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Joseph Henabery
Joseph Henabery - Sep 1919 EH.jpg
Henabery in Exhibitors Herald, 1919
Born (1888-01-15)January 15, 1888
Died February 18, 1976(1976-02-18) (aged 88)
  • Actor
  • screenwriter
  • director
Known for Playing Abraham Lincoln in The Birth of a Nation

Joseph Henabery (January 15, 1888 – February 18, 1976) of Omaha, Nebraska, was a film actor, screenplay writer, and director in the United States. He is best known for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in D.W. Griffith's controversial 1915 silent historical epic The Birth of a Nation.

Early years

Henabery was born in Omaha and raised in Los Angeles. He began acting as an amateur in California. Before he worked in films, Henabery worked for the San Pedro, Los Angeles, Salt Lake Railroad. When he was 25 years old, he became an extra for Universal Pictures.


Henabery's acting career began in The Joke on Yellentown (1914). From 1914 to 1917 he appeared in seventeen films, including his portrayal of Lincoln in The Birth of a Nation.

Henabery also worked as a second-unit director on Griffith's Intolerance (1916), and supervised the filming of at least one extended sequence that appeared in the film. Henabery also acted as Admiral de Coligny in the Renaissance French portion of the film depicting the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. Throughout the rest of his career, he worked as a director. From the mid-1920s, and after professional disagreements with both Louis B. Mayer at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Adolph Zukor at Paramount Pictures, Henabery found employment as a director for smaller Hollywood studios.

In 1931 he joined the Vitaphone studio in New York City, where he directed dozens of short subjects for the next 10 years. Most of them were musicals and comedies, featuring a host of popular singers in 20-minute sketches. Henabery remained with Vitaphone until the New York studio closed in 1940.

Henabery made documentaries and training films as a member of the Army Signal Corps.

As Abraham Lincoln

Although Henabery's impersonation of Lincoln was a masterpiece of facial makeup, the 6'1" (185 cm) Henabery was three inches shorter than the 6'4" (193 cm) Lincoln. Kevin Brownlow's book The Parade's Gone By (1968) contains a photo of Henabery in costume and makeup as Lincoln, seated in a chair with planks placed on the floor under Henabery's feet so that his knees are raised several inches; this effect (with the planks kept off-camera in the movie) made Henabery's legs appear longer than they actually were.

Personal life and death

Henabery and his wife, Lilian, had a daughter and a son. Henabery died on February 18, 1976, aged 88, at the Motion Picture Country House in Los Angeles, California.



Title Year Notes
Say! Young Fellow 1918 director and scenarist
Mr. Fix-It 1918 co-screenplay
Life of the Party 1920
Love Madness 1920
Brewster's Millions 1921
Traveling Salesman 1921
Making a Man 1922
The Stranger 1924
A Sainted Devil 1924
Cobra 1925
Meet the Prince 1926
Play Safe 1927
Sailors' Wives 1928
United States Smith 1928
Red Hot Speed 1929
The Quitter 1929
Double or Nothing 1936 Short


The Race War (1915) with Bessie Buskirk

Title Year Role Notes
The Birth of a Nation 1915 Abraham Lincoln
The Spell of the Poppy 1915 John Hale
The Penitentes 1915 Minor Role Uncredited
Intolerance 1916 L'amiral de Coligny / Defendant (final film role)
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