Second Act

Harlan and Rima Strauss

You may recognize his award-winning laugh from shows like House of Cards, but actor Harlan Strauss, BA ’70, PhD ’74, spent 30 years after graduating from the UO as a national security advisor to eight US secretaries of defense.

“I was there from the Reagan administration under Weinberger to Robert Gates,” he said. “I feel very strongly that the work I did at Oregon had an impact on how I worked in Stockholm during the two-year, East-West negotiation that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union.”

Harlan did his dissertation under the UO’s Jim Davies, a leading expert on revolutions, political turmoil, and war, and worked under Tom Hovet, an expert in international organizations.

“What I learned was fundamental to my success while representing the defense department and our government in various negotiations, treaties, and everything else,” he said.

Along the way, Harlan found his soulmate in former banker, psychotherapist, and Chinatown wedding singer Rima Strauss.

“We met through a mutual friend at the Pentagon who thought we’d get along well together because we both spoke Swedish, we both loved antiques, we both loved classical music,” Rima said.

By 2001, Harlan had led the development of bilateral agreements with 25 countries that continue to stand today as fundamental to US relationships aimed at preventing, controlling, and investigating issues related to weapons of mass destruction.

Upon retiring from government service, Harlan was ready for something new. He asked himself, “Why don’t I think about what’s good for me?” His answer—“Why don’t I start again at the lowest level in showbiz and see where that will
lead me?”

He began earning his bona fides by taking courses and acting in student productions. “I thought, yeah, I could do this,” he said. “It’s a tough world out there in acting, but I’ve clawed my way up with a few good roles.”

Harlan’s work with cinema schools in New York helped inspire the couple’s recent gift to the UO’s five-year-old Cinema Studies Program, which brings industry experts to the Eugene campus. (See Gift opens doors)

“Considering everything the university had given me in the past, all this know-how and the basic foundation for everything that I did, it made sense to engage with the university,” Harlan said.

The Strausses view cinema studies as “very positive for the development of 20-somethings” because people from varied backgrounds and disciplines can come together under the umbrella of the Cinema Studies Program to learn how to create a film.

“With Oregon still new in this area, and cinema studies one of the most popular developing fields, we felt we could make an impact,” Harlan said.

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