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Gale Henry

Massa, Steve

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.

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Academic Units
Film
Libraries
Series
Women Film Pioneers Project
Published Here
October 15, 2019