Today is the birthday of Henry B. Walthall (1878-1936). Walthall was the son of a wealthy Alabama cotton planter, raised in a plantation manor house and raised by tutors — excellent training for one of his most famous roles as a founding Klansman in The Birth of a Nation (1915). (But maybe not so good all around!)
After brief service during the Spanish-American war, Walthall began acting in stock companies, making it to Broadway by 1906 in The Great Divide. In 1909 he began working for D.W. Griffith at Biograph, which is how he came to featured in Griffith’s magnum opus in 1915. Other famous pictures he appeared in in the silent era included Wings and Tod Browning’s London After Midnight, both 1927. In the talkie era, you can see him in 42nd Street (1933), Will Rogers’ Judge Priest (1934), and the amazing Spencer Tracy vehicle Dante’s Inferno (1935).
Walthall’s career was still going great guns when he died in 1936. One of his last films was Browning’s The Devil Doll, with his old Biograph cohort Lionel Barrymore.
Walthall was already a star of the silver screen when he undertook a brief vaudeville tour in 1922, with a one-act play called The Unknown, in which he played two characters, a father and son.
I just learned to my shock that there is a web site called HenryBWalthall.com! And its worth a visit!
To find out more about vaudeville past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc