Radie Harris

Radie Harris

Radie Harris (October 24 1904 - February 22 2001) was a journalist and newspaper columnist noted for her close relationships with Broadway denizens and stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as for her breezy chronicles on the world of entertainment.

She was best known for her work for the "Hollywood Reporter" (the New York-based "Broadway Ballyhoo" column) from the 1940s until 1989, when she was forced to retire, and had her own celebrity radio interview shows on the Mutual Broadcasting System and CBS networks. She also was one of the founders of New York's Stage Door Canteen and a member of the American Theatre Wing. She contributed to Photoplay and other movie magazines and for a brief interlude during the World War II years she wrote for "Variety".

Miss Harris counted among her steadfast friends such actors as Tyrone Power, Cary Grant, Simon Jones, Sally Ann Howes, Millicent Martin, Angela Lansbury, Gregory Peck, Katharine Hepburn, Laurence Olivier, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Rosemary Harris, as well as the author Jacqueline Susann. In later times, many of these would join her at the Actors' Fund Home in Englewood, N.J., where Miss Harris spent her final years, to celebrate her birthday with balloons and smoked salmon.

Many of her closest colleagues were from the English acting community. Mr. Jones commented to Playbill's Robert Simonson [http://www.playbill.com/news/article/58788.html] that the columnist was a great Anglophile who spent much time in London, typically staying at the Dorchester. When in New York City, she would haunt The Russian Tea Room, where she had a reserved table at all times.

Miss Harris had a particularly close friendship with Vivien Leigh, which was chronicled in her autobiographical book, "Radie's World," published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1975. The book also detailed how she lost her right leg from the knee down in a horse riding accident at age 14.

According to Simonson, Rosemary Harris and Simon Jones said Miss Harris' journalistic discretion allowed her to hold on to her theatrical friends. "There was Hedda [Hopper] and Louella [Parsons] and Radie," said Harris. "But Radie was always the kind one." She would often sit on a scoop if someone specifically requested it. For instance, said Mr. Jones, she knew of the affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton long before anyone else but never reported a word. "It was actions of that sort that kept her very popular for so long," he said.

Simonson noted that Rosemary Harris came to know Radie because of their shared last name. While performing "The Seven Year Itch" in London, the actress received a phone call. "Is that you Radie?," said the voice. "I beg your pardon," answered Rosemary. The speaker continued to ask for Radie, prompting the confused performer to ask who was speaking. "This is Douglas Fairbanks," came the answer. "Well, I'm Puss 'n' Boots," replied Rosemary. As it turned out, Mr. Fairbanks had been given the wrong phone number from a secretary's rolodex. Soon after, Radie and Rosemary met at a party. They began referring to themselves as "The Harris Sisters."

Rosemary and Radie remained friends well past the latter's retirement from the Hollywood Reporter in 1988. One particularly memorable birthday party was held at the Fifth Avenue apartment of The American Theatre Wing's Isabelle Stevenson. Miss Harris was in a wheelchair by that time, and when the fete was over, it was discovered that the contraption couldn't be folded into a cab. Seeing no other option, Rosemary Harris and Simon Jones ended up pushing Miss Harris though the cold autumn air, all the way down Fifth Avenue to the writer's home at 60 West 57th Street.

Not everyone was enamored of the powerful columnist, who could be as charming as she was irascible and was viewed by many as a bit of a prima donna. A famous incident grew out of a feud between Miss Harris and English actress Coral Browne. One night in the 1950s — according to the memoir of Victoria Price, the daughter of Browne's one-time husband, Vincent Price — Browne strode into a London restaurant and, alluding to Radie's handicap, said in a loud voice, "Oh look, there's Radie Harris, with all of London at her "foot"."

It should be noted here that Ms. Browne portrayed handicapped gossip columnist Molly Luther in the 1968 film "The Legend of Lylah Claire," [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063219/] starring Kim Novak and Peter Finch. Most showbiz insiders believed that because the Molly character had an artificial leg and was always surrounded by sycophantic young men, it was based squarely on Miss Harris.

Miss Harris left The Hollywood Reporter without a pension and was often strapped for cash in her golden years. Friends were known to help out with her expenses from time to time. Throughout, she held on to her expensive tastes, suggesting, for example, to someone who was thinking of buying her a watch, that Cartier's was a good place to find one. She also continued to wear her white ermine fur coat until the last. In fact the New York Post's Page Six report about her departure from the Hollywood Reporter described her as "a mink-stained wretch."

Though no longer covering the Broadway scene, Miss Harris would still attend the theatre. The last show she saw was Noel Coward's "Waiting in the Wings," the cast of which included her friends Rosemary Harris, Lauren Bacall, Barnard Hughes and Simon Jones. Afterwards, they all visited with her, Bacall called her "Rudey," using the nickname Humphrey Bogart gave her.

Her brother was the TV writer Howard Harris and her sister was the casting director Pat Harris (Liberman) [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0365169/] . Her brother-in-law is the publicist Frank Liberman [http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=%22Archive+of+American+Television+Interview+with+Frank+Liberman%22&page=1&lv=1] and her nieces are casting director Meg Liberman [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006917/] and producer Kay Liberman.

Miss Harris never wed but had a storied romance with the married legitimate theatre producer Vinton Freedley [http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=24019] , which she wrote about at length in her book.

External links

* [http://www.wireimage.com/GalleryListing.asp?nbc1=1&navtyp=CAL=63803&ym=198503 Wire Image - "The Hollywood Reporter" salutes Radie Harris (1985)]


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