Thought to be the prototype for Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oyl, Gale Henry was tall and extremely skinny, with large eyes and a sharp nose. Known as “The Elongated Comedienne,” from 1914 to 1933 she entertained audiences with eccentric physical comedy. Like her contemporaries Alice Howell, Mabel Normand, Marie Dressler, and Louise Fazenda, Gale took many bumps and bruises in the name of laughter alongside her male comedian counterparts in an estimated two hundred fifty-eight shorts and features, some of the craziest of which she wrote. Her active female characters bear comparison with Pearl White and Helen Holmes, the “serial queens” of the 1910s, and she often spoofed the cliff-hanger genre in which they appeared. Henry’s performing style could be very broad, but she also had a gift for small, insightful gestures that could bring a moment of pathos and feeling into the knockabout. She often played put-upon slavies, but her unconventional looks also made her perfect as a lovelorn spinster, an overbearing wife, or a burlesque country girl. She wore a wide-brimmed hat, a tight, old-fashioned button-up blouse, a long plaid or checkered skirt, and clunky high-top shoes. The overall look had a feel of L. Frank Baum’s Scarecrow of Oz—as if she were put together from odd, mismatching parts.
Lantern slide, The Elongated Comedienne. Courtesy of the Museum of the Moving Image.
Unidentified Joker Comedy with Gale Henry, Billy Franey & Max Asher. Private Collection.
Unidentified Joker Comedy with Gale Henry, Billy Franey, Max Asher & Lillian Peacock. Private Collection.
Gale Henry, Billy Franey & Max Asher, How Billy Got His Raise (1915). Private Collection.
Unidentified Joker Comedy with Boby Vernon, Heinie Conklin, Billy Franey, Gale Henry, & Lillian Peacock. Private Collection.
Gale Henry, Billy Franey & Max Asher in episode of Lady Baffles and Detective Duck series (1915). Private Collection.
Publicity shot, Gale Henry and dog. Private Collection.
After growing up on a ranch in Bear Valley, California, Gale Henry began her stage career with the Temple Opera Company. In a 1920 Photoplay article, “The Bear Facts About Gale Henry,” she said that her film career began in 1914: “I knew a girl who worked at Universal; she took me out there with her one morning, and I got a job. That’s all there is to it, except I remained there five years and was featured in two hundred comedies” (26-27). She was regularly employed in Universal’s Joker Comedies, a series set up in 1913 to compete with Mack Sennett’s Keystone comedies. One motion picture from the series that survives, A Millionaire for a Minute (1915), stars Max Asher as a bumpkin in love with schoolmarm Gale. Her old, Egyptologist uncle is against their marriage, but when Max gets an inheritance, they decide to elope. At the same time a pair of crooks breeze into town to fleece Max. When it turns out that his inheritance is Cleopatra’s ring, everyone leaves him in disgust except faithful Gale. The uncle finds out about the ring and is more than willing to trade Gale for it to provide a happy ending. Presented in an economical style, the slapstick grows logically out of the situations, and the acting is relatively subdued for a knockabout comedy.
During her tenure at Universal Pictures, Gale Henry turned up in the studios’ other brands, such as Nestor and L-Ko, after their star comedienne Alice Howell moved to Century Comedies. In 1915 Pat Powers produced the Lady Baffles and Detective Duck series, a spoof of cliff-hanger serials in eleven one-reel chapters, of which at least two are extant. Max Asher played inventor and master of disguise Detective Duck, who was hot on the heels of his nemesis, the mysterious crook, Lady Baffles (Gale). For this witty and surreal series Gale wrote many of the original stories, with chapter titles like “The Dread Society of the Sacred Sausage.” While she is only officially credited as author on a handful of other shorts, it is very likely that she continued contributing story ideas and developing her screen character, especially when she set up her own independent production company, the Model Comedy Company.
Gale Henry left Universal in 1918 and with her husband, Bruno J. Becker, started the Model Comedy Company. Their shorts were distributed by the Bulls Eye Corporation and were designed to exploit and showcase Henry’s talents. The extant two-reel The Detectress (1919) presents her as an aspiring detective who investigates a Chinese gang lord’s plot to steal the plans for an invention that will enable diners to see what is in the chop suey they’re eating. A nonstop chase through the Chinatown maze of trapdoors and secret panels provides the climax, but in the end the story turns out to be Gale’s opium-induced dream. Another extant Model Film Company title, Her First Flame (1919), is set in the future of 1950 where women have taken over and men wear dresses. Gale is running for the office of fire chief, and after she wins, the loser kidnaps Gale’s frilly boyfriend. When he spurns her advances, the rival ties him up in a burning house, but Gale saves the day in a last-minute rescue. It would be productive to investigate whether, under the guise of comedy, Henry had, in fact, greater freedom of movement than the popular lady detectives and cliff-hanger heroines whose films she spoofed and played on.
In 1920, when Bulls Eye merged and became part of the Reelcraft Pictures Corporation, Gale discontinued her series and was off the screen for a time. Through the 1920s she appeared in eighteen features, the most memorable being Open All Night (1924), where she was teamed with Raymond Griffith, and Stranded (1927), in which she gives an excellent performance as a cynical, well-seasoned Hollywood bit player who takes young Shirley Mason under her wing and teaches her the ropes of working at the studios.
When sound took over Hollywood, Gale made a swift transition, appearing in two features, The Love Doctor (1929) and Darkened Rooms (1929), plus Charley Chase’s first talkie The Big Squawk (1929). Her precise, spinster-like voice was fine and suited to her established persona. However, after an occasional short, again with Chase, she retired in 1933, at the age of forty, relatively old for a female silent film comic writer-performer.
“Comedienne Gale Henry is No Longer with Bulls Eye.” The Moving Picture World (14 Feb. 1920): 1055.
“Gale Henry Forms Company.” The Moving Picture World (10 Aug. 1918): 828.
“Gale Henry is Now L-KO Star.” The Moving Picture World (26 Jan. 1918): 539.
Webster, Dorothy Faith. “The Bear Facts About Gale Henry.” Photoplay (Jan. 1920): 26-27.
A. Archival Filmography: Extant Film Titles:
1. Gale Henry as Story Writer and Actress
Lady Baffles and Detective Duck in When the Wets Went Dry. Dir.: Allen Curtis, st.: Gale Henry (Powers Film Co. US 1915) cas.: Max Asher, Gale Henry, si, b&w, 1 reel. Archive: Library of Congress [USW].
Lady Baffles and Detective Duck - Episode One: The Great Egg Robbery. Dir.: Allen Curtis, st.: Gale Henry (Powers Film Co. US 1915) cas.: Max Asher, Gale Henry, si, b&w, 1 reel. Archive: Library of Congress [USW].
2. Gale Henry as Actress and Producer (Model Film Company)
All Tied Up. Dir.: George “Slim” Summerville ( Joe Rock Productions US 1925) cas.: Hilliard “Fatty” Karr, Frank “Kewpie” Ross, Frank D. “Tiny” Alexander, Gale Henry, si, b&w, 2 reels, 35mm. Archive: Library of Congress [USW].
Mighty Like a Moose. Dir.: Leo McCarey (Hal Roach US 1926) cas.: Charley Chase, Gale Henry, si, b&w, 2 reels. Archive: BFI National Archive [GBB].
Galloping Ghosts. Dir.: Ralph Cedar (Joe Rock US 1926) cas.: Frank Alexander, Gale Henry, si, b&w, 2 reels. Archive: Museum of Modern Art [USM].
What? No Spinach. Dir.: Harry Sweet (Joe Rock US 1926) cas.: Harry Sweet, Gale Henry, si, b&w, 2 reels, 16mm. Archive: Streamline.
The Vulgar Yachtsman. Dir.: Marcel Perez (Joe Rock US 1926) cas.: Frank Alexander, Gale Henry, si, b&w, 2 reels. Archive: BFI National Archive [GBB].
Two Time Mama. Dir.: Fred Guiol (Hal Roach US 1927) cas.: Glen Tryon, Gale Henry, si, b&w, 2 reels. Archive: Museum of Modern Art [USM].
Stranded. Dir.: Phil Rosen (Sterling Pictures US 1927) cas.: Shirley Mason, Gale Henry, si, b&w, 6 reels. Archives: Library of Congress [USW].
The Long Hose. Dir.: William Watson (Christie Comedies US 1928) cas.: Jack Duffy, Gale Henry, si, b&w, 2 reels. Archive: Lobster Films [FRL].
The Big Squawk. Dir.: Warren H. Doane (Hal Roach US 1929) cas.: Charley Chase, Gale Henry, sd, b&w, 2 reels. Archive: Library of Congress [USW].
B. Filmography: Non-Extant Film Titles:
1. Gale Henry as Story Writer and Actress
Lady Baffles and Detective Duck in the 18 Carrot Mystery, 1915; Lady Baffles andDetective Duck in Baffles Aids Cupid, 1915; Lady Baffles and Detective Duck in Savedby a Scent, 1915; Lady Baffles and Detective Duck in the Dread Society of the SacredSausage, 1915; Lady Baffles and Detective Duck in the Ore Mystery, 1915; Chills andChickens, 1915; Lemonade Aids Cupid, 1916; His Highness the Janitor, 1916; A Rafflefor a Husband, 1916; The MaskedMarvel, 1917.
2. Gale Henry as Actress and Producer (Model Film Company)
The Wild Woman, 1919; Stung, 1919; The Farmerette, 1919; Cash, 1919; Her Honor, theScrub Lady, 1919; Sweet Cookie, 1919; Kids, 1919; Pants, 1919; Lizzie’s Luck, 1919; HerWeek-End, 1919; Chicken a la King, 1919; Don’t Chase Your Wife, 1919; Gas, 1919; Ham an-, 1919; Home Talent, 1919; This Way Out, 1919; The Champeen, 1920; Heirlooms, 1920; Help!, 1920; The Movies, 1920.
3. Gale Henry as Actress
The Midnight Alarm, 1914, The Tender Hearted Sheriff, 1914; Universal Ike Has His Upsand Downs, 1914; Schultz the Barber, 1914; A Dream of Painting, 1914; Love andElectricity, 1914; Universal Ike Junior Is Kept from Being an Actor, 1914; The FatalLetter, 1914; Captain Kids Priceless Treasures, 1914; The Great Universal Mystery, 1914; Love, Roses and Trousers, 1914; His Wife’s Family, 1914; The Polo Champions, 1914; Wifie’s Busy Day, 1914; That’s FairEnough, 1914; What Happened to Schultz?, 1914; The Diamond Nippers, 1914; Well! Well!, 1914; Oh! What’s the Use?, 1914; Jamand Jealousy, 1914; In the Clutches of the Villain, 1914; The Baseball Fans of Fanville, 1914; Cruel, Cruel World, 1914; Across the Court, 1914; When their Wives Joined theRegiment, 1914; The De-Feet of the Father, 1914; The Battle of the Nations, 1914; He Fell in Love with His Mother-in-Law, 1915; The Blank Note, 1915; The Plumber WinstheGirl, 1915; Won with Dynamite, 1915; Fooling Father, 1915; Love and Law, 1915; Savedby a Shower, 1915; The Water Cure, 1915; School Day, 1915; Back to School Days, 1915; Schultz’s Lady Friend, 1915; The Rejuvenation of Liza Jane, 1915; Wedding BellsShall Ring, 1915; The Way He Won the Widow, 1915; The Fatal Kiss, 1915; Over theBounding Waves, 1915; Cy Perkins in the City of Delusion, 1915; A Day at the SanDiegoFair, 1915; The Lady Doctor of Grizzly Gulch, 1915; Hiram’s Inheritance, 1915; TheLover’s Lucky Predicament, 1915; How Billy got his Raise, 1915; Lady Baffles andDetective Duck in the Sign of the Sacred Safety Pin, 1915; A Duke for a Day, 1915; At theBingville Booster’s Barbeque, 1915; When Schultz Led the Orchestra, 1915; The VillageSmithy, 1915; The Wrong Label, 1915; Right Off the Reel, 1915; Freaks, 1915; LadyBaffles and Detective Duck in the Signal of the Three Socks, 1915; A Duel at Dawn, 1915; Their Bewitched Elopement, 1915; A Dip in the Water, 1915; The Bravest of theBrave, 1915; When Hiram Went to the City, 1915; At the Beach Incognito, 1915; HeCouldn’t Fool His Mother-in-Law, 1915; He Couldn’t Support His Wife, 1915; No BabesAllowed, 1915; Pete’s Awful Crime, 1915; Lady Baffles and Detective Duck in the LastRoll, 1915; Twentieth Century Susie, 1915; Lady Baffles and Detective Duck inKidnapping the King’s Kid, 1915; Mrs. Prune’s Boarding House, 1915; SlightlyMistaken, 1915; The Opera Singer’s Romance, 1915; Those Female Haters, 1916; Leapand Look Thereafter, 1916; Mrs. Green’s Mistake, 1916; Wanted a Piano Tuner, 1916; Love Laughs at the Law, 1916; Muchly Married, 1916; It Nearly Happened, 1916; HubbyPulls One Over, 1916; The Jitney Driver’s Romance, 1916; A Perfect Match, or 1 Plus 1Equals 2, 1916; A Wife for a Ransom, 1916; A Raffle for a Husband, 1916; A StageVillain, 1916; A Dark Suspicion, 1916; Love Quarantined, 1916; The Fall of DeaconStillwaters, 1916; She Was Some Vampire, 1916; An All Around Cure, 1916; I’ve GotYerNumber, 1916; Kate’s Lovers Knots, 1916; She Wrote a Play and Played It, 1916; Soupand Nuts, 1916; You Want Something?, 1916; A Marriage for Revenge, 1916; The Elixirof Life, 1916; The Deacon Stops the Show, 1916; In Onion There Is Strength, 1916; Musical Madness, 1916; Father Gets In Wrong, 1916; Beans and Bullets, 1916; ACrooked Mix-Up, 1916; A Shadowed Shadow, 1916; In Love With a Fireman, 1916; Their First Arrest, 1916; Jags and Jealousy, 1916; A Janitor’s Vendetta, 1916; Scrappily Married, 1916; The Tramp’s Chef, 1916; Their Dark Secret, 1916; Love In Suspense, 1917; Mines and Matrimony, 1917; Barred from the Bar, 1917; Love Me, Love MyBiscuits, 1917; When Damon Fell for Pythias, 1917; His Coming Out Party, 1917; OutFor the Dough, 1917; Mule Mates, 1917; Rosie’s Rancho, 1917; Passing the Grip, 1917; Wanta Make a Dollar?, 1917; Art Aches, 1917; Whose Baby?, 1917; What the -?, 1917; A Boob for Luck, 1917; The Careless Cop, 1917; Take Back Your Wife, 1917; Left in theSoup, 1917; The Man With a Package, 1917; The Last Scent, 1917; The Boss of theFamily, 1917; Simple Sapho, 1917; One Damp Day, 1917; The Twitching Hour, 1917; Some Nurse, 1917; The Soubrette, 1917; The Stinger Stung, 1917; The Vamp of theCamp, 1917; Mrs. Madame Manager, 1917; Busting Into Society, 1917; A Gale of Verse, 1917; Back to the Kitchen, 1917; Nearly a Queen, 1917; Short Skirts and Deep Water, 1917; Hawaiian Nuts, 1917; The Fountain of Trouble, 1917; Marble Heads, 1917; HerNaughty Choice, 1917; The Wart on the Wire, 1917; The Cross-Eyed Submarine, 1917; Who Done It?, 1917; Tightwad, 1917; I Quit!, 1917; The Shame of the Bullcon, 1917; Water on the Brain, 1917; Secret Servants, 1917; Cave Man Stuff, 1918; Who’s ToBlame?, 1918; A Flyer in Folly, 1918; Cooks and Crooks, 1918; Nothing But Nerve, 1918; Gowns and Girls, 1918; Saved from a Vamp, 1918; A Rural Riot, 1918; Her MovieMadness, 1918; Who’s Your Wife?, 1918; Butter Again!, 1918; The Borrowed Baby, 1918; The Hunch, 1921; West Is Worst, 1922; Quincy Adams Sawyer, 1922; Hollywood, 1923; Tea – With a Kick, 1923; Held To Answer, 1923; The Fire Patrol, 1924; Merton of the Movies, 1924; AlongCame Ruth, 1924; New Lives for Old, 1925; Declassee, 1925; Youth’s Gamble, 1925; AFraternity Mix-Up, 1926; Break Away, 1927; Bigger and Better Blondes, 1927; What Women Did for Me, 1927; The Wild West Show, 1928; All Parts, 1928; Ruby Lips, 1929; The Love Doctor, 1929; Darkened Rooms, 1929.
C. DVD Sources:
The Charley Chase CollectionVol. 1. DVD (Kino International USA 2004) - contains Mighty Like A Moose (1926)
The Charley Chase Collection Vol. 2. DVD (Kino International US 2005) - contains His Wooden Wedding (1925)
The film What! No Spinach? is credited incorrectly in most reference books. Streamline Film Archives owns a print, which was screened by the author. Streamline is not a FIAF archive and What! No Spinach? is often listed as being a non-extant film.
Massa, Steve. "Gale Henry." In Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2013. <https://doi.org/10.7916/d8-k501-sw95>