I have always been very cautious in choosing mortal features which would represent those of Our Lady. That's why I especially like to work with silhouettes. Each viewer can see her as they wish. But in 1976, or thereabout, I came across the English actress, ROSEMARY HARRIS. She was performing the lead role in the PBS series, NOTORIOUS WOMAN, for which she won an Emmy. It was this performance which introduced me to the face that I felt most defined the beauty of Our Lady.
Three years later Rosemary reappeared in the seven-and-a-half hour NBC mini- series, "The Holocaust". This film literally changed my life and my way of viewing the world. I felt such shame. I was thirty years old! And I knew absolutely nothing about the events that occurred not that long ago. Did I not learn anything about the Holocaust in school? Probably not; though I was educated by German nuns, many of whom could have lived in Germany during this infamous time. Why didn't they talk about it? Why were they so silent about sharing the available truths? Were any of them akin to the brave Catholics who hid Jews in their basements?
I watched the mini-series religiously. Every word was sacred, every moment, every action. And when the series ended, I rushed to the libraries and book stores to secure all the information I could collect on the subject. And today, I still review these texts with utmost reverence.
Rosemary's performance in "The Holocaust" was the force that led me to take a stand through my art. THE MADONNA OF THE SLAUGHTERED JEWS was birthed through her inspiring portrayal of the atrocities forced upon millions and millions of people of many faiths and nationalities, but especially the Jews.
In 1979, after watching the entire mini-series, I began sketching this Madonna which has become my all time favorite drawing. After struggling at the laborious stippling - not only one coat, or even two, but three coats of polka-dotting, which took two hundred hours, I took a snapshot of the drawing, wrote a letter to Rosemary, and sent it to NBC. I didn't think I'd ever hear from her.
Ten years later a letter arrived, written in long hand, dated October 15, 1989.
"Many years ago NBC forwarded me your letter and a photograph of your pen and ink drawing, "Madonna of the Slaughtered Jews". I was most impressed with your drawing, and intended to write and tell you so - but your letter was misplaced.
"I am writing now - but am not sure if you will receive my letter - as all this was so long ago.
"Do you still have the drawing? I wonder if you would be interested in selling it to me?
"Yours very sincerely,
I wrote back - something to the effect that I did still have the drawing. But I would not sell it. If she would accept it as a gift, then yes, she was to consider it hers!
I had given the original drawing to my parents. It hung in their home for a decade. But when Rosemary's letter came, asking if it was still available, I asked if they'd give it up. And they graciously agreed.
After receiving my response to her letter, Rosemary phoned me on the eve that she was to leave for Russia. She told me that she was going to be away for awhile, teaching and coaching in Russian theatres. Oh, how pleased I was to learn that even Russia knew of her! She promised to contact me upon her return.
She did write when she returned, and this is when I realized that Rosemary was unaffected by her fame. Her gentleness and sincerity, quite unbelievable.
It would be two years before we would actually meet face to face, and the miracle of it all is that the meeting was unplanned. In October of 1991, my parents, my aunt from Sioux City, Terry Murphy, and I travelled to Washington, D.C. and New York. My mother and aunt had accompanied me to my art shows in the east several times. But this was the first time my father had been to New York since he served in World War II. We were all quite excited about being in the East.
We only planned a couple of days in New York. While my mother was thumbing through the ads to see what was playing on Broadway, she saw that Rosemary was performing in "Lost In Yonkers". Obviously we all decided to see her show, along with "The Secret Garden". I phoned ahead and left a message at the theatre. I asked if it would be possible to meet Rosemary after the show. When I hung up the phone I wondered if she'd get my message - or even remember who I was.
We joined my two New York artist-friends, Cinda Sparling and Sister Margaret Beaudette, before the play and chose a lovely French restaurant to eat supper. Then we all went to enjoy Neil Simon's play. We were all in awe of Rosemary's performance. She's such a powerful actress. After the play, Cinda suggested that I meet Rosemary alone. No, I wanted to share this experience with the dearest people I know. We all marched up two steep flights of stairs and into her dressing room - only to experience the warmth and tenderness of this living "star." She did remember me, and treated us all like we were kings and queens.
One of the first things Rosemary said to me was, "I worried most of the day. I wondered what you might think of my role as Grandma Kurnitz. She's so stern, and unlike Bertha Weiss (her role in The Holocaust)." I assured her that the role suited me fine, thinking to myself that there's not a role she could play, of which I would not approve. We all chatted. Rosemary talked about my art; I, hers. She brought-up, as she always does, her dear friend, Dame Felicitas. And then we all gathered around for a group photo which is, today, revered by all. This night, October 31st, was our last evening in New York City. And meeting Rosemary for the first time was the grandest finale I could have imagined.
Six months later I wrote to Rosemary, who was still performing on Broadway, and asked if she'd consider doing a commentary about how she sees my art. And to tell a brief history about her performance in "The Holocaust" --- and her reaction to her face being used as my MADONNA OF THE SLAUGHTERED JEWS. As usual, she was gracious and warm, agreeing to my request.
I made arrangements to hurriedly ship the original drawing to Rosemary in New York. I wanted the picture to appear in the background while she spoke.
We met again on April 23, 1992, where we actually filmed her commentary about my artwork for the video, "A Seeing Heart". She opened the door to her 32nd floor apartment at the Ritz-Plaza, and to my astonishment, wore no makeup. This thrilled me to death. I can't imagine another actress doing this. But she is so unpretentious - that she didn't even think about it, I'm sure. When the crew arrived to set-up their equipment, and after they'd discussed the technical plans, only then did Rosemary excuse herself to "put on her face." And later, while the cameramen was trying to focus Rosemary and my drawing of her, (which was hanging on the wall behind her,) she wondered if she should change her blouse to match the one she'd worn for the drawing. She said, "I chose to wear this blouse for you." It was black and white. And I am certain that she was referring to my silhouettes being black and white - perhaps thinking, too, that her commentary was going to deal with the Holocaust.
During the first take of the actual filming of the footage for the video, Rosemary read from cue cards which she'd prepared. (I can't believe that I didn't ask her for them when she had finished. They should have been placed in the archives.) The second and third takes were performed in pieces. And dear Rosemary kept turning toward me and asking, "Are you certain that the editors can put this all together?" Even though I wasn't sure of anything, I comforted her, "Absolutely certain!"
But during the final take, something extraordinary occurred. From the position where I was standing, I could only see Rosemary's profile. But I could see the full face of the cameraman, and he became exceptionally nervous. I wasn't certain, myself, what was happening. While she was talking about entering the gate of the concentration camp, during the 1979 filming of "The Holocaust", she began to cry. The cameraman looked at me with great discomfort, and motioned, or questioned, should he stop rolling. I shook my head from side to side: "No!" She continued to tell her story, and finally, she asked if she could stop for a moment to pull herself together.
I was so moved. I thought, throughout the tearful filming, how appropriate this fragment would be. Even though Rosemary had no idea what my intentions were, I knew that tears would merge each of the Holocaust sections together.
The filmer told her not to worry, that the editors could eliminate that entire portion of film. Later, Rosemary told me that if I chose to use the weeping scene, that it would be all right with her, for it sincerely came from the heart. She also told me that it was the first time she was ever able to cry over the Holocaust, and that it was good to release her feelings after all these years.
When the final take was finished, and the cameramen were disassembling their equipment, I asked the photographer if he'd snap a couple photos of Rosemary and me together. He took my new Olympus IS-1 and clicked a few images. Then Rosemary asked him to do the same with her camera. She explained to the shooter that something or another wasn't working quite right. He was able to work around the problem. While the crew were disassembling their equipment, Rosemary became fascinated with the Olympus. I was tickled to learn that there was something I could secure for her - as a small token of my appreciation. I mentally made plans to spend the next day camera shopping.
After the film crew left her apartment, Rosemary and I chatted, while we waited for her husband, John, to return. The three of us went to a quaint restaurant for lunch, and then Rosemary and I went back to her dressing room at the theatre. She selflessly gave me five hours in which we visited continually.
I asked her so many things. One questions that popped into my head was, whether Jennifer Ehle, her daughter, had watched " THE HOLOCAUST". Rosemary shook her head: "No, I didn't want her to see her mother walk to the gas chamber. She was only twelve, then." I asked if she'd seen it now that she's an adult. Rosemary said yes. And that she was most impressed. And proud.
Rosemary's part in THE HOLOCAUST took six weeks to film. And as we spoke about it, she told me that this was the first time she had been away from her daughter for any period of time. She felt all right about it because she believed in the role, and she knew that Jennifer was in the very capable hands of her loving father.
During the weeks of filming in Vienna and Germany, she also remembers that the actors would assemble after each day's filming to encourage each other. She didn't recall any festive assemblies; all of the actors took their roles extremely seriously.
Rosemary reminisces about her role: "I have a deep infinity ... and looking back on filming The Holocaust, it's almost as if it was another life. I remember moments of standing at the closed station gate - Fritz on one side with his brief case, coat and hat on; and the clothes; I think the clothes were what evoked it more for me than anything. The moment they started filming me in those clothes at the station gate - with the children and me on the other side, it was as if it had happened to me."
After we'd finished an intriguing interview, we went our separate ways. We said our goodbyes, embraced, and promised to keep in touch. Rosemary walked back to her apartment. I walked toward the Leo House where I was staying. We were both exhausted.
The next day I went camera shopping and was pleased to learn that in New York City, the same camera was less expensive than in my part of the world. The salesman at the camera shop said that since I was the first customer of the day, he'd give me the camera for $300. This was unheard of, since I'd paid nearly $500 for it in Albuquerque. I agreed, and he said that he'd send his runner across to their warehouse for the camera. After waiting for nearly half an hour, I asked the salesman why I couldn't have one of the cameras that were way-up on the top shelf. He told me that those boxes were empty - for security reasons - and that all cameras were stored in their warehouse. I shrugged my shoulders.
Finally the camera showed up. I put it on my Visa card and went to my hotel room. However, I had a funny feeling about this whole ordeal, so as soon as I left the store and was out of sight, I opened the box to see if the camera had its insides. It did. So I took it back to my hotel room and thoroughly inspected it. To my amazement it was fine. But just to be safe, I gave Rosemary the camera I'd purchased in Albuquerque. And took the new one home with me. (It works fine!) Cinda, my artist-friend, told me that she suspected that it may have been stolen. What took the runner so long, was, that he'd had to copy the direction booklet on a Xerox machine. Luckily, I had the original that came with my camera with me. I also gave it to Rosemary. Oh, what a mess that was. But it all came out O.K. And I can only hope that the camera shop was on the up and up. I kept thinking that they wouldn't have accepted Visa if it was a stolen article. Would they?
Upon returning to Albuquerque, I steadily worked on the video, looking over the shoulders of the two editors. During the final days of the project, we were held-up by complications. Securing permissions for the use of film footage and photos literally took me a year's worth of letter-writing and phone calls.
As the completion of the video neared, I lacked photos of Rosemary, which I desperately needed to cover my audio introduction of her. I phoned her husband, John, at their North Carolina home, and asked if he could help. John said that if Rosemary gave her approval, which I knew she would, he'd be happy to go through her files and send me the needed pictures. Rosemary was performing LOST IN YONKERS in England. John gave me their daughter's phone number in London, and I contacted Jennifer, and asked her to put me in contact with her mother. A few hours later, Rosemary called me from Birmingham. She apologized for not sending me the pictures earlier, but said that her photos were not organized well enough for John to know what pictures were where. She'd prefer to ask a fan in England to loan me some of his pictures. This made me uncomfortable. I hate borrowing things of dire value. I decided to contact the owners of the film, THE HOLOCAUST, and ask permission to use shots from the film. It didn't take me long to get to the right source.
When I spoke with Andrea Kaplan of Worldvision Home Videos, asking permission to use eight photos of Rosemary from the 1979 film, Andrea said that the committee agreed, but they needed a letter stating which photos I intended to use.
Well, "El Stupido" (as I refer to myself quite often) wrote the letter and listed fourteen photos - from which I intended to choose eight. The lengthy, detailed account of what I wanted to do must have scared them off, because Andrea faxed me a letter stating that they'd decided to allow me to use just one, still, black and white photo which they'd supply. " No, no, no," I wrote back. I asked them to please reconsider. "One photo will not help me." And anyway, when Andrea had said "yes" over the phone, I booked hours of studio time, and patiently scanned the seven hour video for just the right shots. Since the eight photos were chosen, edited, and recorded - I decided to send Worldvision a copy of Rosemary's commentary, and my introduction to her - where the eight shots were used. Evidently they liked what they saw, because another fax arrived, this time stating that a contract was on its way. This was a time for rejoicing, because, after the royalties were paid, the video was finally completed.
Before we actually met for the first time, Rosemary wrote to me about Dame Felicitas Corrigan, a renowned, cloistered, Benedictine nun and author from the famous Stanbrook Abbey in Worcester, England. She told me that she was contemplating sending Dame Felicitas my Mother Teresa book which I'd sent to her. "No, no," I insisted, "I'll send you another copy to send to Sister."
I did, and she did, and Dame Felicitas replied: "Dear Rosemary (to say nothing of Dan Paulos), There are gifts and gifts, books and books: yours is in the SUPERLATIVE class. Never has a Christmas parcel evoked more interest and gratitude. I lent the book to the noviciate and had difficulty in reclaiming it. Sister Placida was found contemplating Dan Paulos instead of her Bible, oh, oh! I especially love page eleven, Bernadette at Lourdes, but one needs months or years to mine its treasures --- each page of calligraphy so different, each cut completely wedded to the telling of the text, and over all, and in all, and through all the deep spiritual love of a child of God. Dear Rosemary, and dear Dan, I can only say, THANK YOU BOTH. I haven't dared as yet to put the book in the calefactory for fear I'd never see it again, but I'm taking it up now. In Domino, Sr. Felicitas."
Dame Felicitas has written many books. But one I wish to mention, here, is entitled, "FRIENDS OF A LIFETIME". (The Nun, the Infidel, and the Superman). It is based on a collection of letters exchanged by George Bernard Shaw, Sydney Cockerell, and the Benedictine Abbess of Stanbrook Abbey, Dame Laurentia McLachlan.
Dame Felicitas' book was the inspiration of the play, "BEST OF FRIENDS", by Hugh Whitemore. While preparing to play the role of Dame Lauentia, Rosemary asked permission to enter the enclosure - the cloister - the Benedictine Abbey of Stanbrook - in order to witness exactly how Benedictine nuns live and act. I am not certain of the details, but she was granted permission, and entered the enclosure. This is how Dame Felicitas and Rosemary became such close friends.
While I was in New York City, Rosemary had loaned me a BBC video of the play "BEST OF FRIENDS" - and only asked that I return it before I left New York. I knew I wouldn't get a chance to see it before I left the next day, so I asked if I could make a copy of it. I ordered two copies. One for myself, and one for her - since the copy she was loaning me belonged to a friend.
In the film I had copied, Rosemary did not play the role. I wondered why, since she had played the original part in England. Dame Wendy Hiller plays in the film. And plays the part well. But I would have given my right arm to see Rosemary perform it. And the funny thing is, that Ms. Hiller was not permitted to enter the enclosure. No one was permitted - other than Rosemary. And if I recall, Jennifer, Rosemary's daughter, who'd accompanied her.
The next day I picked up the video copies of the English play. I knew Rosemary was at her apartment, but didn't want to bother her again - since we'd already uttered our goodbyes. So I took a copy of the video and the Olympus camera to the hotel, and asked the porter if I could leave the parcels for Rosemary. He was happy to accept them for her. Taking advantage of his kind nature, I asked if I might borrow a pair of scissors. So right there, before his eyes, he closely watch me open a sack filled with tape, wrapping paper, and a note card. I wrapped the camera, wrote a hurried note, and placed it in his capable hands. He kept saying that he'd heard of the newest Olympus - but could never afford one. I just smiled.
The handsome porter handed the package to Rosemary sometime before she went to the Richard Rodgers Theatre to perform that evening. And while she was awaiting her cue to enter the stage, she ran up to her dressing room and phoned me at Leo House. I couldn't believe that she would take time out of her live performance to phone me. It was one of the most touching moments of our friendship. She was very surprised with the gift - and said that my giving her the original drawing of "THE MADONNA OF THE SLAUGHTERED JEWS" was more than enough. But I wanted to repay her - (which I can never do) - with a small token - a symbol of my gratitude for writing and performing her commentary for the video about my artwork. She said that she'd use the camera - and enjoy it - and think of me when she did.
Oh, I should certainly tell you more about this actress-extraordinaire. Early in the lives of Rosemary's parents, they birthed their first child. And since her father was in the British Air Force, they were transferred to India. In those days it was not considered safe to take a newly born into India. So the young couple were persuaded to leave their first born in the custody of her grandmother. Because "grandma" was loosing her "only baby" - she was more than happy to take charge of the young infant. It would be eight years before they returned to England to remeet their child, and to give birth to Rosemary.
The parents returned to India, but unlike her sister, Rosemary was not left behind. She grew up in India. And years later, when she returned to England, she spoke very little English. She attended convent-schools, as was the tradition in her family. And there, quickly picked-up her mother tongue.
There were three daughters born to Stafford Berkley and Maud Champion-Harris, each being birthed eight years apart.
Rosemary was a teenager during World War II, and recalls the bombs and the constant fear of being invaded. She remembers getting on her knees and praying, praying every night. It was such a deep fear that England would be invaded by the tyrants.
All the war-time photographs are indelibly imprinted in her mind. It was all they had; pictures of buildings being bombed or planes "coming down."
Rosemary left school at sixteen. She was too young to enter nursing school, (which had always been her dream), and had at least a year to "fill in", before she would even be considered for the demanding nursing courses. So she started acting at the little local repertory company.
During this time she decided not to be a nurse because she was, by nature, ambitious, and knew that she wanted to do something with her life. She realized that if she was to be successful as a nurse, she'd end up as a matron of a hospital, and she had no intentions of being in administration. She didn't want to sit behind a desk and push a pen. Her dream was to actually nurse people. So she decided to become a physiotherapist, thinking that a physiotherapist could not treat patients from behind a desk. She actually wanted to touch the ill. It turned out that the training to be a PT was much more expensive. As a nurse you received a stipend while you trained. This was not the case in the field of PT. And Rosemary, like most people after the war, had no money. And this is why she started "messing" with acting. She was being paid for it. She was living with her grandmother at this time; her mother had already passed away.
Her very first job taught her that she could support herself through acting. She finally decided that she would stick with acting as long as it paid her bills.
After a few years on stage, she realized that she needed training. She applied to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and was awarded a scholarship. This is the point in her life when she began to believe in herself - and believed that she could make it as a serious actress.
Mary Duff was her only mentor and one of her teachers at the Royal Academy. When her students finally left the "nest", they all wondered why Mary had given them her personal phone number. Didn't they acquire all they had to know?
A couple of years went by and Rosemary was offered a job at Brislovic to play Porsha, and Hermani, and Beatrice. Suddenly she realized that she did not have the technical training for Shakespeare. Mary Duff's phone number flashed across her mind. Rosemary phoned Mary and secured the training she desired.
Rosemary's recollection of Mary Duff's method of teaching is teasingly recorded: "Oh, it was simple. She sat in a very large wing-chair, with her back to the light, and I sat at her feet - and she'd say, `Say it like this...'"
There was a time in England, when, to be a truly great actor, one had to be partly Jewish. Rosemary very much hoped, as a young actress, that perhaps her grandmother was Jewish. Her name was Bertha, which made it all the more interesting. Her grandmother had been a Rumanian orphan, and was brought-up by two maiden aunts in England. The family didn't really know much about her or her background.
Rosemary Harris is typically English. Though she has lived most of her life away from Britain, she still carries herself, as do most Englishmen, royally.
Throughout her career, Rosemary has performed with many great English actors, such as: Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, John Mills, and John Gielgood, to name but a few.
She has appeared in theatres across the world, receiving awards for many of her performances - from England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and the United States.
She has been acclaimed one of the best actresses alive, and has won the following awards: Emmy; Tony; Theatre World; Golden Globe; New York Drama League; and Bancroft Gold Medal.
Rosemary is also no stranger to TV. However, she has been seen mostly on the shows that have become classical in their repertoire: CBS's Dupont Show of the Month; NBC's Hallmark Hall of Fame; and Profiles in Courage; as well as CBS's Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
In 1967 she married the renowned author, John Ehle, of North Carolina. They have a daughter, Jennifer, who lives in London, and who has already, at the age of 21, been featured in a lead role of a successful British mini-series.
It has been reported that Rosemary refuses to be photographed "out of costume," and shuns talking about herself. I found both of these allegations false. She loved talking about her career, her family, her friends. And she posed, allowing me to photograph her profile for future silhouettes. No, not true. She is not at all vain, not in the least. In fact, while we were chit-chatting, I remembered to ask her a question. A friend of mine suggested that Rosemary would never do her own dishes. "Oh yes she does...." I insisted. And we made a bet. Well, he lost. Rosemary laughed when I asked her, but she played along, and stated that she not only did her own dishes, but she loves to cook, clean house, and do laundry.
Also, during our visit, I handed her a copy of "JULIAN OF NORWICH", a one- woman play by J. Janda --- illustrated by my dear friend, Bill McNichols. Bill's illustrations are strong and beautiful - especially the set design which includes a very powerful crucifixion scene. Bill asked me if I would take a copy of the play and give it to Rosemary. I am quite certain that his (underlying) motive was to see if Rosemary would perform it. I don't recall if I suggested that to her when I presented it. But she received it graciously, and promised to read it. When I returned to Albuquerque and told Bill that I really did give her the play, he was elated. I don't know if he ever told J. Janda that his play was in the hands of this actress-rare.
I cannot end these thoughts without thanking, You, Madonna of the Slaughtered Jews, for allowing Rosemary to enter my life, and for allowing me to share her with people who admire my work - which is all for You! Bless Rosemary. And bless all the people who will be led to You through her loveliness.