Hollywood’s favourite Character actor – Harry Davenport (1866 – 1949)

Posted in Rewind by - November 19, 2014
Hollywood’s favourite Character actor – Harry Davenport (1866 – 1949)

With an acting career spanning an incredible 78 years, and with a twinkle in his eye, Harry Davenport specialised in playing doctors, judges, favourite uncles and grandfathers. Coming from a long line of performers, he was a prolific stage actor, and made his screen debut when he was 43 years old.

Born Harold George Bryant Davenport on January 19th 1866, Harry Davenport first trod the boards when he was just five years old, though it wasn’t until 1914, at the age of 43 that he made his first appearance in film, in the comedy short ‘Too Many Husbands’. The previous year Davenport was one of the original founding members of the Actor’s Equity Association, the highly regarded actor’s union.

Davenport had one of his first notable roles in the Oscar-winning ‘The Life of Emile Zola’ (’37), as a Chief of Staff, and was then a judge in Frank Capra’s superb ‘You can’t take it With You’ (’38). 1939 was a prominent year for Davenport. He played doctors in both ‘Juarez’ and (more memorably) ‘Gone with the Wind’, and then excelled as King Louis XI in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. After playing Joel McCrea’s newspaper boss in Hitchcock’s ‘Foreign Correspondent’ (’40), he had a nice little part as Charles Boyer’s kind servant and confidant in the Bette Davis drama ‘All This, and Heaven Too’ (’40).

A screwball comedy came in 1941 with the Bette Davis/James Cagney picture ‘The Bride Came C.O.D.’, as the only resident in the town where Cagney’s pilot and Davis’s heiress, crash lands. After playing Tyrone Power’s gunsmith grandfather in ‘Son of Fury’ (’42), Davenport had a small but memorable part in the classic Henry Fonda western ‘The Ox-Bow Incident’ (’43), as a thought-provoking shopkeeper.

He was Judy Garland’s grandfather in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ (’44), and great fun as William Powell’s stern father in the wonderful sequel ‘The Thin Man Goes Home’ (’45). Another family picture followed when he played the judge in the early Elizabeth Taylor drama ‘Courage of Lassie’ (’46). He was another doctor, this time in Loretta Young’s Oscar-winning ‘The Farmer’s Daughter’ (’47), and then very funny as Shirley Temple and Myrna Loy’s uncle; judge Thaddeus Turner, in the excellent domestic comedy ‘The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer’ (’47).

Yet another doctor role came in the June Allyson version of ‘Little Women’ (’49), and the same year Davenport had his last great role in the colourful costumer ‘That Forsyte Woman’ (’49), as the patriarch of the old-fashioned Forsyte family whose conniving cad Errol Flynn romances prim and proper Greer Garson. Davenport’s final movie was the 1950 Frank Capra musical ‘Riding High’, a race-track comedy starring Bing Crosby, with an amusing cameo from Oliver Hardy.

Twice married, Harry Davenport died in Los Angeles on August 9th 1949, aged 83. A familiar face who gave his all to his beloved profession and no matter how small the role, he made it his own. A dependable delight, he will continue to be enjoyed by new generations who are continually discovering Hollywood’s Golden age.

Favourite Movie: Gone with the Wind
Favourite Performance: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

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