Henry B. Walthall

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Henry B. Walthall
Henry B. Walthall (1934)
Born (1878-03-16)March 16, 1878
Shelby County, Alabama, U.S.
Died June 17, 1936(1936-06-17) (aged 58)
Monrovia, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1906–1936
Spouse(s) Isabel Fenton (1907–1917)
Mary Charleson (1918–1936),
1 child

Henry Brazeale Walthall (March 16, 1878 – June 17, 1936) was an American stage and film actor. He appeared as the Little Colonel in D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915).

Early life[edit]

Henry B. Walthall was born March 16, 1878,[1]:1437 on a cotton plantation owned by his father in Shelby County, Alabama. His father had been a captain in the Confederate army.[2][3] Walthall worked full time alongside his father in the 1890s capturing and selling black Americans into forced labor.[4] He was educated by his parents and an uncle who lent books to him. He studied at Howard College for six months.[5]

In 1898, during the Spanish–American War, he enlisted in the First Alabama Regiment.[5] He contracted malaria while in camp in Jacksonville, Florida, and the war ended before he had recovered.[3] He served 11 months, and when his regiment was discharged he returned home. Then, with $100, he left for New York to make his career on the stage.[5] He played small parts with the Murray Hill Theater stock company. Later he became affiliated with the American Theater stock company and soon afterward joined the Providence, Rhode Island, stock company.[3]


Henry B. Walthall (1916)
Filming The Escape in 1913
Modern Husbands (1919)
Tol'able David (1930)
From left: Harlan E. Knight, Peter Richmond, Walthall, Joan Peers, Noah Beery
Will Rogers and Walthall in Judge Priest (1934)

In New York in 1901,[2] Walthall won a role in Under Southern Skies by Charlotte Blair Parker. He performed in the play for three years, in New York and on tour.[5] With the company of Henry Miller he gained recognition on Broadway in plays including Pippa Passes, The Only Way and William Vaughn Moody's The Great Divide (1906–08).[2][6] His fellow cast member James Kirkwood introduced Walthall to D. W. Griffith,[5] and at the conclusion of that engagement, Walthall joined the Biograph Company.[3]

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.[3]

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.[3]

Given the relatively short length of films in the early years, Walthall frequently found himself cast in dozens of films each year. 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.

Walthall continued working in films through the 1920s, appearing in The Plastic Age with Gilbert Roland and Clara Bow. He portrayed Roger Chillingworth in Victor Seastrom's 1926 adaptation of The Scarlet Letter opposite Lillian Gish.

Walthall continued his career into the 1930s. After his performance in director John Ford's 1934 film Judge Priest starring Will Rogers he enjoyed a golden period of his career. He portrayed Dr. Manette in A Tale of Two Cities (1935), starring Ronald Colman. In 1936 he appeared as Marcel in The Devil-Doll. He was gravely ill during his final film, China Clipper.

Frank Capra wanted Walthall to portray the High Lama in his 1937 film, Lost Horizon. "Frail and failing, he died before we could test him," Capra wrote.[7]:196

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

Personal life[edit]

Lillian Gish described Walthall as "a slight man, about five feet six, fine-boned, with the face of a poet and a dreamer."[8]:135 She recalled his patience while Griffith grappled with technical problems filming the epilogue of Home, Sweet Home (1914), a scene in which Gish, as an angel, lifts Walthall's character out of hell. "There was a long discussion while Walthall and I, encased in leather harness, hung on the guide wires. Wally, a true southern gentleman, didn't raise his voice, didn't complain; he simply fainted and hung there limply."[8]:113

Walthall was married twice. His marriage to actress Isabel Fenton (1907–1917) ended in divorce. His second marriage, to Irish actress Mary Charleson, lasted from 1918 until his death in 1936.

Exhausted from months of uninterrupted film work, Walthall collapsed on the Warner Bros. set after completing his scenes in the film China Clipper, in which he portrayed an airplane inventor. He entered the Pasteur Sanitarium at Monrovia, California, and died of an intestinal illness three weeks later, on June 17, 1936.[5]


Year Title Role Notes
1909 A Convict's Sacrifice The Convict's Friend [1]:1437Short
1909 The Mended Lute Indian Short
1909 Pranks Sunbather [1]:1437Short
1909 The Sealed Room The Minstrel [1]:1437Short
1909 In Old Kentucky Robert, the Confederate Son [1]:1437Short
1909 The Hessian Renegades Short
1909 A Corner in Wheat The wheat king's assistant [1]:1437Short
1909 Fools of Fate Short
1909 A Trap for Santa Claus Arthur Short
1909 In Little Italy Victor Short
1909 The Day After Party Guest Short
1909 Choosing a Husband Harry [1]:1437Short
1909 Getting Even Miner Short
1910 The Honor of His Family [1]:1437
1910 The Two Brothers Pedro
1910 The Kid Walter Holden
1910 Ramona Alessandro
1910 In the Border States Confederate Corporal
1910 The House with Closed Shutters The Confederate Soldier
1910 Rose O'Salem-Town The Trapper
1910 In Old California [1]:1437
1910 The Gold Seekers [1]:1437
1910 The Oath and the Man [1]:1437
1910 The Sorrows of the Unfaithful [1]:1437
1910 A Summer Idyl [1]:1437
1910 The Armorer's Daughter [1]:1437
1911 A Little Child [1]:1437
1912 Home Folks [1]:1437
1912 The Miser's Daughter [1]:1437
1912 Friends Dandy Jack [1]:1437
1912 The Inner Circle
1912 A Change of Spirit First Gentleman Thief
1912 Two Daughters of Eve The Father
1912 So Near, Yet So Far
1912 A Feud in the Kentucky Hills Psalm Singer
1912 In the Aisles of the Wild Jim Watson
1912 The One She Loved The Husband
1912 The Painted Lady
1912 My Baby The Husband
1912 The Informer The false Brother
1912 Brutality
1912 My Hero Indian Charlie
1912 The Burglar's Dilemma Householder's Weakling Brother
1912 The God Within The Woodsman
1913 The Vengeance of Galora [1]:1437
1913 Oil and Water The Idealist [1]:1437
1913 The Wedding Gown [1]:1437
1913 Three Friends The Husband
1913 Love in an Apartment Hotel The Young Woman's Fiance
1913 Broken Ways The Road Agent [1]:1437
1913 The Sheriff's Baby First Bandit
1913 If We Only Knew The Father
1913 The Lady and the Mouse
1913 The Wanderer The Wanderer
1913 The House of Darkness
1913 The Tenderfoot's Money The Prospector
1913 The Stolen Loaf The Poor Man
1913 Red Hicks Defies the World
1913 The Switch Tower The Switchman
1913 The Mothering Heart Club Patron
1913 The Mistake Jack, the Friend, a Prospector
1913 A Gambler's Honor Beth's Brother
1913 During the Round-Up The Stranger
1913 The Mirror The Station Agent
1913 Two Men of the Desert First Partner [1]:1437
1913 A Woman in the Ultimate Member of the Badger Gang
1913 The Perfidy of Mary Poet
1913 The Battle at Elderbush Gulch Indian Chief's Son [1]:1437
1913 Death's Marathon The Husband [1]:1437
1914 The Green-Eyed Devil Short film
1914 The Mountain Rat Douglas Williams [1]:1437[9]
1914 The Floor Above Stephen Pryde [9]
1914 The Gangsters of New York[1]:1437 Porky Dugan [10]
1914 Ashes of the Past [1]:1437
1914 Judith of Bethulia Holofernes [9]
1914 Strongheart [1]:1437
1914 Classmates Duncan Irving [10]
1914 Lord Chumley Lord Chumley [10]
1914 Man's Enemy
1914 The Avenging Conscience The Nephew [10]
1914 Home, Sweet Home John Howard Payne [1]:1437[10]
1914 The Odalisque [1]:1437
1915 The Birth of a Nation Col. Ben Cameron [9]
1915 Beulah Dr. Guy Hartwell [10]
1915 The Raven Edgar Allan Poe [10]
1915 Ghosts Captain Arling/Oswald [1]:1437[9]
1915 The Woman Hater [1]:1437
1916 The Birth of a Man [9]
1916 The Pillars of Society Karsten Bernick [1]:1437[9]
1916 The Sting of Victory David Whiting/Walker Whiting [10]
1916 The Truant Soul Dr. John Lancaster/Dr. Lawson [10]
1916 The Misleading Lady Jack Craigen [10]
1916 The Strange Case of Mary Page Phil Langdon, Attorney Serial; lost film
1917 Burning the Candle James Maxwell [10]
1917 The Saint's Adventure Rev. Paul Manson [10]
1917 Little Shoes David Noel [10]
1917 National Association's All-Star Picture [9]
1918 His Robe of Honor Julian Randolph [10]
1918 With Hoops of Steel Emerson Mead [10]
1918 The Great Love Sir Roger Brighton [10]
1918 And a Still Small Voice Clay Randolph [10]
1918 Humdrum Brown Hector "Humdrum" Brown [10]
1919 The False Faces Michael Lanyard, "The Lone Wolf" [10]
1919 Modern Husbands Stephen Duane [10]
1919 The Boomerang George Gray [10]
1919 The Long Lane's Turning Harry Sevier [10]
1919 The Long Arm of Mannister George Mannister [10]
1920 The Confession Father Bartlett [10]
1920 Parted Curtains Joe Jenkins [10]
1920 A Splendid Hazard Karl Breitman [10]
1921 Flower of the North Philip Whittemore [10]
1921 The Ableminded Lady Breezy Bright [10]
1922 The Kickback Aaron Price [10]
1922 The Long Chance Harley P. Hennage [10]
1922 The Marriage Chance Dr. Paul Graydon [10]
1922 One Clear Call Henry Garnett [10]
1922 Boy of Mine William Latimer [10]
1923 The Face on the Bar-Room Floor Robert Stevens [10]
1923 The Unknown Purple Peter Marchmont/Victor Cromport [10]
1924 The Bowery Bishop Norman Strong [10]
1924 Single Wives Franklin Dexter [10]
1924 The Woman on the Jury Prosecuting Attorney Lost film[10]
1925 The Girl Who Wouldn't Work William Hale [10]
1925 Kit Carson Over the Great Divide Dr. Samuel Webb [10]
1925 On the Threshold Andrew Masters [10]
1925 The Golden Bed Colonel Peake [9]
1925 The Plastic Age Henry Carver [10]
1925 Kentucky Pride Mr. Beaumont [10]
1925 Dollar Down Alec Craig [10]
1925 Simon the Jester Brandt [10]
1926 Everybody's Acting Thorpe [9]
1926 Three Faces East George Bennett [9]
1926 The Barrier Gale [10]
1926 The Road to Mandalay Father James [10]
1926 The Scarlet Letter Roger Chillingworth [10]
1926 The Unknown Soldier Mr. Phillips [10]
1927 Wings Mr. Armstrong [10]
1927 London After Midnight Sir James Hamlin [10]
1927 The Enchanted Island Tim Sanborn [10]
1927 Fighting Love Filipo Navarro [10]
1927 A Light in the Window Johann Graff [10]
1927 The Rose of Kildare Bob Avery [10]
1928 Freedom of the Press John Ballard [10]
1928 Retribution Vitaphone Varieties 2418
1928 Love Me and the World Is Mine Van Denbosch [10]
1929 Speakeasy Fuzzy [10]
1929 The Jazz Age Mr. Maxwell
1929 The Bridge of San Luis Rey Father Juniper [10]
1929 The Trespasser Fuller [10]
1929 Black Magic Dr. Bradbroke [10]
1929 In Old California Don Pedro DeLeón [1]:1437[10]
1929 From Headquarters Buffalo Bill Ryan [10]
1929 The Phantom in the House Boyd Milburn [10]
1929 River of Romance Gen. Jeff Rumford [10]
1929 Stark Mad Captain Rhodes Lost film[10]
1929 Street Corner Short film
1930 Temple Tower Blackton [10]
1930 Abraham Lincoln Colonel Marshall [10]
1930 The Love Trader Captain Adams [10]
1930 Tol'able David Amos Hatburn [10]
1930 Blaze o' Glory Burke Lost film[10]
1931 Anybody's Blonde The Editor [10]
1931 Is There Justice? District Attorney John Raymond [10]
1932 Chandu the Magician Robert Regent [10]
1932 Police Court Nat Barry [10]
1932 The Cabin in the Cotton Eph Clinton [10]
1932 Ride Him, Cowboy John Gaunt [10]
1932 Strange Interlude Professor Leeds [10]
1932 Me and My Gal Sarge [10]
1932 Central Park Eby [10]
1932 Alias Mary Smith Atwell [10]
1932 Klondike Mark Armstrong [10]
1932 Hotel Continental Winthrop [10]
1932 Self Defense Dr. Borden [10]
1932 The Flaming Signal Rev. James [10]
1933 42nd Street The Actor [10]
1933 Headline Shooter Judge Beacon [10]
1933 Laughing at Life Presidente Valenzuela [10]
1933 The Sin of Nora Moran Father Ryan [10]
1933 Somewhere in Sonora Bob Leadly [10]
1933 Her Forgotten Past Mr. Maynard [10]
1933 The Whispering Shadow Serial[1]:1437
1933 The Wolf Dog Jim Courtney Serial
1934 Judge Priest Rev. Ashby Brand [10]
1934 A Girl of the Limberlost Dr. Ammon [10]
1934 Viva Villa! Francisco I. Madero [5]
1934 The Scarlet Letter Roger Chillingworth [10]
1934 Men in White Dr. McCabe [2]
1934 Bachelor of Arts Professor Barth [10]
1934 Dark Hazard Schultz [10]
1934 The Murder in the Museum Bernard Latham Wayne, alias Professor Mysto
1934 Beggars in Ermine Marchant the Blind Man
1934 The Lemon Drop Kid [1]:1437[5]
1935 A Tale of Two Cities Dr. Manette [10]
1935 Dante's Inferno Pop McWade [10]
1935 Helldorado [1]:1437
1936 The Devil-Doll Marcel [10]
1936 The Garden Murder Case Dr. Garden [1]:1437
1936 The Mine with the Iron Door
1936 Hearts in Bondage Captain Buchanan
1936 The Last Outlaw Under Sheriff Calvin Yates Screening on Broadway when Walthall died[5][10]
1936 China Clipper Dad Brunn Walthall collapsed on the set after completing his scenes[10] and died three weeks later[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am Katz, Ephraim (1998). The Film Encyclopedia (3rd ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. ISBN 978-0-06-273492-1. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Obituaries: Henry B. Walthall". Variety: 78. June 24, 1936. Retrieved 2014-12-22. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Chats with the Players: Henry B. Walthall". Motion Picture Magazine: 113–115. October 1915. Retrieved 2014-12-22. 
  4. ^ Blackmon, Douglas A. (2008). Slavery by Another Name. Anchor Books. p. 282. ISBN 978-0-385-72270-4. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Henry Walthall, Film Actor, Dead; Veteran of Early Cinema, 58, Made Reputation in 'The Birth of a Nation'". The New York Times. July 18, 1936. 
  6. ^ "Henry B. Walthall". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2014-12-22. 
  7. ^ Capra, Frank (1971). The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography. New York: The MacMillan Company. OCLC 468875274. 
  8. ^ a b Gish, Lillian (1969). Lillian Gish: The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. OCLC 3175012. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Henry Walthall". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 2014-12-22. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz ca cb cc cd ce cf cg ch ci cj ck cl cm cn co cp cq cr cs ct cu cv cw "Henry B. Walthall". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 2014-12-22. 

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