Harris, Jed


Harris, Jed
(1900-1979)
   Born Jacob Horowitz in Vienna, Jed Harris arrived in America as a child and attended Yale University before working as a newspaper reporter for the New York Clipper. Despite the failure of his first theatrical venture, Weak Sisters (1925), he became so successful as a producer (and later as a director) that he was often described as the "wonder boy" of Broadway, although many coworkers disliked him for his eccentric and rude behavior, ruthless business practices, and scathing sarcasm. George Abbott called him the "Little Napoleon" of the American stage, an apt description capturing Harris's brilliance, flamboyance, and dictatorial manner. Two mild successes with Love 'Em and Leave 'Em (1926) and Spread Eagle (1927) were mere precursors to a nearly unbroken string of Harris hits during the 1920s, including the original productions of Broadway (1926), Coquette (1927), The Royal Family (1927), and The Front Page (1928).
   Harris famously sued Helen Hayes, the star of Coquette, when she became pregnant and left the show during its run. She countered that her pregnancy was an "act of God," prompting the addition of a clause in contracts protecting actors from lawsuits in such situations. Harris productions appeared more sporadically during the 1930s and after, but his staging of Uncle Vanya (1930) was well received and his production of the early gay-themed drama, The Green Bay Tree (1933), provided Laurence Olivier* with one of his first Broadway appearances. The same year, Harris presented Katharine Hepburn* in The Lake, a failure that nearly ended Hepburn's career. More important later productions included Thornton Wilder's* Our Town,* also directed by Harris, and The Heiress* (1947). He also directed Arthur Miller's* The Crucible* in 1953 and his last, Guy Bolton's Child of Fortune (1956), was a failure. He wrote two memoirs, Watchman, What of the Night? (1963) and A Dance on the High Wire (1979).

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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