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Jean Hersholt

Jean Hersholt



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Also Known As: Died: June 2, 1956
Born: July 12, 1886 Cause of Death: cancer
Birth Place: Denmark Profession: Cast ... actor


Though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created an honorary award in his name, Jean Hersholt's legacy did not endure apace with that of co-stars Rudolph Valentino, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, and James Cagney. Emigrating from Denmark before World War I, Hersholt's continental air made him a natural to play aristocrats and professional men in silent films and his career was given a boost when Erich von Stroheim cast him as the heavy in "Greed" (1924). The advent of sound and Hersholt's Danish accent knocked the actor down the Hollywood cast list but he excelled in character parts at MGM and worked his way back up on the marquee, starring with Shirley Temple in the family favorite "Heidi" (1937) and playing a dedicated small-town doctor in "Meet Dr. Christian" (1939) and its five sequels. His philanthropic work inspired the Academy to create the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1940 while he spent the WWII sending morale-boosting radio broadcasts to Nazi-occupied Denmark. Seen less often in films after accepting the presidency of the Academy in 1945, Hersholt devoted considerable time to translating into English the folk tales of countryman Hans Christian Anderson. Diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he rallied to bring "Dr. Christian" to television before his death in June 1956. Though he remained obscure to all but the most ardent classic film fans, Jean Hersholt's legacy of philanthropy immortalized him in cinema history as the man who gave Hollywood its conscience.

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