Dell Henderson: From Biograph to “The Big Noise”

Del Henderson

Today is the birthday of Dell Henderson (George Delbert Henderson, 1883-1956). A stage actor from Ontario, he started out at Biograph in 1908, around the same time as D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett. In 1911, he began directing as well. A year later, he took over Mack Sennett’s comedy unit at Biograph when the latter left to start Keystone. He remained in that position until 1915 (also directing several non-comic features and shorts), then went to work for Sennett for a year as a director and supporting comedian. All this time, he had been acting as well as directing, but from 1917 to 1927 he worked entirely behind the camera, directing features for Fox, Mutual and Arrow studios.

Then starting in 1927 and for the rest of his career, he returned to being a character actor, and he got to work with some of the best people in the business. In the final days of the silent era, King Vidor cast him well in some of his legendary comedies: The Crowd, the Patsy and Show People. After this Henderson became useful as a foil to many comedians in the early 1930s. He worked for Hal Roach, supporting Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase and Our Gang (a.k.a.The Little Rascals) through 1936, at Columbia supporting the Three Stooges (notably in the 1934 short Men in Black) and at Paramount supporting W.C. Fields in half a dozen features. He continued to have small bit roles in prominent films (some of them classics) through 1950. You can see him with Artists and Models with Jack Benny (1937), the Leo McCarey screwball classic The Awful Truth (1937), DuBarry was a Lady (1943) with Red Skelton and Lucille Ball, two late (1944) Laurel and Hardy comedies for Fox, The Big Noise and Nothing But TroubleBud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood (1945), Frank Capra’s State of the Union (1948) and dozens more.

To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy, please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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