from the Daily Mail Weekend Section, June 24, 2000
Harris congratulates her daughter
When Pride and Prejudice star Jennifer Ehle won the prestigious Tony Award for Best Actress on Broadway, she reduced one fellow nominee to tears, her mother Rosemary Harris.
the veteran star tells Sarah Chalmers about the triumph - and trauma - of
their big night.
Rosemary Harris and her daughter Jennifer Ehle laughed out loud when they were asked to move into the aisle seats at this month's Tony Awards where they became the first ever mother and daughter to compete against each other for the same prize at the New York ceremony. "They said all the nominees have to sit on the outside so it's easier for them to get out," Rosemary says now. "We thought, 'There's really no point; neither of us is going to win', but we didn't want to make a fuss, so we moved."
Of course, as we now know, there certainly was a point - but for the daughter rather than the mother. Jennifer, the beguiling star of The Camomile Lawn and Pride and Prejudice, was announced as Lead Actress In A Play for her role in Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing. Delighted, she leaned forward to hug her tearful mother and equally proud father - the American author John Ehle - before rushing to the stage in her new backless frock to collect the prestigious award.
wouldn't be here without my beautiful, beautiful, beautiful parents,"
she said as Rosemary wept tears of unabashed joy.
| "Neither of us though we would win, but there was one
awful moment - for a split second - when I thought, what would I do if it
was me? As a mother you would always rather your daughter won."
who was nominated for her role in Noel Cowward's Waiting
in the Wings, won the same award in 1966 for her part in The
Lion in Winter. Back then, the awards were not televised and consisted
of a small tea party at a New York hotel. She remembers that when she won
"everybody in the room turned round to see who I was, because nobody
had heard of me." She felt quite out of place, and has used the award
as a paperweight ever since. "I am rather proud of it, though. The
engraver obviously got carried away with all the Rs in my name and spelt
Broadway Star with two Rs!"
One suspects that despite her distinguished career - she was once described as unrivalled in her portrayal of "the romantic female personality in its dauntless pursuit of love, honour, self-sacrifice and the wearing of gorgeous gowns" - the part she has found most fulfilling is that of mother. Certainly, Jennifer is besotted with her mother, to whom she bears an amazing resemblance. She has said: "I was an only, late child. I was spoiled rotten. The three of us are very close." Perhaps it is that closeness which made Jennifer such a late starter in love. When she did, finally, discover boys, she fell for two of her leading men in rapid succession.
First there was Toby Stephens, son of the actors Robert Stephens and Maggie Smith, on the set of the TV drama The Camomile Lawn, in which Jennifer famously appeared nude. "I got into boys very late," she said. "All through drama school I was uninterested. I didn't put out any signals for years." When she and Toby broke up they remained friends. Then came Colin Firth on the set of Jennifer's next triumph, Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. In the end, it is said, Jennifer dumped Firth, though all she has said is, "Being on location and acting in a story opposite somebody is incredibly conducive to falling in love."
Her mother, like Jennifer, is one of those people who exude warmth. She has an elegant, serene beauty. We meet in her Manhattan apartment, which has a lived-in air, despite the fact it is not the actress's main home, but a base she uses whenever her stage work brings her to New York.
Rosemary speaks often and unselfconsciously of Jennifer. "I don't think she would mind me saying, but it was a stroke of luck she landed the part in The Real Thing. She did an interview in a British paper and said she hadn't worked in seven months, had been going to Starbucks, drinking coffee and going mad. When she told me afterwards what she had said, I said, "No, no, you should just say you are considering things and the right thing hasn't come along yet." But it turned out Tom Stoppard read the interview, called her agent up and said, "Why haven't we seen Jennifer Ehle?" She went along and read for him and got the part."
Rosemary says she has never given her daughter advice on acting, although they have appeared together twice - once as the younger and older version of Calypso in The Camomile Lawn, and again as Valerie, at different ages, in the recently released film Sunshine with Ralph Fiennes. On Tony night, all three members of the family got ready at Rosemary's apartment. It was a giddy affair, for which John dressed in a new tuxedo, Jennifer a new dress and Rosemary put on a favorite trouser suit.
just as the limousine arrived to take them to the ceremony, calamity
struck. "I suddenly had this bright idea that I would take a bottle
of champagne and we would drink it in the limousine." "So I
opened the champagne and put it in a plastic bag. But the bag had a hole
in it and the bottle went right through it and crashed on the corner of
the table and spouted champagne all down my suit. I thought, 'What am I
going to do? I have nothing else to wear.' So I rushed and got the ironing
board out. It was such a farce, everyone was waiting in the car for me and
I was covered in champagne. To my amazement, the iron dried it all out and
there wasn't a mark, so I carried on downstairs with what remained of the
Rosemary was born in her grandmother's home in Suffolk, but spent the next six years in India. "It's very vivid in my mind," she recalls. "I had an ayah (nursemaid or governess) whom I adored. She taught me all my nursery rhymes in Hindustani, and I can still remember them today." She remembers her mother as "a perfect creature. She didn't work, I suppose she was part of the jazz age. But she was always busy - playing tennis or riding or shooting."
When the family returned to England and war broke out, the family moved to the Cornish village of Mylor, near the River Fal, and it was there, when Rosemary was only 14, that her mother died of pneumonia. "We didn't know she was terribly ill, she was just upstairs in the bedroom with flu for two days. When the doctor came to see her he ordered an ambulance to take her to Falmouth Hospital. We didn't go with her."
day broke, she and her elder sister learned that her mother was critically
ill so they hired a taxi to take them to the hospital, but it was already
too late. "I didn't have the remotest idea that I would never see my
mother again. It just never occurred to me."
The heartbreak of her mother's death is something Rosemary feels may be part of the reason Jennifer brings her such joy. She is careful not to be over-protective, but admits, "If someone says they are not feeling well, I don't disregard it." Rosemary returned to boarding school after her mother's death, a place where she was "miserably homesick. I felt my life had been blighted and that I would never be truly happy again."
When she left school she flirted with the idea of physiotherapy as a career, but settled instead for the theatre. Her father had written music and her mother loved to act, so as a youngster she was a talented mimic. After a spell at RADA, where she won the Gold Medal, she secured a role as an understudy in a Wilfred Pickles play called The Gay Dog at London's Piccadilly, where her sole task was to look after the dog and "make sure it peed in the interval and not on stage."
But in true
Rosemary was dubbed "the prettiest girl on Broadway" by one
Three years later she married producer Ellis Rabb and toured America with his rep company. The marriage, however, did not last - she would later say - in part because "I wasn't really a wife, a homemaker."
late Sixties she met John Ehle, who would become her second husband.
"My friend Bella Spewack, who wrote the script for the Cole Porter
musical Kiss Me Kate, telephoned
me one evening and said I had to come round, she had just met the man I
was going to marry. She said it was like casting a play. He was in town
for one day and ended up getting a wife."
The pair wed on the porch of John's North Carolina log-cabin in 1967, which they still own to this day. Two years later, Jennifer was born on what Rosemary calls "the happiest day of my life." With her own new family intact, she could begin to exorcise some of the ghosts of her past. Rosemary's father had died when she was in her early 20s at a time when their relationship was strained because of his repeated infidelities during the war. It was a betrayal the young Rosemary, who adored her mother, could not forgive. When her father remarried four years after her mother's death, Rosemary continued to live with her grandmother.
"I think if he had lived we would have become friends, but at the time I felt he had let my mother down." It is some comfort to Rosemary that her father was aware of her success as an actress, and immensely proud of her. "In his wallet he used to carry a clipping about my award at RADA."
Rosemary with her daughter, Jennifer
from the 1971 Old Times Souvenir
Program by Harold Pinter.
|Rosemary Harris truly became one of the stars of the American stage during the lifetime of the Association of Producing Artists. For seven years following A.P.A.’s founding in 1960, Miss Harris appeared throughout the nation as well as at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway. She was seen in Shakespeare, Shaw, Sheridan, Chekhov, Ibsen, Giraudoux, Pirandello, and Kaufman and Hart, mostly under the direction of Ellis Rabb who founded the A.P.A. and to whom she was married. However, it was the Broadway production of The Lion in Winter in which she starred opposite Robert Preston that brought her top recognition. She won the Antoinette Perry Award that year for her portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine.|
Harris was born in
Back on Broadway she appeared in Laurence Olivier’s
production of The Tumbler, which later led to her joining his company at
Conversation With Rosemary Harris
Harris starring in Women of Troy at the National. London Theatre
Broadway last season in An Inspector Calls, she was the Birling family
matriarch, whose self-deception crumbled as dramatically as the
Harris talks with Gerard Rymond
Theatre News, November 1992
Harris's smile is like a warm embrace. Her head slightly inclined, her
face lights up radiating grace and compassion. But you won't see that
smile in Lost in Yonkers until the curtain call.
personally think Grandma is capable of loving but doesn't know how
to," says Harris, describing the role that she also played for six
months on Broadway. Her performance is quite different from that of Irene
Worth, who created the part. She infuses the mean old grandmother with a
subterranean current of warmth that is quintessential Rosemary Harris.
1955 Harris joined the London Old Vic Company, proving she had a flair for
Shakespeare and the classics. According to Sir Peter Hall, who has
directed Harris onstage and in television, her Ophelia and her Cressida at
the Old Vic were marked by a self-deprecating wit. "There is a
twinkle at the back of her eyes that makes her suffering all the more
her success at the National, Harris returned to
she regret not staying on at the National in the sixties to continue in
the British classical actress tradition? Harris beams her radiant smile
and says her daughter and her husband, John, are ample compensation,
adding, "I knew I didn't want to sit with only a book of yellowing
press cuttings." But Harris confesses she is "sick for not doing
Shakespeare," and would be glad to play "any one of the old
Once her stint in Lost in Yonkers is completed, Harris is looking forward to working again soon. She searches for the right metaphor to describe her feelings about acting, and pauses. Then she smiles. "Doing a play is like being at a wonderful party. I don't know how many more invitations I will get, but I am a party girl and I really enjoy a good party.
Rosemary Harris as Aunt May Parker in the Spider-Man films.Rosemary Harris was born on September 19, 1927 in Ashby, Suffolk, England. She is an Academy Award nominated English actress and a member of the American Theatre Hall of Fame. Most articles show the 1927 date; however, Rosemary says her birth year is actually 1930.
you meet famous people when you attend the theatre in London -- I did
tonight. I attended the new London version of "The Philadelphia
Story" which though most people know by the Katharine Hepburn-Cary
Grant movie, was originally a play. Indeed, it had been originally
customized to Hepburn. The one in London is being done this year while
Kevin Spacey is the artistic director of the Old Vic theatre. He also
stars as CK Dexter Haven. Jennifer Ehle has the staring role of Tracy
Lord, and she makes the part her own. You may remember her as Lizzy Bennet
from the British miniseries "Pride and Prejudice." But more on
this play later.
on Collector’s Post
was born in England but, shortly afterwards, the family moved to India,
returning six year later. After school she enrolled at the Royal Academy
of Dramatic Arts where she won a Gold Medal. She made her stage debut in
the Broadway production of Moss Hart's Climate
(1951) and was described by the press as the ‘most beautiful girl on
Broadway’. Although the cast was awarded a Theatre World Award, the play
ran for only 20 performances. After it closed, she returned to Britain
where she made her West End debut in the British premiere of The Seven Year Itch (1952) - it ran for a year at the
Aldwych Theatre. She went next for a season to the Bristol Old Vic and
then joined the Old Vic. Among the star roles she played there were
Desdemona, opposite Richard Burton, in Othello (1956) and Cressida in Tyrone
Guthrie’s production of Troilus and Cressida.
During this period, she also made her first film, Beau
(1954), with Stewart Granger and Elizabeth Taylor. In December, 1956, she
returned to Broadway with the Old Vic Company that was presenting a short
repertory season in which he again played Cressida.
the season ended, she decided to stay in New York. Much of her 1957 work
was involved in television: she appeared in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents,
and in two episodes of The DuPont Show of the Month,
and one episode of both Hitchcock’s Suspicion and The
Kraft Television Theatre.
Her next Broadway appearance was in Interlock (1958), with Celeste Holm, at the
ANTA Playhouse. The new play survived for only four performances. Before
the end of the year, she was back again: starring with Jason Robards Jr.
1959, she met and ambitious young actor, Ellis Rabb (1930-1998) who had
the ambition to establish his own company, The Association of Producing
Artists (APT). It was a project that appealed to her, as did the man. They
married in December, 1959. Shortly afterwards, on February 24, 1960, she
played the opening night of Benn W. Levy’s The
Tumbler that was directed by Laurence Olivier and also starred
Charlton Heston. It was not a success and there were to be only another
then gave her energies to helping her husband form the APA and then
appeared on a prolonged tour with the company, performing mainly classical
plays. In 1962, she appeared in Laurence Olivier's Company at the
Chichester Festival Theatre for their first season, playing in The
Broken Heart and Chances. She returned the following year
and, in 1964, she played Ophelia, opposite Peter O'Toole, in Hamlet,
the Laurence Olivier production that inaugurated the National Theatre at
the Old Vic.
from her visits to London, she lived in the States and performed mainly
with the APT company. The exception was the première on Broadway of The
Lion in Winter
(1966) in which she created the role of Eleanor of Aquitaine and for which
she received the 1966 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. She also
appeared on Broadway in seven other plays, all produced by APT, between
November 23, 1965, and June 17, 1967. In the last of the seven, she played
Natasha in a new dramatisation, directed by husband, of War and Peace. This was the last time she
appeared in an APT production. Shortly afterwards, she and Ellis Rabb were
divorced and, later in 1967, she married the author, John Ehle, who lived
in North Carolina.
the spring of 1969, she and her new husband went to London where she
starred with Paul Rogers in Plaza
For her performance, she won the ‘London Evening Standard’ Award for
Best Actress. After her return to Winston-Salem in North Carolina, she
gave birth to her daughter, Jennifer Ehle, who has become a successful and
the ensuing years, she has been a much loved and highly-praised performer
in an astonishing variety of roles in films and in plays on stage and
television. Highlights of her theatre career in London include: Heartbreak House (1984) with Rex Harrison; The
Best of Friends
(1987) with John Gielgud; and Hecuba in Women of Troy (1995) for the Royal National
Theatre. On Broadway, she played Barbara Jackson in Pack
(1985); Grandma Kurnitz in Lost in Yonkers (1992); and Waiting
in the Wings
(1999-2000) with Lauren Bacall. Her film roles include Mrs Doring in The
Boys From Brazil
(1978); Rose Haigh-Wood in Tom & Viv (1994) for which she received an
Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress; the Player Queen in Hamlet
(1996) with Kenneth Branagh; and Aunt May Reilly Parker in Spider-Man
(2002). The many TV dramas in which she has appeared include Notorious
(1974) and Holocaust
(1978), for both of which she received an Emmy nomination.
Despite her justifiable fame, she has always been a kind and giving person who has always been happy to share her considerable expertise with drama students. She has taught acting courses in many places from her now home state of North Carolina to Russia.