Born in Somerville, Massachusetts, on March 14, 1914, Harriet White Medin started out as a dental assistant and cleaned the teeth of young John and Robert Kennedy. After deciding to pursue work in the theater and playing a role on Broadway, she joined the USO and this led to her becoming the first American actress to relocate to post-war Italy and work in Italian films, beginning with Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan (1946). Her following role was the lead in a dramatic film about the life of a saint, Genoveffa di Brabante (1947). She never found success as anything but a character actress and was often typecast as starchy, prim housewives and housekeepers. Orson Welles wanted her to play the role of Emilia in his Othello, but Harriet’s inability to remain at the beck and call of Welles’ shooting schedule forced him to recast the role with Fay Compton. When she realized that her acting career was at a standstill, she began working as a dialogue coach, helping Italian actors with their English. She became the personal assistant of Gina Lollobrigida in this respect for many years, and also assisted directors working in Italy, among them Vittorio De Sica, Joseph Losey, Raoul Walsh and John Huston. She witnessed some extraordinary things in film history, including the death of Tyrone Power on the set of Solomon and Sheba (for which she blamed George Sanders) and the filming of the famous Trevi fountain scene in La Dolce Vita (1960), in which she played Edna, Anita Ekberg’s personal assistant. In the early 1960s, Harriet entered the Italian horror boom when they needed actors who could speak English, the better for the movies to seem British or American rather than Italian. She played the housekeepers in Riccardo Freda’s _Orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock, L’ (1962), played important red herring parts in Bava’s The Whip and the Body (1963) and Blood and Black Lace (1964), and also appeared in Elio Scardamaglia’s The Murder Clinic (1966). After assisting John Huston on Reflections in a Golden Eye, Harriet was persuaded by her friend, director Andrew Marton, to come and live in his guest house in Hollywood. One day, while doing the dishes, she decided that her marriage (to art director Gastone Medin) was over, and she accepted Marton’s invitation by walking out on her old life, leaving the sink full of dirty dishes. After relocating to California, she did a fair amount of work in television (in addition to playing Henry Fonda’s date in an episode of Family, she appeared on Bonanza, The A-Team, Northern Exposure and many other shows) and low-budget films. As a SAG member, she had to play the blind girl’s mother in Schlock (1973) under the pseudonym of “Enrica Blankey.” She also played the President of the United States in Death Race 2000 (1975), one of Linda Hamilton’s diner customers in The Terminator (1984) and a grocery shopper in The Witches of Eastwick (1987). She narrated the trailer for George Romero’s Hungry Wives (Season of the Witch).
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