Thursday, December 2, 2010

Celebrating Julie Harris at 85 (Voices redux)

Some people hear voices when no one is there. In April 1972, I saw Voices, and there was certainly someone there: Julie Harris. The play ran for only eight performances at The Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway. It was poorly reviewed but I enjoyed it.

The primary characters are a troubled couple caught in an old dark house trapped by a snowstorm. They hear voices, a ball bounces down a stairway, and ghosts may or may not be in attendance. I recall a plot twist at play’s end indicating that the two are actually the ghosts, having been killed in an automobile accident prior to their appearance at the house. Modern day summaries on theatre websites indicate otherwise.

Voices featured Julie Harris, a national treasure, and Richard Kiley some seven years after his success in jousting at Broadway windmills.

As to Julie Harris, I was enthralled. I could watch her play cards for three hours -- which I did some 25 years later in the Broadway revival of The Gin Game. As to Richard Kiley, windmills to the contrary notwithstanding, I carried a grudge. I could never, ever, forgive him for killing Moe in Pickup on South Street. Being a communist? Yes. Killing Moe? No.

But there is an epilogue to this story of Voices. One Miss Lisa Essary appeared as a child in the play. She was the stepdaughter of Mafia gangster Joey Gallo. After the April 6 performance, a Gallo entourage collected Lisa at the theatre, celebrated at the Copacabana, and in the wee hours of morning, went to Umberto’s Clam House for a repast. They were joined after a while by a group of assassins from a rival Mafia gang with weapons drawn. Some twenty shots were fired, and Joey Gallo’s life and celebrity ended under a restaurant table. It is said that revenge is a dish best served cold.

Young Lisa Essary and her newly widowed mother survived. It was the morning of April 7. After the April 8 performance, Voices closed. As far as I know, the play’s demise was not related to that of Mr. Gallo’s.

Voices. Voices and ghosts. Some from a stage, some from a restaurant in Little Italy, all from long ago.

Julie is at Cape Cod these days, but Richard Kiley died in 1999. Ms. Lisa Essary is a successful casting director.

An afterword: This, first posted in January 2010, is reissued in commemoration of Julie Harris's 85th birthday.


  1. Very nice tribute. Thank you for re-posting this because I'm afraid I missed it the last time. My best wishes to Ms. Harris for a happy birthday, and to Ms. Essary for continued success and safety.

  2. Thank you Tom. I always appreciate your visits. This was posted in my first month when, I suspect, Matthew Coniam was my only reader. I have always adored Julie Harris, which is why I was at the ill fated “Voices.” Best. Gerald.

  3. Gordon, thank you so much for becoming a follower of my blogspot, because I now have an opportunity to visit with you. I enjoyed your post regarding Ms. Julie Harris immensely; I first became a fan after seeing her in “East Of Eden” opposite James Dean. I want to compliment you on your blogspot; it gives me the feeling of a place where I could spend my days talking and thinking about art, books, film and music, a bit like Shakespeare and Company (if you look closely you’ll see Hemingway, Joyce and Langston Hughes). Take care and I look forward to hearing from you, Karin.

  4. Thank you Karin. I came across your thoughtful comment on the excellent poster series Mark is doing on “Where Danger Lives.” These paths seem to be the way this Chinese checkerboard weblog connectivity works. And I traced back to your site (I really like your title), at which I found we have shared interests: books, film and jazz. Not to mention we both admire “The Endless Night: a Valentine to Film Noir” and “The Red Shoes.” And I, too, consider myself an “enthusiastic amateur.”

    Interesting to hear Langston Hughes mentioned again -- one never knows who will turn up in a comment. I think it makes more sense to include my jazz thoughts in response to your “Orchestra Wives” posting. Best. Gerald. (“Gordon Pasha” is a non de plume I ill-advisedly saddled myself with when I started and did not know the drill.)