Volume 3: Biographies

 

HENDERSON, Grace *

Actress (1916-1917)

Thanhouser Career Synopsis: Grace Henderson was an actress with Thanhouser in 1916 and 1917.

Biographical Notes: Grace Henderson (her married name) was born in 1860 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Part of her youth was spent in France, where she took lessons in elocution and acting. Her stage debut occurred in 1877 at McVicker's Theatre in Chicago. For many years she was a member of the Lyceum Theatre stock company in New York, having first appeared there in 1877, in the role of Lucille Ferrand in The Wife. In 1881 she married David (later known as Dell) Henderson, a former typesetter for the New York Herald, who had changed his career to become manager of the Chicago Opera House. After her marriage she retired from the stage, to return in 1885 in a role in In the Ranks, in New York City. During the 1886-1887 season she was with Madame Modjeska's company, and was seen as Celia, Olivia, and the countess in The Chouans. Later, she scored a success as Phyllis Lee in The Charity Ball. Her husband's ill health forced her to retire again, but later she returned to the footlights to be on stage with Nance O'Neill, followed by an engagement in Maude Adams' company of Peter Pan, and a stint with the road company of Lightnin'.

A 1903 wire service news item told of an ugly incident: "New York, August 15 - Because a Negro, Moses Fairfax, was engaged to play an important part in My Wife's Husbands, which is to be produced at the Madison Square Theatre, the other actors and actresses went on strike. Manager Nathaniel Roth argued in vain for half an hour, when at last the rehearsal was broken up by the refusal of the men and women to take their parts. Finally, Roth himself had to read the lines of Fairfax, while the dusky individual sat in a corner and looked on. Grace Henderson began the trouble when it came time for her to appear on the scene with the colored man. 'I never acted with a Negro,' she said, 'and I never expect to.' And with that, Miss Henderson threw her part on the prompt table and backed up against the wall. The others shared her views. Roth has ordered the rehearsals to continue without the Negro for the present."

On the same subject, an article in Broadway Weekly noted, in part: "Said Miss Henderson to a [reporter] who asked for her reasons for refusing to rehearse with a Negro: 'It is superfluous to ask such a question of a Southern woman. Negroes are all right in their proper places. But we in the South never admit that Negroes are our social equals. Actors and actresses in a company always call one another by their first names before the end of the first rehearsal. Don't you see how impossible such a situation would be if I were compelled to rehearse with this Negro? Why, he might commence to call me 'Grace,' and what would I do then?" As deplorable as Miss Henderson's actions might seem to later readers, at the time the situation occurred many other white players felt the same way.

By 1909 she was interspersing her stage work with acting before the motion picture camera. Grace Henderson was in dozens of American Biograph films from that year through 1912. For the next several years she punctuated her screen acting with work on the stage. In 1916 she was on the road in the stage production of Yankee Doodle Dick. Grace Henderson was with the Thanhouser Film Corporation in New Rochelle in 1916 and 1917 and appeared in the 1917 releases of Pots and Pans Peggie, When Love Was Blind, and War and the Woman.

She went back on the stage, where she was seen through the early 1930s, with her last appearance being in Green Grow the Lilacs, produced by the Theatre Guild. Grace Henderson died in Morrisania Hospital, Bronx, New York, on October 30, 1944. At the time she lived at 245 Fort Washington Avenue in the same city. A son, Edwin L. Henderson, of Schenectady, New York, survived her.

Note: Although several of her obituaries gave her birthplace as Ann Arbor, Michigan, in another account concerning the 1903 uproar concerning her refusal to appear on stage with a black man, she told a reporter: "I was born in Tennessee."

Thanhouser Filmography:

1917: Pots and Pans Peggie (3-18-1917), When Love Was Blind (4-15-1917), War and the Woman (9-9-1917)

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Copyright © 1995 Q. David Bowers. All Rights Reserved.