|Born||Charlotte Virginia Henry|
March 3, 1914
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||April 11, 1980 (aged 66)|
La Jolla, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Dr. James J. Dempsey (19??-1980; her death)|
Charlotte Virginia Henry (March 3, 1914 – April 11, 1980) was an American actress who is best remembered for her roles in Alice in Wonderland (1933) and Babes in Toyland (1934). She also starred in the Frank Buck serial Jungle Menace (1937).
Henry was born in Brooklyn, New York to Robert Emmett Henry (1891–1952) and Charlotte Ann Sayers Henry (1891–1971). She began modelling at a very early age and was always fascinated by the theatre. Her family were astonished when, at only 14 years of age, she was cast in an important role in Courage, a hit Broadway play in 1928.
The following year, Charlotte's mother brought her to Hollywood. She repeated her part in the movie version of Courage (1930) and enrolled at Lawlors, the school for professional children. Some of her classmates were Frankie Darro, Anita Louise and Betty Grable. Junior Durkin, who had worked with her in Courage, suggested Charlotte for a play he was appearing in at the Pasadena playhouse. By then, she had appeared in two more feature films: Huckleberry Finn in 1931 and Lena Rivers in 1932.
Around that time, Paramount was looking for a young girl to play in their new movie version of Alice in Wonderland, and over 6,800 were auditioned. A Paramount talent scout saw Charlotte in the play and arranged a screen test on a Monday morning. One-week-to-the-day later, Henry began filming the high budget classic. The studio's press department made much of her uncanny resemblance to the character as it appeared in the original Tenniel drawings.
An anxious movie-going public awaited the costly feature. A new young star was expected to emerge. The 1933 picture garnered unanimous praise for Charlotte. In 1933 she appeared in the film Man Hunt as Josie Woodward.
Paramount loaned her to MGM for Babes in Toyland with Laurel and Hardy. She appeared as "Mlle. Kitty" in Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936). She was released from her contract but continued to make movies, although the lower budgets of some of the productions sometimes let her down. She made around 30 films, some as the star but more often in supporting roles, mostly between 1930-37 followed by more modelling, and then five more in 1941-42. Discouraged by the low quality of the work she was being offered, in her own words: "I simply lost interest."
In his autobiography, director Harry L. Fraser described filming the scene in Jungle Menace during which a boa constrictor attacks the heroine Dorothy (Charlotte Henry). The villain has tied Dorothy hand and foot and she thrashes about wildly, terrified when she suddenly sees the huge snake:
The snake was in no hurry. Slowly he slithered across the girl's body, while she screamed and struggled. He turned, looking for a spot to slip under her to make his first wrap. I motioned to the reptile crew to get ready, and a split-second later gave them the signal to move in. But now, the maddened snake fought them and did its best to coil around one of the men. Before that happened, however, I had cut, and we had a good cliff-hanger with our terror-stricken heroine to close the episode.
Henry said that her success as a child actress left her "typed, definitely typed" and cited the difficulty of proving "that I am quite capable of playing serious adult parts." The resulting lack of work in films led her to act on stage in production of the Federal Theatre Project.
Later life and death
Henry retired from the movies and moved from Hollywood to San Diego, where she ran an employment agency with her mother. She then became executive secretary for 15 years to the Roman Catholic Bishop of San Diego, Charles F. Buddy. She was happily married to Dr. James Dempsey and continued with her acting, appearing in several stage productions at the San Diego Old Globe Theatre. Her car licence plate, in true looking-glass style, read "ECILA".
She died of cancer at age 66 in 1980. The San Diego Union newspaper carried the obituary and noted that she was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery and was survived by her husband, Dr. James J. Dempsey and her brother, the Reverend Robert E. Henry of St Paul's Episcopal Church in Ventura, California.[unreliable source?]
- Harmony at Home (1930)
- Courage (1930)
- On Your Back (1930)
- Forbidden (1932)
- Alice in Wonderland (1933)
- Man Hunt (1933 film) (1933)
- The Last Gentleman (1934)
- Babes in Toyland (1934)
- Laddie (1935)
- The Hoosier Schoolmaster (1935)
- Forbidden Heaven (1935)
- The Return of Jimmy Valentine (1936)
- Hearts in Bondage (1936)
- Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)
- The Mandarin Mystery (1936)
- Jungle Menace (1937)
- Bowery Blitzkrieg (1941)
- Flying Blind (1941)
- I Live on Danger (1942)
- Lehrer, Steven (2006). Bring 'Em Back Alive: The Best of Frank Buck. Texas Tech University press. pp. xi–xii. ISBN 0-89672-582-0.
- Tibbetts, John C.; Welsh, James M. (2010). American Classic Screen Profiles. Scarecrow Press. p. 112. ISBN 9780810876774. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
- Harry L. Fraser. I Went That-a-Way. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. (November 1, 1990). P 117
- "'Alice' Finds that Wonderland Proved Just a Myth, After All". The Times. Indiana, Munster. July 20, 1939. p. 10. Retrieved September 14, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- Biography, Charlotte Henry website, tiscali.co.uk; accessed July 9, 2015.