Harry Frederick Wilcoxon
8 September 1905
|Died||6 March 1984 78) (aged|
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Other names||Harry Wilcoxon|
(m. 1936;div. 1937)
(m. 1938;div. 1969)
Harry Frederick Wilcoxon (8 September 1905 – 6 March 1984), known as Henry Wilcoxon, was an actor born in Roseau, Dominica, British West Indies, and who was a leading man in many of Cecil B. DeMille's films, also serving as DeMille's associate producer on his later films.
Wilcoxon was born on 8 September 1905 in Roseau, Dominica. His father was English-born Robert Stanley 'Tan' Wilcoxon, manager of the Colonial Bank in Jamaica  and his mother, Lurline Mignonette Nunes, was a Jamaican amateur theatre actress, descendant of a wealthy Spanish merchant family.   
As important in his life as his parents, but closer, was his only sibling, his older brother Robert Owen Wilcoxon, known as 'Owen'. Henry (known then by his born name, Harry) had a difficult childhood. His mother "disappeared suddenly and mysteriously" (presumed she died) when he was about a year old, and his father took him and Owen (aged four) to England with the intention that his own mother Ann would care of them. But, because his mother was too frail to care for the children, they were first sent to a bad foster home, where they became ill from malnutrition and neglect until this was discovered and they were moved on to an orphanage. Harry suffered from rickets, and Owen developed a stutter and had epileptic fits.  They were rescued from the orphanage to a new foster home run by the more caring Stewart family, at Springfield House in Acton, London.   After several years Harry's father 'Tan', with his new wife Rosamond took the children home with them to Bridgetown, Barbados, where they were educated. Harry was sent to Wolmer's Boys School in Kingston, Jamaica and Harrison College, Barbados. Harry told that at 14 he was 'almost' the underwater swimming champion of Barbados  and good enough to become a salvage diver. 
Harry and his brother Owen were known as 'Biff' and 'Bang' to friends and family due to fighting skills gained in amateur boxing.
After completing his education, Wilcoxon was employed by Joseph Rank, the father of J. Arthur Rank, before working for Bond Street tailors Pope and Bradshaw.  While working for the tailors, Wilcoxon applied for a visa to work as a chauffeur in the United States, but upon seeing his application refused, turned to boxing and then to acting. 
Harry Wilcoxon's first stage performance was as a supporting actor in an adaptation of the novel The 100th Chance, by Ethel M. Dell, in November 1927 at Blackpool,  before he joined the Birmingham Repertory Theatre the next year and toured "for several years" playing "all roles that came his way."  Among these roles, he found critical success playing Captain Cook in a production of Rudolph Besier's The Barretts of Wimpole Street at the London Queen's Theatre alongside Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Scott Sunderland and Cedric Hardwicke.  In June 1932, at the Queen's Theatre, he played Donald Gage alongside Edith Evans as Irela in Sir Barry Jackson's production of Beverley Nichols' novel Evensong . 
In 1931, Wilcoxon made his screen debut as "Larry Tindale" in The Perfect Lady , followed by a role opposite Heather Angel in Self Made Lady , alongside Louis Hayward and others.  In 1932, he appeared in a remake of the 1929 film The Flying Squad (based on the novel by Edgar Wallace), reprising the role originated by future-Hitchcock regular John Longden.  Altogether he made eight films in Britain prior to 1934.
Also in 1933, "while acting on stage in Eight Bells, a talent scout for Paramount Pictures reportedly arranged a screen test which came to the attention of producer-director Cecil B. DeMille in Hollywood."  DeMille recalls in his autobiography:
One of my longest and closest professional and personal associations began because I was impatient about waiting my turn for the use of a projection room at the studio, while I was casting Cleopatra . I had already engaged Claudette Colbert for the title role, but had not yet found a satisfactory Mark Antony to play opposite her.
However, I did have some film footage of horses that I wanted to see, for possible use in the picture. I took it to the projection room, but found the room in use... While waiting in the booth, I heard, come from the soundtrack of the test film [being shown], a resonant, manly voice, with only a pleasant trace of an English accent... I asked who the young actor was.
'Oh,' I was told, 'he's a young Englishman that Paramount signed from the London stage. Name of Harry Wilcoxon, but the executives don't think Harry is dignified enough, so we're changing his name to Henry Wilcoxon.'
'Harry or Henry,' I said, 'he is Marc Antony.' " 
So he was renamed by DeMille for the role of Marc Antony in Cleopatra, and from then on he was Henry Wilcoxon.
Wilcoxon he was next given the lead role of Richard the Lionheart in DeMille's big-budget film The Crusades (1935) opposite Loretta Young. That film, however, was a financial failure, "losing more than $700,000".  After the lack of success of The Crusades, Wilcoxon's career stalled; although he featured—and starred—in a number of films, most were "minor B's like The President's Mystery and Prison Nurse for Republic [Pictures]."  Wilcoxon himself deemed his worst acting job to be in Mysterious Mr. Moto (1938), in which year he played in If I Were King and featured in Five of a Kind with the Dionne quintuplets. 
In 1941, Wilcoxon appeared as Captain Hardy, alongside Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, in Alexander Korda's Lady Hamilton , during the filming of which:
a wad of flame fell from a torch directly on Olivier's head, setting his wig afire. Wilcoxon, standing right beside him, tried to extinguish the blaze but was unsuccessful. Finally he had to wrench the wig from Olivier's head, but he had both hands badly burned while Olivier had his eyebrows scorched." 
When America entered the World War II in December 1941, Wilcoxon enlisted in the United States Coast Guard, supposedly "leaving his home twenty minutes after the announcement that the States had declared war and proceeding to enlist then and there."  He served with the Coast Guard until 1946, gaining the rank of lieutenant commander. 
During his period of service, he had three films released in 1942, among them Mrs. Miniver ,  which received considerable public acclaim, as well as six Academy Awards.  Wilcoxon, in his role as the vicar, "wrote and re-wrote" the key sermon with director William Wyler "the night before the sequence was to be shot."  The speech "made such an impact that it was used in essence by President Roosevelt as a morale builder and part of it was the basis for leaflets printed in various languages and dropped over enemy and occupied territory." 
Upon his return from war service, Wilcoxon "picked up his relationship with Cecil B. DeMille" with Unconquered , and after starring as Sir Lancelot in the 1949 musical version of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (with Bing Crosby in the title role), he featured (with "fifth starring billing") in DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949).  To help pre-sell the film, "DeMille arranged for Wilcoxon to tour the country giving a series of lectures on the film and its research in 41 key cities in the United States and Canada."  However, "after the fourteenth city," Wilcoxon collapsed "from a mild bout of pneumonia," (actually tuberculosis), and the tour was continued by "press-agent Richard Condon and Ringling Brothers public relations man Frank Braden" (who also collapsed, in Minneapolis).  Condon finished touring by the time of the film's release in October 1949.  Wilcoxon, meanwhile, had returned to England under contract to feature in The Miniver Story (1950), a sequel to the multi-Oscar-winning Mrs. Miniver (1942) in which he reprised his role as the vicar.
In the late 1940s, "several young actors and actresses came to Wilcoxon and wife Joan Woodbury and asked them to form a play-reading group", which began to take shape as the 'Wilcoxon Players' in 1951, when the two "transformed their living room into a stage."  'Guest star' performers sometimes appeared in the plays produced by the group, among them Larry Parks and Corinne Calvet, and soon the "Wilcoxon Group Players Annual Nativity Play" was being performed "at the Miles Playhouse in Santa Monica."  The group was recognised by the American Cancer Society in 1956 with a Citation of Merit, awarded for donations received by attendees of the groups Easter productions. 
Wilcoxon played a "small but important part" in DeMille's 1952 production The Greatest Show on Earth , on which film he also served as associate producer, helping steer the film towards its Academy Award for Best Picture, 1952.  He also acted as associate producer on, and acted (as Pentaur, the pharaoh's captain of the guards) in DeMille's remake of his own The Ten Commandments (1956). Wilcoxon was sole producer on the 1958 film The Buccaneer , a remake of DeMille's 1938 effort, which DeMille only "supervised" (due to his declining health) while Anthony Quinn directed. 
After DeMille died, Wilcoxon did "considerable work... in pre-production" on "a film based on the life of Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement," which DeMille had left unrealised, and was also ultimately abandoned. 
After a relatively inactive period "for the next three or four years," Wilcoxon had a "chance meeting with actor Charlton Heston and director Franklin Schaffner at Universal Studios," a meeting which saw him appear in The War Lord (1965), for which he again "went on tour... visiting 21 cities to publicize the picture." 
He was credited as co-producer on a "90-minute tribute to Cecil B. DeMille televised by NBC" entitled The World's Greatest Showman: The Legend of Cecil B. DeMille (1963), whose production was hampered by the absence of "some of DeMille's best-remembered films of the 30s and 40s" when rights-holder MCA refused their use.  At the opening of the DeMille Theatre in New York, he produced a "two-reel short," that in the estimation of critic Don Miller "was much better than this 90-minute tribute." 
In the last two decades of his life, he worked sporadically and accepted minor acting roles in a number of television and film productions. He guest-starred in shows including Daniel Boone , Perry Mason , I Spy , It Takes a Thief , Wild Wild West , Gunsmoke , Cimarron Strip , Cagney & Lacey , The Big Valley , Private Benjamin and Marcus Welby, M. D. , as well as in a smaller number of films, including a memorable turn as the golf-obsessed Bishop Pickering in the 1980 comedy Caddyshack .  In one scene, he plays golf in the driving rain with groundskeeper Carl, played by actor Bill Murray. It took hours to film the scene, with both actors standing under artificial rain towers. In a 2010 interview, Murray called Wilcoxon “a great pro” who “nailed everything he did.” Murray also said Wilcoxon told him that the book, The Art of Dramatic Writing was an influence in his career. 
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6256 Hollywood Blvd. west of Argyle St., in front of the W Hollywood Hotel & Residences and the Metro B Line Hollywood/Vine station, and across from the Pantages Theater.
By loaning money from his early film acting, Wilcoxon assisted his brother Owen to establish himself in 1931 as a partner in the Vale Motor Company in London, and for a short time he showed a personal interest in the development of their sports car, the Vale Special. At that time his girlfriend was a London-based American stage actress Carol Goodner. 
English-born actress Heather Angel, whom he had previously acted with in Self Made Lady (1932) when they were both in England, had come out to Hollywood a few months before Wilcoxon and met him again in 1934.  They became lifetime friends.  She taught him horse-riding, and acted in two more films with him: The Last of the Mohicans (1936) and Lady Hamilton (1941). Heather Angel and her husband Ralph Forbes were both present at Wilcoxon's wedding to Sheila Garrett.
Wilcoxon married a 19-year-old actress Sheila Garrett on 28 June 1936, but they divorced a year later. When they had first met, two years before they were married, she was introduced by her sister Lynn Browning as "Bonnie", but when they got to know each other better he preferred the name Sheila Garrett. 
On 17 December 1938 (her 23rd birthday) he married his second wife, actress Joan Woodbury.  They had three daughters: Wendy Joan Robert Wilcoxon (1939–2020),  Heather Ann Wilcoxon (1947) and Cecilia Dawn "CiCi" Wilcoxon (1950).  His second daughter was named after Heather Angel.  His youngest daughter was named after Cecil B. DeMille: DeMille said he wanted the child to be called Cecil if it was a boy, but when it turned out to be a girl, DeMille was still insistent, saying "I think Cecilia is a beautiful name! My daughter is named Cecilia."  They divorced in 1969. 
Wilcoxon was an amateur painter and photographer, whose work was exhibited on at least one occasion in London.  He was also "an avid antique collector and accomplished flier." 
At his home in Burbank in the summer of 1975 Wilcoxon first met his niece Valerie (1933–2017), the English daughter of his brother Owen  with Dorothy Drew (sister of architect Jane Drew). Up until then he did not know that his brother, killed in 1940 during the Dunkirk evacuation, had any children.
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Cecil Blount DeMille was an American film director, producer, and actor. Between 1914 and 1958, he made 70 features, both silent and sound films. He is acknowledged as a founding father of American cinema and the most commercially successful producer-director in film history. His films were distinguished by their epic scale and by his cinematic showmanship. His silent films included social dramas, comedies, Westerns, farces, morality plays, and historical pageants. He was an active Freemason and member of Prince of Orange Lodge #16 in New York City.
The Greatest Show on Earth is a 1952 American drama film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille, shot in Technicolor and released by Paramount Pictures. Set in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the film stars Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde as trapeze artists competing for the center ring and Charlton Heston as the circus manager. James Stewart also stars as a mysterious clown who never removes his makeup, and Dorothy Lamour and Gloria Grahame also play supporting roles.
The Ten Commandments is a 1956 American epic religious drama film produced, directed, and narrated by Cecil B. DeMille, shot in VistaVision, and released by Paramount Pictures. The film is based on the 1949 novel Prince of Egypt by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, the 1859 novel Pillar of Fire by J. H. Ingraham, the 1937 novel On Eagle's Wings by A. E. Southon, and the Book of Exodus, found in the Bible. The Ten Commandments dramatizes the biblical story of the life of Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince who becomes the deliverer of his real brethren, the enslaved Hebrews, and thereafter leads the Exodus to Mount Sinai, where he receives, from God, the Ten Commandments. The film stars Charlton Heston in the lead role, Yul Brynner as Rameses, Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, Debra Paget as Lilia, and John Derek as Joshua; and features Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Seti I, Nina Foch as Bithiah, Martha Scott as Yochabel, Judith Anderson as Memnet, and Vincent Price as Baka, among others.
Walter Davis Pidgeon was a Canadian-American actor. He earned two Academy Award for Best Actor nominations for his roles in Mrs. Miniver (1942) and Madame Curie (1943). Pidgeon also starred in many films such as How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Forbidden Planet (1956), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), Advise & Consent (1962), Funny Girl (1968), and Harry in Your Pocket (1973).
Samson and Delilah is a 1949 American romantic biblical drama film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and released by Paramount Pictures. It depicts the biblical story of Samson, a strongman whose secret lies in his uncut hair, and his love for Delilah, the woman who seduces him, discovers his secret, and then betrays him to the Philistines. It stars Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr in the title roles, George Sanders as the Saran, Angela Lansbury as Semadar, and Henry Wilcoxon as Prince Ahtur.
The Squaw Man is a 1914 American silent Western film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and Oscar C. Apfel, and starring Dustin Farnum. It was DeMille's directorial debut and one of the first feature films to be shot in what is now Hollywood.
William Churchill deMille, also spelled de Mille or De Mille, was an American screenwriter and film director from the silent film era through the early 1930s. He was also a noted playwright prior to moving into film. Once he was established in film he specialized in adapting Broadway plays into silent films.
The Buccaneer is a 1958 pirate-war film made by Paramount Pictures starring Yul Brynner as Jean Lafitte, Charles Boyer and Claire Bloom. Charlton Heston played a supporting role as Andrew Jackson, the second time that Heston played Jackson, having portrayed him earlier in the 1953 film The President's Lady. The film was shot in Technicolor and VistaVision, the story takes place during the War of 1812, telling a heavily fictionalized version of how the privateer Lafitte helped in the Battle of New Orleans and how he had to choose between fighting for America or for the side most likely to win, the United Kingdom.
The Crusades is a 1935 American historical adventure film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and originally released by Paramount Pictures. It stars Loretta Young as Berengaria of Navarre and Henry Wilcoxon as Richard I of England. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography as well as for Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival in 1935.
That Hamilton Woman, also known as Lady Hamilton, is a 1941 black-and-white historical film drama produced and directed by Alexander Korda for his British company during his exile in the United States. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the film tells the story of the rise and fall of Emma Hamilton, dance-hall girl and courtesan, who married Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples, and later became Admiral Horatio Nelson's mistress.
John Reginald Owen was a British actor. He was known for his many roles in British and American films and television programs.
Mrs. Miniver is a 1942 American romantic war drama film directed by William Wyler, and starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Inspired by the 1940 novel Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther, it shows how the life of an unassuming British housewife in rural England is affected by World War II. Produced and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, its supporting cast includes Teresa Wright, Dame May Whitty, Reginald Owen, Henry Travers, Richard Ney and Henry Wilcoxon.
Cleopatra is a 1934 American epic film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and distributed by Paramount Pictures. A retelling of the story of Cleopatra VII of Egypt, the screenplay was written by Waldemar Young and Vincent Lawrence and was based on Bartlett Cormack's adaptation of historical material. Claudette Colbert stars as Cleopatra, Warren William as Julius Caesar, and Henry Wilcoxon as Mark Antony.
The Miniver Story is a 1950 American drama film that is the sequel to the 1942 film Mrs. Miniver. Like its predecessor, the picture, made by MGM, stars Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, but it was filmed on-location in England. The film was directed by H.C. Potter and produced by Sidney Franklin, from a screenplay by George Froeschel and Ronald Millar based on characters created by Jan Struther. The music score was by Miklós Rózsa and Herbert Stothart, with additional uncredited music by Daniele Amfitheatrof, and the cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg.
Unconquered is a 1947 American historical epic adventure film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard. The supporting cast features Boris Karloff, Cecil Kellaway, Ward Bond, Howard da Silva, Katherine DeMille, C. Aubrey Smith and Mike Mazurki. Released by Paramount Pictures, the film depicts the violent struggles between American colonists and Native Americans on the western frontier in the mid-18th century during the 1763 Pontiac's Rebellion, primarily around Fort Pitt. The film is characterized by DeMille's lavish style, including colourful costumes and sets, thousands of extras, violence, and sensationalism.
Katherine Lester DeMille was a Canadian-born American actress who played 25 credited film roles from the mid-1930s to the late 1940s.
The Squaw Man is a 1931 American pre-Code Western film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. It was his third time filming the same play but the first in sound. It stars Warner Baxter in the leading role.
Joan Elmer Woodbury was an American actress beginning in the 1930s and continuing well into the 1960s.
Katherine Orrison is an American set decorator, art director, producer, costumer, author and film historian specializing in the films of Cecil B. DeMille, the life and career of actor Henry Wilcoxon, and the epic film The Ten Commandments.
Heather Grace Angel was a British actress. She was known for providing the voice of Mrs. Darling, Wendy's mother in Peter Pan (1953) and Alice's sister in Alice in Wonderland (1951).