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Sulie Harand Friedman, dead at 97, founded Harand theater camp

Sulie Harand Friedheim. | Family photo

Sulie Harand Friedman taught theater to thousands of kids.

Many recall her Wisconsin camp, Harand Camp of the Theatre Arts in Elkhart Lake, as a magical summer place where they got to be stars for a night and gained confidence and friendships for a lifetime.

A charismatic actress and singer who was never without her red lipstick, she once aced a New York audition with “Guys and Dolls” composer Frank Loesser, relatives said, but turned down his offer of a role to remain in the Midwest with her family.

In 1955, she co-founded the Harand Camp, where she focused on singing. Her sister, Pearl Gaffin, concentrated on acting.

They gave the buildings names from the Golden Age of the American musical — Camelot, Brigadoon, South Pacific, Carousel. Sulie’s husband, Byron Friedman, was the business manager, recruiting students in home visits he made across the Midwest. Pearl’s husband, Sam Gaffin, taught scuba-diving, handled the books and managed the kitchen. The drama teachers included Joyce and Byrne Piven, founders of Evanston’s Piven Theatre Workshop and the parents of actor Jeremy Piven, and Lois Weisberg, who later was Chicago’s commissioner of cultural affairs.

The last of the four camp founders, Ms. Harand, 97, died Saturday at her apartment at The Breakers at Edgewater Beach.

On her deathbed, her niece Janice Gaffin told her the Cubs had won the World Series. She was a fierce Cubs fan, according to Gaffin, who said, “I just thought maybe she would let go.”

Sulie Harand Friedman taught thousands of young students at the theater camp she founded in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Sulie Harand Friedman taught thousands of young students at the theater camp she founded in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

In the Harand Camp’s 1970s heyday, nearly 400 campers arrived each summer, many of them Jewish kids from the North Shore and throughout the Midwest. When they left, they called themselves “Haranders.” Today, the family operates the camp at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.

One of her Haranders was Andrew Davis, director of “The Fugitive,” “Holes” and “Stony Island,” among other movies. Davis remembers her as “a uniquely talented artist and teacher who allowed joyous celebration of theater and music to become part of thousands of young peoples’ lives.

“Sulie and sister Pearl and their husbands Byron Friedman and Sam Gaffin made empathetic communication a part of what one learned at Harand Camp,” Davis said. “I am still in touch with dear friends from my days as a ‘scholarship’ camper-dishwasher, then counselor-water-ski instructor. I still relish playing Harry the Horse in ‘Guys and Dolls!’ ”

Another camp alum, Joseph Weisberg — son of Lois Weisberg — is the creator and a writer-producer of TV’s “The Americans.”

“I can only imagine how many of us still run around with classic American show tunes running through our heads because of the years we spent at Harand Camp,” Weisberg said.

The camp’s philosophy is “No Man is an Island and Everyone is a Star.” Theater kids who dominated their school drama departments didn’t automatically grab the leads at Harand. In any production, multiple kids shared the same top role — one “Oklahoma!” might feature five Laureys. Shy, awkward students got top billing, often for the first time in their lives. And everyone performed in the chorus.

“Sulie and her sister Pearl guided thousands of children of all ages away from their social anxieties, lack of self-esteem and growing pains,” said former camp counselor Bruce A. Block, who produced the Steve Martin “Father of the Bride” films and other movies. “The musical theater was the arena where every child was a star, and the playing field was always completely level.”

“I’m not an actor; I’m not a singer,” said alum Jacob Weisberg, another son of Lois Weisberg, who’s chairman and editor in chief of The Slate Group. “They made you feel right at home, and they also made sure that everybody participated. I think Harand Camp was all about the joy of participating and performing, no matter what level you were at — including, in my case, none.”

“Sulie Harand’s passion for theater and for teaching youngsters the joys of singing and dancing are unparalleled,” Joyce Piven said. “She communicated in all that she did her joy of life — a joie de vivre that not only taught but inspired joy and confidence in young people.”

“They gave everybody confidence,” said Ms. Harand’s daughter, Judy Friedman Mooney. “Everybody got a turn.”

At camp, Laura Lippman, now a well-known author, twice portrayed the Statue of Liberty. The Baltimore writer produces acclaimed crime novels that feature tough, smart women who enjoy her city’s charm and investigate its corruption.

“As a 15-year-old, I loved her and admired [Sulie], but I probably didn’t appreciate her as much as I should because, you know, anyone over 21 was over the hill,” Lippman said. “Then, in the summer of 1976, she did her one-woman show of ‘1776,’ and I was overwhelmed to see her full talent on display. I felt very sheepish that, until that moment, I didn’t really understand what she could do.”

Ms. Harand grew up in Humboldt Park, attending Tuley High. The Harand sisters knew author Saul Bellow and laughed about two characters in a Bellow story — “What Kind of Day Did You Have?” — described as “silent Soolie, wordless Pearl.”

“Neither of them were ever wordless or silent,” Janice Gaffin said of the two women.

Ms. Harand’s parents, Frema and Jacob, were immigrants from the Romanov region of Ukraine. They didn’t have much money, but they took their daughters to the opera and theater and arranged for drama, singing and dance lessons.

Singer-actress Sulie Harand Friedman. | supplied photo
Singer-actress Sulie Harand Friedman. | supplied photo

Ms. Harand attended the American Conservatory of Music and studied with Kurt Herbert Adler, who went on to lead the San Francisco Opera. She performed at Club Silhouette on Howard Street and developed a repertoire of 39 one-woman shows and musicals, said granddaughter Samara Harand.

The camp’s philosophy of inclusion stemmed from the sisters’ early days, according to friends and relatives. “Sulie and Pearl came of age against a background in Chicago of communitarian, do-gooder Socialist Jews. They were sort of generationally classmates with Studs Terkel, with Saul Bellow,” said alum Todd London, executive director of the School of Drama at the University of Washington.

In the early 1960s, they welcomed African-American students, Samara Harand said, becoming one of the first private camps to be integrated.

“They weren’t just teaching the show tunes,” said another former camper, Albert Williams, a senior lecturer at Columbia College Chicago. “They were teaching them the moral ethos behind the shows, the sense of community, the sense of comradeship. That’s an incredibly important element in Chicago theater.”

Block said he learned lighting, scenery design, stage managing and directing at the camp.

“Sulie taught me discipline, professionalism, song structure, timing, comedy, drama and how the theater works,” Block said. “Lessons Sulie taught me became an important part of my skill set when I came to Hollywood and produced feature films.”

Sulie Harand Friedman (left, in white) teaching at Harand Camp of the Theatre Arts. | Family photo
Sulie Harand Friedman (left, in white) teaching at Harand Camp of the Theatre Arts. | Family photo

Ms. Harand is also survived by another daughter, Jacqueline Friedlander; another grandchild, Frank Friedlander; and two great-grandchildren. Her family will receive visitors at 11 a.m. Thursday at Chicago Jewish Funerals, 8851 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, followed by a memorial there at noon.

Jacob Weisberg said he continues to meet and bond with people who atttended Harand Camp.

“Your whole life, you’re running into people who went there at some point, who have that connection — ‘Wasn’t that amazing?’ ” he said. “It was also a very charmed place. People have tremendously fond memories about it.”

Sulie Harand, right, coaching students at Harand Camp of the Theatre Arts. | Family photo
Sulie Harand, right, coaching students at Harand Camp of the Theatre Arts. | Family photo