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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. 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."
He made his stage debut at the age of five in the play Damon and Pythias. Davenport made his Broadway debut in The Voyage of Suzette (1894) and appeared there in numerous plays.
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.
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.
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.
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). 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.
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. In the obituary, a newspaper called him the "white-haired character actor" with "the longest acting career in American history".
Kenton's Heir (1913, Short) as The Doctor
Too Many Husbands (1914, Short) as Dr. Crane
The Accomplished Mrs. Thompson (1914, Short)
Fogg's Millions (1914, Short)
Rainy, the Lion Killer (1914, Short) as Jack Brown
The Professional Scapegoat (1914, Short) as The Lawyer
Alistair, Rupert (2018). "Harry Davenport". The Name Below the Title : 65 Classic Movie Character Actors from Hollywood's Golden Age (softcover) (First ed.). Great Britain: Independently published. pp. 88-90. ISBN978-1-7200-3837-5.