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A Tribute to Arleen Sorkin, The Voice Of Harley Quinn from 'Batman: The Animated Series'

By Brian Richards | Obituaries | August 28, 2023 |

By Brian Richards | Obituaries | August 28, 2023 |


Actress-writer Arleen Sorkin, who was the voice and inspiration for the high-spirited hellraiser Harley Quinn on Batman: The Animated Series, and who also played Calliope Jones on Days of our Lives, reportedly died this past weekend at 67 after a years-long bout with multiple sclerosis.

Born in Washington, D.C., Sorkin started her entertainment career in cabaret as a dancer during the 1970s and 1980s with the comic ensemble group, The High-Heeled Women, alongside fellow members Tracey Berg, Cassandra Danz, and Mary Fulham. From 1984 to 1990, she played the role of dressmaker/daytime talk show host/wedding planner/hat enthusiast Calliope Jones on the daytime soap opera Days of our Lives, which earned her two Daytime Emmy award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress. She returned to the role in 1992, 2001, 2006, and 2010.

From 1987 to 1990, Sorkin played the role of sarcastic maid Geneva on the Fox sitcom Duet, and in 1991, she joined the writing staff of Tiny Toon Adventures, where she co-wrote two episodes with her writing parter, Beth Milstein. She also wrote for other series like the short-lived Down Home, and Fired Up, and co-wrote the story and screenplay for the romantic comedy Picture Perfect, which starred Jennifer Aniston and Jay Mohr.

When I paid tribute to Batman: The Animated Series last year in honor of its thirtieth anniversary, I wrote about how writer-producer Paul Dini was preparing to write the episode “Joker’s Favor,” and wanted to introduce someone who Joker could interact with, and who would make him look even more funny and scary and egotistical. He decided on a female henchperson reminiscent of the molls from the 1960s Batman series with Adam West. Someone who was bubbly and funny, but who also had attitude, and who was just as capable of bringing the pain as The Joker, even when she was getting on his very last nerve.

That someone was Harleen Frances Quinzel, a.k.a. “Harley Quinn,” whose voice and demeanor could be sweeter than honey, right before turning into a sledgehammer that would wreak havoc on anyone or anything in its path.


Dini and Sorkin were friends since college, and his inspiration for Harley Quinn came from Sorkin herself, her personality, and her mannerisms. It also came from a Days of our Lives episode that Dini had watched, in which Calliope appeared in a dream sequence as a jester.

(If you watch this scene from Birds of Prey, you can catch a very brief glimpse of Sorkin-as-Calliope in jester mode on the television screen in Renee Montoya’s apartment.)

The series’ co-creator and producer, Bruce Timm, helped create the visual design for Harley Quinn, and Sorkin (who was asked by Dini to voice the character) chose to use her Brooklyn accent for Harley, but with, as Sorkin put it, “a little Yiddish sound” to it, since Dini chose to make Harley Quinn Jewish like Sorkin herself. (Even Harley’s first and middle names were inspired by Arleen Sorkin, whose middle name was Frances.) Harley Quinn was expected to be in only one episode of Batman: The Animated Series, but she turned out to be a very popular addition to the show, and went on to appear in several more, including “Harley and Ivy,” in which she becomes very good friends with Poison Ivy, leading to the two of them becoming partners-in-crime and raising hell all over Gotham City.

One of the best episodes from Batman: The Animated Series was “Harley’s Holiday,” in which Harley is released from Arkham, and makes a valiant effort to live an honest life and do the right thing, only to experience obstacles at every turn that result in Batman hunting her down once again. The final scene, in which Harley is escorted back to Arkham by Batman and Robin, never fails to make me ask why the room is suddenly so dusty.

The look on Harley’s face as she stares at the dress, and Sorkin’s voice as Harley says, “Nice guys like you don’t deserve bad days?” (looks around) Where’s the damn Kleenex?!

Another classic moment featuring Harley Quinn was from the episode “The Man Who Killed Batman,” in which Joker has learned that Batman is now dead, and chooses to pay tribute to his longtime nemesis.

According to Paul Dini, the moment when Harley plays “Amazing Grace” on the kazoo was done by Arleen Sorkin in only one take, and caused the crew to immediately begin laughing. Once that take ended, the crew’s laughter became uncontrollable, and left Dini feeling grateful that Sorkin was able to accomplish what she did in just one take, as a second one probably would’ve been impossible.

Despite her relationship with The Joker, and her willingness to help him make life hell for Batman and for everyone in Gotham, Harley was more of a brilliant troublemaker with less-than-great judgment (especially when it came to love) than a merciless, unrepentant blackhat, and it didn’t take long for her popularity as an antiheroine to skyrocket and grow far beyond Batman: The Animated Series. Not only did she go on to appear in the one-shot comic The Batman Adventures: Mad Love, and Batman: Harley Quinn (which also gave us this classic cover illustrated by legendary artist Alex Ross), the character got her very own comic book series, and would also appear in the comic Gotham City Sirens, where she would team up with Poison Ivy and Catwoman for their own adventures.

Besides her additional appearances in Batman: The Animated Series, Sorkin also voiced Harley Quinn for many other shows in the DC Animated Universe, including Gotham Girls, Justice League, Static Shock, and The New Batman Adventures. She also voiced Harley for the animated film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, and the multiplayer online game DC Universe Online, which would be the last time Sorkin would perform voice acting for the character.

There was no official confirmation to the public of Sorkin’s death until yesterday, but it didn’t stop her fans and her peers from sharing their love and appreciation of Sorkin and her work, as well as expressing how painful it was to lose another irreplaceable voice from Batman: The Animated Series, less than a year after losing the legendary Kevin Conroy to intestinal cancer last November.

Sorkin is survived by her husband, Frasier producer Christopher Lloyd, and their two sons, Eli and Owen Lloyd, who have asked for donations to be made to The National MS Society.

From Entertainment Weekly:

“We will always remember our dear Arleen for her immense generosity of spirit,” the family said in a statement. “Talented, yes, and dogged, too, as evidenced by her tenacious, decades-long fight with a terrible disease. But more than that, she was a loving presence in the lives of her two boys, Eli and Owen; her mother, Joyce; her brothers, Robert and Arthur; and the countless other children, old and young, whom she took under her beautiful wing over the years.”

There have been many other talented actresses who have graced our screens with their own versions of Harley Quinn, including Tara Strong, Kaley Cuoco, Mia Sara, Cassidy Alexa (who appeared physically as Harley in an episode of Arrow, but was voiced by Strong), and last but never least, Margot Robbie. But none of these performances would be possible without Arleen Sorkin, who truly made the character her own, and who made it impossible to look at any version of her on page or on screen without hearing her unique and unforgettable voice. And for that, we will forever be grateful.

Thank you for everything, Arleen. May you rest in peace.