Jim Siergey: Barbara Harris

August 28th, 2018

Barbara Harris has died. She was a favorite actress of mine plus she was a Chicago girl.

She never became real famous but fame was not something to which she aspired. Like any true Mid-westerner, the work was what mattered.

Born in Evanston, she was a founding member of Second City. From there she went on to have great success on stage and in film, winning a Tony award and being nominated for an Academy Award.

I enjoyed watching her in such movies as “Family Plot”, Hitchcock’s final film, and she was outstanding in Robert Altman’s “Nashville” in which her character closed the film.

But I first became aware of her in 1965 when I went to the Olympic Theater in Cicero to see “A Thousand Clowns” starring Jason Robards. I have since watched that movie more times than I can remember.

It was shot on location in New York City and Ms. Harris plays a fledgling child welfare worker who eventually falls in love with the non-conformist Robards and his young nephew. She is bubbly, twinkly, ditsy and completely lovable. She holds her own with such screen veterans like Robards and Martin Balsam.

Seeing this film as a teenager, I was greatly influenced by it. Not so much by Barbara, who was a joy to watch, but by the Jason Robards character, Murray. His character did his best to avoid working for a living and if a job prospect did come along he hoped it would fall through.

barbaraharrisA-Thousand-Clowns

Yes, sir, that’s my baby…

 

A favorite bit of dialogue from the films goes as follows…

Murray: Nick, in a moment you are going to see a horrible thing.
Nick (his nephew): What’s that?
Murray: People going to work.

Murray’s approach to life appealed to me.

I never really had any dreams or made any plans for the future. Growing up, it appeared to me that every adult groused and griped about his job. Everyone hated where they worked and what they did for a living. Therefore, it seemed to me that working somewhere for a living was what I should avoid.

So I did.

I successfully rambled through life working at a variety of jobs for a period of time and then not working until the money ran low enough that I latched onto another menial job. They were there for the taking whenever I needed them.

Ah, those were the days.

Having always been able to draw, I eventually stumbled into the world of animation and worked in a free-lance basis for many years. I also did illustration and comic strip work. I was getting paid for doing the same stuff I used to get sent to the principal’s office for doing.

The irony was not lost on me.

Free-lancing was the closest thing to not working I could ever hope for. I rarely had to go to a place of business, working mostly from my home, which saved valuable wear and tear on shoe leather. Plus, work wasn’t constant. It ebbed and flowed leaving me plenty of time to…not work.

Perhaps sloth was already part of my genetic makeup or maybe “A Thousand Clowns” persuaded me to become what some might call an unambitious bum. Either way, I’m not complaining. That trip to the Olympic also made me aware of Barbara Harris.

So, pick up a ukulele if you have one and strum along with Murray and me as we serenade Ms. Harris with one more chorus of “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Slow Down

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