Actress Theresa Harris: Hollywood Vixen Turned House Servant

September 2, 2011  |  


Actress Theresa Harris was born in 1906 to sharecroppers Isaiah and Mable Harris in Houston, Texas. Harris had her first taste of Hollywood in 1929 when she sang in the movie “Thunderbolt”. Roles started pouring in after that. Despite her talent and beauty she would routinely be cast as maids.

They were significant movies. She played Ginger Rogers’ maid in “Professional Sweetheart” in 1933, Bette Davis’ maid in “Jezebel” and Maureen O’Hara’s maid in “Miracle on 34th Street”. She was known as a scene stealer from some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. She had the accolades, the work was consistent,  but the roles were always subservient.

Still Harris kept chugging away.

In fact, she appeared on the September issue of the 1952 Jet under the teaser “Theresa Harris: She still has faith in Hollywood after 20 years of maid roles.”

But her optimism didn’t last too long. In the mid- 1950’s Harris retired from acting. Having averaged a movie a year, according to the Jet interview , Harris was able to live comfortably off of her savings. Harris who married Joe Robinson, a doctor in 1933, died in October of 1985 at the age of 78.

Theresa Harris was largely overlooked in Hollywood and Black history until African American playwright Lynn Nottage stumbled across “Baby Face” in which Harris played Barbara Stanwyck’s friend. Nottage was so intrigued by the character that she wrote a Broadway play, featuring a character who shares her same plight. Nottage’s play, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” starred well-known film actress Sanaa Lathan. Through this play  short biographies, and the successes of modern day black actresses, Theresa Harris’ legacy and struggle live on.

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  • What movie is that second photo from?

    • MiaSara

      Babyface.
      A really good film!

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  • beca

    Interesting story…

  • MissJackieM

    I am a huge fan of of anything and everything that has to do with old black Hollywood and other entertainers from the 20th century !!

  • Lucille Love

    Philly artists love songs that will get you in the mood http://shar.es/HRbVf

  • IllyPhilly

    Much Better Ronnie!

  • Prissy

    This is a wonderful article! Please do more like these. 😉

  • skh_stellar_one

    *LIKE* I wanted to see the Nottage play but missed it. (I'm pretty sure…)

  • Isis

    Its a shame, but Hollywood hasnt changed much…

    • Lucille Love

      I agree Isis, Aries Spears said it best "don't piss off the white people in Hollywood"!!!