The Legend Was a Lady: Remembering Martha Henry

To be honest, I didn’t know quite what to make of Martha Henry when I first met her on the set of White Light, a movie that I had written and was co-producing. After all, this was…Martha Henry! Even back then she a legendary stage actress who, either by circumstance or inclination, had made herself available for few movies. Here she was doing our little thriller. I could hardly believe our good luck, but how to…well, respond to her.

I needn’t have worried. The legend turned out to be a down-to-earth, no-nonsense professional—who smoked a lot. As I got to know Martha over the next weeks, a couple of things struck me: her total naturalness when she stepped in front of a camera, a naturalness, I was quickly learning, not necessarily the strong suit of many actors faced with a camera.

The other thing that struck me is how lovely she was. For some reason, I had thought of her as a brilliant actress, but older and—dare I say?—rather plain. Instead, I found myself mesmerized by this strikingly beautiful woman. Nothing on a movie set appeared to perturb her. She did what she was supposed to do, on time and without complaint—although in retrospect she might rightfully have lobbed a few expletives in the direction of the script and the guy who wrote it.

White Light didn’t amount to much but Martha was wonderful in it. She deserved so much better than the movie we surrounded her with. But I had such a lovely time with her, aglow with the pride of having gotten to know her, accompanied, I have to admit, by a bit of a crush.

Years later, I saw her at Stratford in a production of Long Day’s Journey into Night in which she played the morphine-addicted Mary Tyrone. I was reminded all over again of just how good she was—brilliant! The Canadian theatrical legend once again in flower!

Hearing of her death, I was overwhelmed, sadly thinking back to those days on the set of the little movie in which she shone so brightly. The world knew the theatrical legend. Briefly, I befriended the delightful woman.


Author of "The Sanibel Sunset Detective" and "The Strange." Ron spends part of the year on Sanibel Island, Florida, where he writes detective novels featuring private eye Tree Callister. When he is not in Florida, he resides outside Toronto, Ontario with his wife, Kathy.

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