Jed Harris (born Jacob Hirsch Horowitz; February 25, 1900 – November 15, 1979) was an Austrian-born American theatrical producer and director. He was responsible for some of the most successful productions on the Broadway stage in the 1920s and 1930s, including Broadway (1926), Coquette (1927), The Royal Family (1927), The Front Page (1928), Uncle Vanya (1930), The Green Bay Tree (1933) and Our Town (1938). He later directed the original Broadway productions of The Heiress (1947) and The Crucible (1953).
Jed Harris was born Jacob Hirsch Horowitz in Vienna, Austria, on February 25, 1900, to Meyer and Esther Schurtz Horowitz. His family moved to the United States in 1901. He attended school in Monmouth County, New Jersey, and entered Yale College at age 17. Although he was studious, he dropped out in 1920, telling a professor, "I'm neither rich enough nor dull-witted enough to endure this awful place."
Harris produced and directed 31 shows between 1925 and 1956. By age 28, he had produced a record four consecutive Broadway hits over the course of 18 months and was on the cover of Time magazine. Over the course of his career, his productions gained seven awards, including a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for playwright Thornton Wilder. Harris directed four actors in award-winning roles in Child of Fortune, The Crucible, The Traitor, The Heiress and Our Town.
Described by The New York Times as "a flamboyant man of intermittent charm", Harris was famous for his self-confidence, appeal to women, and sometimes outrageous and abusive behavior. Playwright and director George S. Kaufman, who worked with Harris on The Royal Family (1927) and The Front Page (1928), reportedly hated him and once said, "When I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes thrown in Jed Harris's face." Although Katharine Hepburn received scathing reviews in the New York production of The Lake (1933) — an experience she later described as "a slow walk to the gallows" — Harris insisted that she and the show go to Chicago. "My dear, the only interest I have in you is the money I can make out of you," Hepburn recalled Harris saying. She extricated herself from the contract by offering Harris all the money she had, $13,675.75; "I'll take it," he said. Laurence Olivier, whom Harris had directed on Broadway in The Green Bay Tree (1933), called him "the most loathsome man I'd ever met." In revenge, Olivier used Harris as the basis for his makeup for his 1944 stage (and later screen) portrayal of Richard III.:125
However despised he may have been in the theatrical community, Harris directed and produced such luminaries as Leo G. Carroll, Laurence Olivier, Lillian Gish, Basil Rathbone, Elaine Stritch, Ruth Gordon, Walter Huston, Osgood Perkins and Katharine Hepburn. Moss Hart wrote that "every aspiring playwright's prayer was: 'Please God, let Jed Harris do my play!'"
In an interview shortly before his death, Harris spoke of the ephemeral nature of the theatre. "The beauty of it is that you can create a whole world in a few weeks of rehearsal. But then the whole thing disappears like a breath of air. Nothing remains after your audience has gone. All it represents is a few moments of escape."
While many of his hit plays were translated into cinema releases, Harris was hesitant to make the jump to working on films. His first foray into motion pictures was when one of his theatre productions, Broadway, was adapted for a 1929 film. However, starting with The Light Touch (1952), starring George Sanders, Harris wrote the story for a trio of films continuing with Night People (1954), starring Gregory Peck and Buddy Ebsen, and Operation Mad Ball (1957), starring Jack Lemmon, Dick York, and Mickey Rooney.
Harris was married three times: to Anita Green in 1925; to actress Louise Platt, with whom he had a daughter, in 1938; and to actress Bebe Allen briefly in 1957. All of the marriages ended in divorce.
In 1929, Ruth Gordon was starring in Harris's production of Serena Blandish when she and Harris began a long romance. She became pregnant and their son, Jones Harris, was born in Paris later that year. Although they never married, Gordon and Harris provided their son with a normal upbringing and his parentage became public knowledge as social conventions changed. In 1932 the family was living discreetly in a small, elegant New York City brownstone. Harris's other romances included Margaret Sullavan.
Harris recalled his life and career in five consecutive 30-minute episodes taped for The Dick Cavett Show on PBS, broadcast posthumously, and in an autobiography, Dance on the High Wire, published a week before his death. Harris died November 15, 1979, aged 79, at University Hospital in New York City, after a long illness.
|October 13–November 1925||Weak Sisters||Producer||Booth Theatre, New York City |
Directed by Lynn Starling
|February 3–June 1926||Love 'em and Leave 'em||Producer||Sam H. Harris Theatre, New York City |
Directed by George Abbott
|September 16, 1926–February 11, 1928||Broadway||Producer||Broadhurst Theatre, New York City |
Directed by Philip Dunning and George Abbott
Some ten duplicate productions in the U.S. and abroad supervised by Joseph Calleia
|April 4–June 1927||Spread Eagle||Producer||Martin Beck Theatre, New York City |
Directed by George Abbott
|November 8, 1927–September 1928||Coquette||Producer||Maxine Elliott Theatre, New York City |
Directed by George Abbott
|December 28, 1927–October 1928||The Royal Family||Producer||Selwyn Theatre, New York City |
Directed by David Burton
|August 14, 1928–April 13, 1929||The Front Page||Producer||Times Square Theater, New York City |
Directed by George S. Kaufman
|January 23–April 1929||Serena Blandish||Producer||Morosco Theatre, New York City|
|April 15–July 1930||Uncle Vanya||Producer, director||Cort Theatre, New York City|
|September 22–October 1930||Uncle Vanya||Producer, director||Booth Theatre, New York City|
|September 30–October 1930||Mr. Gilhooley||Producer, director||Broadhurst Theatre, New York City|
|December 23–December 1930||The Inspector General||Producer, director||Hudson Theatre, New York City|
|April 6–May 1931||The Wiser They Are||Producer, director||Plymouth Theatre, New York City|
|October 22–November 1931||Wonder Boy||Producer, director||Alvin Theatre, New York City|
|February 9–27, 1932||The Fatal Alibi||Producer||Booth Theatre, New York City |
Directed by Charles Laughton
|October 20, 1933–March 1934||The Green Bay Tree||Producer, director||Cort Theatre, New York City|
|December 26, 1933–February 1934||The Lake||Producer, director||Martin Beck Theatre, New York City|
|September 20–September 1935||Life's Too Short||Producer, director||Broadhurst Theatre, New York City|
|August 25–September 1936||Spring Dance||Producer, director||Empire Theatre, New York City|
|December 27, 1937–May 1938||A Doll's House||Producer, director||Morosco Theatre, New York City|
|February 4–November 19, 1938||Our Town||Producer, director||Henry Miller's Theatre through February 12 |
Morosco Theatre from February 14
|January 14–31, 1943||Dark Eyes||Producer, director||Belasco Theatre, New York City|
|December 6–12, 1943||The World's Full of Girls||Producer||Royale Theatre, New York City|
|February 8–March 10, 1945||One-Man Show||Producer, director||Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City|
|February 5–May 18, 1946||Apple of His Eye||Producer, director||Biltmore Theatre, New York City|
|October 16–November 16, 1946||Loco||Producer, director||Biltmore Theatre, New York City|
|September 29, 1947–September 18, 1948||The Heiress||Director||Biltmore Theatre, New York City|
|December 4, 1948–March 12, 1949||Red Gloves||Director||Mansfield Theatre, New York City|
|March 31–May 28, 1949||The Traitor||Producer, director||48th Street Theatre, New York City|
|January 22–July 11, 1953||The Crucible||Director||Martin Beck Theatre, New York City |
Tony Award for Best Play
|November 13–December 1, 1956||Child of Fortune||Producer, director||Royale Theatre, New York City|
Film and television credits
|1950–51||Billy Rose Show, TheThe Billy Rose Show||Producer||TV series|
|1951||Light Touch, TheThe Light Touch||Writer||Story, with Tom Reed|
|1954||Night People||Writer||Story, with Tom Reed |
Nominee, Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story
|1957||Operation Mad Ball||Producer, writer||Writers Guild of America Award nominee|
Jed Harris and screenwriter Tom Reed were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story, for the 1954 film, Night People.
Harris, Arthur Carter and Blake Edwards were nominated for a 1958 Writers Guild of America Award for the screenplay for Operation Mad Ball (1957).
Harris was posthumously inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981.
The central character in Ben Hecht's 1931 novel, A Jew in Love, is modelled in part on Harris. John Houseman wrote, "Ben Hecht in A Jew in Love has described the mixture of deadly cruelty and ineffable charm of which Harris was capable; when he really wanted something or somebody — and even when he did not — no effort was too great, no means too elaborate or circuitous if it helped to satisfy his craving for personal power."
Laurence Olivier believed that the physical features of the Big Bad Wolf in Disney's 1933 animated film, Three Little Pigs, were based on Harris.:125 Harold Clurman agreed: "That's Harris's face. I mean made into an animal. … There was venom in the man."
One of the major characters in Ed Ifkovic's Downtown Strut: an Edna Ferber Mystery is Jed Harris, based on him as the director of the Broadway Play A Royal Family .