Harriet Lynn, a Baltimore-based theater performer, writer and director, dies

Harriet Lynn founded the Heritage Theatre Artists’ Consortium.

Harriet Lynn, a dancer and singer who appeared in the first production at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in 1967 and went on to testify against its demolition 40 years later, died of lung cancer Oct. 31 at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.

The former University Parkway resident was 77.


Born in Baltimore and raised on Allendale Road and in Pikesville, she was the daughter of Morris Garbis, a real estate broker and property owner, and Ruth Rochkind, a homemaker and poet. She was a Milford Mill High School graduate and earned a degree in dance at the Boston Conservatory of Music.

Her first drama teacher was her cousin, Vivienne Shub. She studied dance with Deborah L. Hoffman.


Ms. Lynn went into musical theater and rented a New York apartment in hopes of getting work.

“I was all set to live in New York and starve for a while,” she said in a 1967 Sun story.

She successfully auditioned for a role as an understudy in a touring company of “Hello, Dolly!” The show starred Betty Grable and Max Showalter.

Ms. Lynn was not an understudy for long. She played the role of Minnie Fay, a comic ingenue playing a milliner’s assistant.

“I’d never heard of an understudy taking over a part,” she said. “I thought when I got the job, ‘I’ll be lucky to go on once.’”

She performed for weeks in Las Vegas, Chicago and other tour stops before the show moved to Baltimore, where it was the opening attraction of the then-new Morris A. Mechanic Theatre at Charles and Baltimore streets in January 1967.

She said the three weeks the show played in Baltimore was the longest time she had been home since high school.

She went on to have roles in other 1960s touring musicals, “Funny Girl” and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”


Ms. Lynn later recalled that she turned 21 during her time in Baltimore and getting her driver’s license.

She later returned to Baltimore and earned a master’s degree at the University of Maryland.

In 1994, Ms. Lynn founded the Heritage Theatre Artists’ Consortium.

“My sister loved all things related to the arts and she traveled throughout the world,” said her sister, Carla H. Garbis. ”She photographed nature and food. She took pictures of whatever was served to her and her dining companions. She also liked connecting people to each other and had more energy and was healthier than anyone I know at 77 until one day she wasn’t.”

Ms. Lynn often said, “Strangers are friends that I have not met yet.”

She was a mainstay of local theater who also taught tai chi.


“A lot of people in all levels of community theater knew of her,” said Bruce Levy, a friend. “She was creative and a bubbly actor. She gave out positive vibes. She was upbeat and positive.”

She was involved with performances at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Jewish Museum of Maryland, Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture, Maryland Science Center, Port Discovery Children’s Museum, Goucher College and the Johns Hopkins University.

After the Mechanic Theatre closed in 2004, she became involved with unsuccessful efforts to preserve the playhouse.

In 2007, she testified at a hearing of the city’s Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation.

“I’m hoping that there will be a broader discussion about the use of that space,” she said at the time. “I don’t see why there can’t be a marriage of art and commerce at that location. It certainly happens in other cities.”

The theater was demolished in 2014 and its site remains undeveloped.


Ms. Lynn went on to write the script and performed in a one-woman show, “Ella Shields: The Woman Behind the Man” at the Walters.

The Morning Sun

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She depicted Ms. Shields, who was born Ella Catherine Buscher, in Baltimore, who later moved to London and performed as a man and made the song, “Burlington Bertie from Bow” popular.

Ms. Lynn also performed on cruise ships and with D.D. Smith & Co., a nightclub act.

For 10 seasons, she directed a senior theater troupe, the Fabulous 50+ Players in Howard County.

Ms. Lynn also was a past producer and artistic director of the Pumpkin Theatre, a children’s performing arts group.

After living in Baltimore for many years she moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She was active in theater there as well.


Survivors include her husband of 37 years, Ivan Kramer, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County physics professor; two brothers, H. Gerald Garbis of Grants Pass, Oregon, and Stuart L. Garbis of Owings Mills; and a sister, Carla H. Garbis of Crockett, California.

No services are planned at this time.