Obituaries are updated regularly and archived on JN Online:
Showtime With Shirl
Special to the Jewish News
ver the past 30 years, Shirlee "Shirl" Harris
saw just about every show at the Fisher and
Masonic Temple theaters.
But it was the activity behind the scenes that
brought the most drama into her life.
• Ms. Harris, of Detroit, was public relations director
of both venues for the Nederlander Company who
worked with many stars as she promoted productions,
escorted performers on their rounds of press inter-
views and helped with special requests made by artists
and members of the community.
Just as the new 2003-2004 theater season was play-
ing out, Ms. Harris saw her last show, Mamma Mia.l,
while confronting her final bout with cancer. She was
74 when she died Nov. 30, 2003.
"Shirl loved the theater, the performers and the
writers," said Joseph Nederlander, who hired Ms.
Harris into his family's Detroit office. "All the stars
touring to the area knew her, and she helped them
with anything they needed.
"Shirl got them to the right restaurants — and if an
actor or actress asked to see a doctor or dentist, Shirl
made an appointment and shlepped the person in her
car. In many ways, she took on the role of mother for
them and was one great lady."
Ms. Harris, who grew up in Detroit, entered show
business as a dance teacher.
When Soupy Sales was
revues put on by Hadassah, ORT and the Temple
Emanu-El Sisterhood, also made arrangements for
lunchtime program from
Jana Robbins, a supporting actress in Footloose, to
Detroit, my mom worked
perform at the Hechtman Jewish Apartments in
with him on his comic dance routine," recalls son
James Harris of Royal Oak. "The Soupy Shuffle
"One issue that was very important to my mother
was developed with her."
was equal rights for women," said her son Thomas
Ms. Harris went on to host a radio program,
Harris, of New York. "She was active with NOW
Showtime With Shirl, on WQRS-FM between 1966
(National Organization for Women) when it organ-
and 1977. She would play music from
ized in Detroit."
Broadway and interview the stars, such as
Ms. Harris, a strong Tigers fan
Carol Channing, from cast recordings.
who enjoyed attending a few baseball
"Shia had an encyclopedic knowledge
games each season, was very straight-
of the theater," says Ernie Jay, her long-
forward about her favorite show — A
time companion. "I was a fan of Shirrs
radio program before I got to know her.
"It really touched me because it's so
She was a remarkable woman with rock-
close to real," she told the Jewish
solid integrity and great generosity.
News in 2001. "So many people have
"I remember taking a call for her from
dreams about the theater, and some-
Roddy McDowall, who had appeared in
times we watch them come true."
a play at the Fisher. He called to thank
Shirlee Harris is survived by her
her for all the attention he received while
sons and daughter-in-law, Thomas
he was in town."
Harris of New York, James and
When the Fisher Theatre celebrated its
Debbie Harris of Royal Oak;
Shirlee Harr is
40th anniversary in 2001, Ms. Harris
grandchildren, Jordan and Taylor
recalled some of her experiences for the
Harris; sister Doris Applebaum;
Detroit Jewish News. "I found Kathleen
and her companion of 30 years,
Turner [star of Tallulah] to be among the nicest
Ernie Jay of Detroit.
celebrities," Ms. Harris said.
She was the loving mother of the late Joan A.
"Sometimes, when I've gone to pick up the younger Harris and dear sister of the late Perry Applebaum.
actors at their hotels for early appearances, I've had to
Contributions may be made to the American Lung
send up people to wake them because they slept
Association of Michigan, 25900 Greenfield Road,
through the phone calls."
Suite 401, Oak Park, MI 48237. Arrangements by Ira
Ms. Harris, who planned and choreographed
Kaufman Chapel. ❑
Dedication And Courage
r. Leon Herschfus was not only highly
respected in the world of dentistry, he was
also known for his love of Torah study and
dedication to the Jewish community.
A man of intelligence, energy and courage, the
Southfield resident moved with such strength and
agility that until his passing on Nov. 26, 2003, many
friends and family members were not aware that he
was 91 years old.
Born in the Netherlands, Dr. Herschfus was the sec-
ond of five children of HaRav Elchanan Yitzchak and
Sara Traina Herschfus. He graduated with honors from
dental school in 1935 and then studied oral surgery in
Zurich. He was invited by the dean of the dental
school to join him in practice in Belgium. Among his
patients were many members of the royal family.
With the German invasion of Belgium on May 10,
1940, Dr. Herschfus knew instinctively that he had to
take his two younger sisters, who were visiting him,
and flee. They crammed into his maroon Citroen, a
graduation gift from his parents, and drove toward
France. They just missed boarding a freighter for
Morocco — a ship that soon after was torpedoed and
sunk by the Germans. Dr. Herschfus said that only
Divine intervention kept them from boarding the ship.
Dr. Herschfus guided his sisters through France,
Spain, and Portugal. He had an uncanny ability to
know where the enemy was
papers on implants and oral medicine and wrote
and to choose to go in the
abstracts in the Journal of Michigan Dental Association
for over 10 years. He also served on the Attorney
When he and his sisters
Grievance Commission and Michigan Board of
arrived in Portugal, he telegraphed his parents who
sent tickets to get them to America. Despite his newly
Dr. Herschfus was instrumental in helping numer-
acquired freedom, Dr. Herschfus tried to
ous students gain
return to Europe in an effort to rescue his
acceptance to dental
older sister and her family in Amsterdam,
school and in further-
but was prevented by Dutch officials.
ing their careers.
In the United States, Dr. Herschfus
asked where the best dental school was
Herschfus was present-
and was directed to the University of
ed with the Michigan
Michigan. He graduated U-M in 1945
and took an oral surgery residency in
John Nolan Award in
New York. He developed an interest in
recognition of outstanding and dis-
oral manifestations of systemic disease
tinguished processional achieve-
Dr. Herschfus decided he wanted to
Dr. Herschfus exemplified a life of
give back to the country that gave him
Torah Im Derech Eretz (incorporating
his freedom, so he volunteered and served Dr. Leon Herschfus
Torah into his way of life). All
in the U.S. Air Force. He later returned
through his professional career, he set
to Michigan and opened a dental practice
aside time for prayer, learning and
in the Cadillac Tower in downtown Detroit. His
reciting psalms. When he retired from the active prac-
rabbi introduced him to Rayetta Harris and they were tice of dentistry, he increased his daily learning of
Talmud and Halachah (Jewish law). He was known for
During his career, Dr. Herschfus served as chair of
his tremendous kibud av v'eim (respect for his parents).
the Michigan Board of Dentistry and chief of the
He supported Jewish institutions worldwide; his parlor
Department of Dental Surgery and Oral Medicine at
meetings for the Chassidic sect Mosdot Gur were an
Grace Hospital (formerly Mt. Carmel Mercy
Hospital) in Detroit. He wrote over 50 scientific
OBITS on page 130