheThe Billy Rose Show Producer TV series[47]
1951 Light Touch, TheThe Light Touch Writer Story, with Tom Reed[48]
1954 Night People Writer Story, with Tom Reed[49]
Nominee, Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story
1956 Patterns Co-producer Uncredited[50]
1957 Operation Mad Ball Producer, writer Writers Guild of America Award nominee[51]

Accolades[edit]

Jed Harris and screenwriter Tom Reed were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story, for the 1954 film, Night People.[52]

Harris, Arthur Carter and Blake Edwards were nominated for a 1958 Writers Guild of America Award for the screenplay for Operation Mad Ball (1957).[53]

Harris was posthumously inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981.[54]

Cultural references[edit]

The central character in Ben Hecht's 1931 novel, A Jew in Love, is modelled in part on Harris.[2][55] John Houseman wrote, "Ben Hecht in A Jew in Love has described the mixture of deadly cruelty and ineffable charm of which Harris was capable; when he really wanted something or somebody — and even when he did not — no effort was too great, no means too elaborate or circuitous if it helped to satisfy his craving for personal power."[56]

Laurence Olivier believed that the physical features of the Big Bad Wolf in Disney's 1933 animated film, Three Little Pigs, were based on Harris.[5]:125 Harold Clurman agreed: "That's Harris's face. I mean made into an animal. … There was venom in the man."[57]

One of the major characters in Ed Ifkovic's Downtown Strut: an Edna Ferber Mystery is Jed Harris, based on him as the director of the Broadway Play A Royal Family [1].

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Vallance, Tom (October 1, 2003). "Obituary: Louise Platt". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Pace, Eric (November 16, 1979). "Jed Harris, Broadway Producer and Director for 30 Years, Dead; 'Broadway' Was His First Hit". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  3. ^ a b Yardley, Jonathan (December 28, 1983). "Louise Platt". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  4. ^ Hepburn, Katharine (1991). Me: Stories of My Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 165–169. ISBN 0-679-40051-6. 
  5. ^ a b Olivier, Laurence (1986). On Acting. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone). ISBN 9780671645625. 
  6. ^ "IMDB.com". Jed Harris. Retrieved August 5, 2006. 
  7. ^ Wada, Karen (August 29, 1985). "Ruth Gordon Dies; Stage, Film Career Spanned 7 Decades". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  8. ^ Lanchester, Elsa (1983). Elsa Lanchester Herself. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 102. ISBN 0-312-24376-6. 
  9. ^ "Review, A Dance on the High Wire by Jed Harris". New York. April 21, 1980. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  10. ^ "Jed Harris, March 24–28, 1980". The Dick Cavett Show. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  11. ^ "Weak Sisters". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  12. ^ "Love 'em and Leave 'em". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  13. ^ "Broadway". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  14. ^ "Across from Malta". The New York Times. October 21, 1934. Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  15. ^ "A Solid Year of Broadway". The New York Times. September 18, 1927. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  16. ^ "Plan 10 Companies to Act 'Broadway'". The New York Times. March 22, 1927. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  17. ^ "Spread Eagle". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  18. ^ "Coquette". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  19. ^ "The Royal Family". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  20. ^ "The Front Page". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  21. ^ "Serena Blandish". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  22. ^ "Uncle Vanya". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  23. ^ "Uncle Vanya". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  24. ^ "Mr. Gilhooley". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  25. ^ "The Inspector General". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  26. ^ "The Wiser They Are". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  27. ^ "Wonder Boy". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  28. ^ "The Fatal Alibi". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  29. ^ "The Fatal Alibi". Playbill Vault. Playbill. Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  30. ^ "7 Plays End Runs Tonight". The New York Times. 27 February 1932. Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  31. ^ "The Green Bay Tree". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  32. ^ "The Lake". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  33. ^ "Life's Too Short". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  34. ^ "Spring Dance". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  35. ^ "A Doll's House". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  36. ^ "Our Town". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  37. ^ "Dark Eyes". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  38. ^ "The World's Full of Girls". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  39. ^ "One-Man Show". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  40. ^ "Apple of His Eye". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  41. ^ "Loco". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  42. ^ "The Heiress". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  43. ^ "Red Gloves". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  44. ^ "The Traitor". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  45. ^ "The Crucible". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  46. ^ "Child of Fortune". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  47. ^ "The Billy Rose Show". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  48. ^ "The Light Touch". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  49. ^ "Night People". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  50. ^ "Patterns". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  51. ^ "Operation Mad Ball". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  52. ^ "Search". Academy Awards Database. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  53. ^ "Search". Writers Guild Foundation Library. Writers Guild of America. Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  54. ^ "26 Elected to the Theater Hall of Fame". The New York Times. March 3, 1981. Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  55. ^ Herman, Jan (January 2, 2014). "How a Brilliant Writer Got in His Own Way". Straight Up. Retrieved 2015-12-29. 
  56. ^ Houseman, John (1972). Run-Through: A Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 79. ISBN 0-671-21034-3. 
  57. ^ Clurman, Harold (1994). Loggia, Marjorie; Young, Glenn, eds. The Collected Works of Harold Clurman. New York: Applause Books. p. 966. ISBN 9781557831323. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]