Barbara Harris in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”

I’m a big fan of Barbara Harris, make no bones about it. She’s a fascinating performer with a unique comic sensibility. For musical theatre fans, she’s most famous for her two back to back shows On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and The Apple Tree, earning Tony nominations for both (and a win for the latter). These are performances that theatregoers of the 1960s are still talking about today. I think in part it’s because Harris never returned to Broadway after The Apple Tree (Walter Kerr deemed her performance in the Bock & Harnick show “the square root of noisy sex”).

Harris found relative stardom in Hollywood in Robert Altman’s Nashville, Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot (as a phony medium), and as Jodie Foster’s mom in the first Freaky Friday. She was also Oscar nominated in 1970 for Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, but shifted out of show business in the 80s and 90s (her last film role was in Grosse Point Blank in 1997). In a 2002 interview she claimed that she was more interested in the acting process than fame or even being successful, and says she doesn’t miss performing (definitely our loss).

Here’s a glimpse at her performance in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, from a Bell Telephone Hour special on Alan Jay Lerner in 1966. She is joined by co-star John Cullum presenting a series of numbers (“Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here!,” “Melinda,” “On the S.S. Bernard Cohn,” “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” and the title song). The musical itself is truly original – Lerner was interested in exploring ESP and reincarnation. Originally I Picked a Daisy, it was to have a music by Richard Rodgers. However, Burton Lane eventually wrote the music (Lerner and Lane previously worked on the 1951 musical Royal Wedding for MGM).

The show played the Mark Hellinger Theatre for 280 performances. There was chaos during the try-out in Boston. Lerner was taking amphetamines at the time, and that got in the way of his writing. Original leading man Louis Jordan was let go in Boston, as were several other actors whose roles were eliminated. The show opened in NY to less than stellar reviews, but Harris’ kooky Daisy, a girl who hears phones before they ring and can talk flowers out of the ground, charmed audiences. The original cast album has preserved the best of the show – namely the cast and the beautiful score. There have been attempts to revise the show almost from the outset, but will be seen in a wholly new version opening on Broadway in the fall (Daisy is now David). And the less said about the 1970 film adaptation, the better.


5 thoughts on “Barbara Harris in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever””

  1. Barbara Harris is the best. I wish she had done more film roles, so that we could enjoy her talents that much more fully. Even her silent appearance in “Grosse Point Blank” was a master class in how to make the most of a supporting role.

  2. I’ve never seen “Grosse Point Blank” – I had no idea her performance was silent! She’s a favorite of mine; and it’s a lot of fun to go back and watch her antics in “Freaky Friday” – what a talent!

  3. Barbara Harris was amazing in everything she did! It is a shame to see she is no longer acting. Her last film apperance was as Mary Blank, Martin Blank’s mother (played by John Cusack) in Grosse Point Blank (1997). Her apperance in that film is about 30 minutes from the start of the film and she is only on screen for less than 5 minutes. I really loved her comic charm in both Freaky Friday and Family Plot. Thanks for posting this!

  4. Don’t forget John Cullum who looks great and sounds fantastic here. Even better than on the OBC recording. I’m reminded that Burton Lane, well aware of the impending disaster, reasoned that if the play was going to fail he at least wanted to rescue his score. I believe he was highly influential in the decision to fire Jordan, although the final decision was made by Lerner. For more on the whole debacle and on Lerner’s drug addiction during this period I highly recommend Doris Shapiro’s highly entertaining, tell-all memoir “We Danced All Night.”

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