Birth Name: Travers John Heagerty
Birthdate: March 5, 1874
Number of Films that Henry Travers Made with Humphrey Bogart: 3
It probably shows how little I truly know about classic film to admit that I learned Henry Travers was an English actor while researching this post! I’m embarrassed, but at the same time delighted, to discover that Travers is still able to surprise me with the depth of his talent long after his passing. The guy’s Midwestern drawl was perfect!
I’m also ashamed to confess that until a few years ago, I only knew Travers from It’s a Wonderful Life and a childhood viewing of The Bells of St. Mary’s. While I’m sure that I’d seen him in other films when I was a kid, his name and face didn’t register for me until much later in life when I really began to indulge my film obsession.
Trained as a stage actor in England, it wasn’t until 1933 that Travers made his way to Hollywood. With relatively few films to his credit compared to most actors of his era (just over 50), Travers was able to make a career out of playing easy-spoken, good natured, grandfatherly saints. Who wouldn’t want to hug this guy if they had the chance?
And while his role as the angel Clarence Oddbody will probably forever overshadow the rest of his work, Travers was solid in numerous other films, especially his portrayal as ‘Pa’ in High Sierra, which is still my personal favorite since he got to share so much screen time with Bogart – helping bring the heart and soul to gangster Roy Earle.
Dark Victory – 1939
Travers plays Dr. Parsons, Bette Davis’ personal physician. The role is small, but it’s the quintessential Travers part as he’s the fatherly doctor that wants the best for Davis as he refers her on to a more specialized doctor in George Brent. You can read my original write up on the film here.
You Can’t Get Away With Murder – 1939
Travers plays Pop, the grandfatherly inmate in charge of the prison library. He immediately takes an interest in Billy Halop’s young street thug and begins to mentor him into a better life. Again, it’s the prototypical Travers character as the wise but simple hearted saint, but is there anyone who could play it better? Travers and Halop have some of the best scenes in the film, and Bogart’s intimidation of Travers is in stark contrast to their relationship in High Sierra. You can read my original write up on the film here.
High Sierra – 1941
Travers plays the grandfatherly Midwesterner Pa, uncle to Joan Leslie, and confidant to Bogart’s gangster, Roy Earle. This was Travers largest role out of all three collaborations with Bogart, and they get to share a lot of screen time together. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many Bogart films where he shares the same type of father/son relationship with another actor as he does with Travers here, and their chemistry together is great. Travers wonderfully tempers Earle’s ruthless side and is able to help Bogart push his role beyond the typical two-dimensional gangster that he’d often had to play before. While the film may not be perfect, the scenes between Bogart and Travers hit exactly the right notes, making this my favorite Travers film. (Although, I need to dig a little deeper into his filmography!) You can read my original write up on the film here.