Today is the birthday of the indispensible Henry Hull (1890-1977) . Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, he was one of a trio of thespian brothers, the other two being Shelly Hull and Howard Hull. Their father was the drama critic William Madison Hull.
Hull possessed an interesting combination of features which made him distinctive and made him extremely castable. He was one of those guys with a scrawny build but comes off as plenty tough — someone you would never want to mess with…what they call a “tough old bird.” (A scratchy voice, and curly, unkempt hair assisted in this impression) Besides this he possessed a palpable intelligence and a certain courtliness that indicated breeding. This made him PERFECT for playing army generals…the kind of man who might possess all of those qualities (at least in the 19th century when so many westerns and costume pictures are set).
His Broadway career stretched from 1911 to 1951 — 40 years and dozens of credits — but incredibly nearly a quarter of that time on Broadway (20% anyway, 8 years) was spent in a single role in a single play, Jeeter in Tobacco Road, which he played from 1933 through 1941.
His film career began in the days of silents (1917) and he’s in too many interesting roles to simply list so I’ll just put a few notable ones and favorites.
It being Halloween season, we can’t neglect to mention that he played the title character in the first notable werewolf movie, 1935’s Werewolf of London. Curse, you Warren Zevon, for even implying that it was Lon Chaney!:
I also much enjoyed him as a skeptical army doctor in in the screen adaptation of Sidney Howard’s play Yellow Jack (1938) and as an army officer in Jesse James (1939) and The Return of Frank James (1940) He had a key role in Tod Browning’s last film Miracles for Sale (1939). And he is perhaps best remember today for his part as the crusty industrialist in Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat in 1940.
As the years rolled on, his meat and potatoes became westerns: lots and lots of western, in both film and television. His last film was The Chase (1966).
To find out more about the variety arts 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 Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Media.