"The Last of Mrs. Lincoln" (Tony No. 4, in 1973) was originally written for Bette Davis but when she left the project, it was offered to Harris, who has always been "interested in anything to do with Abraham Lincoln."
She found Mary Todd Lincoln's story "very, very touching. She suffered a great deal after his death. He had not wanted to go to Ford's Theatre the night he was assassinated, but instead of sending him to bed, she insisted that, yes, they had to go. Imagine the guilt she must have felt.
"She dearly loved him. But when he died, just think, she was kicked out of the White House.
Harris' portrayal of Emily Dickinson in "The Belle of Amherst" (Tony No. 5) came after she had read some of the poems for Caedmon Records. Following the release of the record, she put together a program on Dickinson for schoolchildren on Long Island. Her good friend Charles Nelson Reilly, with whom she had worked in the 1965 musical "Skyscraper," saw the performance and said, "This is wonderful material. We must do something more with it."
The making of Emily
From that initial contact, Harris says, "The play went through many stages, and finally, after William Luce had written the one-woman show and Charles had directed it, we had our Emily Dickinson."
Frank Galati, who directed Harris in a 1994 revival of "The Glass Menagerie" on Broadway, calls her performance as the mother Amanda in that Tennessee Williams drama "totally remarkable. She played her as a woman of deeply maternal energy. The damage she does to her children all stemmed from the deepest possible love for them.
"She was so generous, interested in everything about the production. I remember when we rehearsed the gentleman-caller scene, she would tiptoe in her slippers to my seat in the theater, and she would cry, because she was so moved by these young actors on stage.
"She's the most passionate theatergoer I know. She sees everything. She loves the theater. It's her entire soul."
"Well, I like to keep busy," Harris says. "I love acting in the theater; but the more I do it, the less I know. It's a mystical experience."