Childhood & Early Life
Henry Travers was born Travers John Heagerty, on March 5, 1874, in Prudhoe, Northumberland, England, to Daniel Heagerty and Ellen Gillman Hornibrook Belcher. Both his parents were Irish natives and had moved to England after marriage.
Henry had two siblings: a brother and a sister. He also had a stepbrother from his mother’s first marriage to William H Belcher.
Soon after he was born, Henry moved with his family to Berwick-upon-Tweed, from where he finished his high-school graduation. He was not really interested in the prospect of becoming an actor until after he became an adult. He earned a degree in architecture instead. However, the acting bug bit him in his mid-20s, and he began working in theatrical productions.
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He began his acting career in 1894 and got involved with stage productions in England, mostly in London. Due to his warm facial features, he was mostly considered for characters that were older than his actual age.
He subsequently moved to the US in the late 1890s and looked for an acting career there. He participated in many theatrical productions and ‘Broadway’ plays, before moving to England again in the early 1900s.
He got involved with the English theatrical scene once again and did plays and ‘Broadway’ shows in England for the next few years. He moved to the US again in 1917. He had established a highly successful career in England by then, and it was not too difficult for him to find work in the US.
He began his career in 1917, and over the next 2 decades, he worked in more than 30 ‘Broadway’ shows and many other plays. He was becoming a recognizable actor, and films were becoming the most common source of entertainment for the general public. Thus, he decided to utilize this opportunity and began his on-screen career in the early 1930s.
He had somehow avoided working in films until then, because he belonged to the theater circuit. Dialogue delivery is the key factor in theater performances, but films were mostly silent until the 1920s. When talkies became common, theater actors began moving to Los Angeles.
He made his film debut in 1933, with the supporting role of ‘Father Krug’ in the romantic drama ‘Reunion in Vienna.’ The film was a critical and commercial success. The same year, Henry appeared in more supporting roles, in films such as ‘Another Language,’ ‘My Weakness,’ and ‘The Invisible Man.’ ‘The Invisible Man’ became a cult classic science-fiction film.
Henry began 1934 with the supporting role of ‘Baron Cesarea’ in the romantic drama ‘Death Takes a Holiday.’ He then appeared in supporting roles in films such as ‘Born to be Bad’ and ‘The Party’s Over.’
Henry, owing to his calming facial features and his “nice man” demeanor, was deemed best to play supporting roles, such as doctors, lawyers, or fathers. Throughout the 1930s and the 1940s, he appeared in dozens of films, portraying the same characters, almost stereotyping himself.
In 1942, he appeared in the supporting role of ‘Dr. Sims’ in the romantic drama ‘Random Harvest.’ The film was a huge commercial success but received a lukewarm response from critics. Despite this, the film earned seven ‘Academy Award’ nominations and is now hailed as a cult classic. The same year, he won an ‘Academy Award’ nomination for the movie ‘Mrs. Miniver.’
He also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s cult classic film ‘Shadow of a Doubt,’ playing a comic relief for a change. It was perhaps one of his most critically acclaimed roles.
In 1945, Henry appeared as ‘Horace P. Bogardus’ in the drama film ‘The Bells of St. Mary’s.’ The film was critically thrashed initially but was later regarded as one of the greatest films of the time. It was also a commercial success.
Throughout this time, he continued to appear in multiple films every year, playing supporting and key roles in many noir projects and romantic drama films. Around the late 1940s, his health began deteriorating. Thus, following this, he appeared in fewer films.
One of the few films he did toward the end of his career was the Frank Capra-directed 1946 film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ The film shows a man contemplating suicide. He is eventually stopped by his guardian angel who tells him how his little deeds have positively impacted the lives of people. Henry played the angel, ‘Clarence Odbody.’
The film was nominated for five ‘Academy Awards,’ and while it was an initial box-office failure, it became profitable in the long run. It is perpetually hailed as one of the best films ever made.
In 1949, Henry appeared as ‘Judge Bullfinch’ in the comedy film ‘The Girl from Jones Beach.’ This was the final film of his career.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Henry married actor Amy Forrest-Rhodes, also known as Rosina Wilson, in 1931. The couple stayed together until Amy’s demise in 1954. The following year, Henry married a nurse named Ann G Murphy.
Henry died of a heart ailment known as arteriosclerosis on October 18, 1965, many years after his retirement from films. He was 91 years old at the time of his death.