Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Brandon Iron

Today's featured actor enjoyed an incredibly lengthy career (sixty-seven years!) in movies and on TV (along with some key stage appearances), yet his name doesn't exactly trip off the tongue of your average cinemaphile. Notable in particular for playing imposing villains, including some fearsome Indian chiefs, he nonetheless portrayed a wide variety of roles during his considerable career. His name is Henry Brandon.

At birth, on June 8th, 1912 in Berlin, Germany, his name was Heinrich von Kleinbach. He wouldn't know Germany as a homeland, however, because his parents fled to The United States while he was still a baby, avoiding the onset of WWI which had been brewing up to that time. This land of freedom and opportunity allowed him to grow up and attend Stanford University, immersing himself in the American way of life by joining a fraternity and augmenting his first name to Henry.

By the early-1930s, he was out in California, working as an actor at the Pasadena Community Playhouse and working as an extra in such films as the Cecil B. Demille epic Sign of the Cross (1932.) Before long, however, he was on his way to success in the cinema. In 1934, after being spotted onstage in The Drunkard, he landed the featured role of the cretinous, craggy Silas Barnaby in Laurel & Hardy's adaptation of Babes in Toyland.

It's a curious thing that a mere twenty-two year-old would be selected to portray this crotchety, nefarious character, but it's because he'd been heavily aged in The Drunkard and the casting agent hadn't realized it! Once they figured out how to adjust his makeup for the camera versus the stage, this disparity was noted at the time though publicity photos like the one at left, in which his face is shown with one half young and handsome and other half aged and crusty.

Despite the movie's success, this didn't lead immediately to more film work, perhaps due to the fact that he was unrecognizable from it! He continued to work on stage until 1936 when he was put to work in movies again, this time with a new name, Henry Brandon. That year alone, he did The Preview Murder Mystery (bizarrely made up and playing in a parody of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920, as seen here), Big Brown Eyes, Killer at Large and had roles in two Technicolor classics, The Garden of Allah (with Charles Boyer, Marlene Dietrich and Basil Rathbone - towering Brandon is seen below behind Dietrich) and The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (with Fred MacMurray and Sylvia Sidney.)
A common scenario for burgeoning actors of this time would be obtaining featured roles in small ("B") films and/or serials (in which a storyline played out in limited segments, usually with a cliffhanger ending, over the course of many weeks) while occasionally landing a bit part in an "A" feature. Thus, Brandon might be the key villain in a Jungle Jim (1937) serial one minute (see below) and then have a walk-on in a Greta Garbo picture like Conquest (1938) or a big western like Wells Fargo (1938) the next. He was an opera impressario (as seen above left) in the short Our Gang Follies of 1938 (1937.)
This continued through 1939 as he played a henchman in a Buck Rogers serial (seen here in wacky headgear next to humpy Buster Crabbe!) balanced with a small role (as a French Foreign Legion deserter) in the famous Gary Cooper war drama Beau Geste (shown below.)
In 1940, Brandon landed what would be one his more bizarre roles (though it was common at the time for Caucasian actors to portray Asian characters.) He had the title role in the well-produced serial Drums of Fun Manchu. His evil character is bent on world conquest.

Despite its being considered one of the best serials ever produced, there was an issue with it (besides the then- accepted make-up) in that the U.S. State Department wanted no further episodes generated after our entry into WWII lest the Chinese - allies against Japan - take offense at the leading character's quest for world domination.
Brandon was hardly idle, however. In 1940 alone, he appeared in eight other movies in addition to the Fu Manchu serial! Though he was working alongside stars such as Roy Rogers, Boris Karloff, Louis Hayward and others, none of these pictures was of any particular notability or consequence. Early in 1941, he headed to Broadway to work opposite Helen Twelvetrees in the play Boudoir, though it quickly folded.

Thus he appeared in six more films that year, including Underground (with Jeffrey Lynn), The Shepherd of the the Hills (with John Wayne) and The Corsican Brothers (with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) In 1942, he only made one film, a tiny part in the low-budget Night in New Orleans.

Things were looking up, though. 1943 saw the excellent WWII drama Edge of Darkness, starring Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan as members of the resistance in occupied German-occupied Norway. The stellar cast also included Walter Huston, Ruth Gordon and Judith Anderson.

Brandon played a Nazi officer (with a secret) who comes to the small fishing village depicted in the story and is soon involved in various intrigues, some of which include pretty Nancy Coleman. The movie was lavishly appointed and his part was considerable though, amazingly enough, uncredited onscreen!

Brandon was off-screen for several years after this, having headed back to New York for another Broadway show, this one called Army Play-By Play, with mostly all actors (yet not Brandon) who were also enlisted men or officers, directed by "Sergeant" Arthur O'Connell. What led to the gap in his resume from 1943 - 1947 I honestly cannot say. Perhaps stage work in New York or elsewhere? But he was back (in another small role) as a "Chinese Junk Captain" in the Nelson Eddy frontier musical Northwest Passage (1947.) Then 1948 brought six more films including Joan of Arc (with Ingrid Bergman), The Paleface (with Bob Hope, in which Brandon played an Indian Medicine Man) and Wake of the Red Witch (with John Wayne.) In the latter, Brandon was a bronzed, sarong-clad islander who tends to Wayne after The Duke fights a huge octopus underwater!
Though he did two films in 1949 (The Fighting O'Flynn with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Tarzan's Magic Fountain with Lex Barker), he also made two important appearances on Broadway that year. First came Medea, playing Jason to Dame Judith Anderson's title role. Then he was Orsino in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. He also made his TV debut in 1949 with shows like The Clock, Suspense (as seen here with the famed Stella Adler) and, later, Lights Out.

1951 saw him in both westerns, such as Cattle Drive (with Joel McCrea), and colorful sword & sandal adventures like The Golden Horde (with Ann Blyth) and The Flame of Araby (with Maureen O'Hara and Jeff Chandler.)

A balance of TV and movie parts marked 1952 as he did Scarlet Angel (with Rock Hudson and Yvonne DeCarlo) and Wagons West (with Rod Cameron) as well as series like Gruen Guild Theater, Cavalcade of America and Family Theatre (with Leif Erickson, Ruth Hussey and an up and comer making his debut by the name of James Dean!)

1953 wound up a busy year for Brandon as he took part in seven different movies from playing a cop in War of the Worlds to a native chief in Tarzan and the She-Devil. He also worked in War Arrow (with Maureen O'Hara and Jeff Chandler again, seen here with Chandler), Pony Express (with Charlton Heston) and two Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedies, Scared Stiff and The Caddy.

He had a small role in Bob Hope's Casanova's Big Night (1954), but then enjoyed a more substantial part in the Gary Cooper-Burt Lancaster color western Vera Cruz. In this, he played a severe looking baddie (with his usual curls closely cropped away) who tag teams with Cesar Romero to obtain the gold that the lead actors are trying to transport on Denise Darcel's behalf.
His rather raspy voice and severe features were just right for dangerous, threatening types, though his pale blue eyes tempered the fero- ciousness slightly (though certainly not diminishing any icy quality that might be present!)

He guest-starred on Stories of the Century (1955) as a very dangerous cattle rustler. Even though he was playing a bad guy, TV series like this gave him a chance to demonstrate some romance on screen (and occasionally the lighting caught him in a way that gave him a handsome appearance not unlike James Daly or Cliff Robertson.)
Brandon's initial good looks had long-since hardened into a more curt appearance, which only furthered his casting in villainous or exotic/ethnic parts. After a small role in Lady Godiva of Coventry (1955), looking handsome with a full beard, he would land one of his most memorable parts, perhaps the one he's most remembered for (and in my case, the one that makes him a favorite in Poseidon's Underworld!)

Even at this point, after more than twenty years in the business, Brandon was still winding up with smallish roles. He had a bit in The Ten Commandments (1956) and a supporting (villainous) part in Robert Mitchum's Mexican-set Bandido (1956) and provided problems for Dana Andrews' peace-seeking character in Comanche (1956) as the Indian warrior Black Cloud.
It was his remaining 1956 film, though, which gave him his claim to classic movie fame. In the near- legendary John Ford western The Searchers, Brandon (unlikely as it may be for a blue-eyed Caucasian) played Scar, a fearsome, vengeful chief who has kidnapped and slaughtered a number of settlers who've made their way into his Texas land.
When he kills John Wayne's brother, sister-in-law and others and has taken Wayne's two nieces into captivity, it sets off a years-long quest in which Wayne and his nephew Jeffrey Hunter relentlessly track Brandon in order to try to retrieve the girls. At 6'5", Brandon is simultaneously imposing, threatening, savage and sexy in the role.

I daresay that he is unfor- gettable to those who've seen the movie, even though it isn't a role with lots of screen time (not to mention dialogue!) and, though it was customary at the time, he is not really Native American in physical appearance. He was just memorably dangerous and even possessing sexual threat.

Regardless of the fact that he was not a household name, nor achieved any particular notoriety for his work, Brandon was as busy as ever. He made at least eight TV appearances in 1957 on shows like Robert Montgomery Presents (with Claire Bloom), M Squad, The Restless Gun and Have Gun, Will Travel. He also worked in the films Omar Khayyam with Cornel Wilde and had a decent size role in The Land Unknown with Jock Mahoney, about a tropical area discovered by Antarctic explorers! Now forty-five, he still possessed a trim, fit physique that was put on display as seen here. Earlier that year he'd starred in an off-Broadway production of The Lady's Not for Burning (which also included Peter Falk.)

In 1958, Brandon had a small role in The Buccaneer, produced by Cecil B. DeMille, for whom he'd first worked way back in 1932 (and again in Command- ments.) He also popped up in the comedy smash Auntie Mame, playing Acacius Page, controversial schoolteacher to Rosalind Russell's treasured nephew. The following year, he had a co-starring role in the low-budget, swamp-set smuggling movie Okefenokee (1959.)

His TV output began to outweigh the film work. Despite roles in The Big Fisherman (1959) and the James Stewart-Richard Widmark western Two Rode Together (1961), in which he again played a dangerous Indian chief, he was more often seen as a guest on shows like The RebelLawman, Bronco, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, 77 Sunset Strip and The Outer Limits, opposite Robert Duvall, as seen below.
As the early-'60s continued, Brandon found himself in the occasional movie (such as Captain Sinbad, 1963), but most often on TV where he played exotic types, military men or Indians on shows such as Adventures in Paradise, F Troop, Mr. Ed, Daniel Boone, Combat! or The Virginian. In 1969, he played a sadistic Nazi taking over where Hitler left off in The Search for the Evil One. He's seen below in a 1969 installment of Mission: Impossible as an Arab, ever the go-to man for anyone ethnic despite his blue eyes!
There were several low-budget movies in which Brandon had a supporting role. He played a holy man in Gentle Savage (1973), about Native American William Smith being wrongly accused of rape and murder, joined the cast of the little-known So Long, Blue Boy (1973), which focused on a young homosexual man, When the North Wind Blows (1974), as an aging fur trapper, and The Manhandlers (1974), a grindhouse crime drama about a massage parlor!

Still, Brandon occasionally landed supporting parts in better pictures such as Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and Mel Brooks' To Be or Not to Be (1983), in which he was once more cast as a Nazi. He also took part in the low-budget, yet star-filled, Mission to Glory: A True Story (1977), about Father Kino, who built churches for Indians in the late-1600s. Among the cast were Richard Egan, Ricardo Montalban, Cesar Romero, Rory Calhoun, John Ireland and Aldo Ray!

In 1987, he joined the fraternity of stars at or near the end of their career shelf life who worked on Murder, She Wrote. Brandon's very last part was in a campy, low-budget science fiction movie called Wizards of the Lost Kingdon II (1989.) (You mean you don't have Bo Svenson's Wizards of the Lost Kingdom (1985) in your DVD library?? LOL) At least his face was prominently featured on the film's poster.

Prior to his death in 1990, Brandon made appear- ances at Laurel & Hardy festivals, to relay tales of his time with them during Babes in Toyland. He also appeared in a round table discussion on the infamously loony The Joe Franklin Show, alongside Cornel Wilde, Edie Adams, Corinne Calvet and his longtime friend and occasional costar Cesar Romero.
I haven't delved into Brandon's personal life in this tribute, but it wasn't without interest. Brandon, regardless of the gravelly voice, rough-hewn features, intense masculinity and strong physicality he brought to his more than six-decade-long career was a homosexual. I mention these traits not that they are exclusive from homosexuality, but simply because it was not as easy for audiences to immediately label him as such from his "carriage and demeanor," as the quote goes.
He, in fact, enjoyed a lengthy relationship with the sixteen years younger Mark Herron, a middlingly successful actor turned promoter who rose to fame for another reason entirely. Already living with Brandon as a couple (perhaps having met during 1957's stage production of The Lady's Not for Burning?), he departed on a concert tour with Judy Garland and before it was over the two were married! Herron became the fourth of her five husbands (1965-1967.) Despite the length of the union, it really only lasted about five months, though they'd been a couple of sorts (and, in fact, married illegally on a prior occasion because she was still wed to Sid Luft before their legal nuptials came along.)

Later, Garland claimed that the marriage had never been consum- mated. It might just be so. Herron was preoccupied with his step son-in-law! Garland's daughter Liza Minnelli was wed to gyrating singer-songwriter Peter Allen, who Herron had "discovered" while in Australia with Garland. For a time, Allen and his performing partner Chris Ball (billed as The Allen Brothers) were an opening act for the famed singer (and appeared with her on TV a few times.) After Minnelli caught Allen and Herron in the sack, Herron was sacked from Garland's life, though Minnelli held onto Allen until 1974.

Herron returned to Henry Brandon, with whom he lived until Brandon's death in 1990 at the age of seventy-seven from a heart attack. (They actually worked on one film together, 1979's Hollywood Knight, about a young male prostitute! Keenan Wynn, John Crawford and Timothy Carey also appeared. I don't have a pic of Brandon, but the back of the - re-named - video box is shown below.) Herron died in 1996 of cancer at the age of sixty-seven.

Brandon had never attained a high level of fame, but he stayed busy in movies, on stage and on television, even returning to his favorite old stage play The Drunkard in the mid-1980s, when old-age makeup was no longer necessary. Having spent much of his life portraying hissable, trouble-making villains, he was in fact known to be a genial, pleasant and friendly person in real life. Whenever he appears on-screen, it's a safe bet that either intensity or creativity in the acting will be soon to follow.


joel65913 said...

Terrific post on someone that I'm familiar with from many films but knew zip about behind the scenes, nor the length of his career!

Perhaps to most his main claim of notoriety is The Searchers but to me he'll always be Acacius Page in Auntie Mame. My entire family loved that movie so much when I was a kid that we watched it whenever it was on and though his role was small he made an indelible impression on my young mind. It took me years to make the connection between the boisterous Mr. Page and the grim Scar.

A very handsome striking man, wonder what he thought of the whole Judy/Liza/Peter/Mark mishegas.

Gingerguy said...

Hello Underworld. Whenever I see a new posting I react viscerally, practically squealing with joy (not like in "Deliverance")if it's something I know or love already. With this I figured it might be interesting, what a trip! Silas Barnaby! I knew the actor was young but not that young. That character loomed large in my childhood as they showed "Babes" every year on Thanksgiving. There is a remake with Keanu Reeves that is only for the brave. I watch it yearly, though it stinks on ice. We have a Halloween costume contest at work and one year we did The Salem Witch Trials as a group (fun right?) and my boss as a Puritan looked exactly like Silas Barnaby. I passed out photos at the next staff meeting. I digress....
This actor is amazing, what a chameleon. I tried to watch "The Searchers" but didn't make it all the way through,too brutal,but he was great.
LOL "The Land Unknown" I have that as a Sci-fi compilation and would never have recognized him in that. Again, a very striking character I totally remember. Of his later stuff only "Manhandled" sounds interesting. One might learn something.
I guess everyone made it onto Joe Franklin eventually. The poor thing lived on my block in his twilight years. I think shoe polish for hair dye, but he was beloved and befuddled.
I almost fell out of my chair when you told me Silas Barnaby was gay, but the Mark Herron bit did me in. No way!!! So Judy and Liza's husbands had sex with each other? I knew they both married adoring fan types but that is a shocker. WTH? This was a fantastic voyage indeed. I am so impressed with this actor's range and amazed at your research Poseidon. Genius, a great read.

Poseidon3 said...

Hello, Joel. I'm glad you enjoyed this! Based on what's floating around out there, this may be the most in-depth tribute ever done on Mr. Brandon! LOL I intended to include a photo of him from "Auntie Mame" but I don't have it on DVD and it was erased from my DVR a while back... I couldn't find a decent one anywhere. I read that he sort of tried to shrug off/be casual about Mark leaving him to go romping around with Judy & Co, but I'm sure that - if he cared about him as much as it seems he did, it had to sting. Once it was all over @ 1967, they were together again from then on, which I guess is a good thing.

Gingerguy, I have never seen "Babes in Toyland!" Now I will really have to keep an eye out for it. Hysterical about your boss looking like Silas!!! I want to see the Tommy Sands version, even though I'm sure it's atrocious, because I think he was so cute at that particular time. Also, I'm dying over your recollections of Joe Franklin. OF COURSE you lived near him....!!!!! One account I read said that Mark and Peter met, began their affair (not sure how poor Chris fit into this or whatever became of him!) and then plotted to marry mother and daughter to justify them being together so much. That may or may not be conjecture. I ALWAYS remember Liza not being able to make it to one of her mother's weddings (Mickey Deans, I believe) and she said, "Don't worry, mama, I'll come to the next one..." !! Like it was a forgone conclusion for it to fail! Thanks for your kind remarks, as always.

William said...

Thank you so much for this exhaustive and highly detailed look into the life and career of Henry Brandon. I remember being amazed that he was not only Barnaby in the splendid "Babes in Toyland" but was also a character in "Land Unknown" -- and Fu Manchu to boot! Like another one of my favorite actors, Jay Novello, Brandon never became well-known enough even to most film buffs because he always got lost in the characterization, unlike "stars" who generally just play variations of themselves.

I didn't know Brandon was gay and I'm delighted to know it, and to know that he did find love at the end of his life after what must have been a bitter interlude with Herron and Judy Garland. That was certainly one revelation -- the Garland connection -- I never saw coming!

This is a very well-researched article. I'm going to link to it on my own movie blog, Great Old Movies asap. Brandon deserves more recognition.

Thanks again for a wonderful, well-deserved, and sympathetic tribute.

Poseidon3 said...

Hi, William, and thank you so very much for your kind words about this post! I appreciate you pointing out the work that went into it. Brandon has his fans across the Internet, but nothing really, truly in-depth (as only I can do... one recent assessment of my posts was "interminable!" LOLOL) I told a friend of mine when I was finished with it that this may be the most extensive page about Mr. B. online at the moment. I searched tirelessly for info on him. And of course I had to save the Judy Garland connection until the end for a big finish! Ha! He is just the type of performer I love to profile here because it's not the same old thing we've all seen and read about over and over (though I admit I do indulge in that myself where Joan Crawford and The Poseidon Adventure are concerned, among others...) Best wishes and thanks again!

Boofalo said...

Definitely the most thorough online article on the career of Henry Brandon, so well done. I'm currently finishing up a biography/appreciation of Brandon's career with co-author Bill Cassara to be called Henry Brandon King Of The Bogeymen, coming in 2018 from BearManor Media. I was a good friend of Henry's for the last 12 years of his life and remember the first time I visited him at home, he introduced me to his 'roommate' Mark Herron. When Mark left the living room to allow us to visit, Henry leaned in to me and whispered, "You know, he was married to Judy Garland" as if sharing a little secret. Our book goes into great detail about his film, television and theatre careers as well as some surprises, such as radio work and a job for Disney performing live action footage for animators to study of a certain pirate Captain who had a hook instead of hand. I hope your blog readers who enjoyed this excellent article will pick up our book next year. Richard S. Greene

geistmadl said...

Ty for this. :) The first thing I saw him in was Our Gang as a kid. What a great job with the makeup. His talent was great and he was prolific if not well known. I love all things Hollywood and didn't make the connection between JG and her husbands until this article.

Poseidon3 said...

geistmadl, I'm so glad you found (and liked!) this vintage post from Poseidon's Underworld. Looking over it again, I suddenly have an urge to revisit his portrayal of the imposing Scar once more! Thanks for taking time to comment.

Unknown said...

This article is such a good summary of the oft overlooked Henry Brandon. It is so much better than the book - which takes a lot of pages to tell less than you read here. Well done.

Poseidon3 said...

Unknown, thank you so much for the hearty compliment! I haven't gotten back to the book as I have since forgotten in the melee that is my life that one was in the works. I'm sorry it was a disappointment to you. :-0