The Lion in Winter
British stage, film and TV actress Rosemary Harris became enormously popular on both sides of the Atlantic and won a Tony award for her role in ''The Lion in Winter'' (1966), an Emmy for her role in the miniseries ''Notorious Woman" (1974) and a Golden Globe for her performance in the miniseries ''Holocaust'' (1978). She was also nominated for an Academy Award for her work in the 1994 film "Tom & Viv."
Harris portrayed Spider-Man/Peter Parker's aunt, Mary Parker, in three Spider-Man films in 2002, 2004 and 2007. Most recently, she played the mother of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke's characters in Sidney Lumet's 2007 film, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead."
In addition to her Tony win for ''The Lion in Winter'' (1966), Harris, a member of the American Theatre Hall of Fame, has been nominated for seven other Tony Awards for her wok in Harold Pinter's "Old Times" (1972), a revival of "The Royal Family of Broadway'' (1976), George Bernard Shaw's "Heartbreak House" (1984), "Pack of Lies" (1985), a revival of Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" (1986), a revival of Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" (1996), and "Waiting in the Wings" (2000). Her Tony nominations three years in a row (1984-1986) are an accomplishment no other actor or actress can claim.
On a more personal note, the 5' 4½" radiant actress who frequently played secure, formidable women was married to Ellis Rabb who established the APA (Associated Producing Artists) from 1959 to 1967. She is currently the wife of John Ehle, a North Carolina writer and activist, whom she married in 1967. Her daughter is two-time Tony Award winning stage and screen actress Jennifer Ehle.
Royal Air Force Daughter
Childhood and Family:
Born in Ashby, Suffolk, England, on September 19, 1927, Rosemary Harris grew up in India where her Royal Air Force father, Stafford Berkley Harris, was positioned. Her mother, Enid Maude Frances Harris, died when she was a teenager. Her grandmother, Bertha, was Romanian.
"Who's happy as a teenager anyway? I was unhappy and bereft though I did have a wonderful (maternal) grandmother, Granny Maude." Rosemary Harris
Young Harris attended convent schools and although she planned to be a nurse, later studied acting at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), in London, England, from 1951 to 1952. She is an Associate Member of RADA.
From December 4, 1959 to 1967, Harris was married to Ellis Rabb, the actor who had created the APA (Associated Producing Artists) by 1959. Since 1967, she has been married to John Ehle, a North Carolina writer and activist. They settled in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where they raised their daughter who became another dazzling actress, Jennifer Ehle (born on December 29, 1969).
England-born Rosemary Harris was raised in India and considered a career in nursing before enrolling at RADA. She made her stage acting debut with a one-line role in a production of "Winter Sunshine" (1948). After making her American debut in a TV special called "Cradle of Willow" (1951), she had her first NYC stage performance in the Broadway production of Moss Hart's "Climate of Eden" (1952), to which she recalled, "So, I packed my trunk and came to America on the first Queen Mary."
The show was not a success and Harris went back to her native England the following year and debuted on the West End in the British premiere of "The Seven Year Itch" (1952), playing the role that eventually was played by Marilyn Monroe in its film version. She spent a year in that hit and then worked in classical productions at the Bristol Old Vic Company, which included "Much Ado About Nothing" (as Beatrice) and in "The Crucible" (as Elizabeth Proctor), among others. She later joined the Old Vic Theatre in London where she played Desdemona, opposite Richard Burton, in "Othello" and Calpurnia in the Michael Benthall directed "Julius Caesar."
Harris made her first feature acting debut in Curtis Bernhardt's film adaptation of Clyde Fitch's play "Beau Brummell" (1954; Stewart Granger took the title role), in which she portrayed Mrs. Fitzherbert, the mistress of the Prince of Wales (played by Peter Ustinov). She subsequently retreated to the small screen playing Olivia in an NBC "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production of "Twelfth Night" (1957) and appeared as Cathy to Richard Burton's Heathcliff in a production for CBS' "DuPont Show of the Month," "Wuthering Heights" (1958), based on Emily Brontë's novel.
After co-starring with Jason Robards in "The Disenchanted" (1958), Harris joined the newly-formed APA Company in New York in 1960 and appeared in many of its productions. She would remain affiliated with the company until 1967.
Harris appeared in Laurence Olivier's Company at the Chichester Festival Theatre for its first season and joined London's National Theatre in productions of "Hamlet" and "Uncle Vanya," portraying Ophelia and Ilyena, opposite Peter O'Toole and Laurence Olivier respectively. She recreated her Ilyena role in the 1963 TV version of "Uncle Vanya," featuring Laurence Olivier, and was cast as Elvira the first wife ghost in NBC’s "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation of Noel Coward's comic play, "Blithe Spirit" (1966), opposite Dirk Bogarde's Charles Condomine.
In 1966, Harris won Broadway's Tony Award for Best Actress (Dramatic) for the role of Eleanor of Aquitaine in James Goldman's "The Lion in Winter." Directed by Noel Willman, the play premiered at the Ambassador Theatre, in New York City on March 3, 1966, and had a run of 92 performances. Robert Preston was featured as King Henry II and Christopher Walken as King Philip of France.
Following her Tony win, Harris made her U.S. feature debut in Jacques Charon's film adaptation of Georges Feydeau's comedic play, "A Flea in Her Ear" (1968). Afterward, she returned to stage and was cast opposite Paul Rogers in Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite" (1969). She also earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress (Dramatic) for her starring role in the Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter's "Old Times" (1971).
After portraying Blanche DuBois, a pretentious, fading relic of the Old South, in a Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1973), Harris won an Emmy Award (for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series) for her stunning performance as French novelist and feminist George Sand/Aurore Dupin in the seven-part BBC production "Notorious Woman," which aired in the United States on PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" in 1976. The role also handed her a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Actress – Drama.
Harris garnered her third Tony Award nomination for her turn as Julie Cavendish in the revival of the stage comedy "The Royal Family" (1975), which was staged by former husband Ellis Rabb. She later reprised the role in the 1977 PBS production under the direction of Kirk Browning. After playing a supporting role opposite Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck in Franklin J. Schaffner's Oscar-nominated film adaptation of Ira Levin's fiction thriller novel "The Boys From Brazil" (1978), Harris won a Golden Globe (for Best TV Actress – Drama) and was nominated for an Emmy (for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series) for her standout performance as Berta Palitz Weiss, the matriarch of a German Jewish family, in the acclaimed NBC miniseries "Holocaust" (1978).
In 1980, Harris made her TV series debut as a regular, playing the matriarch of the titular frontier family, in the CBS short-lived western drama "The Chisholms." Three years later, she had a rare film role in Richard Eyre's "The Ploughman's Lunch" (1983; with Jonathan Pryce and Tim Curry), which nominated her for a BAFTA Film Award for Best Supporting Actress. After her brilliant turn as Mrs. Ramsay in a TV adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel, "To the Lighthouse" (1983), Harris received a fourth Tony Award nomination for her co-starring performance in the stage revival of George Bernard Shaw's "Heartbreak House" (1984), a role which she would recreate in the following year's Showtime adaptation.
The rest of the 1980s saw Harris nominated for her fifth Tony Award for her performance as an ordinary British housewife who discovers her neighbors are spies in "Pack of Lies" (1985). She also earned her sixth Tony nomination for headlining the cast of the spirited revival of Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" (1986). She then acted alongside John Gielgud and Ray McAnally in "The Best of Friends" (1987) and had a featured role in the romantic comedy "Crossing Delancy" (1988). She also supported Glenda Jackson in the PBS miniseries version of Eugene O'Neill's "Strange Interlude" (1988) and was featured in "The Old Reliable" (1988), a segment of the PBS miniseries "Tales From the Hollywood Hills," which was helmed by Michael Blakemore and based on P.G. Wodehouse's 1951 novel.
Entering the new decade, Harris played the lead in the London production of "Steel Magnolias" (1991) and played the elderly Calypso, a character played as a young woman by real-life daughter Jennifer Ehle, in the BBC production "The Camomile Lawn" (1992), which was helmed by Peter Hall. She succeeded Irene Worth as the grandmother in Neil Simon's Pulitzer-winning "Lost in Yonkers" (1992) and performed on Broadway in the successful revival of "An Inspector Calls" (1994), which was conceptually staged by Stephen Daldry.
Harris hit the big time in 1995 when she received a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Rose Haigh-Wood, the mother of poet T. S. Eliot's (played by Willem Dafoe) troubled, mentally disturbed first wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood (played by Miranda Richardson), in Brian Gilbert's 1994 biopic "Tom & Viv." The film was adapted by Michael Hastings and Adrian Hodges from the 1984 play of the same name by Hastings.
After receiving another Tony nomination for her performance opposite George Grizzard and Elaine Stritch in the revival of Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" (1996), Harris was cast as the Player Queen (to Charlton Heston's Player King) in Kenneth Branagh's all-star full-length film version of "Hamlet" (1996). She then received another Tony Award nomination for her co-starring role in the Broadway revival of Noel Coward comedy, "Waiting in the Wings" (1999). She then portrayed the matriarch of a Scottish family in Hugh Hudson's biographical drama film about British TV mogul Denis Forman, "My Life So Far" (1999). That same year, she shared the role of Valerie with daughter Jennifer Ehle in Istvan Szabo's historical epic "Sunshine" (released theatrically in 2000), which won her a Golden Satellite Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Drama.
In the new millennium, Harris had a cameo as the grandmother of Cate Blanchett's lead character in the Sam Raimi-directed supernatural thriller film, "The Gift." She later teamed up again with Raimi in his 2002 superhero movie based on the fictional Marvel Comics character, "Spider-Man," as the title role's (played by Tobey Maguire) aunt May Parker, and reprised the role in the film's next installments, "Spider-Man 2" (2004) and "Spider-Man 3" (2007).
Harris appeared in a stage revival of Edward Albee's "All Over" in 2002, which was originally performed at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, and portrayed the title role's (played by Annette Bening) mother in István Szabó's Oscar-nominated film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel, "Being Julia" (2004). She also co-starred with Brenda Blethyn in the TV movie version of Stevie Davies' novel, "Belonging" (2004) and recently portrayed the mother who is robbed by her own sons (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) in the Sidney Lumet-directed crime/drama film, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" (2007).
From September 27 to November 4, 2007, she starred as Granny Pink in the San Diego Old Globe's production of ''Oscar and the Pink Lady,'' directed by Frank Dunlop. When asked why she took the plunge, Harris responded, "It's a wonderful role and there's something about the message, although I don't like that word. There's a philosophy that this book and the play revealed to me, and if people can take that away, I think they will be enriched."
Golden Satellite: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Drama, "Sunshine," 2001
National Board of Review: Best Supporting Actress, "Tom & Viv," 1994
Golden Globe: Best TV Actress - Drama, "Holocaust," 1979
Emmy: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series, "Notorious Woman" (Shown within "Masterpiece Theatre"), 1976
Tony: Best Actress in a Play, ''The Lion in Winter,'' 1966