By Walter Michael Harris
Ann Marie McCanless Harris, 90, a prolific songwriter, actress, dancer, playwright, and mother of six, passed away peacefully in Kingston, NY on September 10, 2016.
Born in New York City on January 31, 1926, Ann graduated from high school in Bronxville, NY and attended Sarah Lawrence College. In June 1948, she married WWII veteran, George Edgerly Harris Jr., soon to be a working actor, musician, and bandleader. They settled first in Bronxville and then in Clearwater, FL where their children founded The El Dorado Players theater group. In 1963, the family returned to New York City where they became an integral part of the experimental off-off-Broadway theater scene.
Ann’s joie de vivre was an obvious fact of her personality. From childhood it sustained her through the loss of her parents in her teens, the Great Depression, and WWII. Whenever trouble came calling, Ann Harris came out singing. Her songs, first written in college, eventually kicked off a long string of acclaimed Harris family musicals, many of which were performed in West Village venues. As a dancer, she helped choreograph most of them.
Ann’s persistent positivity is reflected in the music and lyrics of her songs. They celebrate romance, whimsy, fashion, grit, enchantment, and irony, and convey her lighthearted sense of humor. Ann’s songs were on display in performances by The Cockettes and The Angels of Light theater troupes founded by her son, George III (a.k.a. Hibiscus), and in shows written with and produced by her other children: Walter Michael, Frederic, Jayne Anne, Eloise, and Mary Lou.
As a musical theater performer, Ann toured Europe with the Angels of Light, appeared at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, Judson Poets Theater, Caffe Cino, Theater for the New City, and in summer stock. She was a favorite actress of Village playwrights Lanford Wilson and H.M.Koutoukas, and has a growing fan base for her portrayal of Doris Acker in the cult film classic, The Honeymoon Killers. Many Villagers remember the glittering billboard over Sheridan Square announcing Hibiscus and the Screaming Violets—an art-rock act starring her children, playing and singing her songs.
Ann, her husband George and their six children are considered off-off-Broadway pioneers. Her motto was, “Dance while you can and don’t miss the magic.” She brought the magic wherever she went, and inspired others to do the same. Her family’s story is documented in their memoir, Caravan to Oz: A family Reinvents Itself Off-Off-Broadway. www.caravantooz.com
Ann Harris was a resilient dreamer and a doer with pride in her family, an intense zest for living, and a gift for making each person feel capable, qualified, intelligent, beautiful, and loved. She was preceded in death by her husband, George, and by her son George III. She is survived by five children, 12 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren, all of whom have learned her songs and acquired her sunny outlook.