Theresa Harris’ Hollywood


Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix show, Hollywood, is not only a guilty pleasure for classic film afficionados, but it is also a reminder of how far Hollywood has come and how far it still has to go. Soppiness aside, Hollywood is a revisionist tale that, unrealistic as it may be at times, shows you how Hollywood could and should have been all along. It is meant to be unrealistic and overly sentimental for a reason. Tinseltown’s treatment of all minorities has always been an issue and sadly, it remains that way to a certain extent and Hollywood makes no apologies as to how it wishes it could have rectified that. I, for one, appreciate it, even though I find its dismissal of Pre-Code to be strange at best. If anything, those five years could have saved Hollywood from what it became, and yet Murphy makes no reference to it at all. Baby Face (1933) alone deserved a mention. And so did Theresa Harris. Her Chico, Barbara Stanwyck’s best friend in the film, may have been her biggest role, but the amount of times the words ‘maid’ and ‘uncredited’ show up under her filmography is a sad testament to how problematic Hollywood has always been. Theresa Harris was one of the many African-American actors who sadly never got to rise above the stereotypes. Her filmography was extensive (Hold Your Man (1933), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Out of the Past (1947), among many others…), she was a versatile actress, singer and dancer, she worked in all the major studios with nearly all the major stars and yet, she never got her due. Later in life, she said ‘I never felt the chance to rise above the role of maid in movies. My color was against me. […] My ambition was to be an actress. Hollywood had no parts for me.’. Maybe Theresa Harris could have been Camille Washington (Laura Harrier). We can only dream…

8 thoughts on “Theresa Harris’ Hollywood

  1. John A. Rizzo

    Carol, have you seen “Professional Sweetheart” (1933)? Theresa is a maid, as usual, but she steps out of that role and steps in to take Ginger Rogers’ place as a radio singer. A wonderful performance that should have led to larger roles, but didn’t.  I was actually thinking of Theresa Harris the other day while watching “Saratoga Trunk” (1945). I thought it was bizarre to see Flora Robson in the role of Ingrid Bergman’s dark-skinned maid when so many excellent black actresses were available. It’s a maid role again, but Theresa probably would have been great in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, I haven’t, but it’s on my list! 😀
      Yeah, that used to happen all the time, didn’t it, which is kind of depressing (Luise Rainer in The Good Earth for instance). Interesting to see how far Hollywood has come.


  2. MIKE Noonan

    I also enjoyed” Hollywood “. Looking forward to the second season. I was especially impressed with Joe Mantello who gave a very impressive and subtle performance. I was lucky to see him in the original Broadway production of “ angels in America “. Thanks for all the information on Theresa Harris . I never heard of her which I guess is actually your point. It’s sad that these African American actors and actresses were never able to show their potential.

    Liked by 1 person

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