(Richard Sandomir’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/22.)

Barbara Harris, who was a founding member of the Second City improvisational theater and went on to win a Tony Award for her lead role in the musical “The Apple Tree” and to appear in films like “A Thousand Clowns” and “Nashville,” died on Tuesday in hospice care in Scottsdale, Ariz. She was 83.

Charna Halpern, a friend and a founder of the Chicago improv theater iO, said the cause was metastatic lung cancer.

Ms. Harris was part of a revolution in improvisation in Chicago — first with the Compass Players, whose members also included Mike Nichols, Elaine May and Ed Asner, and then with the Second City, which Paul Sills, her husband at the time, helped start in 1959.

She was the first performer seen onstage at the Second City’s opening night, singing “Everybody’s in the Know” while framed by a spotlight.

“It all began with Barbara Harris,” the Second City said on its website on Tuesday.

When a revue called “From the Second City” opened on Broadway in 1961, Ms. Harris was lauded by Howard Taubman of The New York Times for her “unusual and varied

talents.” He cited a “hugely diverting encounter” in a sketch in which she played an introverted girl and Alan Arkin played a guitar-playing beatnik spouting nonsensical lingo.

(Read more)

Photo credit: Leo Friedman, via Photofest

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