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Harriet Elizabeth ABRAMS

Harriet Elizabeth ABRAMS[1]

Female 1916 - 2002  (85 years)

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  • Name Harriet Elizabeth ABRAMS 
    Born 23 Jun 1916  Fairbury, Jefferson, Nebraska Find all individuals with events at this location  [2, 3, 4, 5, 6
    Gender Female 
    Health Died from stroke complications. 
    History She was the famous actress, Irene Worth. SSDI states card issued in California before 1951.
    Biography - Irene Worth, CBE (June 23, 1916 – March 10, 2002) was an American stage and screen actress who became one of the leading stars of the English and American theatre. (She pronounced her given name with three syllables: "I-REE-nee".)

    Early Life
    Harriet Elizabeth Abrams was born in Fairbury, Nebraska to a Mennonite family. Her parents, Agnes Thiessen and Henry Abrams, were educators. Her father was superintendent of the county school system. In 1920, the family moved to Reedley, California, home of a large Mennonite community in the San Joaquin Valley. Her brother, Luke Evans of Los Angeles, remembers his sister reciting lines from "Romeo and Juliet" while she washed the dishes at the age of 12.
    The family moved to San Luis Obispo in 1928 and to Saticoy, near Ventura, in 1930, leaving the Mennonite culture behind and joining mainstream Protestant churches.
    Young Harriet started her secondary education at San Luis Obispo and Ventura high schools, but spent her last two years at Newport Harbor High School after her family moved to Costa Mesa, where her father took a superintendent job in 1931. She was president of the girls' glee club and appeared in "The Mikado" during her senior year, 1933.
    She attended Santa Ana Junior College (now Santa Ana College) for two years and then transferred to UCLA, continuing to appear in student plays, including "A Bill of Divorcement," "The Children's Hour" and "Ethan Frome" at UCLA.
    During her college years, she obtained a small role in a Hollywood movie, appearing as a courtroom witness with only one line, said her brother. An RKO director, Alfred Santell, urged her to pursue an acting career. But her mother was opposed to the idea.
    After the would-be actress graduated with an education degree in 1937, she began teaching kindergarten in Santa Ana. "But she became so fed up with doing what she didn't want to do, she became physically ill," said her brother.
    She moved to New York in 1942, using the stage name Irene Worth--which was on a list that had earlier been submitted to her by a studio executive. She got a job in a road tour of "Escape Me Never!" A year later she made her Broadway debut in "The Two Mrs. Carrolls," starring Elisabeth Bergner and Victor Jory. Worth later credited Bergner with urging her to go to England for classical training. She studied there with Elsie Fogerty, beginning in 1944, and made her London debut in "The Time of Your Life" in 1946.
    After decades in London, Worth's accent often sounded English. In Neil Simon's 1999 memoir "The Play Goes On," he recalled that after she was cast in "Lost in Yonkers" without an audition, he and director Gene Saks became concerned that she might not be able to pull off Grandma Kurnitz's German accent.
    They met with Worth for lunch in London and broached the subject indirectly. But the actress caught on, wrote Simon, and "she looked at us with a cold, chilling stare" and informed them that she hadn't auditioned in 42 years. The two men quickly dropped the subject. She then asked the waiter to bring the dessert cart. When he wheeled it to the table, she started deliberating out loud--in a German accent: "Should I haff ze strudel, or perhaps ze apple tart? Nein. I sink ze chocolate tart looks best, yah? Danke schoen."
    "She never looked at us or smiled," Simon wrote. "She was smarter than all of us. We had our Grandma Kurnitz."
    Worth, who never married, is survived by her two siblings.

    Shakespeare and the West End
    She joined the Old Vic company in 1951, worked with Tyrone Guthrie and there played Desdemona, Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Portia in The Merchant of Venice and her first Lady Macbeth. The company went off to South Africa with Worth as one of the leading ladies.
    In 1953, she joined the fledgling Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario for its inaugural season. There she was the principal leading lady, performing under an enormous tent with Alec Guinness in All's Well That Ends Well and Richard III. "Binkie" Beaumont brought her back to London in N. C. Hunter's "Chekhovian" drama, A Day by the Sea, with a cast that included John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. She joined the Midland Theatre Company in Coventry for Ugo Betti's The Queen and the Rebels. Her transformation from "a rejected slut cowering at her lover's feet into a redemption of regal poise" ensured a transfer to London, where Kenneth Tynan wrote of her technique: "It is grandiose, heartfelt, marvellously controlled, clear as crystal and totally unmoving."
    In the 1950s, Worth demonstrated her exceptional versatility by playing in the farce Hotel Paradiso in London with Alec Guinness, high tragedy in the title role of Schiller's Mary Stuart, co-starring Eva Le Gallienne; and on Broadway and Shakespearean comedy in As You Like It at Stratford, Ontario. In Ivor Brown's play William's Other Anne she played Shakespeare's first girlfriend Anne Whateley opposite John Gregson as Shakespeare.
    The RSC and the National
    In 1962, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, and it was there that she gave some of her greatest performances. She was Goneril to Paul Scofield's Lear in Peter Brook's acclaimed King Lear, the first of many collaborations with Brook. She recreated her implacable Goneril in the stark, black-and-white film version of this production. She repeated her Lady Macbeth and appeared again for Brook in Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Physicists. Playing an asylum superintendent, she showed the darker side of her acting. She then went to New York in 1965 for the opening of Edward Albee's enigmatic Tiny Alice, in which she co-starred with John Gielgud and which won her the first of her three Tony Awards.
    She returned to the RSC at the Aldwych to repeat her role. She worked with Peter Brook in Paris and also toured Iran with Orghast, Brook's attempt to develop an international theatre language. She joined the National Theatre at the Old Vic in 1968 to play Jocasta in Peter Brook's production of Seneca's Oedipus, again opposite Gielgud. She was proud to have been in Noël Coward's last play Suite in Three Keys, in which he himself made his last appearance on stage.
    Worth spent most of the 1970s in North America, apart from a season at the Greenwich Theatre in which she played Gertrude in Jonathan Miller's production of Hamlet. She played Hedda Gabler at Stratford, Ontario, which she considered one of her most satisfying achievements and which prompted Walter Kerr to write, in The New York Times, "Miss Worth is just possibly the best actress in the world."
    Worth played Princess Kosmonopolis in Tennessee Williams's Sweet Bird of Youth opposite Christopher Walken, which brought her a second Tony Award. She was Madame Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard, for which she received another Tony nomination and which featured Raúl Juliá, Mary Beth Hurt and Meryl Streep, whose career was in its beginning stages. Towards the end of the decade she played Winnie, in Beckett's Happy Days.
    Worth also appeared in the premiere of another Albee play, The Lady from Dubuque, which closed after twelve performances; a revival of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman; Toys in the Attic by Lillian Hellman; and The Golden Age by A. R. Gurney.
    The Later Years
    She starred as the goddess Athena in The National Radio Theater's 1981 Peabody Award-winning radio drama of The Odyssey of Homer. In 1984, Peter Hall invited her to return to the National Theatre to play Volumnia in Coriolanus, with Ian McKellen in the title role. The impresario Joseph Papp persuaded her to repeat Volumnia on Broadway in a production by Steven Berkoff, when she was once again partnered by Christopher Walken as Coriolanus. She was also seen in David Hare's The Bay at Nice (National, 1987) and in Chère Maître (New York, 1998 and Almeida, London 1999), compiled by Peter Eyre from the letters of George Sand and Gustave Flaubert.
    In 1991, she won a third Tony for her performance as the tough-as-nails Grandma Kurnitz in Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers, and later appeared in the film version along with Richard Dreyfuss and Mercedes Ruehl.
    In 1999, she appeared in the film Onegin. As she was about to begin preview performances in a Broadway revival of Anouilh's Ring Round the Moon, Worth had a stroke and never appeared in the production. She continued to act, however, right up until September 2001, when one of her last appearances was with Paul Scofield at the Almeida Theatre in the two-handed play, I Take Your Hand in Mine, by Carol Rocamora based on the love letters of Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper.
    During the mid-1960s in New York, Worth and Gielgud had collaborated in a series of dramatic readings, first from T.S. Eliot and Edith Sitwell and then from Shakespeare. It was a form of theatre at which she became more adept as she grew older, drawing from Virginia Woolf, Ivan Turgenev and Noël Coward among others. She referred to them as "her recitals". In the mid-1990s, she devised and performed a two-hour monologue, Portrait of Edith Wharton, based on Wharton's life and writings. Using no props, costumes or sets, she created characters entirely through vocal means.
    Personal Life
    The actress suffered a stroke Friday while at a Manhattan post office and died at Roosevelt Hospital, according to her sister, Carol Johnson of Santa Monica. She died Sunday following a second stroke, aged 85. At her memorial service, held at The Public Theater in New York City, speakers included Edward Albee, Christopher Walken, Mercedes Ruehl, Meryl Streep and Alan Rickman. There was also music performed by flutist Paula Robison and pianist Horacio Gutiérrez.
    • Daily Mail Television Award The Lady from the Sea 1953 - 54
    • British Film Academy Award Best British Actress Orders to Kill 1958
    • Page One Award Toys in the Attic 1960
    • Tony Award for Best Actress (Dramatic) Tiny Alice 1965
    • Evening Standard Award Suite in Three Keys 1966
    • Variety Club of Great Britain Award Heartbreak House 1967
    • Plays and Players London Theatre Critics Award Best Actress Heartbreak House 1967
    • Tony Award for Best Actress Sweet Bird of Youth 1975 - 76
    • Joseph Jefferson Award Best Actress in a Play Sweet Bird of Youth 1975 - 76
    • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress The Cherry Orchard 1977
    • OBIE Award Performance The Chalk Garden 1981 - 82
    • Emmy Award in PBS "Live From Lincoln Center: Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center with Irene Worth and Horacio Gutiérrez" 1986
    • OBIE Award Sustained Achievement 1988 - 89
    • Tony Award for Best Featured Actress Lost in Yonkers 1991
    • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress Lost in Yonkers 1991
    • Irene Worth was appointed an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1975.
    • Another Shore (1948)
    • One Night with You (1948 film debut)
    • Orders to Kill (1958) with Lillian Gish, directed by Anthony Asquith
    • The Scapegoat (1959) with Alec Guinness and Bette Davis
    • King Lear (1971) with Paul Scofield
    • Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) with Janet Suzman, Michael Jayston, Laurence Olivier, Jack Hawkins, Michael Redgrave and Harry Andrews
    • Happy Days (1980) (TV)
    • Eyewitness (1981) with William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and Christopher Plummer, directed by Peter Yates
    • Deathtrap (1982) with Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon, directed by Sidney Lumet
    • Separate Tables (TV) (1983) with Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Claire Bloom, directed by John Schlesinger
    • The Tragedy of Coriolanus (1984) (TV), directed by Elijah Moshinsky
    • Fast Forward (1985), directed by Sidney Poitier
    • Lost in Yonkers (1993) with Richard Dreyfuss and Mercedes Ruehl, directed by Martha Coolidge
    • Just the Ticket (1998) with Andy García and Andie MacDowell
    • Onegin (1999) with Ralph Fiennes, Toby Stephens and Liv Tyler, directed by Martha Fiennes 
    Occupation Teacher (1940), Famous Actress 
    Reference Number 001hr 
    Social Security Number 545-16-8244 
    Died 10 Mar 2002  Roosevelt Hospital, New York, New York, New York Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    • There's an interesting story told to me by my mother, Fern Mildred (Buller) Reddinger long ago.  When I was about 5 years old, she visited Irene’s (Harriet's) parents, Agnes and Henry Abrams in Los Angeles, California.  Henry got tears in his eyes when he looked at me and said I looked exactly like his daughter Harriet!  Then my mother explained to me that they'd disowned Irene Worth, the actress, since she ventured into the world of acting which was not acceptable to them at that time.  I never forgot that story and wanted for years to find out more about our connection.
      by Sheila Mae Reddinger (b.-1940), in a personal correspondence.
    Person ID I55938  Reid Family | Lynn's side of the family
    Last Modified 10 Sep 2013 

    Father Heinrich ABRAMS,   b. 21 Jan 1884, Asiatic Russia Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 13 Jul 1954, Tulare Co., California Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 70 years) 
    Mother Agnes THIESSEN,   b. 7 Feb 1890, Jansen, Jefferson, Nebraska Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 15 Jan 1971, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 80 years) 
    Married 8 Aug 1915  Nebraska Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID F37659  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 23 Jun 1916 - Fairbury, Jefferson, Nebraska Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - 10 Mar 2002 - Roosevelt Hospital, New York, New York, New York Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 
    Pin Legend  : Address       : Location       : City/Town       : County/Shire       : State/Province       : Country       : Not Set

  • Photos
    Abrams, Harriet Elizabeth-1916-1
    Abrams, Harriet Elizabeth-1916-1
    Abrams, Harriet Elizabeth-1916-2
    Abrams, Harriet Elizabeth-1916-2
    Abrams, Harriet Elizabeth-1916-3
    Abrams, Harriet Elizabeth-1916-3

  • Sources 
    1. [S423] Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry (GRANDMA 7.0), (Published by the Genealogy Project Committee of the California Mennonite Historical Society; 4824 East Butler Avenue, Fresno, California 93727-5097; Phone (559) 453-2225).

    2. [S202] Social Security Death Index (SSDI).

    3. [S239] United States Federal Census, Fairbury, Jefferson, Nebraska; Enumeration District #102, Pg. 28A.

    4. [S240] United States Federal Census, San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo, California; Enumeration District #40-19, Pg. 11A.

    5. [S241] United States Federal Census, Newport Beach, Orange, California; Enumeration District #30-54, Pg. 61B.

    6. [S404] Reedley, California, Mennonite Brethren Church records.