Harry Davenport (actor)

Harold George Bryant Davenport (January 19, 1866  August 9, 1949) was an American film and stage actor who worked in show business from the age of six until his death.[1] After a long and prolific Broadway career, he came to Hollywood in the 1930s, where he often played grandfathers, judges, doctors, and ministers. His roles include Dr. Meade in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Grandpa in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). Bette Davis once called Davenport "without a doubt [. . .] the greatest character actor of all time."[2][3]

Harry Davenport
Harry Davenport (ca. 1895)
Harold George Bryant Davenport

(1866-01-19)January 19, 1866
DiedAugust 9, 1949(1949-08-09) (aged 83)
Years active1871–1949
Alice Davenport
(m. 1893; div. 1896)

Phyllis Rankin
(m. 1896; died 1934)
ChildrenDorothy Davenport
Parent(s)Edward Loomis Davenport
Fanny Vining Davenport

Early life

Harry Davenport was born in Canton, Pennsylvania, where his family lived during the holidays. He also grew up in Philadelphia. Harry came from a long line of stage actors; his father was thespian Edward Loomis Davenport and his mother, Fanny Vining Davenport, was an English actress[4][5] and a descendant of the renowned 18th century Irish stage actor Jack Johnson. His sister was actress Fanny Davenport.[6]

He made his stage debut at the age of five in the play Damon and Pythias.[5] Davenport made his Broadway debut in The Voyage of Suzette (1894) and appeared there in numerous plays.[7]

Film career

Harry Davenport was one of the best-known and busiest "old men" in Hollywood films during the 1930s and 1940s. He started his film career at the age of 47, debuting in the 1913 silent short film Kenton's Heir. The next year, he starred in Fogg's Millions co-starring Rose Tapley. The film became the first in a series of silent comedy shorts. In addition, he also directed some silent features and many shorts between 1915 and 1917, including many of the films in the Mr. and Mrs. Jarr series.[6]

Harry Davenport played Dr. Meade in Gone with the Wind (1939). Some of his other film roles are a lone resident in a ghost town in The Bride Came C.O.D. (1942), filmed on location in Death Valley, and the aged Louis XI of France in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) with Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara and Cedric Hardwicke. He also had supporting roles in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Foreign Correspondent (1940), William A. Wellman's western The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) and in Kings Row (1943) with Ronald Reagan. Davenport also played the grandfather of Judy Garland in Vincente Minnelli's classic Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and the great-uncle of Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947). His last film, Frank Capra's Riding High (1950), was released after his death.

Harry Davenport appeared in over 160 films. Asked why he made so many films at his age, he replied:

I hate to see men of my age sit down as if their lives were ended and accept a dole. An old man must show that he knows his job and is no loafer. If he can do that, they can take their pension money and buy daisies with it.[8]

Actors' Equity Association

In 1913, he co-founded, along with actor Eddie Foy, the Actors' Equity Association, an American labor union for actors. The original organization, known as the White Rats, was spearheaded by Davenport. After a nine-month stretch, the actors' group united in defiance of the appalling treatment of actors by theater owners such as the Shubert family and David Belasco, among others, by refusing to appear on stage by striking. The actions of the association caused the closure of all the theatres on Broadway, the only exception being theaters owned by George M. Cohan's company.

Personal life

He and his wife Alice wed in 1893. They had one daughter, Dorothy Davenport, who also became an actress. After divorcing Alice in 1896, he married actress Phyllis Rankin, that same year. They had three biological children: Ned, Ann, and Kate, who all became actors. Harry also adopted Phyllis's son, Arthur Rankin (actor father of Arthur Rankin, Jr., founder of the Rankin/Bass animation studio).[9] Actress Anne Seymour (born Anne Seymour Eckert) and her brother, radio personality Bill Seymour, were Harry Davenport's great-niece and great-nephew by their mother, May Davenport.

Harry Davenport's August 10, 1949 Canton Sunday Telegram obituary noted that the couple were together until her death, contrary to reports that he divorced her and remarried. Through his marriage to Phyllis, he was the brother-in-law of Lionel Barrymore, who was married at the time to Phyllis' sister Doris. Phyllis's father, McKee Rankin, had been the top actor at the Arch Street Theater, which was run by Lionel's grandmother and Sidney's mother, Louisa Lane Drew. He was the grandfather of producer Dirk Wayne Summers, Arthur Rankin Jr., and Wallace Reid Jr. He is survived through his granddaughter, Phyllis Gail Davenport, and her children, Caleb Brooks, and Rachel Brooks. Her grandchildren, Samuel Brooks, and Theodore Brooks, are currently pursuing different careers. Samuel is attending the University of Arizona for his architecture degree, and Theodore owns and manages a bank in Oregon.

Later years and death

After Phyllis's death, Davenport moved to Los Angeles and lived with his now-grown children. He died of a sudden heart attack at age 83, one hour after he asked his agent Walter Herzbrun about a new film role.[10] In the obituary, a newspaper called him the "white-haired character actor" with "the longest acting career in American history".[8]




  • The Island of Regeneration (1915)
  • The Jarr Family Discovers Harlem (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr Brings Home a Turkey (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr and the Lady Reformer (1915, Short)
  • The Enemies (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr Takes a Night Off (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr's Magnetic Friend (1915, Short)
  • The Closing of the Circuit (1915, Short)
  • The Jarrs Visit Arcadia (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr and the Dachshund (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr Visits His Home Town (1915, Short)
  • Mrs. Jarr's Auction Bridge (1915, Short)
  • Mrs. Jarr and the Beauty Treatment (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr and the Ladies' Cup (1915, Short)
  • Philanthropic Tommy (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr and Love's Young Dream (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr and the Captive Maid (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr and Gertrude's Beaux (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr's Big Vacation (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr and Circumstantial Evidence (1915, Short)
  • Mr. Jarr and the Visiting Firemen (1915, Short)
  • Mrs. Jarr and the Society Circus (1915, Short)
  • The Woman in the Box (1915, Short)
  • The Making Over of Geoffrey Manning (1915)
  • For a Woman's Fair Name (1916)
  • The Supreme Temptation (1916)
  • Myrtle the Manicurist (1916, Short)
  • The Rookie (1916, Short)
  • The Resurrection of Hollis (1916, Short)
  • O'Hagan's Scoop (1916, Short)
  • Carew and Son (1916, Short)
  • Letitia (1916, Short)
  • The Heart of a Fool (1916, Short)
  • A Woman Alone (1917)
  • Tillie Wakes Up (1917)
  • The Millionaire's Double (1917)
  • The False Friend (1917)
  • A Son of the Hills (1917)
  • A Man's Law (1917)


  1. Obituary Variety, August 17, 1949.
  2. Aurora (November 10, 2013). "Harry Davenport, What a Character!". Once Upon a Screen … a classic film blog. Blog at Worldpress.com. Retrieved August 12, 2015.
  3. Harry Davenport of Canton, Actor
  4. K. D. Reynolds, 'Vining family (per. 1807–1915)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 27 December 2016
  5. Fisher, James; Londré, Felicia Hardison (2017). Historical Dictionary of American Theater: Modernism. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 176. ISBN 9781538107867. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  6. Irwin, Virginia (December 23, 1935). "An Actor With a Theatrical Lineage". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Missouri, St. Louis. p. 2 D. Retrieved 4 February 2019 via Newspapers.com.
  7. "Harry Davenport". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Archived from the original on 4 February 2019. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  8. "Harry Davenport". Toledo Blade. August 10, 1949. Retrieved August 12, 2015.
  9. Staff. Photoplay: The Aristocrat of Motion Picture Magazines. 26. p. 130. Retrieved August 12, 2015.
  10. Harry Davenport: Grand old man of the Golden Age, by Ken Dennis
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.