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Harold And Maude: Whatever Happened To The Cast?

UCLA Film School student Colin Higgins wrote the screenplay for "Harold and Maude" as his graduate thesis, intending it to be a 20-minute short, before he was encouraged to turn it into a feature length screenplay. Snapped up by Paramount Pictures and handed off to be helmed by Academy Award winning editor-turned-director Hal Ashby, the film's script quickly earned a buzz. 

The search was on to find the perfect actors to portray the star-crossed titular lovers with an affinity for funerals, with the likes of Richard Dreyfuss, Bob Balaban and even Elton John considered for Harold, and Luise Rainer, Pola Negri, and even Agatha Christie for Maude. Ultimately, they settled on up-and-comer Bud Cort and the ever-blossoming Ruth Gordon, and along with a fantastically varied supporting cast plus a soundtrack including the sweet sounds of Cat Stevens (who was suggested by Elton John), the results are one of the greatest May-December romance films of all time.

Paramount smelled both a critical and crowd pleasing hit on their hands. They released the dark comedy for Academy Award consideration in late 1971, and although Cort and Gordon were nominated for Golden Globes, the film that Variety said had "all the fun and gaiety of a burning orphanage" was a box office dud. And yet, there was a flicker of light in the darkness: The film found its audience between the two coasts of America, playing for hundreds of weeks on end, with one young Minnesotan fan reportedly seeing it 138 times in theaters. Its due may have come late, but today it is considered a classic. In 1997, it was added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, and its influences can be seen and felt in the catalogs of Wes Anderson, Cameron Crowe, Alexander Payne, David O. Russell and many more filmmakers. Even Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann named their daughter after Maude (luckily they haven't had a son, yet).

The love between "Harold and Maude" escaped into the real world, with Cort showing up to pay his respects to Gordon on a 1971 episode of "This is Your Life." He said "it's very rare to be really emotionally affected by an actor ... you really affected me," to which she replied "vice versa" and the two exchanged I love yous.

The real world loved the these characters as well. So, let's take a look back and find out what happened to the cast of "Harold and Maude."

Ruth Gordon (Maude)

Ruth Gordon may have grabbed the world's attention late in her career, but she always knew she was "a classic" who was "eternally modern." After winning her first Oscar for devilishly doting on "Rosemary's Baby," she knew that it was "rare that ya get a lead that calls for an eighty-year-old," adding that she knew she was "gonna be terrific as Maude — even more terrific than I was as Minnie Castavet." Wise she was, as she perfectly played the black licorice chomping, hookah smoking, nude modeling, lover of nature and life: Dame Marjorie Chardin, "but you can call me Maude." The film made her a sensation all over again, with fans and admirers paying for her lunch and gifting her oat straw tea (as mentioned in the film), chocolates, and "daisies, daisies, daisies."

Perhaps not so ironically, Gordon made her Broadway debut in a 1915 production of "Peter Pan" starring Maude Adams, who was the first woman to play the boy who wouldn't grow up. Gordon would continue to shine on the stage throughout her life, earning a Tony nomination for 1956's "The Matchmaker." On the big and little screen side of her career, Gordon appeared in early silent films, wrote over a dozen screenplays (3 she co-wrote with her husband, Garson Kanin, were Academy Award nominated — including two Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn films, "Adam's Rib" and "Pat and Mike"), and was also nominated for her supporting role in 1965's "Inside Daisy Clover." Additionally, Gordon was nominated for several Emmy awards, winning for a guest appearance in a 1979 episode of "Taxi," and wrote several memoirs.

Gordon died at age 88, at her summer home in Edgartown, Massachusetts, in 1985.

Bud Cort (Harold Chasen)

Robert Altman enlisted Bud Cort for a small role in "MASH," and then had him play the flying lead in his follow-up film, "Brewster McCloud." The director wanted Cort back for his next project, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," and tried to dissuade him from taking the part of the hearse driving, suicidal Harold, telling him that he would forever be typecast. Cort later said, "I knew I had to make this film. I don't know why. I just had a feeling about 'Harold and Maude.'"

The breakout role was both a "blessing and a curse" to Cort, who "didn't make a film purposely for five years after I made that film because everything I got offered was the crazy guy." He actually laid low from the world at Groucho Marx's house for 7 years, where his "fairy godfather" Groucho looked after him, gave him his tooth, and apparently died in his arms. Two car accidents also didn't help Cort's spirits, or appearance.

In retrospect, Cort said, "if I were going do it over again I would just say 'yes' to everything." Instead, "Harold" became his career-defining role, even though he went on to have over 100 screen credits, ranging from "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" (with his "McCloud" co-star Shelley Duvall) to inheriting the "Bates Motel" from Norman Bates, "Dogma," "But I'm A Cheerleader," "Pollock" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou." In 1991, he wrote, directed and starred in "Ted & Venus." His latest credits were as the voice of the King in 2015's "The Little Prince," and a year later in a short titled "Affections."

Born Walter Edward Cox, Cort is presently 73 years of age, seven shy of Maude's magic number. Also, Ringo Starr is his dog's godfather.

Vivian Pickles (Mrs. Chasen)

Vivian Pickles (yes, that is her real birth surname) is an absolute treasure, and American audiences may have never encountered her sweet and sour genius had her "Sunday Bloody Sunday" director John Schlesinger not recommended her talents to Hal Ashby. As Harold's socialite, overbearing mother Mrs. Chasen, she is not phased by any of his suicide attempts, and tries her best to make him grow up, even filling out his dating profile herself. Reflecting on the film, she said, "Every member of the Harold and Maude production team was perfect — Bud, Bill, Cathy — but Hal Ashby and Cat Stevens were giants. I am so very, very privileged to have worked with them."

The English born, Parisian-trained actress has had an extensive career on stage, working alongside the likes of Peter O'Toole and Roger Moore. She has played many a screen role tackled by others, like in her debut as the titular "Alice in Wonderland" in a 1946 TV movie, Mrs. Bennett in a 1967 version of "Pride and Prejudice," and Mary Queen of Scots in "Elizabeth R." Pickles also appeared in "The Avengers," played Isadora Duncan in a TV movie by Ken Russell, and was cast twice by Lindsay Anderson for "O Lucky Man!" and "Britannia Hospital."

Pickles' last role came in 1999 on an episode of "Midsomer Murders," and she celebrated her 90th birthday in 2021.

Cyril Cusack (Glaucus)

One of Ireland's greatest actors barely makes a dent in "Harold and Maude." Cyril Cusack got fourth billing in the film, and yet he was only in one scene, as an artist named Glaucus, who used Maude as a nude model for an ice sculpture. He had more scenes in the film, but they were later cut during editing. His tools are later used for H & M to transport a tree into the woods.

Acting since he was 7, up until the end of his life, Cusack handed in 75 years of service to the stage and screen, the world over. He appeared in screen adaptations of the famed novels "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,"  "Fahrenheit 451," and Nineteen Eighty-Four," and starred opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in "My Left Foot" (1989). One role he wasn't interested in was being the very first "Doctor Who," although the poet did hold two doctorates from Irish universities.

Cusack died in 1993, at age 82. His love of acting lives on with four of his daughters who are all actors, including Sinéad, whose son with Jeremy Irons, Max, is following in the family vocation (and no, they are not related to the Chicago Cusacks, John and Joan),

Charles Tyner (Uncle Victor)

Eccentrics with loud mouths were welcome roles that the great character actor Charles Tyner personified, and one of the most meaty ones the WWII vet played was Harold's militaristic Uncle Victor. General MacArthur's right hand man attempted to make one of his nephew, seeing a bit Nathan Hale in him, which is the kind of person "the world needs more" of. Missing an arm, but zero spring in his step, Uncle Victor's efforts came to a halt when Harold "killed" Maude in front of his eyes.

Tyner had caught the eye of Ashby in the film he produced and did some editing on, 1969's Oscar-nominated "Gaily, Gaily," and a year later, worked with Cort on "The Traveling Executioner." He also worked with Ellen Geer and her father Will.

He made strides on Broadway in 1963's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," alongside Kirk Douglas and Gene Wilder, and clashed with titans like Paul Newman in "Cool Hand Luke," Robert Redford in "Jeremiah Johnson," and Burt Reynolds in "The Longest Yard." He acted for Alfred Hitchcock, Clint Eastwood, and John Hughes. One of his later roles that made a lasting impression on a new generation was that of the industrial arts teacher, Mr. Nestor, on the original "Wonder Years" series.

Tyner died in 2017, at age 92.

Ellen Geer (Sunshine Doré)

Harold's third date was a highly theatrical actress named Sunshine Doré, who was somehow able to see through his own theatrics, even participating in them when he pretended to commit harakiri, acting as his Juliet. Ellen Geer brought plenty of rays of light to play Sunshine, and said "working on the film itself was a remarkable experience." She particularly appreciated director Ashby's approachability, "Hal let you do what you wanted in your scenes, and he got the humanity out of the script."

Geer is no stranger to the craft, as it runs in her genes. Her parents are actors and activists (and dear friends to Woody Guthrie) Will Geer (Grandpa on "The Waltons") and Herta Ware ("Cocoon"). When her father passed, she took over as artistic director of his namesake Theatricum Botanicum. In 2000, she took on Ruth Gordon's role in a Botanicum production of "Harold and Maude." On screen, she has played well over 100 roles including a CIA agent in two Jack Ryan/Harrison Ford films, and multiple appearances on episodes of "CHiPs," "Fantasy Island" and "Desperate Housewives." She co-directed the 1999 film "After Romeo" with husband Peter Alsop. Geer also found time to teach acting for over a decade at UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television.

The 80-year-old actress is still going strong, having appeared in recent episodes of "NCIS" and "Better Things," and is currently the Producing Artistic Director of the Botanicum, working alongside her husband and children, Willow Geer and Ian Flanders.

Eric Christmas (Priest)

The role of Harold's priest was truly a gift for Eric Christmas, and for audiences as well. He tried in vain to bring order to his paritioner's life, and got his VW bug stolen by Maude as a thanks. Just watching him quiver as he tells Harold how it's not right for his "firm, young body" to have intercourse with one with "withered flesh, sagging breasts, and flabby buttocks" ends up as one of the funniest scenes in the entire film.

Christmas trained at the Royal Academy of Drama, under the tutelage of George Bernard Shaw, and acted in British theater and TV movies until the War. Shortly after the war he moved to Canada, where he and Lorne Greene would later found a radio school for actors. He won a "Most Promising Male Performer" award acting alongside Julie Harris and Robert Redford in 1961's for Broadway's "Little Moon of Alban." His long list of screen credits includes "The Andromeda Strain," "Johnny Got His Gun," "The Changeling," "All of Me," three "Porky's" movies and endless well-known sitcoms. His final roles ruled: he played two different judges on "Ally McBeal."

He was the very first faculty member of UC San Diego's Theater Department, working off and on as an acting professor from the late 1960s until he retired in 1986.

Christmas died in 2000, at age 84.

G. Wood (Psychiatrist)

Out of all the impressive cast members of "Harold and Maude", G. (George) Wood is the only one to work with Bud Cort three times. In "Maude" he is Harold's Fredudian psychiatrist, who sees the Oedipus complex playing out, except for wanting to sleep with his mother, it's his grandmother. Wood was also credited alongside Cort in Robert Altman's "MASH" (as Brigadier General Hammond, a role he also played on the TV series) and "Brewster McCloud" (as Crandall).

The Arkansas native did not have a lot of screen credits (his final role out of only 16 came in the 1989 TV movie "False Witness"), as Wood's focus was the stage. The Yale drama student worked for the Army in WWII, as a special services theatrical adviser, and then got a graduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University. He settled in New York where he performed a cabaret with Alice Ghostley, and later was an original member of the Circle in the Square company. He appeared in such Broadway plays such as "The Seagull," "The Crucible," and "The Importance of Being Earnest." He also wrote several musicals, including "The King and the Duke," "F. Jasmine Addams" and "Scarecrow Richard." 

Wood died of congestive heart failure in 2000, at age 80.

Shari Summers (Edith Phern)

Shari Summers was a young veterinary student and part time model, with only two small TV credits under her belt — "Room 222" and "That Girl." Her appearance in a television commercial caught the eye of the "Harold and Maude" filmmakers who cast her as, in her film debut, Harold's second date, the perky file clerk Edith Phern. The meet-and-greet doesn't go terribly well, after Harold "chops" his hand off with a meat cleaver.

Summers appeared as Mrs. Turner in "The Bad News Bears," and in Natalie Wood's third-to-last film "The Last Married Couple in America." She also turned up as a nurse in the Madonna vehicle "Who's That Girl." Her "Harold" role would not only be one of Summers' better known parts, but the film is also where she met her husband, producer Charles Mulvehill (he appeared as the hearse salesman in the film). Her final screen credit would be in a film Mulvehill produced, 1994's "Only You."

Over the past couple of years, the Mulvehills, who call Arizona home, have appeared to present and participate in Q&As with "Harold and Maude." Proceeds for the screenings have benefited a charity near and dear to their hearts: the Mayday Pit Bull Rescue.

Shari Mulvehill is currently 75 years old.

Tom Skerritt, as M. Borman (Motorcycle Officer)

Tom Skerritt had been hanging around with Hal Ashby in the pre-production days of "Harold and Maude," suggesting the director take a look at his "MASH" co-star Bud Cort for the lead. When the film started rolling, the actor who originally played the motorcycle officer who clashes with our beloved couple and their tree broke his leg, and Skerritt stepped in and lent his talents. Since he was just happy to be there, he decided to pass on being credited, and a movie in-joke lists him as "M. Borman." Skerritt explained in 2016 that the name referenced "Martin Bormann, second in command to Hitler, nobody ever found out what happened to that guy ... I think he went to Oakland and became a motorcycle cop."

The Air Force veteran has seen his career continually soar to new heights, starting in the early '60s, with his debut in "War Hunt." He went on to battle an "Alien," the egos of pilots in "Top Gun," emotions in "A River Runs Through It," the advances of Drew Barrymore in "Poison Ivy," Josie Foster's atheism in "Contact," and small town problems on "Picket Fences," for which he won a Primetime Emmy. He recently had a small but solid role as a retired veteran alongside Harry Dean Stanton in "Lucky."

Skerritt turned 88 in 2021, and amazingly enough, took on his first major film lead in "East of the Mountains." He is also a co-founding member of Seattle's TheFilmSchool and Heyou Media.