Harris in I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
December 31, 1906|
Houston, Texas, U.S.
October 8, 1985 (aged 78)|
Inglewood, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery|
|Education||Jefferson High School|
UCLA Conservatory of Music|
Zoellner's Conservatory of Music
|Occupation||Actress, singer, dancer|
Theresa Harris (December 31, 1906 – October 8, 1985) was an American television and film actress, singer and dancer.
Harris' family relocated to Southern California when she was 11 years old. After graduating Jefferson High School, she studied at the UCLA Conservatory of Music and Zoellner's Conservatory of Music. She then joined the African American musical comedy theatre troupe, the Lafayette Players.
In 1929, she traveled to Hollywood where she embarked on an acting career. She made her film debut in Thunderbolt, singing the song "Daddy Won't You Please Come Home"(film clip here): As she entered the 1930s she found herself playing maids to fictitious Southern belles, socialites and female molls played by such actresses as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Sylvia Sidney, Frances Dee, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, Esther Williams, Thelma Todd, Kay Francis, and Barbara Stanwyck. These parts, however, were sometimes uncredited. She also floated around studios doing bit-parts, usually at Warner Bros. or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Aside from maids, she also specialized in playing blues singers, waitresses, tribal women, prostitutes, and hat check girls.
Harris had a featured role as a friend of Jean Harlow in MGM's Hold Your Man (1932), also starring Clark Gable. In 1933, she appeared as Chico in the Warner Bros. Pre-code production of Baby Face, starring Barbara Stanwyck. That same year, Harris starred in a substantial role opposite Ginger Rogers in Professional Sweetheart. As Rogers' character's maid, Harris' character subs for Rogers' character as a singer on the radio. Despite the fact that Harris' character was a major point for the story's plot development, she was uncredited for the role.
Throughout the 1930s, Harris played many uncredited parts in films such as Horse Feathers (1932), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933) and Morning Glory (1933). She also played Bette Davis's maid Zette in the film Jezebel (1938). In 1937, she appeared in the race film Bargain With Bullets opposite Ralph Cooper for Million Dollar Productions which was owned by Cooper. While doing promotion for the film, Harris spoke about her frustration over the difficulty African American actors faced in the film industry stating,
I never had the chance to rise about the role of maid in Hollywood movies. My color was against me anyway you looked at it. The fact that I was not "hot" stamped me either as uppity or relegated me to the eternal role of stooge or servant. [...] My ambition is to be an actress. Hollywood had no parts for me.
She also praised Ralph Cooper for starting a production company that produced films starring African American actors. She said,
We have nothing to lose in the development of an all-colored motion picture company. The competition will make Hollywood perk up and produce better films with our people in a variety of roles.
Harris continued to lobby for better parts but found few opportunities within Hollywood. In the 1939 movie, "Tell No Tales" she was credited for her part as Ruby, the wife of a murdered man. Harris played an emotional scene with Melvin Douglas at the funeral. She appears in a small but vivid role as Kathie Moffat's ex-maid Eunice Leonard in Jacques Tourneur 1947 Out of the Past.
In addition to films, Harris also performed in many radio programs including Hollywood Hotel. Harris was often paired with Eddie Rochester Anderson, who portrayed her on-screen boyfriend. They appeared together in Buck Benny Rides Again (1940) and What's Buzzin' Cousin (1943). In Buck Benny Rides Again, Harris and Anderson performed the musical number, "My, My," where they sing and dance tap, classical, Spanish, and swing. She also appeared in several prominent roles for RKO Pictures as she was a favorite of RKO producer Val Lewton who routinely cast African American actors in non-stereotypical roles. In 1942, Lewton cast Harris as a sarcastic waitress in Cat People, followed by roles in I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Phantom Lady (1944), and Strange Illusion (1945).
Later life and death
During the 1950s, Harris appeared several times on television on such shows as Lux Video Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Letter to Loretta. She made her last film appearance in an uncredited role in The Gift of Love in 1958. Harris later married a doctor and retired from acting, living comfortably after having carefully invested the money she made during her career in the movies.
- Thunderbolt (1929)
- Morocco (1930)
- The Road to Reno (1931)
- Arrowsmith (1931)
- Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)
- Week Ends Only (1932)
- Horse Feathers (1932)
- Night After Night (1932)
- The Half-Naked Truth (1932)
- Free Wheeling (1932)
- Grand Slam (1933)
- Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
- Professional Sweetheart (1933) (uncredited)
- Private Detective 62 (1933)
- Hold Your Man (1933)
- Baby Face (1933)
- Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933) (uncredited)
- Morning Glory (1933)
- Penthouse (1933)
- Broadway Through a Keyhole (1933)
- Blood Money (1933)
- The Worst Woman in Paris? (1933)
- Roman Scandals (1933)
- Success at Any Price (1934) (uncredited)
- A Modern Hero (1934)
- Finishing School (1934)
- Drums O' Voodoo (1934)
- Black Moon (1934) (uncredited)
- Desirable (1934)
- Go Into Your Dance (1935)
- Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935)
- Fifteen Maiden Lane (1936)
- Banjo On My Knee (1936) (uncredited)
- Gangsters on the Loose (1937)
- Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)
- The Lady Escapes (1937)
- Big Town Girl (1937)
- Jezebel (1938)
- The Toy Wife (1938)
- Passport Husband (1938)
- Tell No Tales (1939)
- The Women (1939)
- One Hour to Live (1939)
- City of Chance (1940)
- Buck Benny Rides Again (1940)
- Santa Fe Trail (1940)
- Love Thy Neighbor (1940)
- The Flame of New Orleans (1941)
- Blossoms in the Dust (1941)
- Our Wife (1941)
- Sing Your Worries Away (1942) (uncredited)
- Tough As They Come (1942)
- Cat People (1942)
- I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
- What's Buzzin', Cousin? (1943)
- Phantom Lady (1944)
- Strange Illusion (1945)
- The Dolly Sisters (1945)
- Smooth as Silk (1946)
- Three Little Girls in Blue (1946) (uncredited)
- Hit Parade of 1947 (1947) (uncredited)
- Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
- Out of the Past (1947)
- The Big Clock (1948)
- The Velvet Touch (1948)
- Alias Nick Beal (1949)
- Neptune's Daughter (1949)
- Tension (1949)
- And Baby Makes Three (1949)
- The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)
- Grounds for Marriage (1951)
- Al Jennings of Oklahoma (1951)
- The Company She Keeps (1951)
- Angel Face (1952)
- Here Come the Girls (1953)
- The French Line (1954)
- Spoilers of the Forest (1957)
- The Gift of Love (1958)
- McCann, Bob (2010). Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television. McFarland. p. 150. ISBN 0-7864-3790-1.
- Slide, Anthony (2012). Hollywood Unknowns: A History of Extras, Bit Players, and Stand-Ins. Univ. Press of Mississippi. pp. 203–204. ISBN 1-617-03474-6.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nffjdjZhMw) Retrieved 11 May 2018
- Bogle, Donald (2006). Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 126. ISBN 0-345-45419-7.
- Slide 2012 p.203
- Schatz, Thomas (2004). Hollywood: Cultural Dimensions: Ideology, Identity and Cultural Industry Studies. Taylor & Francis. p. 237. ISBN 0-415-28135-0.
- Jackson, Fay M. (August 28, 1937). "Dainty Theresa in Gang Film". The Afro American. p. 22. Retrieved April 12, 2014.
- "Theresa Harris On "Hollywood Hotel"". The Afro American. August 28, 1937. p. 11. Retrieved April 12, 2014.
- McCann, Bob (2010). Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television. McFarland. p. 151. ISBN 0-7864-3790-1.
- Eagle, Bob L.; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience. ABC-CLIO. p. 393. ISBN 0-313-34424-8.
- Dargis, Manohla (April 21, 2011). "Just a Maid in Movies, but Not Forgotten". The New York Times. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
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