Henry King was born on a farm in Elliston, Virginia, in 1886. Growing up he attended school in Lafayette, Virginia, where he was passionate about one act plays and recitations. These passions led him to pursue a career in acting and directing that would span six decades and resulted in his making over 100 movies.
A visit by “Doctor” Alward’s traveling medicine show to Lafayette enticed young Henry King to leave his hometown. King worked with several tour companies during his traveling show career and performed nine shows a week in various towns. He received his first small directing role with a stock company in Chicago.
King’s traveling show work took him to Hollywood and in 1913 the 27-year old began acting in silent movies. He appeared in a dozen films such as, “The Devil’s Bait,” “Shadows and Sunshine,” and “Should a Wife Forgive.” He sometimes performed his own stunts without any safety precautions. During his acting career he began writing screenplays. In the 1915 movie “Who Pays,” for example, a violent fight sequence was based on a fight that he had witnessed at the train station in Elliston. King choreographed and directed the scene; it was his first experience in film directing.
King would go on to make many hit movies: “Twelve O’clock High,” “Jesse James,” “Carousel,” “Tender Is the Night,” and more. King directed the 1921 movie “Tol’able David,” which was filmed in Highland County, Virginia. A box office smash, it is considered his masterpiece. In 1930, he was hired by Goldwyn United Artists where he would spend the rest of his career.
King won almost 20 academy awards and a Golden Globe for best director for the film “The Song of Bernadette.” He worked with stars such as Will Rogers, Shirley Temple, Rock Hudson, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, and Tyrone Power during his expansive career.
Henry King passed away at his home in Toluca Lake, California in 1982 at the age of 96. A pioneer in the motion picture industry King is credited with directing more than 160 motion pictures between 1915 and 1961. Yet his work and dedication to the film industry are largely unnoticed today. Henry King deserves to be remembered in his native Montgomery County.