This evening at a restaurant where we often have our evening meal in Winston-Salem, I was introduced to the actress Rosemary Harris “whose life in the theater, film and television has few parallels in the breadth and stature of the work.”
Her major-movie debut was over 60 years ago opposite Stewart Granger, Peter Ustinov and Elizabeth Taylor in MGM’s 1954 period extravaganza Beau Brummell.
This evening Rosemary was with her husband, acclaimed novelist and co-founder of the University of North Carolina School Of The Arts, John Ehle, and I had the great, and unexpected, pleasure of spending a few minutes in private conversation with them.
This had come about because the waitress, Susan, who usually serves our table is a great Anglophile and loves hearing my English accent and talks a lot about English TV shows she watches.
Rosemary Harris and her husband are also frequent diners at the restaurant, just an ordinary, homely restaurant, and since last year Susan had talked about introducing me to Rosemary if the opportunity arose. And this evening it did.
Susan had previously told Rosemary that there was someone from England who would love to meet her if the opportunity arose, i.e. if we were all in the restaurant at the same time, and Rosemary had said she’d be happy to meet me, not knowing anything about me other than Susan’s knowing me.
Whilst Rick, Janice and I were eating our meal, Susan had noticed that Rosemary and her husband were sitting in a booth across the restaurant, and once we were finished and making to leave, Susan grabbed my arm and said, “Come with me, it’ll be fine!”
Obviously one doesn’t want to interrupt anyone dining, far less anyone in the public eye and liable to be interrupted, but Susan was determined to make it happen and she did so with humor and gusto, which Rosemary and her husband seemed to find quite okay. We had a delightful 5 or so minutes talking together, and Rosemary said perhaps we’ll meet again during the time I’m here.
Although Rosemary, now 88 years old, has an extraordinarily long and top-level career in the theater and on film and TV and is, ironically, probably best known as Spider Man’s Aunt May Parker, I hadn’t actually heard of her until Rick started telling me about her last year, or the year before.
So it probably hasn’t fully hit me yet what a huge privilege it was for me to meet Rosemary, regarded with awe and respect by so many people, and spend some private time with her. I shall be enjoying some time now learning more about her and watching recordings of some of her movies, theater and TV work.
Postscript: A few days after this, we bumped into Rosemary in the giant wholesale superstore Costco where Rick and Janice do their main shopping. By complete chance Rosemary and her husband were at the next check-out register and Rosemary came through our check-out as she left her husband to pay, so I was able to say “Hello” again. Rosemary said to me,”Yes, all roads lead to Costco!”
According to this Wikipedia page:
Rosemary Ann Harris (born 19 September 1927) is an English actress. She is a 1986 American Theatre Hall of Fame inductee.
Harris began her stage career in 1948, before making her Broadway debut in 1952. For her New York stage work she is a four-time Drama Desk Award winner and nine-time Tony Award nominee, winning the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play in 1966 for The Lion in Winter. On television, she won an Emmy Award for the 1974 TV serial Notorious Woman, and a Golden Globe for the 1978 miniseries Holocaust. For the 1994 film Tom & Viv, she received a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination. She is the mother of actress Jennifer Ehle.
Early in her acting career, she gained experience in English repertory theatre. In 1948, she acted in Kiss and Tell at Eastbourne with Tilsa Page and John Clark before training at RADA. She first appeared in New York in 1951 in Moss Hart’s Climate of Eden, and then returned to Britain for her West End debut in The Seven Year Itch which ran for a year at the Aldwich. She then entered a classical acting period in productions with the Bristol Old Vic and then the Old Vic.
Her first film followed, Beau Brummel (1954) with Stewart Granger and Elizabeth Taylor, and then a touring season with the Old Vic brought her back to Broadway in Tyrone Guthrie’s production of Troilus and Cressida. She met Ellis Rabb who had plans to start his own producing company on Broadway. By 1959, the Association of Producing Artist (APA) was established, and she and Rabb were married in December of that year.
In 1962, she returned to Britain and Chichester Festival Theatre during its opening season when the director was Laurence Olivier; she appeared as Elena in Olivier’s celebrated 1962-63 Chichester production of Uncle Vanya. In 1964, she was Ophelia to Peter O’Toole’s Hamlet in the inaugural production of the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain.
Returning to New York, she worked further with the APA, and then was cast as Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter, a performance that garnered her a Tony Award in 1966. Rabb directed her one last time as Natasha in War and Peace in 1967, the same year they agreed to divorce. A little while later, Harris married the American writer John Ehle. They settled in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where their daughter, Jennifer, was born in 1969. Jennifer Ehle followed in her mother’s footsteps by becoming a noted film, television and Broadway actress. In 1974, Harris starred in the BBC TV serial Notorious Woman, which aired on PBS in the US as part of Masterpiece Theatre. For this role, she won the 1976 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series. She won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – TV Drama for the 1978 NBC miniseries Holocaust, which also starred Meryl Streep. She received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for the 1994 film Tom & Viv. Harris and her daughter Ehle, played the young and elderly incarnations, respectively, of the same character in István Szabó’s 1999 film Sunshine, about a Hungarian Jewish family. They had previously played the young and old Calypso in the 1992 Channel 4 adaptation of The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley.
Harris appeared in the rotating cast of the Off-Broadway staged reading of Wit & Wisdom. In 2007, she received the North Carolina Award for fine arts. Her husband, John Ehle, won the same award in 1972 for literature.”
End of Wikipedia quote.
Here’s a very interesting interview in which Rosemary talks about her life as an actress:
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