Key Points:

Witarina Harris, film star, entertainer, public servant. Died aged 101.

In 1929, the then Witarina Te Miriarangi Parewahaika Mitchell took the starring role of Princess Miro in a Hollywood movie called Under the Southern Cross, later known as The Devil's Pit.

She was plucked from her job as a typist in Rotorua to audition for the role. "And I became a film star, as easy as all that. It was the talk of the pa."

The film was made in the Bay of Plenty by Universal Studios.

Instead of pursuing a Hollywood career after the filming ended, she moved into the public service in Wellington. In the 1930s she worked as a shorthand typist for Maori Affairs Minister Sir Apirana Ngata until her marriage to Reg Harris. After his death in the 1970s she returned to her turangawaewae in Ohinemutu, on the shores of Lake Rotorua, and assumed the role of a respected Te Arawa kuia. No local gathering was complete without Mrs Harris leading the show.

For fellow entertainer Sir Howard Morrison, she was a great ariki (noblewoman) - "an unabashed entertainer to the end but one whose steadying influence was manifold".

In the 1950s she was a foundation member of the Maori Women's Welfare League, and also helped set up the Ngati Poneke Young Maori Club in Wellington.

New Zealand Film Archive director Jonathan Dennis discovered her work in the early 1980s and persuaded her to become the archive's kaumatua. She travelled the world with him to introduce the archive's collection.

Her contribution was recognised last year when she was given a Taiki Ngapara lifetime achievement award at the Film Archive's 25th anniversary celebration. She was also awarded a QSM for community services in 1986.

Mrs Harris is survived by three sons and a daughter, and a large number of mokopuna (grandchildren).