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Classically Speaking:
Promoting Classic Movies in a Jaded World!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Harry DavenportHARRY DAVENPORT (1866-1949) Born in New York City to a long line of stage entertainers, Harry Davenport grew up in Philadelphia and made his stage debut at just five years old. His film career began at age 48, when he appeared in the silent film Too Many Husbands (1914). Despite his apparent "late" start, he has quite an impressive actor filmography of 159 films to his credit. His most notable films in which he appeared include The Life of Emile Zola, You Can't Take it With You, Gone with the Wind, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Foreign Correspondent, Kings Row, The Ox-Bow Incident, Little Women and Meet Me in St. Louis. He also directed 36 films, including some of the Mr. and Mrs. Jarr series of comedy shorts in which he portrayed Mr. Jarr.

Henry Davenport was a character actor with a kind face and the most endearing grandfatherly quality, which I love. There is just something so wholesome and good about him.

Much to my surprise and delight, when I began to learn more about him, I discovered that he is the father of actor Arthur Rankin, and grandfather of Arthur Rankin, Jr. (who along with partner Jules Bass is responsible for the equally wholesome family entertainment 60s-70s stop-motion animation gems, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town and Frosty the Snowman, which I also happen to love).

Harry had a total of six children, and his daughters, Dorothy Davenport, Fannie "Ann" Davenport and Kate Davenport all became actresses. Some of his great-great-grandchildren are actors today, so the family's illustrious show business legacy continues. All can trace their roots to renowned 18th century Irish stage actor, Jack Johnson. Talk about a rich history and generations of talent! Harry Davenport is also connected to another famous acting clan—he and Lionel Barrymore were brothers-in-law.

Still working steadily at the time of his death in 1949, Harry had a fatal heart attack in Los Angeles at the age of 83. He is undoubtedly remembered for his significant contributions to film, but also as being a champion of the rights of actors and other stage craft professionals. Harry was responsible for the spearheading of the organization that later became the Actors Equity Association. Through the efforts of Harry and co-founder Eddie Foy, Sr., they put an end to the atrocious working conditions that were the plight of the American actor at the time.

The Enchanted Forest (1945)Haven't you seen The Enchanted Forest (1945)? In this Cinecolor low-budget whimsical fantasy by PRC Studio, Harry Davenport plays Old John, a hermit who lives in the trunk of a hollowed out redwood tree, away from society and in harmony with nature. He is able to communicate with all the animal creatures and can hear the "voice" of the enchanted forest itself. There is a train wreck and Old John rescues a surviving baby boy from the river and raises him as his own, in the forest. The boy's mother, played by Brenda Joyce, pines for her son and begins to visit the forest to be near where she lost him. Meanwhile, the forest and all its inhabitants are threatened by loggers. The plots converge at the end in a good old-fashioned happy ending for all when Old John reunites the boy with his mother, and the forest is spared. Edmund Lowe also stars in this warm and charming family tale woven with moral values and environmentalism. I have to thank my mother for turning me on to this film; she had seen it as a child and thought it was great. I have to agree.

Watch this and then see these other four fantastic films.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) Harry plays Grandpa in this wonderful musical (about my hometown!) starring Judy Garland.
Little Women (1949) This classic film version of Louisa May Alcott's autobiography about growing up with her three sisters during the Civil War stars June Allyson, Margaret O'Brien, Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh. Harry Davenport gives a fine performance as Dr. Barnes.
Gone With the Wind (1939) Ten years earlier, Harry also played the role of a doctor (Dr. Meade) in this Victor Fleming masterpiece that won eight Academy Awards.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) Wise old King Louis XI is portrayed by Harry Davenport in this adaptation of the classic novel.

*Contributed by: "Deanna S." Date: Tues, Jan 24 2007 / 19:37:13 PST


  • It's wonderful to read about another very recognizable face on this blog. Often I know I've seen someone in several films, but I can't think where and don't know his name, if someone asked. Thank you for shedding light on Harry Davenport. I look forward to seeing these fine films you've recommended. You picked a good person to showcase. I didn't realize how many films I had seen of this fine actor. Although, I haven't seen all five of the films you suggested, I was shocked to learn how many others I had seen. I can recommend in addition to Gone With the Wind, Little Women, and Meet Me in St. Louis, several others: Three Daring Daughters; The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer; The Farmer's Daughter; The Courage of Lassie; The Thin Man Goes Home; The Ox-Bow Incident; All This, and Heaven Too; Kismet; Man-Proof; You Can't Take It With You; Made For Each Other; and The Story of Alexander Graham Bell. To think, I didn't know his name before this showcase. Thank you for showcasing Harry Davenport.

    By Anonymous Elizabeth Van Cleve, at Fri Jan 26, 06:13:00 AM PST  

  • You are very welcome. You're right about Harry Davenport being such a recognizable face in so many films. He was such a wonderful character actor that I thought he deserves a showcase applauding his talent. I am pleased to shed light on him for you, and hopefully for others as well. He is truly one of my favorites. Thanks for recommending 15 additional films of Harry's. He was a part of so many films, and many of them very well known. I also look forward to seeing more of his films. What a fine actor and person Harry Davenport was. It was my pleasure to do a showcase for him.

    By Blogger Deanna S., at Fri Jan 26, 07:08:00 AM PST