By BRUCE WEBER
Published: January 4, 2011
Jill Haworth, a British-born film ingénue in the 1960s who made her only Broadway appearance as the original Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” died Monday at her home in Manhattan. She was 65.
The police confirmed her death, attributing it to natural causes.
A petite, strikingly pretty blonde (she wore a dark wig on Broadway), Ms. Haworth was just 14 when she was signed to appear, along with Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint and Sal Mineo, as a displaced Jew in “Exodus” (1960), Otto Preminger’s grandiose adaptation of the Leon Uris novel about the birth of the state of Israel.
She made three films in France and then two others with Preminger, “The Cardinal” and “In Harm’s Way,” before auditioning for “Cabaret,” along with more than 200 other actresses, and winning the part of Sally, the lovably intemperate lass who sings for her supper at a decadent nightclub in Weimar-era Berlin.
Julie Harris had played Sally in the John Van Druten play “I Am a Camera,” on which the musical drew for its source material (along with the Christopher Isherwood book “The Berlin Stories,” on which the play was based). Liza Minnelli would make the role indelibly hers when she starred in the 1972 film, directed by Bob Fosse.
For Ms. Haworth, the role would be the high point of her career. Just 21 on opening night and with scant stage experience, she had never before sung a note professionally. The reviews were not overly kind, and one in particular was a damning declaration by Walter Kerr in The New York Times.
“ ‘Cabaret’ is a stunning musical with one wild wrong note,” Kerr began, later naming Ms. Haworth as the clunker and calling her “a damaging presence, worth no more to the show than her weight in mascara.”
Harold Prince, who directed the musical, recalled in an interview Tuesday that Ms. Haworth was remarkably steadfast and mature after the drubbing. She played the part for nearly two years and “never laid the weight of that on anyone,” he said. “We just loved her.”
“They underestimated her,” Mr. Prince said of the critics. “Sally Bowles was not supposed to be a professional singer. She wasn’t supposed to be so slick that you forgot she was an English girl somewhat off the rails in the Weimar era. When Jill came in and auditioned, she nailed it right away, walked that line. That’s what we wanted, and that’s what she delivered.”
Valerie Jill Haworth was born, according to many online sources, in Sussex, England, on Aug. 15, 1945. Her parents, who divorced when she was a girl, were well-to-do. Her father was a textiles magnate who also drove racing cars; her mother trained as a ballet dancer, as did Ms. Haworth.
“Society looked down on me for becoming an actress, but I don’t miss society, ” she told the gossip columnist Earl Wilson in 1965, adding that in America she acceded to a change in the pronunciation of her name. “I can’t get anyone here to pronounce it ‘Hahworth.’ Just as long as they don’t spell it H-a-y.”
Information about her family, including survivors, wasn’t immediately available.
Following “Cabaret,” she appeared in a handful of horror movies and in television series including “Mission: Impossible,” “Bonanza” and “Baretta.” But her career never regained the upward path on which it had begun.
“She was ‘let’s have a good time,’ ” Joel Grey, who starred as the master of ceremonies in the original “Cabaret,” said on Tuesday. “She had a wild abandon about herself and her life. I understood why Hal chose her. She was so Sally Bowles.”