Mary Cleere Haran: Actress and singer devoted to the Great American Songbook

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The Independent Online

Mary Cleere Haran was a singer, actress and writer whose performances and recordings added new perspectives to the Great American Songbook. Starting in 1985, when she made her debut on the New York cabaret scene, Haran quickly established herself as a talented, witty and appealing performer. "She epitomises an idea of glamour that's the quintessence of New York," Charles Isherwood said in Variety, "or at least the imaginary one of yore: elegant, urbane, a little naughty."

Haran's understanding of and great affection for the work of such songwriters as Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins, Cole Porter and Harold Arlen led her into creating a series of theme-oriented performances, some in intimate cabaret settings, others on theatrical stages. Among them were a celebration of the 100th birthday of the writer Dorothy Parker; A Fine Romance, which explored the music of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields; The Memory of All That, an overview of the George and Ira Gershwin catalogue; shows dedicated to Doris Day and Johnny Mercer; and in 1995 a 100th anniversary show dedicated to the lyrics of Lorenz Hart.

Hart was a particular favourite:at one performance she did in theOak Room of the Algonquin Hotel in New York she reminisced about growing up when everything musical was Rodgers and Hammerstein, untilshe learned about Rodgers' earlier partner, the cigar-smoking, boozy,gay Lorenz Hart. "I couldn't believe it," she gasped. "Richard Rodgers wrote songs with a degenerate? It was like when I heard Anne Bancroft was married to Mel Brooks."

Mary Cleere Haran was born in 1952 in San Francisco, the second of eight children. Her father taught theatre and film at San Francisco City College. Encouraged by her Irish mother, she learned how to step dance and also (unsuccessfully) tried the violin. "So I started to sing the notes," she recalled, "and discovered I had a good voice." After a flirtation with the hippie movement in Haight-Ashbury during the 1960s she returned to music, evolving a style which grew out of her affection for the singing of such stars as Judy Garland, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney. When, at 19, she saw a Peggy Lee rehearsal, she embarked upon a career as a performer, but it was eight years before her Broadway debut in The 1940s Radio Hour. Off-Broadway roles in Manhattan Music, Swingtime Canteen and Heebie Jeebies followed, and a recurring part on TV in 100 Centre Street.

Her first record was There's a Small Hotel: Live at the Algonquin (1992). Two years later came This Heart of Mine: Classic Movie Songs of the Forties, followed by This Funny World: Mary Cleere Haran Sings Lyrics by Hart (1995), Pennies From Heaven: Movie Songs of the Depression Era (1998), The Memory of All That: Gershwin on Broadway and in Hollywood (1999) and Crazy Rhythm: Manhattan in the 20s (2002).

Outside the cabaret circuit, Haran worked on a number of PBS documentaries, including Doris Day: Sentimental Journey, Remembering Bing, Michael Feinstein's The Great American Songbook, Irving Berlin's America, and Satchmo. Haran died after bicycling to deliver her resumé to a hotel in Deerfield Beach, Florida. She was hit by a car and never regained consciousness.

Frederick Nolan

Mary Cleere Haran, singer and actress: born San Francisco 13 May 1952; married secondly Joe Gilford (marriage dissolved; one son); died Deerfield Beach, Florida 5 February 2011.