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Laura Harris Photo oneWhen I posed the question to Canadian actress Laura Harris as to whether or not she thought that she would have liked to have been friends with Academy Award winning actress Judy Holliday, who she portrays in the play that she wrote and stars in, Pitch Blond, it was only fitting that Harris replied, “I think that I would be friends with her, because she is very intelligent, we would discuss authors and theatre. I get the impression that she was very kind, and I think we would relate to one another greatly.” Unfortunately, Judy Holliday, a film star of the forties and fifties, died of cancer, when she was just forty-three years old, in 1965, long before Harris was born, but that has not stopped Harris from writing a brilliant play and turning in an outstanding performance that will leave Judy Holliday fans believing that they have taken a step back in time and that they are watching Holliday’s life unfold before them. On the eve of her performance in Vancouver, Canada Laura Harris took time to talk to Riveting Riffs Magazine about Pitch Blond, a production that is already attracting a lot of attention from theater festivals across North America. 

“I discovered Judy Holliday through school and a professor that I had met. He told me that I had Judy Holliday quality. I didn’t know who she was, and being the eager first year (student) that I was I watched her movies. I read some things about her, and one of the things that struck me about her was that she played her dumb blond persona during the testimony (before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee). I thought, that sounds very interesting, and I wonder if there is more information on that. Then I found this website that had the transcripts on it and I read them. They were incredibly interesting and they went in and out of her personal life. Chronologically they went through her rise to fame.  A writer in the Village Voice during the eighties wrote that her performance during the testimony probably was the best performance that she ever did. I was really interested in telling that story and sharing some facts from the McCarthy period that not a lot of people knew. That was the reason that I wanted to write this play,” says Harris in describing how Holliday like so many people in the United States, and particularly in the entertainment industry, were wrongly accused of being communists and in most cases found that they were blacklisted.

Rather than dwelling on some of the challenges that life presented to Judy Holliday, such as her parents’ divorce, her mother’s attempted suicide, and Holliday’s premature death from breast cancer, Harris’ play focuses on the strength of Holliday’s character, and a fact often forgotten, that the actress who was most often cast as a ‘dumb blond,’ with a high pitched voice, in fact had an IQ of 172.

“A lot of people see her (Holliday) as a tragic figure, because she died so young and she could have had more of a career. I see her as a courageous figure, because she went to that testimony and she reversed the charges. She came out without naming any names, and I feel that she had more integrity to her name. Because not a lot of people know that, they consider her to be a tragic figure. I think that she is a courageous figure, because of her testimony,” says Harris. 

During her performance Harris creates very real scenes in which she is being interrogated by the Subcommittee, and also recreates a telephone conversation with leading Hollywood personalities, including Tallulah Bankhead; on the night that Judy Holliday won both an Academy Award for her Best Actress performance in All About Eve, in 1951. In 1956 Holliday won a Tony Award for her performance in Jule Styne’s Broadway production of Bells Are Ringing. Holliday was also cast in the film version of Bells Are Ringing.

After watching vintage films of Judy Holliday, it is truly remarkable to witness how Laura Harris brings her back to life, and that is due to a lot of hard work that Harris put into this project, as well as the fact that she is an incredibly gifted actress in her own right.

“I did a lot of research about the period, about McCarthyism, and the threats that were being made to all of the actors in the industry, as well as screenwriters and directors. I am kind of obsessed with that era. I have written another play that deals with the 1950’s and the 1960’s (based on the life of Tallulah Bankhead). I love watching the old movies, seeing how they walk, seeing how they talk and their mannerisms. I did a lot of research. In terms of how to prepare for Judy, I had to watch a lot of her movies so I  could see what her physical attributes were, as well as her gestures. I looked into her voice and her dialect, which is why I can get into the voice of Judy (who was from Queens New York). That takes away my Canadian accent,” says Harris, while noting, “I really like doing accents, and I feel that I am pretty strong at picking them up quickly. I did work with a dialect coach and she told me that I didn’t have anything to worry about. She gave me tips on some of the wording, but she said that I was on a good course with my accent.” Read more