The 55 Year Career of Henry Travers

Born today: beloved character actor: Henry Travers (Travers John Heagerty, 1874-1965.)

Tarvers’ gentle presence distinguished such classic Hollywood films as The Invisible Man (1933), Death Takes a Holiday (1934), Dodge City (1939), Dark Victory (1939), Ball of Fire (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942, for which performance he was nominated for an Oscar), Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Abbott and Costello’s The Naughty Nineties (1945), The Yearling (1946), and his best known role today, the simple minded angel Clarence in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Through born and raised in Northumberland, Travers was of Irish parentage. He trained to be architect before going on the stage at age 20. He flourished on the English for two decades, and then came to New York in late 1917 to appear in the Broadway production of The Pipes of Pan. Travers was to be a fixture of the Broadway stage for the next two decades, often in Theatre Guild productions. Shaw was a particular specialty. Travers appeared in the American premiere of Heartbreak House (1920-1921), as well as the U.S. premiere of Saint Joan (1923-24), and revivals of Caesar and Cleopatra (1925), Arms and the Man (1925-26), Androcles and the Lion (1925-26), and Pygmalion (1926-27), the U.S. premiere of Right You Are if You Think You Are (1927), and a revival of The Doctor’s Dilemma (1927-28). Other notable productions included the first stage adaptation of The Rise of Silas Lapham (1919-1920), the American premiere of Liliom (1921-22, the play on which the musical Carousel is based), He Who Gets Slapped (1922), the original American production of Karel Capek’s R.U.R. (1922-23), the first stage adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov (1927), the world premiere of Eugene O’Neill’s Marco Millions (1928), the first American production of Turgenev’s A Month in the Country (1930), the first stage adaptation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth (1932), and his biggest theatrical smash of all, the world premiere production of Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You (1936-38). Travers originated the role of Grandpa, which was played by Lionel Barrymore in the Hollywood film version.

His last professional stage credit was the film The Girl from Jones Beach (1949). At this juncture he was 75, and he understandably opted to retire from the demanding work of screen acting. Henry Travers was 91 when he passed away in 1965.