Barbara Harris—whose prolific talents ranged from sketch comedy to Broadway to impersonating a teenaged Jodie Foster—has died. A Tony-winner and film luminary—from an era where movies could get away with titles like the Oscar-nominated Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? or Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You In The Closet And I’m Feelin’ So Sad—Harrison worked with some of the biggest directors of her generation, mixing a gift for comedy with a clear, thoughtful approach to drama that reflected her deep devotion to the craft.
Harris came up in the Chicago theater scene, where she worked with contemporaries like Ed Asner and Elaine May and Mike Nichols. She also made great strides in getting the city’s improv scene off the ground, working with the legendary Compass Players, and, later, as a founding member of the Second City ensemble. When the company took a cast out to New York for a Broadway run, Harris ended up staying behind in the city, scoring multiple Tony nominations (and one win), alongside numerous reviews calling her out as the one shining light of otherwise lackluster shows.
Harris eventually made her way out to Hollywood, where she worked with everyone from Robert Altman (Nashville) to Alfred Hitchcok (The Family Plot). Per an interview she gave in 2002, well after her retirement from the screen, Harris said she made a deliberate move against fame, instead opting, always, for the smaller, more interesting film. (Here, she is, for example, co-starring in Fred Coe’s cult favorite A Thousand Clowns.) For younger fans, her most memorable roles included playing the mom in the Jodie Foster Freaky Friday—and thus, doing her best to embody the mannerisms of an awkward teenager trapped in an adult woman’s body—and small roles in movies like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Grosse Pointe Blank. According to The Chicago Sun-Times—which also included an interview with Asner, reflecting on his old friend’s death—Harris was 83.