"Even today I can picture, clear as day, and even hear in my mind, Ethel Waters singing 'Taking a Chance on Love' in 'Cabin in the Sky,'" Harris wrote in her 1971 book, "Julie Harris Talks to Young Actors," written with Barry Tarshis.
As a teenager, Harris had a gift for mimicry and, like many girls her age, she was star-struck, keeping scrapbooks of movie stars and seeing every movie she could — she said she saw "Gone With the Wind" nine times. One of her first roles in drama class was in "The Juggler of Notre Dame," for which she received high praise.
"This was a new experience," she wrote in her book on acting. Used to being criticized for being too thin or not good enough in her studies, she felt overwhelmed by the praise.
"It was as if, after all those years, I'd discovered a secret power," she said. "I wasn't sure exactly what this power was, but I certainly wasn't going to let it get away from me."
Harris attended Yale School of Drama for a time in the 1940s and also trained at the Perry-Mansfield School of Dance and Theatre and the Actors Studio.
She had several roles in Broadway plays before "The Member of the Wedding," but she said that playing 12-year-old Frankie when she was twice that age "was really the beginning of everything big for me."
After she went on to play Frankie on screen in that well-regarded film, she had other wonderful moments in movies, including "East of Eden," as Abra, the sensitive fiancée of Aron Trask, brother of James Dean's character Cal.
But she was the first to acknowledge that her film career never really took off.
"I wish I had gotten bigger parts in the movies," she told the Washington Post in 1988. "But I could never compete with the great beauties."
She appeared frequently on television. Besides her role in "Knots Landing," she had two series — the short-lived "Thicker Than Water" in 1973 and "The Family Holvak" in 1975 — and also made guest appearances in numerous series, TV movies and miniseries. She won two Emmys, for "Little Moon of Alban" (1959) and "Victoria Regina" (1962).
But Harris always returned to that "magical place" — the stage. She loved "that first moment when the curtain goes up."
Harris was married and divorced three times. She had one son, Peter Alston Gurian.
Luther is a former Times staff writer.