2016-09-21 / Obituaries

Ann Harris

Ann Marie McCanless Harris, 90, was born in New York City to Anna Marie Driscoll and Frederick J. McCanless on January 31, 1926. Ann, a prolific songwriter, actress, dancer, playwright, and mother of six, passed peacefully in Kingston on September 10, 2016 following complications from a stroke.

Ann graduated from high school in Bronxville and attended Sarah Lawrence College. On June 18, 1948 she married WWII veteran, George Edgerly Harris II, soon to be a working actor, musician, and bandleader. They settled first in Bronxville and then in Clearwater, FL where they and their children founded the theater group, the El Dorado Players. In the 1960s the family moved to New York City where they became an integral part of the experimental off-off-Broadway theater scene.

Ann’s joie de vivre was an obvious fact of her personality. From childhood it sustained her through the loss of her parents in her teens, the Great Depression, and WWII. Her persistent positivity continues through her children and is reflected in the music and lyrics of her songs; songs that celebrate romance, whimsy, fashion, grit, enchantment and irony, and convey her lighthearted sense of humor. Whenever trouble came calling, Ann Harris came out singing. Her first songs, written in college, eventually kicked off a long string of Harris family musicals including Sky High, Razamatazz, Enchanted Miracle, Hibiscus, Gossamer Wings, Dear Friends of Allegro Sanitation, and Cheek To Cheek, just to name a few. As a dancer she helped choreograph most of them.

Ann’s songs were on display in performances by The Cockettes and The Angels of Light theater troupes founded by her son, George (aka Hibiscus), in shows written with and produced by her son Walter Michael, and songs she co-wrote with her son Frederic for Hibiscus and the Screaming Violets, a performance art show conceived and starring her son George and her daughters, Jayne Anne, Eloise and Mary Lou, in which Frederic also served as arranger and bandleader.

As a musical theater performer Ann toured Europe with the Angels of Light. As an actress she appeared at La MaMa ETC, Judson Poets Theater, the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater, Caffe Cino, Theater for the New City and in summer stock. Ann originated the role of Martha Truitt in Lanford Wilson’s, The Rimers of Eldritch, performed at La MaMa, and directed by the author. She was a favorite actress of the late, great off-off-Broadway playwright H.M. Koutoukas who directed her in several of his plays. Ann has a growing fan base for her portrayal of Doris Acker in the cult film classic, The Honeymoon Killers.

Ann, her husband George and their six children are considered off-off-Broadway pioneers. Her songwriting achievements have been recognized by ASCAP, celebrated in the media and cheered enthusiastically by audiences around the world. In recent years she has served as a consultant to authors, filmmakers and scholars interested in the 1960s and the off-off-Broadway movement. Her family’s story is documented in their memoir, Caravan to Oz: a family reinvents itself off-off-Broadway. www.caravantooz.com Ann’s motto was, “Dance while you can and don’t miss the magic.” She brought the magic wherever she went, and inspired others to do the same. She was a resilient dreamer and a do-er with pride in her family, an intense zest for living, and a gift for making each person feel capable, qualified, intelligent, beautiful and loved. During her final years, grandchildren Quinn Taylor Kelley, Montana Eloise Parveen Damone and Miles Vincent Pietsch robustly gave “Nana” great joy as charter members of her “club,” and as her confidantes and best buddies.

Ann was preceded in death by her husband, George and her son, George Edgerly Harris III.

She is survived by her children Walter Michael Harris (Patricia Mansfield), Frederic Joseph Harris (Josephine Monaco), Jayne Anne Harris (Thomas Kelley), Eloise Alice Harris (Joseph Damone) and Mary Lucille Harris (James Pietsch), 12 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren, all of whom have learned her songs and acquired her sunny outlook.

A memorial service will be held Friday, Sept. 30 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. with a service at 7 p.m. at Hynes Funeral Home, 48 Walnut Street, Margaretville.

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