Mrs René Harris (née Irene Wallach), 36, was born on 15 July 1876 in Washington, D.C., to Philip Wallach (born ca. 1831 in Prussia, d. 1888), who had worked at a loan office and Rachel Edith Hilzheim (born 28 July 1842 in Ohio; d. 21 September 1929 in New York City). Her parents had married 20 August 1862 in the District of Columbia, USA.
There were nine children born to the family. Her known brothers and sisters were Seligman ’Sol’ Colfax, b. 22 May 1863 (d. 1953), Goldina, b. 1864, Eugenia ’Jennie,’ b. June 1867, (Emily) Maud, b. 8 September 1871 (d. 1944 in New York City as Mrs. Samuel Jerome King), Samuel H., b. 4 November 1872 (d. 31 August 1935 in New York City), Edna Iola, b. 10 January 1874 (d. 1963 in New York), Herbert Philip, b. 25 September 1883 (d. 25 May 1952 in Florida), and Edgar Smith, b. 4 June 1884 (d. 10 September 1953 in New York City).
René married Henry (“Harry”) Burkhardt Harris on 22 October 1899 in Manhattan, New York.
The couple boarded the Titanic at Southampton, they occupied cabin C-83 (ticket number 36973).
As Gregg Jasper and Randy Bigham have written in their biography of Renee Harris, Broadway Dame:
“Five days into the voyage, Sunday, April 14, the Harrises were still enjoying their shipboard routine. But a portent of the looming tragedy came when Renée suffered a freak injury that afternoon. She had been playing poker with her husband and six others in the B-Deck suite of millionaire Thomas Cardeza; Harry had asked her to ‘sit in,’ as she put it, in order to keep out a man suspected of being a cardsharp. When Harry pointed him out to her earlier, she was surprised he ‘looked so virtuous.’ Renée remembered “stakes were a dollar a chip” and that she was ‘ahead by $90’ when the summons for dinner was sounded: ‘We played our game of poker on an enclosed deck just outside the main stairway. Heeding the bugle call for dressing, I was making my way to my stateroom when in descending the stairs I slipped, I believe, on a greasy spot left by a tea cake. I took a header down six or seven steps.’ Incidentally, although it’s been incorrectly stated that her accident occurred on Saturday, Renée was clear in various published accounts, as well as in a letter to Gregg Jasper, that she “fell down the stairs the afternoon of the tragedy.”
René Harris was rescued in Collapsible D. When she boarded the Carpathia she was accommodated in a cabin vacated by the artist Colin Campbell Cooper and his wife Emma. Mr Campbell would later record the rescue in two paintings.
After Harry’s death, René discovered to what extent he was in debt. After arranging with creditors to repay what her husband owed them, she continued his business as a producer and manager of the Hudson, Harris and Fulton theaters. She was the first woman theatrical producer and manager on Broadway as well as the only female theater owner in New York.
René Harris produced and managed some of the most successful plays on the American stage during her 20 year career, including Damaged Goods (1913), Twin Beds (1914) and Friendly Enemies (1918). In the 1920s, she launched the careers of Barbara Stanwyck, Judith Anderson and Moss Hart. The biggest musical hit at the Hudson Theatre during her ownership was Hot Chocolates (1929) in which Louis Armstrong made his Broadway debut.
She remarried three times but was always known professionally as Mrs. Henry B. Harris. She sold the Harris Theatre in 1920, her lease was up on the Fulton Theatre in 1921 and she lost the Hudson Theatre in foreclosure in 1932.
René, who changed the spelling of her first name to Renée by 1940, remained active throughout her life. She participated in the promotional campaign for the 1955 bestselling book A Night to Remember by Walter Lord as well as the 1958 film based on the book.
She died on 2 September 1969 at age 93.
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