Harrelson attended Southeast from the fall of 1940 through the spring of 1942. Her father was a Cape Girardeau dentist. While at Southeast, she was a member of the drama club Black Mask, the Clio Society (Tri Delta) and a columnist for the Capaha Arrow. Her most important undertaking was a collaborative effort with two other students to change the name of the University, which at the time was Southeast Missouri State Teachers College, to the more inclusive Southeast Missouri State College.
Harrelson went on to receive a BFA degree from the Goodman School of the Theatre in Chicago. However, she had already become a professional actress as a result of a summer stock engagement, through which she became a member of the Actors’ Equity Association, the craft union for actors.
Death of a Salesman with George C. Scott, Night Mother and Romeo and Juliet are just a sample of the Broadway productions in which Harrelson has appeared. Her off Broadway performances are just as distinguished, including her role as Mrs. Gibbs in Our Town, directed by the legendary Jose Quintero.
At different times, she has lived in London and Rome, studying her repertory theatre. Some of her most rewarding work was at the Guthrie theatre in Minneapolis, which was founded by her husband, Peter Zeisler, Tyron Guthrie and Oliver Rea. Playing in repertory at the Guthrie, Harrelson performed in Richard III with Hume Cronyn and with his wife Jessica Tandy in Way of the World, as well as other classics
During her extensive and notable career, Harrelson has worked from coast to coast touring with Broadway plays and later in regional theatres. She was heard on radio in the days of cliff hanger series. She also has appeared on television, both daytime and primetime. She has had several roles on both Law and Order and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Her film work includes The Deep Well, a Venice Festival prize winner.