Every Friday at noon, Jimmy Henry and Craig Coltman meet for lunch at the Pine View Trailer Park clubhouse to have lunch and watch a movie. This is not your typical movie afternoon; Henry is an old-time radio and theatre actor whose memory for movie lines is as impressive for a 78-year-old as it would be for an 18-year-old. “I’m sure he could block every movie scene-by-scene,” Coltman says of his friend, with whom he has been sharing lunch and a movie for two years. “He can actually get you interested because his passion is contagious. He’ll bring old Fred Astaire musicals, which I would not normally watch at home, but he is so enthralled by the movies that you watch the movie out of one eye and out of the other you can see his lips moving to the words and the songs.” Henry prepares his audience (Coltman, and sometimes another friend or two) for the show by presenting a prepared monologue describing the film and its highlights. “He always asks me how long I have, how long can I stay. I say 3, 3:30. He says, Well, which is it? He’s got the times written on the films, so if I say 3:30, he won’t start it until it’s set to end at 3:27, so he gets his full time out of me.”
As told to Casey Lessard
I was born in Windsor and worked a lot in Detroit. I had some of my training at the Grand Theatre in London. I did 10 weeks of summer stock in 1948. I was 18 and I studied dramatics at Wayne University, and did a lot of theatre work. I had a good singing voice and trained on the Messiah. I worked on the chorus of the old Ford Sunday evening hour. Henry Ford imported all the great concert artists to come to Detroit. I did a lot of shows, Shakespeare, comedies, burlesque. I was in all kinds of plays. I liked playing the grave diggers in Hamlet. I tried night clubs and that didn’t work, but I liked the old burlesque. Abbott & Costello and the Three Stooges. Up until 1995, I was still doing theatre work. I very much like Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, but comedy was my forte. Early on, there were lots of opportunities in shows from Detroit. The Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, Challenge of the Yukon all came from WXYZ radio. Also, there was The Hermit’s Cave, which was a real terrific horror show. It would scare the daylights out of you until you saw the man acting out the sound effects. I acted on most of the shows; they were on three times a week. A lot of actors were anonymous on those shows. That’s what kept the bread on the table. I also had a lot of walk-on parts in opera and theatre. One time, we did Guys and Dolls, and I had 12 parts but one line. I was on stage for every scene! I did some of the Soupy Sales (television) shows. I appeared sometimes as a neighbour who complained about “that awful dog.” I was going to be a great and famous movie star. I worked in theatres and managed them. How many movies I’ve seen I can’t say. I used to know every line, particularly in San Francisco, Top Hat, Wuthering Heights. In fact, those are still among my favourite films. With the actors’ studio, you could qualify to be a member of the American Film Institute, and I sent in a donation. Carl Reiner was doing Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. He asked members if they would send in their favourite films noir, and I did and got screen credit on the last frame of the film. You can’t miss it. I recommended Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, Laura. Most of those made it to the film. They also had Edith Head and Miklós Rózsa work on the film, and has they had done most of the original films, it really took on that film noir look.
What are your five favourite movies? San Francisco, Top Hat, Wuthering Heights, Gone With The Wind, and Singing in the Rain.
Least favourite movie? The only one I have really strong feelings for is Coming Home with Jane Fonda. My brother was a Vietnam soldier, and she keeps emphasizing that phrase, Vietnam crazy, which is edited out of most of the prints. If I could get it, I probably still would show it.