Julius Harris

Actor who broke with black stereotypes but is still best remembered as a Bond villain
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The Independent Online

It is a pity the African-American character actor Julius Harris is best remembered for his role as Tee-Hee, the hitman with a deadly mechanical arm, in Live and Let Die (1973), Roger Moore's first outing as James Bond. Harris created one of the most menacing villains in a Bond movie, but the fact that Live and Let Die is not mentioned in any book about black cinema is telling: its objectionable depiction of cartoonish black villains, drug barons and voodoo worshippers was hardly progressive.

Julius Harris, actor: born Philadelphia 1923; married (one son, one daughter); died Woodland Hills, California 17 October 2004.

It is a pity the African-American character actor Julius Harris is best remembered for his role as Tee-Hee, the hitman with a deadly mechanical arm, in Live and Let Die (1973), Roger Moore's first outing as James Bond. Harris created one of the most menacing villains in a Bond movie, but the fact that Live and Let Die is not mentioned in any book about black cinema is telling: its objectionable depiction of cartoonish black villains, drug barons and voodoo worshippers was hardly progressive.

Sometimes credited as Julius W. Harris, this impressive actor was born in Philadelphia and gained early stage experience in a touring production of James Baldwin's The Amen Corner. With a cast headed by Claudia McNeil as Sister Margaret, the tour included an engagement at the Edinburgh Festival in 1965, followed by a London run at the Saville Theatre. On returning to America, Harris joined the distinguished Negro Ensemble Company in New York. By that time he had already made his film début in Nothing But a Man (1964), Robert Young and Michael Roemer's acclaimed low-budget, independent drama.

This simple story of Duff, an African-American railroad labourer (Ivan Dixon) and his efforts to earn a living, support his family and exist with some dignity, won international acclaim. Harris played Duff's self-destructive father, ill and embittered, old before his time, who has taken refuge in alcohol. Now recognised by film scholars as one of the best black-oriented American films of the 1960s, it should be revived more often.

In the 1970s Harris became a familiar face in the movies, appearing in some of the most popular Blaxploitation features ( Trouble Man, Shaft's Big Score, Super Fly, Black Caesar, Hell Up in Harlem) as well as the remake of King Kong (1976), Looking for Mr Goodbar (1977) and Islands in the Stream (1977). There were good opportunities for character roles in the superb thriller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), starring Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau, and the hit comedy Let's Do It Again (1975).

He also found regular work in television, appearing in episodes of many top-rated shows of the 1970s ( N.Y.P.D., Harry O, Sanford and Son, Kojak, Incredible Hulk) and made-for-television movies and mini-series including Victory at Entebbe (1976), in which he portrayed Idi Amin, and Rich Man, Poor Man (1976). In the 1980s he appeared in Cagney and Lacey, Hart to Hart and Benson, and supported Louis Gossett in A Gathering of Old Men (1987), one of the decade's best black-oriented television movies.

Harris was recently honoured by the Directors Guild for his pioneering work in helping to break away from the stereotypical portrayal of African-Americans on stage and screen.

Stephen Bourne



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