“I only met Frank Sinatra for a few minutes, but the memory has lasted a lifetime. They were wonderful days.”
I’m talking to Anita Harris, who is frankly awe inspiring. She was dancing at three, figure skating as a teen and in Vegas as a showgirl by 16. Hit records, musicals and fame followed. She even had a TV episode of This Is Your Life dedicated to her.
And yet if it’s longevity you need, it’s longevity you get because here, countless years on (I didn’t like to ask and Anita only refers to herself as older than 21) she is currently appearing in Cabaret as Fraulein Schneider, and coming to Oxford’s New Theatre from Feb 4-8.
“I just love it to be honest and if you live on this planet long enough well……the chance to work with different companies and people, and the daily challenge of going out on stage, especially in this show, is still wonderful.
“It gives you a reason to get up in the morning, do your exercises, keep as well as you can and then face your daily challenge of getting out there and trying to make each show better than the one before,” she explains.
“As long as you come up with the goods, you can still feel the joy and release you only get on stage.”
“But I know I’ve been lucky, and I never take that for granted. “
So how does she feel about playing the notorious Fraulein Schneider? “I thought long and hard about who Fraulein Schneider is and how she came to be running a guest house in Berlin as the Nazi’s came to power.
“When you ask these questions it’s easier to become her. Because she knows that a dark chapter awaits.”
Anita’s co-stars are John Partridge as Emcee and Kara Lily Hayworth as Sally Bowles: “John Partridge is just incredible and Kara is such a beautiful, new young thing and such a talent. All of the girls and boys look out for each other so it’s a wonderful company to be part of,” she says.
“Throw in some great music, lyrics and dialogue and its very strong. It’s a great story.”
And yet it can’t be easy bridging the decades in the notoriously fickle entertainment industry?
“Well it goes back to that work ethic of mine. I think now about when I was at The Palladium for eight months with Harry Secombe and Jimmy Tarbuck, and that was a real discipline. Two shows a day. I had to start in a hot air ballon basket waiting for the show to begin, when they would pull me down onto the stage. That was all-singing, all-dancing affair, but we loved it.
“I look back at the halcyon days of working with Harry, Frankie Howard and Tommy Cooper, such wonderful comics. They taught me so much.”
Anita then went on tour with Harry around all the army, navy and air force bases abroad. “It was such a privilege. And that’s when entertainment really, really shines.”
So has the industry changed much?
“Light entertainment is the gift that keeps on giving, because when people have what my parents would call ‘proper jobs’, and work hard and come home, that’s what they want, something to take them away from all that, and that’s what this business should be about.
“I’m not an ambitious thing. I do it for the sheer enjoyment.”
Spotted by a talent scout skating, she soon ended up in Vegas dancing: “When I look back it was so exciting. This was when Vegas was just a desert with a few hotels and cabaret theatres. And the music! It’s where I first heard jazz and met Frank Sinatra. Mae West was over the road in the Sahara.
“We were just plunged into this world and I was just 16. But we had three shows a day to do so we would perform from 7.30pm until 4am, race out to the desert to watch the sun come up, it was bright red and so beautiful, head off for a big breakfast and then go to bed and wake up at 6pm to do it all over again. It was like fairy dust.
“My parents wanted me to come back afterwards and finish my eduction but then I was offered other things, so I guess you could call it the education of life,” she laughs.
Anita then joined the Cliff Adams Singers followed by a heady supply of TV and radio.
What followed was an extraordinary legacy of magic, music (hit singles) dance, TV, film, drama, musicals. The list goes on and on. So what’s her advice to a new generation of up-and-coming actors.
“To be comfortable in your own skin, and to be brave, because there are so many people not working. You have to have something within you, something else,” she says as she arrives at the theatre, ready for another performance.
After all the show must go on.
Bill Kenwright’s Cabaret returns to Oxford with Rufus Norris’ multi award-winning production from February 4 – 8. 0844 871 3020 or www.atgtickets.com/oxford