Eve Golden’s YouTube Theater: Theresa Harris

 

Theresa Harris
An image of Theresa Harris from PM magazine, Oct. 29, 1949, listed on EBay for $60.

Lena Horne was an angry, angry woman—she felt that if she’d been white she’d have had the career of Rita Hayworth or Doris Day. Anna May Wong was an angry, angry woman, as she saw Katharine Hepburn, Luise Rainer, Loretta Young and Sylvia Sidney cast as “Asian” in unintentionally hilarious makeup, while Anna’s career languished. Today, Peter Dinklage is an angry, angry man, as he knows damn well that if he were six feet tall, he’d be another George Clooney. Life is not fair, and show business even less so.

 

I don’t know if Theresa Harris was angry or not, but she sure as heck got cheated out of the career she should have had. Gorgeous, great singer, amazing actress—given just small roles, she still managed to steal movies from under the noses of Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Harlow, Thelma Todd, Tallulah Bankhead, Ginger Rogers, Kay Francis and Bette Davis. Usually she was, of course, a maid (or a washroom attendant or a slave or a prisoner). Harris worked steadily through the late 1950s, only occasionally getting to really shine (her number “My, My!” with Eddie “Rochester” Anderson in Buck Benny Rides Again, sadly, is not on YouTube). Maybe she was just too beautiful; it was easier to get cast if you were Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers or Butterfly McQueen and didn’t compete with the leading lady for sex appeal.

Here’s Theresa Harris in her very first film, 1929’s Thunderbolt, and indeed she is:

Here she is in her best role, as Barbara Stanwyck’s pal Chico in Baby Face; this scene was axed from the scandalous pre-Code movie (sad note: the cute, lecherous train cop is played by The Crowd star James Murray, and we all know what happened to him):

Theresa Harris had a happy ending of sorts, thank goodness—she married a doctor, was smart with her money and died in 1985, aged 78. It’s her tough luck—and ours—that we only get such fleeting glimpses of what she could do.

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in African Americans, Eve Golden, Film, Hollywood and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Eve Golden’s YouTube Theater: Theresa Harris

  1. Sheila says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for writing about Theresa Harris. Every time I see her, I know her scenes will elevate the movie. She was so lovely, warm, sexy and intelligent!

    Like

  2. Eve says:

    Glad you liked! I wanted to write a Classic Images article on her, but could find nothing–Lincoln Center has maybe one or two clippings, that’s it. Maybe AMPAS has more.

    Like

  3. Anne Papineau says:

    She’s got an itty bitty part in “The Women,” caring for the pooches in the kennel at Sydney’s fancy beauty salon. I believe it’s also Theresa in the “Petting in the Park” number in “Golddiggers of 1933.” There’s one African American couple “petting the park” and there’s Theresa. She’s fabulous in “Baby Face.” So glad to see any mention of her.

    Like

  4. la peregrina says:

    Thank you for helping to keep the memory of Theresa Harris alive. Every time I see her in a movie I think, “God, that woman should have been a star.” What a waste of talent on Hollywood’s part.

    Like

  5. Lee Ann says:

    Her song and dance with Eddie Anderson in “Buck Benny Rides Again” is so much fun. The only objection I have to the whole number is Eddie Anderson’s feet are outside the frame in the sequence when he dances around the skylight. Now come on, they wouldn’t do that to Fred and Ginger.

    Like

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