31 December 1911, Houston, Texas, USA
Theresa Harris appeared with more stars of the Golden Era of Hollywood than anyone else. She sang, she danced, appeared in films and TV. She graced the screen with her magnetic presence and most times stole scenes from the top stars of the day every chance she got and made a lot of dull movies worthwhile. Although stereotyped by receiving only maid...
Theresa Harris appeared with more stars of the Golden Era of Hollywood than anyone else. She sang, she danced, appeared in films and TV. She graced the screen with her magnetic presence and most times stole scenes from the top stars of the day every chance she got and made a lot of dull movies worthwhile. Although stereotyped by receiving only maid roles, Theresa stepped outside the stereotype any chance she got, to show she was glamorous, classy, beautiful, and a true actress. While she often played maids, she always showed dignity, grace, and demanded respect. Theresa didn't exactly fit the mammy/maid stereotype fore she was a beauty and petite, a stark contrast from Hattie McDaniel and Louise Beavers, and Theresa was one of the very few black women to not fit that stereotype on screen.There were quite a few films in which Theresa got a chance to let her light shine and make you forget her maid costume and see her as a talented actress. In the Pre-Code classic "Babyface," she and Barbara Stanwyck had equal time on screen, which was rare between black and white actresses at that time. Playing Chico, Stanwyck's friend than maid, Harris gave a moving and memorable performance that contributed to the film becoming one of the essentials of the classic genre. Theresa was allowed to be sexy, glamorous, and her own person, not simply a servant who jumped at her employer's every beck and call, a rarity for a black actress in a maid role in the 1930s, and a true friendship was shared between Stanwyck and Harris's characters, another rarity. In "Professional Sweetheart," starring Ginger Rogers, Harris played a spunky, sexy maid who teaches Ginger a thing or two about being "hot," and ends up replacing Rogers as a singer, and sings a hot song on the radio that turns on the white male listeners, another shocker and rarity at the time for a black actress. But, Pre-Code films always push the envelope, which shows in both "Babyface" and "Professional Sweetheart." Though Theresa played maid parts most of her movie career, she had showed moments of excellence in many roles such as "Professional Sweetheart" "Hold Your Man" "Babyface" "Black Moon" "Gangsters on the Loose" "Jezebel" "The Toy Wife" "Tell No Tales" "Buck Benny Rides Again" "Love Thy Neighbor" "Blossoms in the Dust" "I Walked With A Zombie" "Cat People" and others.Theresa was a versatile talent, besides acting, she could sing beautifully and dance divinely, when she had the chance in such films as "Thunderbolt" "Babyface" "Professional Sweetheart" "Banjo on the Knees" "Buck Benny Rides Again" "What's Buzzin' Cousin" and "The French Line." When Theresa got the chance to show her beauty and sex appeal, it was often with her screen boyfriend, Eddie Rochester Anderson, they were dynamic on screen together in "Buck Benny Rides Again" and "What's Buzzin' Cousin." In "Buck Benny Rides Again," Theresa and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson sing and dance a musical number, "My, My," that is the most memorable scene, where they sing and dance tap, classical, Spanish, and swing.Theresa Harris was perhaps the hardest-working woman in Hollywood, appearing in close to 90 films, working at every major studio with most of the big stars. She was respected by studio executives, producers, directors, and co-workers alike, who sometimes went out of their way to get her more lines and screen time. Harris married a doctor and retired from the movies in the late 1950s, living comfortably after having carefully invested the money she made during her career in the movies. She was a patient woman who never gave up hope that there would come a time when she would be able to play more than just maid roles. Nevertheless, in every role, she displayed class, dignity, beauty, and true acting talent, not simply the old stereotypes associated with black actors and actresses at that time.
[on the struggles she faced as a Black actress in old Hollywood] I never felt the chance to rise above the role of maid in Hollywood movies....
[on the struggles she faced as a Black actress in old Hollywood] I never felt the chance to rise above the role of maid in Hollywood movies. My color was against me. The fact that I was not 'hot' stamped me as either an uppity 'Negress' or relegated me to the eternal role of stooge or servant. I can sing but so can hundreds of other girls. My ambitions are to be an actress. Hollywood had no parts for me
Theresa Harris's FILMOGRAPHY
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