Jean Hersholt

Jean Hersholt


Birth Place
July 12, 1886
June 02, 1956
Cause of Death


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 g...

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Jean Hersholt
Died in 1983.


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.

Jean Pierre Hersholt was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 12, 1886. The son of Danish Folk Theater actors, he spent much of his childhood on tour with his parents. A gifted artist, Hersholt obtained a degree from the Copenhagen Art School but was drawn toward the burgeoning medium of motion pictures. He made his film debut in three Nordisk Film short subjects directed by Louis Halberstadt and Viggo Larsen. The actor emigrated to the United States in 1913, married Canadian national Via Anderson a year later, and drifted towards San Francisco in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Arriving in Hollywood later that year, Hersholt found work as an extra in the William S. Hart Westerns "Hell's Hinges" (1915) and "The Disciple" (1915) before graduating to character parts for Thomas H. Ince, at whose Santa Monica studio Hersholt came calling. Ultimately, his continental bearing afforded him plum roles as viscounts, professors, clergymen, and gentlemen. Obtaining citizenship in 1918, Hersholt appeared in Rex Ingram's "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1921), supporting star Rudolph Valentino in the tale of a family split asunder by the onset of World War I, and played a murderer bedeviling Mary Pickford in "Tess of the Storm Country" (1922).

It was Erich von Stroheim who gave Hersholt his first significant break in Hollywood, casting him in a pivotal role in "Greed" (1924), the maverick filmmaker's nine-hour adaptation of Frank Norris' frontier novel McTeague. Though Von Stroheim had called Hersholt in for an audition on the strength of his prior film performances, the Austrian expatriate felt Hersholt seemed in person too kindly and soft to play the duplicitous Marcus Schouler - prompting Hersholt to return the next day, his clothes shabby and sporting a so-called Bowery haircut to prove he could portray a gritty character. Though MGM cut "Greed" down to two hours, Hersholt benefited from the publicity and enjoyed an uptake in the quality of his subsequent film roles. He played an ambitious governor plotting against Douglas Fairbanks in "Don Q, Son of Zorro" (1925) and was the loutish husband of Belle Bennett's "Stella Dallas" (1925). By the time he was cast as a wealthy Jewish merchant in turmoil over his beloved daughter's marriage to a Catholic in the comedy "Abie's Irish Rose" (1928), Hersholt had been dubbed by Photoplay "the hardest working actor in Hollywood."

The advent of talking pictures proved problematic to Hersholt, whose Danish accent relegated him to character parts. He was a red herring in "The Cat Creeps" (1930), Rupert Julian's early sound remake of the silent spookshow "The Cat and the Canary" (1927), and Greta Garbo's disapproving uncle In "Susan Lennox (Her Fall and Rise)" (1931), whose mania for social legitimacy prompts him to thwart her affair with engineer Clark Gable. In "Private Lives" (1931), an adaptation of the hit Noel Coward play, Hersholt was the odd man out in a romantic quadrangle consisting of Robert Montgomery, Norma Shearer, Reginald Denny and Una Merkel, while in the downbeat pre-Code drama "Beast of the City" (1932) he was a Chicago gangster opposing dedicated crime smasher Walter Houston. In the all-star "Grand Hotel" (1932), Hersholt more than held his own as a lowly porter amongst such high-wattage stars as Garbo, Crawford, Wallace Beery, and both John and Lionel Barrymore. In "Mask of Fu Manchu" (1932), the actor played it straight as an English explorer plagued by Boris Karloff's Asian arch-fiend, while in "Mark of the Vampire" (1935), Hersholt was an aristocratic murderer attempting to pin a crime of passion on suspected vampire Bela Lugosi.

It was a perfect career irony that the role by which Hersholt would be remembered for the rest of his life found him all but unrecognizable. To play Alpine mountain child Shirley Temple's guardian in "Heidi" (1937), directed by Allan Dwan, Hersholt was fitted with a snowy wig and Kris Kringle-style whiskers. Though the assignment asked little of the veteran actor, it essentially cleaned the slate of his many years of onscreen villainy, reclassifying the actor as a cuddly do-gooder. He went on to essay a number of kinder, gentler roles - most memorably as the Montreal obstetrician who delivers the famous Dionne Quintuplets in the fact-based "The Country Doctor" (1936) and its sequels, "Reunion" (1936) and "Five of a Kind" (1938). Hersholt attempted to spin off the doctor as the main character of a radio series, but when he was unable to obtain the rights, he created an entirely new character - Dr. Paul Christian (the surname cadged from his countryman Hans Christian Anderson), who made his radio debut on CBS in November 1937.

The year after he brought his creation to the big screen in "Meet Dr. Christian" (1939), Hersholt was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for helping to establish the charitable Motion Picture Relief Fund. In his name, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was created. Hersholt reprised the character of Dr. Christian in five more films, capping the series with "They Meet Again" (1941). During World War II, he founded the Danish-American Relief Service and participated in morale-boosting broadcasts pointed to Nazi-occupied Denmark. Hersholt served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences between 1945-1949. In the comedy "Dancing in the Dark" (1949), he cameoed as himself, extending a characteristically empathetic hand to Hollywood has-been William Powell. In his later years, Hersholt stepped back from his busy acting career and devoted his time to the translation into English of dozens of fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson. In 1950, he was awarded another honorary Oscar for his services to the motion picture industry.

Hersholt completed one more feature film, Nicholas Ray's offbeat Western "Run for Cover" (1955), before he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Facing imminent death, he rallied to reprise the character of beloved small-town doctor Paul Christian for the syndicated television series "Dr. Christian" (1956-57), and appeared in two episodes before handing the show over to younger actor Macdonald Carey, cast as Christian's nephew Mark. Jean Hersholt died on June 2, 1956, in Beverly Hills. In 1960, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was laid in his honor. In the years since Hersholt's death, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was given to such recipients as Charlton Heston, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Quincy Jones, Jerry Lewis, and Oprah Winfrey. Not widely known beyond the inner circle of the American entertainment industry was that the late comedic actor Leslie Nielson was Hersholt's nephew.

By Richard Harland Smith



Director (Feature Film)

The Gray Dawn (1922)
When Romance Rides (1922)
Golden Dreams (1922)
Associate Director
Heart's Haven (1922)
Assistant Director
The Golden Trail (1920)
The Deceiver (1920)

Cast (Feature Film)

Run for Cover (1955)
Pa Swenson
Dancing in the Dark (1950)
Stage Door Canteen (1943)
They Meet Again (1941)
Dr. [Paul] Christian
Melody for Three (1941)
Dr. Christian
Remedy for Riches (1940)
Dr. Christian
Dr. Christian Meets the Women (1940)
[Dr.] Paul Christian
The Courageous Dr. Christian (1940)
Dr. Paul Christian
Mr. Moto in Danger Island (1939)
Meet Dr. Christian (1939)
Dr. Christian
Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938)
Professor Heinrich
Five of a Kind (1938)
Dr. John Luke
Happy Landing (1938)
Herr [Lars] Ericksen
I'll Give a Million (1938)
Heidi (1937)
Adolph Kramer
One in a Million (1937)
Heinrich Muller
Seventh Heaven (1937)
Father Chevillon
Tough Guy (1936)
The Country Doctor (1936)
Dr. John Luke
Reunion (1936)
Dr. John Luke
Sins of Man (1936)
Christopher Freyman
His Brother's Wife (1936)
Professor [Pop] Fahrenheim
Murder in the Fleet (1935)
Victor Hanson
Mark of the Vampire (1935)
Baron Otto
Break of Hearts (1935)
Professor Thalma
Dinner at Eight (1934)
Jo Stengel
The Painted Veil (1934)
Herr Koerber
The Cat and the Fiddle (1934)
Professor [Bertier]
Men in White (1934)
Dr. Hochberg
The Fountain (1934)
Baron Van Leyden
Christopher Bean (1933)
The Crime of the Century (1933)
Doctor Emil Brandt
Song of the Eagle (1933)
Otto Hoffman
Skyscraper Souls (1932)
Jake [Sorenson]
Night Court (1932)
Janitor [Herman]
New Morals for Old (1932)
[James] Hallett
Are You Listening? (1932)
George Wagner
Grand Hotel (1932)
Senf, the porter
The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
Von Berg
Hearts of Humanity (1932)
Sol Bloom
Emma (1932)
Mr. [Frederick] Smith
Flesh (1932)
Mr. Herman
Unashamed (1932)
Mr. [Heinrich] Schmidt
Beast of the City (1932)
Sam Belmonte
The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931)
Dr. Dulac
Private Lives (1931)
Transatlantic (1931)
[Rudolph Kramer] The lens grinder
Viennese Nights (1931)
Daybreak (1931)
Herr Schnabel
Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise) (1931)
[Karl] Ohlin
The Phantom of Paris (1931)
The Cat Creeps (1930)
Dr. Patterson
The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1930)
Hell Harbor (1930)
Joseph Horngold
The Climax (1930)
Luigi Golfanti
Mamba (1930)
August Bolte [Mamba]
A Soldier's Plaything (1930)
Grandfather Rittner
The Third Alarm (1930)
Dad Morton
The Younger Generation (1929)
Julius Goldfish
The Girl on the Barge (1929)
Abie's Irish Rose (1929)
Solomon Levy
Modern Love (1929)
13 Washington Square (1928)
"Deacon" Pyecroft
The Secret Hour (1928)
The Battle of the Sexes (1928)
Alias the Deacon (1928)
The Deacon
Give and Take (1928)
John Bauer
Jazz Mad (1928)
Franz Hausmann
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1928)
Dr. Juttner
The Wrong Mr. Wright (1927)
Seymour White
The Greater Glory (1926)
Gustav Schmidt
It Must Be Love (1926)
Pop Schmidt
The Old Soak (1926)
Clement Hawley, Sr.
Flames (1926)
Ole Bergson
My Old Dutch (1926)
'Erb 'Uggins
Fifth Avenue Models (1925)
Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925)
Don Fabrique
Dangerous Innocence (1925)
A Woman's Faith (1925)
Greed (1925)
Marcus Schouler
If Marriage Fails (1925)
Dr. Mallini
Stella Dallas (1925)
Editor Munn
The Woman on the Jury (1924)
So Big (1924)
Aug Hempel
Cheap Kisses (1924)
Gustaf Borgstrom
Her Night of Romance (1924)
Joe Diamond
Torment (1924)
Sinners in Silk (1924)
Dr. Eustace
The Goldfish (1924)
Herman Krauss
Greed (Reconstructed Version) (1924)
Quicksands (1923)
Red Lights (1923)
Ezra Carson
Jazzmania (1923)
Prince Otto of Como
Heart's Haven (1922)
Henry Bird
Tess of the Storm Country (1922)
Ben Letts
When Romance Rides (1922)
Joel Creech
The Stranger's Banquet (1922)
A Certain Rich Man (1921)
Adrian Brownwell
The Man of the Forest (1921)
Lem Beasley
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
Professor von Hartrott
Merely Mary Ann (1920)
The Deceiver (1920)
The Servant in the House (1920)
The Golden Trail (1920)
Harry Teal
The Red Lane (1920)
Vetal Beaulieu
Whom the Gods Would Destroy (1919)
Little Red Decides (1918)
Sour Milk
The Answer (1918)
Madame Spy (1918)
Count Von Ornstorff
Princess Virtue (1917)
Emile Carre
The Greater Law (1917)
Basil Pelly
The Terror (1917)
Jimmy, the dope
'49-'17 (1917)
Gentleman Jim Rayner
The Show Down (1917)
A Stormy Knight (1917)
Dr. Fraser
Fighting for Love (1917)
Love Aflame (1917)
Southern Justice (1917)
Caleb Talbot
Hell's Hinges (1916)

Producer (Feature Film)

A Certain Rich Man (1921)
Associate Producer

Cast (Special)

The Real McTeague: A Synthesis of Forms (1993)

Cast (Short)

Cavalcade of the Academy Awards (1940)

Life Events


Film debut in "The Disciple"

Photo Collections

Mark of the Vampire - Scene Stills
Here are a few scene stills from MGM's Mark of the Vampire (1935), starring Lionel Barrymore, Bela Lugosi, and Elizabeth Allen.


Movie Clip

Phantom Of Paris, The (1931) -- (Movie Clip) I'd Rather Not Watch This From the top, we meet John Gilbert as the title character, a celebrated magician, from a Gaston Leroux serial novel (as was MGM’s The Phantom Of The Opera, 1925), Leila Hyams his admirer in the balcony, Louise Mackintosh her affronted companion, in The Phantom Of Paris, 1931, with Ian Keith, Jean Hersholt and Alfred Hickman.
Heidi (1937) -- (Movie Clip) It's Tme You Learned Shirley Temple (title character) saying her prayers, then arising with surly grandfather (Jean Hersholt) and learning to milk a goat, early in Paramount's Heidi, 1937.
Heidi (1937) -- (Movie Clip) In Our Little Wooden Shoes The only true musical number, Shirley Temple (title character) reading with grandfather (Jean Hersholt) then imagining to In Our Little Wooden Shoes by Lew Pollack and Sidney D. Mitchell, in Heidi, 1937.
Greed (1925) -- (Movie Clip) Death Valley McTeague (Gibson Gowland) is captured by his nemesis Marcus (Jean Hersholt) in this scene from Erich von Stroheim's Greed, 1925 shot on location in Death Valley.
Mark Of The Vampire (1935) -- (Movie Clip) A Certain Thorny Weed Lionel Barrymore (Professor Zelin) taking over treatment of vampire-bitten Irena (Elizabeth Allen), while her guardian the Baron (Jean Hersholt) tells the inspector (Lionel Atwill) that her dad may not be dead, then ensuing chatter, in director Tod Browning's Mark Of The Vampire, 1935.
Mark Of The Vampire (1935) -- (Movie Clip) This Is No Time For Levity Servants (Leila Bennett, Ivan Simpson) bat-proofing, the count (Bela Lugosi) undeterred, inspector (Lionel Atwill) doubtful, professor (Lionel Barrymore) advises the baron (Jean Hersholt), Elizabeth Allen under guard, her dad (Holmes Herbert) confirmed un-dead, in Mark Of The Vampire, 1935.
Painted Veil, The (1934) -- (Movie Clip) Men Ought To Be Different Opening scene from director Richard Boleslawski, bride Olga (Cecilia Parker), her sister Katrin (Greta Garbo), her suitor Walter (Herbert Marshall) and their parents (Jean Hersholt, Bodil Rosing), from The Painted Veil, 1934, from the Somerset Maugham novel.
Mask Of Fu Manchu, The (1932) -- (Movie Clip) There's A Fanatic In The East Fiends lurk in the British Museum itself, as academic-adventurer Barton (Lawrence Grant) can’t wait to tell Fairgyle, Von Berg and McLeod (C. Montague Shaw, Jean Hersholt, David Torrence) about the exciting mission to beat the evil Chinese to the tomb of Genghis Khan, in The Mask Of Fu Manchu, 1932.
Grand Hotel (1932) -- (Movie Clip) All The Best People Opening scene introducing many from the all-but unprecedented line-up of MGM stars, Jean Hersholt, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, John Barrymore, at the fictional hotel in Berlin, Garbo, Crawford and others yet to come, in Irving Thalberg's hit all-star experiment Grand Hotel, 1932.
Emma (1932) -- (Movie Clip) Ronnie Family housekeeper Emma (Marie Dressler) is fondly mocked by Ronnie (Richard Cromwell) while his scientist father Frederick (Jean Hersholt) presides in Emma, 1932.
Battle Of The Sexes, The (1928) -- (Movie Clip) Perfumed Ice The happy Judson family (Jean Hersholt, Belle Bennett, kids Sally O'Neil and William Bakewell) celebrating mum's birthday, unaware that gold digger Marie (Phyllis Haver) and her scheming boyfriend (Don Alvarado) have moved in across the hall, in D.W. Griffith's The Battle Of The Sexes, 1928.
Battle Of The Sexes, The (1928) -- (Movie Clip) Most Gold Diggers Striking opening scene by director D.W. Griffith, in his remake of his own 1914 film of the same name, purposeful Marie (Phyllis Haver) gets to know well-to-do Judson (Jean Hersholt), in The Battle Of The Sexes, 1928.



Alan Hersholt


Jean Hersholt
Died in 1983.