Today is the birthday of Gale Henry (Gale Trowbridge, 1893-1972), one of American cinema’s first truly funny comediennes. A California native, she began he career at the Temple Opera Company in 1911. Three years later she went to work in Universal “Joker” comedies, trading in her singing voice for the comical appearance made by her gawky, gangly body, her beak-like nose, bugged-out eyes, and long, skinny limbs some thought might have been an inspiration for Olive Oyl. Her co-stars in the early years included the likes of Augustus Carney and Louise Fazenda. After Universal, she produced her own movies for a time (released through Reelcraft), then worked with Joe Rock, Al Christie and Hal Roach, almost always as strident, complaining wives, homely mooncalves, and old maids. She appears in some truly classic Charley Chase shorts, such as All Wet (1924), His Wooden Wedding (1925), and Mighty Like a Moose (1926).
While she continued to appear in comedy shorts through 1933, from 1923 on she increasingly had a new focus in her life: running one of Hollywood’s premiere kennels for trained dogs. One of the most famous of her charges was a terrier named Skippy, who played Asta in the Thin Man movies.
Here she is in a hilarious turn in His Wooden Wedding (she’s the woman who chases Charley around the ship):
For more on silent film comedy please check out 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