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Henry Wilcoxon 

Best known as a leading man in many of Cecil B. DeMille’s films, also serving as DeMille’s associate producer on his later films. Known to younger audiences as the Bishop in Caddyshack.

Henry Wilcoxon is best known as a leading man in many of Cecil B. DeMille's films, also serving as DeMille's associate producer on his later films.

Filmography
1931The Perfect Lady 
1932Self Made Lady  
The Flying Squad 
1933Taxi to Paradise  
Lord of the Manor  
1934Princess Charming 
Cleopatra  
1935The Crusades  
1936The Last of the Mohicans 
The President’s Mystery (released in UK as One for All)  
A Woman Alone (released in USA as Two Who Dared)  
1937Jericho  
Souls at Sea  
Jericho (also titled Dark Sands)  
1938Prison Nurse 
Keep Smiling  
Mysterious Mr. Moto 
If I Were King  
Five of a Kind  
1939Woman Doctor  
The Arizona Wildcat 
Chasing Danger  
Tarzan Finds a Son!  
1940Free, Blonde and 21 
The Crooked Road 
Earthbound  
Mystery Sea Raider 
1941The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance 
That Hamilton Woman (aka Lady Hamilton) 
Scotland Yard  
South of Tahiti 
The Corsican Brothers 
1942The Man Who Wouldn’t Die  
Mrs. Miniver 
Johnny Doughboy  
1947Dragnet  
Unconquered 
1949A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court  
Samson and Delilah  
1950Sunset Boulevard  
The Miniver Story  
1952The Greatest Show on Earth  
Scaramouche  
1956The Ten Commandments 
1958The Buccaneer (producer only)
1965The War Lord  
1968The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell  
1971Man in the Wilderness 
1972Doomsday Machine 
1975Against a Crooked Sky 
1976Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood  
Pony Express Rider  
1978When Every Day Was the Fourth of July  
F. I. S. T. 
The Man with Bogart’s Face 
1980Caddyshack 
1983Sweet Sixteen 
Awards

Henry Wilcoxon was never nominated for an Academy Award.

Henry Wilcoxon was born on September 8, 1905 in Roseau, Dominica. His father was English-born Robert Stanley ‘Tan’ Wilcoxon (1869–1957), manager of the Colonial Bank in Jamaica and his mother, Lurline Mignonette Nunes (1870–1907), 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.”

He was renamed by DeMille for the role of Marc Antony in Cleopatra, and from then on he was Henry Wilcoxon.

(L to R) Henry Wilcoxon, C. Henry Gordon, Unknown, Loretta Young, Unknown, Ian Keith, Unknown in The Crusades

(L to R) Henry Wilcoxon, C. Henry Gordon, Unknown, Loretta Young, Unknown, Ian Keith, Unknown, in The Crusades

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 several 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 1941, Wilcoxon appeared as Captain Hardy, alongside Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, in Alexander Korda’s Lady Hamilton.

When America entered the World War II in December 1941, Wilcoxon enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. He served with the Coast Guard until 1946, gaining the rank of Lieutenant.

A scene still from the 1942 British wartime drama "Mrs. Miniver," which won the Oscar® for Best Picture, features Henry Wilcoxon as the Vicar.  The film received 12 Academy Award® nominations and won six statuettes, including William Wyler's first Oscar as Best Director.

A scene still from the 1942 British wartime drama “Mrs. Miniver,” which won the Oscar® for Best Picture, features Henry Wilcoxon as the Vicar.

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 recognized by the American Cancer Society in 1956 with a Citation of Merit, awarded for donations received by attendees of the groups Easter productions.

Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Cedric Hardwicke, and Henry Wilcoxon in The Ten Commandments (1956)

Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Cedric Hardwicke, and Henry Wilcoxon in The Ten Commandments (1956)

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 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), which 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.

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).

Wilcoxon married a 19-year-old actress Sheila Garrett on June 28, 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. Heather Angel and her husband Ralph Forbes were both present at Wilcoxon’s wedding to Sheila Garrett.

On December 17, 1938 (her 23rd birthday) he married his second wife, actress Joan Woodbury. They had three daughters: Wendy Joan Robert Wilcoxon (born 1939), 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 (born 1933), 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 at the Dunkirk evacuation, had any children.

He died March 6, 1984 (aged 78) in Los Angeles. Cause of death was Heart failure and cancer. He was cremated and the ashes were given to family.

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