NY Mirror

The accent would be a huge problem, except that the character is actually a frustrated actress and major be-otch pretending to be Asian. At Café Edison, Harris—a fine-boned presence right out of Stage Door, but with a healthy sense of self-deprecation—told me the pretend shtick was her idea, and she used it in the workshop version five years ago. She didn't get the part when the show launched, but when Pat Carroll vacated it, Harris stepped in and got to faux-dragon-lady it up again (but only after her real Asian co-stars told her, "It's so wrong, it's OK").

"We're not endorsing anything Mrs. Meers does," Harris told me. "She uses a bad accent. Is that really worse than sending girls away to white slavery?" Harris herself speaks quite well—she's a Juilliard grad from Fort Worth—and has turned up in everything from Frasier (as the "nightmarish yet effective" agent) to Memento, in which she's "got a real problem." On TV, she said, "I'm ridiculous, power hungry, or snappy women. In film, I've played people who are down and out, sad, and thwarted." Does she ever get to play ingenues? "Ingenues?" she shrieked. "Aren't you cute? My, you must be everyone's favorite person!" Yeah, I am pretty popular.

She can do it all, actually, but Harris is amazingly humble about it. She said she hates being photographed so much that she cried when she posed for her last head shot. (Funny, I sob when I'm not being photographed.) As for Millie, "I was always afraid they were gonna cut my song ['They Don't Know'] and say, 'You're not a singer.' But they never did!" Of course not—it's fab. Isn't this show bringing her to a new plateau? "Not that I'm aware of!" she insisted. "Nothing is happening." But she just got Drama Desk and Tony nominations, though award talk reminded Harris that when she was in Jeffrey, a friend told her, "I smell Obie." Co-star Edward Hibbert ended up getting the award, so Harris reminded the pal, "I thought you smelled Obie" and he shot back, "I did, it just wasn't yours."

Terrified of her close-up: Thoroughly Modern Millie's Harriet Harris.
photo: Richard Mitchell
Terrified of her close-up: Thoroughly Modern Millie's Harriet Harris.

I like this woman. Take it away, Larry King: She only plays a snaggle-toothed meanie.

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