Henry Brandon: The Human Smorgasbord

I first became facinated by Henry Brandon (Heinrich von Kleinbach, 1912-1990) on account of his to-die-for turn as the villian Barnaby in Laurel and Hardy’s Babes in Toyland a.k.a. March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934). Do the math: he was only 22 years old! It was one of his first screen roles! And yet he looked like this:

He played a s similar role for Hal Roach in Our Gang Follies of 1938. 

Prior to this Brandon had studied and acted at the Pasadena Playhouse, and had some bit roles in films like Cecil B. De Mille’s The Sign of the Cross (1932). Brandon was never to be a star, properly speaking, but he was to become a utility man par excellence, known for playing a wide range of supporting roles encompassing nearly every known nationalality on the earth, including non-Caucasian ones, in both B movies and major features. He was normally cast a villains, and his 6′ 4″ height made him an especially imposing one.

One of Brandon’s best roles in a major picture was that of Scar, the Apache War Chief in John Ford’s The Searchers. Ford also hired him to play Comanche Chief Quanah Parker in Two Road Together (1961). Brandon also played Native Americans in Bob Hope’s The Paleface (1948; he was also in Hope’s later Casanova’s Big Night), as well as War Arrow (1953), Comanche (1956), and Prologue to Wounded Knee (1973). Starting in the ’50s he did more work in television especially TV westerns. He played Native Americans for example of a half dozen episodes of Wagon Train. 

Brandon’s role as title character in Drums of Fu Manchu (1940), was an exercise in yellowface, as were his turns in Northwest Outpost (1947) and The Golden Horde (1951). He played natives of various sorts in several Tarzan and Jungle Jim movies, and was a Pacific Islander in Wake of the Red Witch (1948).

Perhaps his most popular specialty was playing various types of Middle Easterners and North Africans as in The Garden of Allah (1936), Dark Streets of Cairo (1940), Flame of Araby (1951), Harem Girl (1952), The Ten Commandments (1956), Omar Khayyam (1957), and Captain Sindbad (1963).

Theough born in Berlin, Brandon’s most frequent European characterization was French, as he did in Beau Geste (1939), The Ranger and the Lady (1940), The Corsican Brothers (1941), Night in New Orleans (1942), Joan of Arc (1948), Scarlet Angel (1952), Vera Cruz (1954), and Lady Godiva of Coventry (1955),

In 1953 he was in two Dean Martin/ Jerry Lewis comedies: Scared Stiff and The Caddy.

Other random stuff: The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), Black Legion (1937), Secret Agent X-9 (1937), Wells Fargo (1937), Buck Rogers (1939), The War of the Worlds (1953), The Buccaneer (1958) and Auntie Mame (1958) among dozens of others.

In 1974, Brandon got a rare lead role in a feature in When the North Wind Blows (1974), where he played an old Russian trapper. He had interesting roles right up until the end. He’s in John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). He’s in the Abbott and Costello bio-pic Bud and Lou (1978). He got play Nazis in The Search for the Evil One in 1967 and in Mel Brooks’ version of To Be or Not to Be (1983). His last movie, somewhat wonderfully, is the fantasy film Wizard of the Lost Kingdom II, produced by Roger Corman, directed by Charles B. Griffith, and also featuring David Carradine. His character’s name is “Zarz”.

As interesting as Brandon’s screen career was, his private life may top it. The gossip, at any rate, is that for many years, he was in a long term throuple with Judy Garland’s fourth husband Mark Herron, and an actress named Jane Fisher.