The Two Screen Careers of Harry Depp

Screen comedian Harry Depp (1883-1957) was a little fellow in the vein of Bobby Vernon, Bud Duncan, and Harry Langdon, though Langdon wouldn’t make it to the screen until years later. Originally, from St. Louis Depp started out in regional stock and vaudeville before making it to the Broadway stage in the The Hoyden (1907) with Elsie Janis, Joseph Cawthorn, Armond Kalisz, and Mae Murray. This was followed by Klaw and Erlanger’s The Pink Lady (1911) starring Hazel Dawn, directed by Julian Mitchell. The cast for this show includes an Olive Depp; I’ve not ascertained whether she is Harry’s sister or a wife who precedes Nedra Belle Gilosky, whom he married in 1915. Harry was also in the next Hazel Dawn vehicle produced by Klaw and Erlanger, The Little Cafe (1913-14).

Between Midnight (1916), directed by Carter de Haven, was Depp’s first film. In the film he played an accomplice to a crook played by Henry Bergman. Over four dozen silent comedies followed over the next decade, for a diverse array of studios and producers, including Mack Sennett, Al Christie, Universal and others. A couple of notable ones include Rowdy Ann (1919) with Fay Tincher, and the all-star Quincy Adams Sawyer (1922) in which he played a twin to actor Taylor Graves. The Columbia feature When the Wife’s Away (1926), directed by Frank R. Strayer, was Depp’s last silent and his last picture for many years. At this stage, it was reported that he suffered partial paralysis of the face and he went into the real estate business for a time.

Over the next few years, sound came in, making Depp’s re-entry into the film business in 1933 far from a cakewalk. While he had usually been a supporting player anyway, in the ’30s and ’40s he was more of a bit player and extra, although he often got rewarding if brief turns. Sound era movies in which you see Depp include Barbary Coast (1935), Earthworm Tractors (1936), Pennies from Heaven (1936), The Big Broadcast of 1937, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Remember the Night (1940), Forty Little Mothers (1940) with Eddie Cantor, Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940), Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve (1941), The Big Store (1941), The Living Ghost (1942), I Dood It (1943), Girl Crazy (1943), Black Magic (1944), State Fair (1945), Leave Her to Heaven (1945), and his last The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and many others.

To learn more about the vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.