Spotlight

Spotlight – Cassandra Harris

Spotlight – Cassandra Harris

Born in Sydney, Australia in 1948, Sandra Colleen Waites, the granddaughter of a German aristocrat and his English-born wife, enrolled at the National Institute of Dramatic Art at the age of 12 in 1961 under the name Sandra Gleeson. She performed in the successful Sydney stage production of Boeing Boeing which ran from 1964-1965. At the tender age of 16, she married fellow architecture student William Firth in 1964 and relocated from Sydney to London in 1967 in order to join the national theatre. Her marriage to Firth ended in divorce in 1970 but she remarried the same year. Her second marriage to British film producer Dermot Harris (the brother of actor Richard Harris) lasted eight years. Around that time, she adopted her stage name Cassandra Harris. She had two children with Harris, Charlotte (1971-2013) and Christopher (born 1972).

Cassandra Harris in ‘Space 1999’

Before stepping onto the big screen, Cassandra Harris starred in the British science-fiction television series ‘Space 1999’ in 1977. She appeared in Season 2 episode 22 alongside Martin Landau, Barbara Bain and Catherine Schell (who had played one of Blofelds angels of death in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ in 1969). Her first film credit came in 1978 where she co-starred alongside Anthony Quinn and Jacqueline Bisset in the drama ‘The Greek Tycoon’, a story loosely based on the relationship between Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and Jacqueline Kennedy, the wife of murdered US President John F. Kennedy. Interestingly, Harris shared the screen with another James Bond girl – Italian actress Luciana Paluzzi, who had played Fiona Volpe in ‘Thunderball’ 12 years prior to ‘The Greek Tycoon’. However, the film was critically ripped to pieces for being “vulgar, trashy and a glossy travesty”.

It was in the mid-1970s that Cassandra Harris met young, dashing actor Pierce Brosnan after being introduced to him by a mutual friend. At that time, Brosnan was appearing in ‘Filumena’, a stage play directed by Franco Zeffirelli. In a 1983 interview with People magazine, Harris recalled that “here was this funny-looking man with this short haircut. But we had much in common—acting, books, music—and once we started talking, we never stopped.” Brosnan in turn said that he had been “totally bowled over by this beauty.” The couple gotmarried in 1980.

Wedding photo of Cassandra Harris and Pierce Brosnan taken at Chelsea registry office in 1980. Beside them are Charlotte and Christopher Harris from Cassandras second husband

After appearing in the 1980 heist thriller ‘Rough Cut’ alongside Burt Reynolds, Lesley Ann-Down and David Niven, Cassandra Harris joined the elite club of Bond Girls with her portrayal of Countess Lisl von Schlaf in ‘For Your Eyes Only’. Based on Lisl Baum, Colombo’s mistress in the Ian Fleming short story ‘Risico’, the film significantly changed the role as she neither has sex with Bond, nor does she get killed in the original Fleming story.

Roger Moore and Cassandra Harris (c) United Artists

As Harris and Brosnan had married during production of the twelfth James Bond film, her husband was an occasional visitor on the film set. One day, the newlyweds lunched with legendary Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli during filming after which he wanted to make Brosnan the next Bond to replace Roger Moore. However, Brosnan was still under contract with US network NBC for the final season of ‘Remington Steele’, the 1982-87 detective series that had made him a star in America. But we all know how the story panned out – Brosnan got his turn in 1995. During their marriage, Cassandra Harris carefully nurtured her husband’s career, pushed him to try new things and even decided to move from England to America in 1981.

While on location with her husband in India in 1987 for ‘The Deceivers’, in which Brosnan played an Englishman pretending to be an Indian, Harris’s stomach was swollen, and she was feeling unusually tired. When they returned to London in late November, she went right to her doctor, who ordered exploratory surgery the next day. The surgeons discovered a malignant growth on her ovaries.

“From day 1, we really had a fight on our hands,” recalls Brosnan. “This wasn’t a shadow or a small tumor—this had invaded Cassie’s being. But she took her destiny in her own hands with incredible courage and grace.” She wisely questioned every prescribed treatment and decided which ones to take, which to reject. Eight operations followed and Harris underwent chemotherapy for a year and a half.

The illness ruled the lives of Harris and Brosnan. After learning that Harris’s mother, who had died of ovarian cancer when Cassandra was in her teens, probably passed along a genetic susceptibility to the disease, daughter Charlotte had regular checkups, and Brosnan urged any woman with a family history of ovarian cancer to do likewise. “This is a silent killer,” he warned, adding that there is a blood test, CA-125, that can detect tumor activity.

It was two days after Christmas in 1991, that Harris, still conscious and clinging to life, “began her journey,” as Brosnan put it. After a four year battle with the cancer, she died from it on 28 December, aged 43. Sadly, her daughter Charlotte died from the same disease on 28 June 2013 at age 41.

Source(s): People Magazine, IMDB

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