Born in Oklahoma (then still Indian Territory), Harry Harvey, Sr. (1901-85) broke into show business as a member of Gus Hill’s Honey Boy Minstrels** in 1918. For the next fifteen years, he continued to ply his trade in minstrelsy, vaudeville and burlesque, finding himself in Hollywood by 1932, where he began to work as a bit player.
Harvey’s first film was the original Destry Rides Again (1932) with Tom Mix, Zasu Pitts, Claudia Dell, Francis Ford, and John Ince. That is an all star cast, but Harvey was billed beneath Tony the Horse. Yet he was to go on to amass nearly 300 credits in film and TV. Some of his early bit parts were in films like the Stephen Foster bio-pic Harmony Lane (1935), The Oregon Trail (1936), Fury (1936), Gold Diggers of 1937, Kid Galahad (1937), Blondie Takes a Vacation (1939), The Day the Bookies Wept (1939) with Joe Penner, Ringside Maisie (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1943), Blondie for Victory (1942), Mexican Spitfire’s Elephant (1942), The Heat’s On (1943), Badman’s Territory (1946), Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947), If You Knew Susie (1948), All My Sons (1948), They Live By Night (1948), The Paleface (1948), Miss Grant Takes Richmond with Lucille Ball (1949), Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951), Superman Meets the Mole-Men (1951), High Noon (1952), Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair (1952), the Danny Thomas version of The Jazz Singer (1952), and many others.
In the 1950s, television became a factor and here he began to land some better parts. He had a regular role as Sheriff Blodgett on The Roy Rogers Show (1951-57), and was also a regular on Man Without a Gun (1957-59) and It’s a Man’s World (1962-63). Shows on which he made multiple appearances include The Lone Ranger (11 episodes), The Gene Autry Show (8), Gunsmoke (8), The Virginian (7), Maverick (7), Cheyenne (6), Wagon Train (5), The Adventures of Kit Carson (5), Dragnet (4), The Texan (4), The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (4), and Laramie (4).
Later in his career Harvey appeared in such films as Cat Ballou (1965), The Great Race (1965), The Trouble with Angels (1966), Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968), and Airport (1970), and such TV shows as Lost in Space (1965), I Dream of Jeannie (1967), Bewitched (1968), Columbo (1974), and Adam-12 (1974), his last credit.
His son Harry Harvey Jr (1929-1978) also went into the business, amassing nearly 100 credits as an actor. The son was also much involved with the TV show Mannix as script supervisor and director. Harry Harvey Sr also appeared on Mannix six times.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville and veterans of it like Harry Harvey, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.
**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad.