R.I.P. Cynthia Harris, who wooed King Edward in ‘Edward and Mrs. Simpson’ and played Sylvia in ‘Mad About You’
Cynthia Harris was destined to become an actor, even if no one else believed it. In a video interview for The Actors Company Theatre, which she co-founded in 1993, Harris revealed “My parents didn’t approve of even thinking of acting.” But she was persistent. “The only thing I ever wanted for my birthday from the time I was old enough to speak practically was ‘I’d like to go see a play.’”
She began taking acting classes at age 12 and continued her studies at Smith College, where she graduated in 1955. Though she had the drive, breaking into the industry didn’t come right away. She worked as a stage manager and understudy for years before taking the stage herself.
She made her screen debut in the 1968 ballet film Isadora. A few years later she appeared in the Barbra Streisand movie Up the Sandbox helmed by Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner.
On television, she won roles in episodes of The Bob Newhart Show, Kojak and Three’s Company. She also starred in two short-lived sitcoms, Sirota’s Court with Michael Constantine and the hour-long comedy co-created by Joan Rivers Husbands, Wives and Lovers. In 1978, she played Wallis Simpson, an American woman who falls in love with England’s King Edward, in the 1930s historical miniseries Edward and Mrs. Simpson. The series won an Emmy Award and Harris was nominated for a BAFTA for her performance.
In the 1980s, Harris played Marcie Phillips in two episodes of Archie Bunker’s Place and had a regular role as Iris Hubbard in the first season of L.A. Law. She also appeared in Benson, The Powers of Matthew Star and The Equalizer.
On the big screen, she was in 1982’s Tempest with John Cassavetes and Susan Sarandon, the underrated gem Reuben, Reuben and the Tom Selleck-Steve Guttenberg-Ted Danson comedy Three Men and a Baby.
Harris’ best-known role came in 1993. She joined the Paul Reiser sitcom Mad About You as Reiser’s mom, Sylvia. She starred in the show from the second to the seventh season and even came back for the 2019 reboot.
Cynthia Harris passed away this week. She was 87.