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Henry Watterson Hull was born on 3rd October 1890 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the youngest of four children born to William Madison Hull and Elinor Bond Vaughn.
In 1902 the family moved to New York City. His father had been offered a job in the Klaw and Erlanger theater syndicate offices. He also worked for David Belasco, a theatrical producer.
Henry only returned to Louisville twice: age 21, to act in a play at Macauley’s Theater and in 1956 on his tour of Mark Twain readings. When he was a young boy in Louisville, Henry had actually met Twain. The author was visiting his old friend, and Henry’s godfather, Henry Watterson, editor of The Courier-Journal.
Henry attended Cooper Union and Columbia University, where he studied engineering. He went to work as an assayer and mineralogist in a Canadian cobalt mine. He returned to America for the wedding of his brother Shelley. Upon seeing how successful Shelley’s theatrical career was, Henry too decided to take to the stage.
In 1912 he joined Margaret Anglin’s Greek Repertory Company, travelling across the country and gaining experience various roles.
On the 30th November 1913, Henry married actress Juliet van Wyck Fremont. She was the granddaughter of Civil War general and western explorer John C Fremont (who Henry’s character in Bonanza epsiode ‘The Mission’ had scouted for.)
The couple had three children: Henry Jr., an occasional performer and stage manager; Shelley, a prolific TV producer, named for his uncle; and daughter Joan.
Henry and Juliet remained married until her death in 1971.
Henry and wife Juliet
In 1916 the couple appeared together in ‘The Man Who Came Back,’ with Henry playing the lead role. The play was a huge hit and Henry’s theatrical career was properly underway.
Over the next ten years he starred in a number of notable successes. These included Everyday (1921), The Cat and the Canary (1922), The Other Rose (1923), The Ivory Door (1927), and Michael and Mary (1929).
Henry with Alma Tell in the 1920 play 'When We Are Young.'
With the arrival of talking pictures however, stage performers with trained voices were in demand and so Henry began to find work in films. Henry preferred theatre, thriving on live audiences and, fearing that doing so may keep him from the stage, he never signed a long-term contract with any film studio. Over the next thirty years, as a free-lancer, he worked in virtually all the major film studios.
Henry started his Hollywood career at Universal Pictures, appearing as the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch, in Great Expectations (1934). He played the title role in Universal’s Werewolf of London (1935).
1935 Lobby Card
He appeared in Erskine Caldwell’s ‘Tobacco Road,’ with critic Brooks Atkinson writing, “As Jeeter Lester, Henry Hull gives the performance of his career.”
A selected filmography:
Jesse James (1939), starring Tyrone Power in the title role and Henry Fonda as his brother, Frank.
Babes in Arms (1939), starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
High Sierra (1941), starring Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino
Lifeboat (1944), alongside Talulah Bankhead
Objective, Burma! (1945), starring Errol Flynn.
The Great Gatsby (1949), starring Alan Ladd and Betty Field.
He appeared in The Buccaneer (1958), alongside Lorne Greene.
Through the 1950s and ‘60s, Hull found himself less on film sets and more frequently on television sets. He guest starred on dozens of westerns including The Restless Gun, Zane Grey Theater, Bonanza, Wagon Train, The Outlaws, and Laramie.
As Charlie Trent in 'The Mission' Gillie
He appeared in two Bonanza episodes: as Sheriff B. Banneman Brown in Season One’s ‘The Gunmen’ and as scout Charlie Trent in Season Two’s ‘The Mission.’
Into the decade of the ‘60s, Henry Hull remained incredibly active for a man in his seventies. Along with his television work, he made three more films. Master of the World (1961), The Fool Killer (1965), and The Chase (1966) which was to be his final role.
In the late ‘60s, Hull’s health became precarious, and he retired to his Old Lyme, Connecticut farm which had been his main home for over thirty years. After suffering a stroke, Hull moved to his daughter’s home in Cornwall, England, where he died on March 8, 1977, at the age of 86. His body was returned to the United States and buried in the Rockland Cemetery in Sparkill, New York, beside his wife.
A variety of roles - Clockwise from top left: Lord Byron, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe and Abel Magwitch (Great Expectations.)
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