Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Harry Davenport

Harry Davenport was born in 1866, the year after the American Civil War ended, and his last film was made in 1950, when television had already made its appearance in our lives. The man, and the actor, went from kerosene lighting to the atom. His longevity in that career, or any career, is remarkable. He was already in his late 40s when his film career started in the silent films, and he also directed many silent films himself.

We remember him perennially as an old man, a jovial, wry, whimsical, intelligent old man who made things right by his wit and his wisdom. He played a number of doctors and grandpas. He was Dr. Meade in “Gone With the Wind,” (1939) who could not leave an overwhelming number of suffering casualties who needed him and told Scarlett that she had to deliver Melanie’s baby herself.

He played the Grandpa in “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) who takes Judy Garland to the Christmas ball in his dapper tuxedo. He played in “The Ox-Bow Incident” (1943) and a number of important films of the day as an instantly recognizable character actor, not the kind who disguised himself from role to role, but one whose cache, or at least the studio seemed to think so, was his being recognizable. He had a distinctive voice and carriage. We knew was to expect from him.

One of his most interesting roles is as King Louis XI in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” a very literate script that allows us to see what kind of stage actor Mr. Davenport must have been, what a flourish he must have cut before his days as the kindly old doctor and the elfin grandpa.

Mr. Davenport was also a co-founder of what would become the Actors Equity Association, so we see his devotion to his craft and his fellow actors was as genuine as the characters he made us believe.

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J.C. Loophole said...

He was also great as Nick Charles' father, a small town doctor, in The Thin Man Goes Home. Actually he was great in everything. Thanks for the post!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for stopping by, J.C. If I'm not mistaken, I think TCM is running a bunch of Thin Man films tomorrow, that being one of them. Got to bone up on my Thin Man knowledge.

Laura said...

Our family recently watched SON OF FURY for the first time -- Davenport was wonderful as Tyrone Power's grandfather.

He was perfect as Dr. Meade in GWTW, but it's really hard to top his performance in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS. Funny, moving -- he helped make that film the exquisite piece of art that it is. :)

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for your comment, Laura. I agree, Davenport was wonderful in "Meet Me in St. Louis." A warm personality, with a great sense of comedic timing.

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