Jean Hersholt
Hersholt in 1929
Jean Pierre Carl Buron[1]

(1886-07-12)12 July 1886
Died2 June 1956(1956-06-02) (aged 69)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California
Other namesJean Pierre Hersholt
Jean Buron Hersholt
Occupation(s)Actor (film and radio), philanthropist, humanitarian, literary editor / translator
Years active1906–1955
Via Hersholt
(m. 1914)
Children1 son

Jean Pierre Carl Buron (12 July 1886 – 2 June 1956), known professionally as Jean Hersholt, was a Danish-American actor. He is best known for starring on the CBS radio series Dr. Christian (1937–1954) and inspiring later subsequent TV series (1956-1957), along with co-starring in the Shirley Temple film Heidi (1937).[2] Asked how to pronounce his name, he told to The Literary Digest, (major influential magazine of current affairs / news, opinion and cultural affairs, published 1890-1938) "In English, her'sholt; in Danish, hairs'hult."[3] Of his total motion picture credits during 1924 to 1955, 75 were silent film and 65 were "talkies" - 140 total; he directed four.

Early life

Hersholt was born Jean Pierre Carl Buron on 12 July 1886, in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. Hersholt claimed later to be born into a family of actors,[4] but in reality, both of his parents: Henri Pierre Buron, the son of a French Roman Catholic father and a Danish Protestant (Evangelical Lutheran / Church of Denmark) mother - Clara (née Petersen), the daughter of a Danish Protestant father and a Danish Jewish mother, were hairdressers, though the father later was a cigar and wine merchant /vendor.[5] Hersholt appeared in two of the first short films of the Danish film studio Nordisk Film in 1906, but did not find much success in his youthful early years in Denmark.[6] Hersholt emigrated to the United States in 1913, and spent the remainder of his acting career in America.


Promotional flyer for 'The Vaseline Program' / and 'Dr. Christian' radio drama program with Jean Hersholt broadcasting 1937-1954 on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio network and station KIRO-AM in Seattle, Washington

Hersholt's best remembered film roles include as Marcus Schouler in the influential and legendary early film director Erich von Stroheim's 1924 silent film classic Greed and a decade later co-starring with world-famous child actress Shirley Temple as her beloved grandfather living in the remote Alps in the 1937 film version of the classic 1880 children's book, Heidi, written by Swiss author Johanna Spyri. During his long career in the movies, his roles ran the gamut from early silent film villains to secondary parts in which his mild Danish language accent and pleasant voice suited him to depict a succession of benevolent fathers, doctors, professors, and European noblemen. Hersholt's last screen role was in the 1955 movie Run for Cover.[citation needed]

In The Country Doctor (1936), a movie starring the famous Dionne quintuplets children, Hersholt portrayed a Dr. John Luke, a character based on Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe, the Canadian obstetrician, who delivered and cared for the Dionne quintuplets. Two sequels followed. Hersholt wanted to do the role on radio, but could not get the rights. He decided to create his own doctor character for radio, and since he was an enthusiast / fan of fairy tales anthology author Hans Christian Andersen, he borrowed that name for his character portrayal of the philosophical "Dr. Paul Christian" who practiced in the typical Midwestern town of River's End with the assistance of Nurse Judy Price and occasionally others. With the opening theme music of "Rainbow on the River", Dr. Christian was introduced on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio network on 7 November 1937 on 'The Vaseline Program', or also more often known as Dr. Christian's Office and later the title was shortened to just Dr. Christian.[citation needed]

The small-town physician's good humor, innate common sense, and scientific training helped drive off a series of villainous types who tried to interfere with the usual peaceful pleasant pace and lifestyle of the town of River's End. Produced by Dorothy McCann, the radio series soon became a popular long-running hit, continuing on the CBS network for 17 years until 6 January 1954, with Hersholt so strongly identified with the role that he even received mail asking for real life medical advice. Various spin-offs were produced creating one of the earliest media franchises, as Hersholt co-wrote a Dr. Christian novel and made a series of six family feature films as Dr. Christian in a franchise over two years, from 1939 to 1941, (for instance Dr. Christian Meets the Women in 1940).

Two years after the conclusion of the long-running radio program, in 1956, his Dr. Christian character made the transition to television and its different unique programming style. Interestingly, it was scripted by a young Gene Roddenberry, (later to become famous with the beginnings in 1966 of the original TV series 'Star Trek' and subsequent renowned science fiction franchise over the next few decades). The new 'Dr. Christian' TV show was a bit different from the radio series with introducing a new younger character portrayed by Macdonald Carey as the elder Christian's nephew, "Dr. Mark Christian". It was syndicated through CBS and its Ziv Television production company and ran for two seasons, 1956-1957. Much of it was shown on the air at odd times on local stations that subscribed throughout the country, unfortunately seen after Jean Hersholt had died in early 1956.

From the late 1930s through the mid '50s, Neil Reagan, (brother of the famous actor, later as a General Electric Company traveling industry spokesman, and future Governor of California and America's 40th President Ronald Reagan), directed the earlier CBS radio series Dr. Christian, with Jean Hersholt.

In 1939, Hersholt began his wider social interests and helped form the Motion Picture Relief Fund to support Hollywood's various levels of industry employees with medical care when they were down on their luck or struck with illness or becoming elderly. This was only four years after the beginning of America's "social net" with the passage of Social Security old age pension system by the Roosevelt administration. The fund Hersholt supported was used to create the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, His charitable work also led to the creation after his death in 1956 of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, an honorary Academy Award ("Oscar") given to an "individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry". The fund was later expanded to include those working in the television field.[7]

Serving as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with its many growing activities to promote and preserve American cinema, Hersholt presented to several of the American motion pictures / film industry "founders" - Colonel William N. Selig, Albert E. Smith, George K. Spoor, and Thomas Armat with special awards on March 20, 1948 at the 20th anniversary of the academy's founding. These were often called "the Men Who Invented Hollywood".[8]

Hersholt's large collection of famous Danish author Hans Christian Andersen books and other materials is now in the special collections division of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. He translated over 160 of Andersen's fairy tales into the English language. These were published in 1949 in six volumes as The Complete Andersen, this work is "... rated as The standard translation, being one of the best" in English cited by the Hans Christian Andersen Center of the University of Southern Denmark.[9]

Hersholt was appointed a knight of the Danish-American Order of the Dannebrog and awarded a medal in 1948, partly due to this literary academic endeavor.[10]

An elderly Hersholt full of accomplishments appeared 3 - 1/2 years before his passing as the mystery guest on August 31, 1952 on the popular long-running CBS-TV panel/quiz show What's My Line? hosted by John Charles Daly which ran during the 1950s and into the 1960s.


Hersholt married Via Andersen on 11 April 1914. They had one son: Allan Hersholt.

He was the paternal half-uncle (by marriage) of actor Leslie Nielsen and former Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Erik Nielsen.[11]


Jean Hersholt's grave at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California

Hersholt died of cancer in Hollywood in 1956, and is interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. His grave is marked with a statue of Klods-Hans (English: Clumsy Hans), a Hans Christian Andersen character who left home to find his way in the world — much as Hersholt himself had done.[12]

Honors and awards

Hersholt was honored for his services to the industry twice with an honorary Academy Award, first in 1940 and the second time in 1950, and in his honor the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was named by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[13] He is one of only 11 people with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with one at 6501 Hollywood Boulevard for his work in motion pictures and another one at 6701 Hollywood Boulevard for his work in radio.[citation needed]

Selected filmography

Year Film Role Director Notes
1915 The Disciple Mob Member uncredited
1916 Bullets and Brown Eyes
1916 Hell's Hinges Bartender uncredited
1916 The Aryan Reginald BarkerClifford Smith
1916 Kinkaid, Gambler
1916 The Desert
1917 Black Orchids Rex Ingram
1917 Fighting for Love Ferdinand Raymond Wells
1917 Love Aflame Reginald Raymond Wells
1917 The Terror Jimm, the Dope Raymond Wells
1917 The Saintly Sinner
1917 Perils of the Secret Service Prince Feodor serial; episode #2
1917 Southern Justice Caleb Talbot Lynn Reynolds
1917 The Greater Law Lynn Reynolds
1917 The Soul Herder The Parson John Ford Short
1917 The Show Down Parkes Lynn Reynolds
1917 A Stormy Knight Dr. Fraser Elmer Clifton
1917 '49-'17 'Gentleman Jim' Raynor
1917 Princess Virtue Emile Carre Robert Z. Leonard
1918 Madame Spy Count Von Ornstorff Douglas Gerrard
1918 The Answer Shepard
1918 Little Red Decides Jack Conway
1919 Whom the Gods Would Destroy
1919 Love's Prisoner Party Guest John Francis Dillion uncredited
1920 The Red Lane Vetal Beaulieu
1920 Merely Mary Ann Stranger Edward J. Le Saint
1920 The Golden Trail Harry Teal Lewis H. Moomaw
1920 The Deceiver
1921 The Servant in the House Manson, The Servant in the House Jack Conway
1921 The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Professor von Hartrott Rex Ingram uncredited
1921 A Certain Rich Man Adrian Brownwell Howard Hickman
1921 The Man of the Forest Lem Beasley Howard Hickman
1922 When Romance Rides Joel Creech Jean Hersholt
1922 Heart's Haven Henry Bird Benjamin B. Hampton
1922 Tess of the Storm Country Ben Letts John S. Robertson
1922 The Strangers' Banquet Fiend Marshall Neilan
1923 Jazzmania Prince Otto of Como Robert Z. Leonard
1923 Quicksands Ring Member Jack Conway
1923 Red Lights Ezra Carson Clarence G. Badger
1923 Souls for Sale Himself Rupert Hughes
1924 Torment Boris Scott R. Beal (assistant director)
1924 The Goldfish Herman Krauss Jerome Storm
1924 The Woman on the Jury Jury Foreman Harry O. Hoyt
1924 Sinners in Silk Dr. Eustace Hobart Henley
1924 Her Night of Romance Joe Diamond Sidney Franklin
1924 Greed Marcus Erich von Stroheim
1924 Cheap Kisses Gustaf Borgstrom Cullen Tate
1924 So Big Aug Hempel Charles Brabin
1925 Dangerous Innocence Gilchrist William A. Seiter
1925 Fifth Avenue Models a Crook Svend Gade
1925 If Marriage Fails Dr. Mallini John Ince
1925 Don Q Son of Zorro Don Fabrique Donald Crisp
1925 A Woman's Faith Jules Cluny Edward Laemmle
1925 Stella Dallas Ed Munn Henry King
1926 The Greater Glory Gustav Schmidt Curt Rehfeld
1926 My Old Dutch 'Erb 'Uggins Laurence Trimble
1926 It Must Be Love Pop Schmidt Alfred E. Green
1926 Flames Ole Bergson Lewis H. Moomaw
1926 The Old Soak Clement Hawley, Sr. Edward Sloman
1927 The Wrong Mr. Wright Seymour White Scott Sidney
1927 Alias the Deacon George Caswell aka The Deacon Edward Sloman
1927 The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg Dr. Jüttner Ernst Lubitsch
1928 13 Washington Square 'Deacon' Pyecroft Melville W. Brown
1928 The Secret Hour Tony Rowland V. Lee
1928 Abie's Irish Rose Solomon Levy Victor Fleming
1928 Jazz Mad Franz Hausmann F. Harmon Weight
1928 The Battle of the Sexes William Judson D. W. Griffith
1928 Give and Take Factory Owner William Beaudine
1929 Girl on the Barge McCadden Edward Sloman
1929 The Younger Generation Pa Frank Capra
1929 Modern Love François Renault Arch Heath
1930 The Climax Luigi Golfanti Renaud Hoffman
1930 The Case of Sergeant Grischa Posnanski Ray Lissner (assistant)
1930 Mamba August Bolte Albert S. Rogell Mamba
1930 Hell Harbor Joseph Horngold Henry King
1930 East Is West Man Monta Bell
1930 A Soldier's Plaything Grandfather Rittner Michael Curtiz uncredited
1930 The Cat Creeps Dr. Patterson Rupert Julian
1930 The Third Alarm Frank 'Dad' Morton Emory Johnson
1930 Viennese Nights Elsa's Father Alan Crosland
1931 Daybreak Herr Schnabel Jacques Feyder
1931 Transatlantic Rudolph aka Jed Kramer William K. Howard
1931 The Phantom of Paris Herman John S. Robertson
1931 Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise) Karl Ohlin Robert Z. Leonard
1931 The Sin of Madelon Claudet Dr. Dulac Edgar Selwyn
1931 Private Lives Oscar Sidney Franklin
1932 Emma Mr. Frederick Smith Clarence Brown
1932 The Beast of the City Sam Belmonte Charles Brabin
1932 Are You Listening? George Wagner
1932 Grand Hotel Senf, the Porter Edmund Goulding
1932 Night Court the Janitor W. S. Van Dyke
1932 New Morals for Old James Hallett Charles Brabin
1932 Unashamed Heinrich Schmidt Harry Beaumont
1932 Skyscraper Souls Jake Sorenson Edgar Selwyn
1932 Hearts of Humanity Sol Bloom Christy Cabanne
1932 The Mask of Fu Manchu Von Berg Charles Vidor
1932 Flesh Mr. Herman John Ford
1933 The Crime of the Century Dr. Emil Brandt William Beaudine
1933 Song of the Eagle Otto Hoffman Ralph Murphy
1933 Dinner at Eight Jo Stengel George Cukor
1933 Christopher Bean Rosen Sam Wood
1934 The Cat and the Fiddle Professor Sam Wood (uncredited)
1934 Men in White Dr. 'Hockie' Hochberg Ryszard Bolesławski
1934 The Fountain Baron Van Leyden John Cromwell
1934 The Painted Veil Herr Koerber Richard Boleslawski
1935 Mark of the Vampire Baron Otto Tod Browning
1935 Break of Hearts Professor Thalma Philip Moeller
1935 Murder in the Fleet Victor Hanson Edward Sedgwick
1936 Tough Guy Veterinarian Chester Franklin
1936 The Country Doctor Dr. John Luke Henry King
1936 Sins of Man Christopher Freyman Gregory Ratoff
1936 His Brother's Wife Professor Fahrenheim W. S. Van Dyke
1936 Reunion Dr. John Luke
1936 One in a Million Heinrich Muller Sidney Lanfield
1937 Seventh Heaven Father Chevillon Henry King
1937 Heidi Adolph Kramer / Grandfather Allan Dwan
1938 Happy Landing Herr Lars Ericksen Roy Del Ruth
1938 Alexander's Ragtime Band Professor Heinrich Henry King
1938 I'll Give a Million Victor Walter Lang
1938 Five of a Kind Dr. John Luke Herbert I. Leeds
1939 Mr. Moto in Danger Island Sutter Herbert I. Leeds
1939 Meet Dr. Christian Dr. Paul Christian Bernard Vorhaus
1940 The Courageous Dr. Christian Dr. Paul Christian Bernard Vorhaus
1940 Dr. Christian Meets the Women Dr. Paul Christian William C. McGann
1940 Remedy for Riches Dr. Paul Christian Erle C. Kenton
1941 Melody for Three Dr. Paul Christian Erle C. Kenton
1941 They Meet Again Dr. Paul Christian Erle C. Kenton
1943 Stage Door Canteen Himself Frank Borzage
1949 Dancing in the Dark Jean Hersholt Irving Reis
1955 Run for Cover Mr. Swenson Nicholas Ray

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1943 Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre Men in White[14]


  1. ^ "Free Family Tree, Genealogy, Family History, and DNA Testing". Retrieved 15 December 2022.
  2. ^ Obituary Variety, 6 June 1956, p. 63.
  3. ^ Funk, Charles Earle (1936). What's the Name, Please? A Guide to the Correct Pronunciation of Current Prominent Names. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. OCLC 1463642.
  4. ^ Current biography yearbook, Volume 5. H. W. Wilson Co. 1945. p. 288.
  5. ^ Kastrup, Kim (28 September 2017). "Dansk Hollywood-stjerne var trækkerdreng" [Danish Hollywood star was a rent boy]. Ekstra Bladet (in Danish). Retrieved 1 August 2019.
  6. ^ "Jean Hersholt". Danish Film Institute (in Danish). Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  7. ^ "Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  8. ^ Erish, Andrew A. (2012). Col. William N. Selig: The Man Who Invented Hollywood. University of Texas Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0292728707. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  9. ^ Lars Bo Jensen (2008). "The Complete Andersen – Edition info". The Hans Christian Andersen Center, University of Southern Denmark. Retrieved 17 January 2008.
  10. ^ "Danish-American Medal Recipient Index" (PDF). Retrieved 13 July 2010.
  11. ^ Carr, Jay (13 March 1994). "If Leslie Nielsen has learned anything, it's how to play slapstick with a ... straight face". The Boston Globe. p. 83. I did learn very early that when I would mention my uncle, people would look at me as if I were the biggest liar in the world. Then I would take them home and show them 8-by-10 glossies, and things changed quite drastically. So I began to think that maybe this acting business was not a bad idea, much as I was very shy about it and certainly without courage regarding it. My uncle died not too long after I was in a position to know him. I regret that I had not a chance to know him better.
  12. ^ Andersen, Hans Christian. "Clumsy Hans". Retrieved 13 July 2010.
  13. ^ "Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 2009. Retrieved 20 January 2008.
  14. ^ "Allbritton, Louise". radioGOLDINdex. Archived from the original on 28 May 2015. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
Non-profit organization positions Preceded byWalter Wanger President of Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences 1945–1949 Succeeded byCharles Brackett