Julie Harris brings depth and grace to one of history's most maligned first ladies in The Last of Mrs. Lincoln. This production, part of the Broadway Theater Archive series, has been adapted for television, but not intrusi... more »vely. Television allows for cuts and multiple viewing angles, but the feel of a play is very much here. The scenario follows Mary Todd Lincoln and the ill-fated Lincoln family from the year of the president's assassination through the end of Mary's life. The occasional bet-you-didn't-know historical anecdote is thrown in to the dialogue, but otherwise Mrs. Lincoln works well as a play and never feels like classroom fare. Harris reveals Lincoln's stubbornness and tunnel vision where her family is concerned but also lends her sympathy and humor. Though clearly a difficult woman to live with, she is hardly the vicious harridan who has come down through the historical rumor mill. Harris is bolstered by an excellent supporting cast, including Michael Christopher as the much put-upon Robert Lincoln, a young Robby Benson as Tad Lincoln, and Patrick Duffy as Mrs. Lincoln's favorite nephew, Lewis. --Ali Davis« less
"it's not the years that age us, but the loneliness"
Alejandra Vernon | Long Beach, California | 09/06/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1976 KCET production directed by George Schaefer is a re-creation of the 1972 Broadway play for which Julie Harris won one of her 5 Tony Awards.
Ms. Harris' performance will keep you riveted to the screen in this astounding portrayal of the ageing, troubled, and misunderstood Mary Todd Lincoln.
Exquisitely written by James Prideaux, it's a compassionate portrait of this first lady who's love for her husband made it so hard for her to live without him, and does give insight into certain things. It was Mary who installed many improvements in the White House (like plumbing !), and was never sufficiently renumerated for them by the government.The final seventeen years of her life depicted are not all doom and gloom, thanks to the script, which is balanced with wonderful wit. I love the dialogue with Senator Austin (well played by Denver Pyle) in a sparse hotel room in Frankfurt, as well as the repartee with a malicious gossip (deliciously played by Kate Wilkinson) during her 1875 stay in Springfield.The rest of the cast is excellent: Michael Christopher plays her son Robert, who was the only one of their children to live to full maturity, Robby Benson her beloved Tad (two other children had died previously), Priscilla Morrill and Ford Rainey play her her sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law Ninian, and Patrick Duffy their grandson, Edward Lewis Baker Jr.The costume design by Noel Taylor is marvelous, and I was especially delighted to see the reproduction of the beautiful gown adorned with flowers with matching flower headress seen in photographs of Mrs. Lincoln, and Ms. Harris wears it with beauty, grace and style.
Mrs. Lincoln died at age sixtythree in her sister's house in Springfield, the same house she was married in, and given the wedding ring with the inscription "Love is Eternal".
This is a remarkable drama for history buffs, and Julie Harris is truly the First Lady of the stage."
I Saw The Final Performance of "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln"
Oliver Penn | 06/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was fortunate to be in the audience for the final performance of Miss Julie Harris in "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln" on Broadway. When the curtain came down and the thuderous applause began, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. What can one say about Julie Harris's incredible performance? The entire cast was wonderful, of course, but we're talking about one of the First Ladies of the American Theatre here. My heart broke (along with everyone in the audience) when Mrs. Lincoln wrote (aloud) a letter to her beloved nephew. I tried desperately NOT to shed tears, but the floodgates were shattered all over the theatre. People were sobbing openly. I had seen nothing else that season, but was convinced that Julie would win the Tony Award for best actress. She did.Screams of "bravo!" greeted Miss Harris as she took bow after bow. I must put this performance along side Geraldine Page in "The Trip to Bountiful," Uta Hagen in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff," Cecily Tyson in "A Woman Called Moses," Jessica Tandy in "The Gin Game," Bette Davis in "All About Eve," and Gloria Foster in "A Hand is On The Gate.""
THE UNFORGETTABLE JULIE HARRIS
Santo Giglio | BROCKPORT, NY | 11/28/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I HAVE ALWAYS REGRETTED NOT SEEING MISS HARRIS ON BROADWAY IN THIS PRODUCTION. THE DVD WHICH I RECENTLY PURCHASED REMINDED ME HOW FORTUNATE THE WORLD OF THEATRE IS TO HAVE PRODUCED SUCH AN INCREDIBLE ACTRESS. THE PERORMANCES THROUGHOUT THIS PRODUCTION ARE OUTSTANDING AND I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS FOR ANYONE WHO TRULY APPRECIATES THEATRE AT ITS VERY BEST. AS ALWAYS, MISS HARRIS GIVES A PERFORMANCE WHICH COMPLETELY CAPTIVATES THE VIEWER. THIS IS NOT TO BE MISSED!"
What Becomes A Legend Most
James Morris | Jackson Heights, NY United States | 12/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first saw this play during previews of its disgracefully short Broadway run in 1973, and I knew serious theatre was in trouble when audiences simply didn't turn out for this magnificent and important play. I vividly remember that the first time I saw this show, shortly before the curtain rose, the ushers actually escorted members of the audience to better seats, moving us from the rear mezzanine to the front balcony. Without being asked! During previews! I don't ever expect to see that happen again in a Broadway theatre.
When the curtain rose, we were thrilled for a solid two-hours as Julie Harris, in one of the greatest performances I have ever seen on stage, convinced us that she WAS Mrs. Lincoln. The heartache, the loneliness, the humanity and the slow, gradual loss of her sanity were all conveyed convincingly and sympathetically. When I saw this show I was only 19 years old, yet it is one of the few Broadway performances I expect to remember for the rest of my life, mostly because of what happened the second time I saw it, toward the end of the run.
Business never picked up, and the show ran barely two months. We easily got cheap seats again, and at our second viewing, when the play ended, my boyfriend and I went to the stage door to see if we could get an autograph from Miss Harris. After a few minutes, a stagehand opened the door, and asked if we wanted to see her - of course we said yes - and he took us back to the dressing room area and asked us to wait. Imagine our thrill when Julie Harris emerged a short while later in a dressing gown, still in her makeup, and proceeded to speak to us for almost 45 minutes! She talked about the play, the history of Mrs. Lincoln, and especially how disappointed she was in the mixed critical reception that the play had gotten - "this brilliant piece that I am so privileged to appear in" is how I remember she put it. Of course, we spoke enthusiastically about the play and her performance, and I was genuinely touched when she said that she was glad to see that there were young people who could appreciate good theatre and good drama. In the end, I barely had the temerity to ask for her autograph (of course, I did) but she was so very gracious about it. I think that's the memory of the evening I cherish most - how down to earth she was, and how she took the time and interest to talk to two young theatre lovers. I remember seeing her on the Tony broadcast a month after the show closed (yes, she received the award for Best Actress in a Drama for the Last of Mrs. Lincoln) and in her acceptance speech she made it plain that she was disappointed in the critical and audience indifference to this great play. We agreed wholeheartedly, and we were happy that she had won, and that her performance had been vindicated.
When I became aware that there was a DVD of the PBS TV version (which I was never aware of until it became available) I pestered the manager of my local video store until it arrived.
Since then, I have watched the DVD three times, and the piece is just as exciting to me as it was when I saw Miss Harris perform it on stage. I heartily recommend it as both an excellent drama and an eye-opening history lesson. This is what good theatre is about, and this is what DVD's were invented for.
And Julie Harris is what legends are made of."
"I live from dream to dream--it is NOT better than death."
Mary Whipple | New England | 01/15/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Written by James Prideaux and directed by George Schaeffer, this adaptation of the play for which Julie Harris won the Tony Award in 1973, is a stunning example of great theater commissioned for television. Seemingly without friends or allies after the death of Abraham Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln (Julie Harris) is at odds with the world. Her sister and southern relatives have always believed Lincoln beneath her. Congress has refused to reimburse her for installing central heating and indoor plumbing in the White House, and they have refused to approve her pension. The press uses her vituperation to their own advantage, and the fates have taken two of her sons before adulthood.
Julie Harris creates a Mrs. Lincoln who is full of passion and afraid of no one, a woman who is willing to go to any extreme to protect her husband's memory. Bright, often amusing, and very astute, she is also extremely vulnerable, sick with loneliness and worry, and too prideful to bow to politicians. As she moves to Germany, Chicago, St. Augustine, France, Spain, and ultimately back to Springfield, Illinois, always trying to find peace, her lack of contact with reality becomes obvious, though her commitment to her husband's memory never waivers.
A very young Robbie Benson as Tad elicits great sympathy as he tries to help his mother while dying of tuberculosis. Michael Christofer as Robert Todd Lincoln, the scapegoat for his mother's rage, maintains his patient firmness with her but reflects the enormous difficulties of dealing with a self-destructive parent. Denver Pyle as a frustrated Senator Austin locks horns with Mary in a couple of dramatic and hot-tempered scenes, revealing his own love of power in holding up her pension. All the supporting players are outstanding, with a young Patrick Duffy, as her grand-nephew Lewis, a particularly charming addition.
The production belongs to Julie Harris, as Mrs. Lincoln, however. Nominated for an Emmy for this production, she portrays Mrs. Lincoln as a woman full of maddening contradictions, alternating between anger toward Congress and solicitude toward her sick son, between good-hearted protectiveness and a need to dominate, and between independence and complete helplessness. Her range of emotion makes Mary Lincoln live and breathe, and even when Mary is in the grip of her demons, Julie Harris continues to present her as a sympathetic character. A fascinating psychological study of a much-maligned First Lady, this production was a great moment in public television, fortunately preserved. Mary Whipple "