C. Henry Gordon — As Nice As They Come (1935) 🇺🇸
It won’t surprise those admirers of C. Henry Gordon who have clamored for an interview, to learn that he isn’t at all like the villains he plays. They will learn more than that from this story, however.
by Dudley Early
The last act was drawing to a close. The audience stood up and cheered as the two race horses on the treadmill spurted neck and neck toward the finish line. The right horse wins by a nose! And the hero clasps the heroine to his manly bosom. That melodrama of another day, “The County Fair,” had come to an end, leaving the audience gasping for breath.
Then Neil Burgess, the star, walked out on the stage, an infant in his arms. Raising his hand for silence, he said in stentorian tones:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to introduce a young friend of mine, and I want him to be your friend. This little mite in my arms is making his first appearance on any stage. Permit me to introduce to you Henry Gordon.”
Applause; and C. Henry Gordon was launched on his theatrical career.
But it was twenty-five years later that he actually played in a stage production, which brings us to the present when he is one of the smoothest, most menacing villains who ever sneered into a camera.
Though he may threaten on the screen, and cause you to hope the hero plants a big fist in his eye, he is a considerate gentleman off.
Not every one would consent to come to the studio, just two weeks out of a sick bed after a major operation, to be interviewed. But C. Henry Gordon did. He looked very pale when I talked with him, and at times his voice would trail away, as if it were an effort to project it. But he was the soul of courtesy.
Getting back to his career and those twenty-five years between his first and second stage appearances, his was not exactly an ordinary childhood. His parents were fairly wealthy and went abroad each year. When young Henry was of school age, they took him to Switzerland, where he studied for a while, then went on to Germany for further education.
“Anyway,” he told me, “it provided me with a hobby. Now I spend my spare time translating French and German books just to see how far I can get with them.”
There’s one of the most unusual ways of putting an education into use that I’ve ever run across! The study of languages, on which his parents insisted, has provided him with many an hour’s entertainment.
Returning to America, he found that his sister had become an actress. He had lunch with William Elliott and his sister one day, and Elliott, after looking him over carefully, suggested that he come around to the theater and try out a part.
He went, not too seriously, and after a reading, was presented with the part of Style in the old drama, “Experience.” It is safe to say that almost every well-known actor has played in “Experience” at one time or another. That role launched his career for the second time, and this time he continued with but few breaks.
He insists that nothing of any importance happened to him until 1919 when he went to Australia with a touring company of “Tiger Rose,” with Lenore Ulric. He stayed there until 1921, when he returned, by way of Los Angeles. The picture business looked good then as now, and he decided to have a try at it. But Hollywood wanted none of him; he just wasn’t the type. So he had to return to New York in order to earn his daily bread.
There he jumped into “Drums of Jeopardy,” later made into a film, but he wasn’t invited to play in the picture version. Next he played with Walter Huston in “Mr. Pitt,” then in “The Shanghai Gesture,” and in “Children of Darkness.”
In 1929, when Hollywood was wild for stage actors with the advent of sound, he went to the Coast, again on speculation. But all he managed to rake up was a bit in Fox’s “Renegades,” with Victor McLaglen.
He waited around a while, became discouraged, and returned to New York. Going to the Lambs’ Club, the famous theatrical fraternity, he found a wire from Fox. They wanted him back; some one had noticed him in that bit. So he went back to Hollywood with a six months’ contract in his pocket. The battle for recognition seemed won!
Somehow, though, he attracted very little notice, and Fox released him. He knocked about, doing one unimportant part after another, for almost every studio in Hollywood. They liked his work, but no one wanted to sign him up. Then, as in the case of all popular players, came the big break. Metro-Goldwyn sent for him and he got the part of the detective in Mata-Hari, the man who finally tracked down the famous spy.
That part won attention for him. not only from Hollywood producers, but from fans. He started receiving much fan mail, and the studio cast him in another role, that of the lobbyist in “Washington Masquerade.”
When that was ready for release, they presented him with a nice five-year contract, knowing that if they didn’t do it, some one else would. He has been there ever since. The part in “Stamboul Quest” he believes to be the best he has had.
“It was different,” he said. “This time I didn’t use women as stool pigeons, or throw them out windows; I really went after one for myself. I still get lots of letters about it.”
I asked him if he would rather play heavies than any other kind of role. He shrugged. “I’d rather play light comedy.” he said, “but you know how it is. They type you, and you’re set in a mold.”
He has been married three years. It is his second marriage. There are no children by either.
“But I have a dog,” he said with a smile. “He has a great name, too — for a Scotty.” He waited for me to ask the name of the animal, and I did so.
“Well,” he said, “my wife and I were living at the Hermoyne apartments when I got him, and I had just finished the part of Duke Igor in ‘Rasputin and the Empress.’ So I called him Grand Duke Igor of Hermoyne. He’s registered under that name.”
Soon after “Death on the Diamond” was finished, in fact, the following Monday, he — Gordon, not the dog — went to the hospital. He had finished the picture in great pain. The doctors ordered an immediate operation, and he was a very sick man for weeks. As soon as he was able to go, he was ordered on an ocean voyage, and had just returned from the Canal Zone when we talked.
“I’m going over to see my mother now,” he said. “She’s eighty-three, and still thinks she’s as active as she used to be. I have to watch her.”
As he went across the street to his car, I thought:
“There goes C. Henry Gordon, sinister villain on the screen, to call on his mother and protect her, like young Jack Dalton, hero of the early melodramas!”
Not being a profound philosopher I gave it up, and decided that of such stuff was life made.
Mr. Gordon’s favorite role was the scheming Turk in “Stamboul Quest,” though he would like to play light comedy — and knows he won’t because he isn’t the type.
Source: Picture Play, February 1935