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Henry B. Walthall

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Henry B. Walthall

Henry B. Walthall
Photo of Walthall in The Moving Picture World (June 1916)
Born (1878-03-16)March 16, 1878
Shelby County, Alabama, U.S.
Died June 17, 1936(1936-06-17) (aged 58) (influenza & nervous condition)
Monrovia, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1906–1936
Spouse(s) Mary Charleson (1918–1936) (his death) 1 Child
Isabel Fenton (1907–1917)

Henry Brazeale Walthall (March 16, 1878 – June 17, 1936) was an American stage and film actor.[1]

Early life

Walthall was born on a cotton plantation in Shelby County, Alabama, and received his education from a private tutor.[2] As a young man, he enlisted in the Spanish-American War, but was infected with malaria while his regiment was encamped in Jacksonville, Florida. Soon after his recovery, the regiment was discharged. He became ambitious for the stage and joined the Murray Hill Theater stock company, where he played small parts. Later he became affiliated with the American Theater stock company and soon afterward joined the Providence, Rhode Island, stock company.[2]


Walthall began his career as a stage actor, appearing on Broadway in a supporting role in William Vaughn Moody's The Great Divide in 1906–1908. During his stage career, he appeared in Winchester, Under Southern Skies (1901) by Charlotte Blair Parker, Pippa Passes, The Faith Healer, The Only Way and other productions. For several seasons he was associated with Margaret Anglin and at the conclusion of that engagement, he joined the Biograph Company.[2] His career in movies began in 1909 at Biograph Studios in New York with a leading role in the film A Convict's Sacrifice. This film also featured James Kirkwood, and was directed by D.W. Griffith, a director that played a huge part in Walthall's rise to stardom. As the industry grew in size and popularity, Griffith emerged as a director and Walthall found himself a mainstay of the Griffith company, frequently working alongside such Griffith regulars as Owen Moore, Kate Bruce, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Mae Marsh, Bobby Harron and Jack and Mary Pickford. He followed Griffith's departure from New York's Biograph to California's Reliance-Majestic Studios in 1913. After a few months with Reliance, he joined Pathé for a short period.[2]

He decided to go into the producing business and formed The Union Feature Film Company, the first to be devoted entirely to full-length films. The venture was not successful, however, and he again became associated with Griffith's company.[2]

Given the relatively short length of films in the early years, Walthall frequently found himself cast in dozens of films each year. For those still unfamiliar with his face, however, he gained national attention in 1915 for his role as Colonel Ben Cameron in Griffith's highly influential and controversial epic The Birth of a Nation. Walthall's portrayal of a Confederate veteran rounding up the Ku Klux Klan won him large-scale fame, and Walthall was soon able to emerge as a leading actor in the years leading up to the 1920s, parting ways with Griffith.

Mary Charleson

He continued through the 1920s, appearing in The Plastic Age with Gilbert Roland and Clara Bow and a 1926 adaptation of The Scarlet Letter opposite Lillian Gish. Now in his 40s, he found his roles increasingly more of the "character" variety. Having experience as a stage actor, Walthall continued his career into the 1930s and, due to director John Ford's 1934 film Judge Priest starring Will Rogers and Stepin Fetchit, was enjoying a late golden period of his career at the time of his death in 1936. He was supposed to play the part of Chang in Shangri-la, a role eventually taken on by H.B. Warner. Walthall's 1936 role as Marcel in The Devil Doll is not to be confused with Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Septimus Pretorius in Bride of Frankenstein. The roles they played as mad scientists mastered shrinking people and objects and even look alike.

He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6201 Hollywood Boulevard.

Personal life

Walthall was married twice. His first marriage, to actress Isabel Fenton, ended in divorce after ten years in 1917. His second marriage, to actress Mary Charleson lasted from the following year until his death from influenza in 1936.

Selected filmography

The False Faces (1919)
Modern Husbands (1919)


  1. ^ Obituary Variety, June 24, 1936, page 78.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Chats with the Players" (Oct. 1915) Motion Picture Magazine Vol.X No.9 (Digitized by Google)

External links

  • Henry B. Walthall at the Internet Movie Database
  • Tribute Site
  • portrait of Henry B. Walthall (moviecard)
  • Literature on Henry B. Walthall
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