Henry Travers

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Henry Travers
Travers in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)
Travers John Heagerty

(1874-03-05)5 March 1874
Died18 October 1965(1965-10-18) (aged 91)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California
Years active1894–1949
Amy Forrest-Rhodes
(m. 1931; died 1954)
Anna (Ann) Glud Murphy
(m. 1955)

Travers John Heagerty[1] (5 March 1874[2] – 18 October 1965), known professionally as Henry Travers, was an English film and stage character actor. His best known role was the guardian angel Clarence Odbody in the 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life. He also received an Academy Award nomination for his supporting role in Mrs. Miniver (1942). Travers specialized in portraying slightly bumbling but friendly and lovable older men.

Early life[edit]

Travers was born in Prudhoe, Northumberland, and was the son of Daniel Heagerty,[2] a doctor originally from Ireland, and Ellen Gillman Hornibrook. His mother was a native of County Cork, Ireland, and was previously married to William H. Belcher, a merchant seaman. He died in 1869. Travers had a half-brother, Samuel William Belcher, by his mother's previous marriage. He also had another brother, Daniel George Belsaigne Heagerty, and a sister, Mary Sophia Maude Heagerty. Travers grew up in Berwick-upon-Tweed, and many biographies wrongly report him as being born there.[3][4]

The Travers family lived in Prudhoe for a couple of years before moving from Woodburn, on the A68 road near Corsenside, Northumberland, in about 1866, to Tweedmouth, Berwick-upon-Tweed, in about 1876.

Initially, he trained as an architect[2] at Berwick, before taking to the stage under the name Henry Travers.

Acting career[edit]

Henry Travers as the Burglar in the Theatre Guild's Broadway production of Heartbreak House (1920)
Lynn Fontanne (Eliza) and Henry Travers (Alfred Doolittle) in the Theatre Guild production of Pygmalion (1926)
Travers in his most memorable role, as guardian angel Clarence Odbody in It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Travers gained early experience acting in repertory theatre in England.[5] He was billed as Travers Heagerty for a December 1895 production.[6] He played character roles almost from the beginning of his acting career in 1894, often figures who were much older than himself.[7] He made his Broadway debut in The Price of Peace (1901)[8] but returned to England. Travers settled in the United States and played frequently from November 1917 until December 1938 on Broadway in over 30 plays, and was described in The New Yorker as 'one of the most consistent performers now in the American theatre, and at the same time one of its least appreciated'.[9] His last play on Broadway You Can't Take It with You was his best known, where he acted in over 380 performances in two years. In the Oscar-winning movie You Can't Take It With You, Lionel Barrymore played the role which Travers had portrayed on Broadway.

Like many other theatre actors, he made his first movie only with the advent of sound films.[citation needed] His first was Reunion in Vienna[5] in 1933. In the same year, he played the father of Gloria Stuart in the horror film The Invisible Man. He often portrayed doctors, judges, and fathers of the main figures in supporting roles. Travers specialized on portraying slightly wry and bumbling but friendly and lovable older men. He appeared with Greer Garson and Ronald Colman in Random Harvest (1942) and with Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945). Alfred Hitchcock used Travers as a Comic relief in Shadow of a Doubt (1943), where he played a bank clerk with a passion for criminal magazines. The character actor also portrayed the Railway Station Master Mr. Ballard with a love for roses who finally wins the annual flower show in his village shortly before dying in a bombardment in Mrs. Miniver. He received an Academy Award-nomination as Best Supporting Actor for this appearance.

Travers's best remembered role was as James Stewart's somewhat befuddled but kind-hearted guardian angel Clarence Odbody in Frank Capra's 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life. Travers' character saves Stewart's from committing suicide, and then shows him how wonderful his life really is. Though the film was a financial flop, it later became a Christmas perennial.

Travers retired in 1949 after his supporting role in The Girl From Jones Beach. Overall, he acted in 52 films.

Personal life and death[edit]

Travers' first wife was actress Amy Forrest-Rhodes. They were married from 1931 until her death in 1954. In 1955, he married Ann G. Murphy, who survived him.[2]

After several years in retirement, Travers died as a result of arteriosclerosis in 1965, at the age of 91. He is interred with his second wife in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.[citation needed]

The Maltings Theatre in Berwick-upon-Tweed has a performance space, The Henry Travers Studio, named after him.[10]



  1. ^ Room, Adrian (2014). Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins, 5th ed. McFarland. p. 480. ISBN 978-0-7864-5763-2. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Gordon, Dr Roger L. (2018). Supporting Actors in Motion Pictures. Dorrance Publishing. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-1-4809-4499-2. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
  3. ^ GRO Register of Births, Marriages and Death and 1881 Census for England & Wales
  4. ^ Armstrong, Jeremy (27 December 2015). "Did you know one of the most famous Christmas angels was born in Prudhoe?". Evening Chronicle. Newcastle Upon Tyne. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  5. ^ a b Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the silent era to 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 741. ISBN 978-1-5578-3551-2. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
  6. ^ "Berwick". The Era. London. 21 December 1895. p. 20. Retrieved 20 July 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  7. ^ "Movie Reviews". The New York Times. 18 July 2019.[dead link]
  8. ^ "("Henry Travers" search results)". Internet Broadway Database. Archived from the original on 20 July 2019. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
  9. ^ Review:Androcles. The New Yorker, 5 December 1925. p 14.
  10. ^ "Our Venues". The Maltings. Retrieved 7 December 2021.

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