In Remembrance: Julius Harris
Julius Harris, a black actor who helped to break down color barriers in the 1960s and 70s, has passed away Sunday October 17, 2004 in Woodland Hills, CA. He was 81.
Harris was born in 1923, though sources differ on whether it was in Philadelphia or New York City. His father was a musician and his mother danced at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Harris served in World War II as an Army medic. He left the service in 1950, working as an orderly and then a nurse, before settling in New York City.
Habituating a Greenwich Village bar, Harris befriended actors James Earl Jones, Yaphet Kotto, Louis Gossett, Jr. and others who also frequented the bar. Harris would often tease them for being out of work.
He landed his first role in the 1964 film about black life in the South Nothing But A Man, playing the alcoholic father of Ivan Dixon. Having no formal acting training, he showed up for his day of shooting intoxicated, feeling that was the best way to get into character. Telling in the story in an October 2003 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Harris stated, “ I was so embarrassed. So I went back home, sobered up and came back the next day and did the master [shot] in [one] take and close-ups in two [takes] and went home.”
Harris made only a few television and film appearances for the rest of the 1960s. In the early 1970s, he began a string of roles in several big blaxploitation films including Shaft’s Big Score (1972), Superfly (1972), Black Caesar (1973), Hell Up In Harlem (1973) and Friday Foster (1975).
It was in the midst of his run of appearances in blaxploitation films that Harris was cast as the villainous henchman Tee Hee in the 1973 James Bond film Live And Let Die. During a meeting with director Guy Hamilton, it was Harris who suggested giving his character a hook for a hand. Harris also filmed the fight scene in a train car with a stunt double.
Harris also appeared in such films as King Kong (1976), Looking For Mr. Goodbar (1977), First Family (1980), My Chauffer (1986), Darkman (1990) and Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man (1991). His last film was 1994’s Shrunken Heads.
Harris also appeared in the 1982 Civil War television mini-series The Blue And The Gray and portrayed Ugandan President Idi Amin in the made-for-television film Victory at Entebbe (1976).