Paramount assembled an impressive roster of players for the tuneful We’re Not Dressing (1934), which paired the studio’s biggest song star, Bing Crosby, with a perennial screwball-comedy charmer, Carole Lombard. For this uncredited retelling of J.M. Barrie’s play The Admirable Crichton, the rest of the credited cast consisted of Ethel Merman, George Burns and Gracie Allen, pretend-drunk funster Leon Errol, future Academy Award winner Ray Milland – and Jay Henry … a Hollywood one-and-done.
Well, how about “mostly impressive”?
One can watch We’re Not Dressing and hardly know that Jay Henry existed as an actor. Crosby plays a singing sailor who is appointed caretaker of the pet bear owned by heiress Lombard, on whose ocean cruise Der Bingle is employed. Lombard is pursued by two gold-digging playboy princes, but a fortuitous shipwreck turns Crosby into a hero and thwarts the fake royals. Merman longs for whichever prince Lombard rejects – but she gets neither. Merman sings “It’s Just a New Spanish Custom” in a duet with Errol, but Crosby gets the hits: Harry Revel and Mack Gordon’s “May I?” and “Love Thy Neighbor.” It’s heavily lightweight stuff, but anything with Crosby onscreen in 1934 was spun into box-office gold.
Henry and Milland portray the con artist “princes” Alexander and Michael, who vie for Lombard’s affections, although Henry hints suggestively to Milland that “we three could be very happy together.” (We’re Not Dressing beat the Production Code crackdown to theaters by mere weeks.) Milland’s work here led to a long-term Paramount contract and ensuing stardom; Henry, nonesuch.
No matter, for Jay Henry could laugh all the way to the bank, and if his single credit seems something of a lark … well, it was, sort of.
Henry was signed to a movie contract in the fall of 1933 with little to none of the stage experience expected from an actor from the East. He was a native New Yorker (real name: Julian Henry Rosenstein) who, the trade publication The Film Daily reported, came to Los Angeles for “a visit with no idea of entering pix.” He was “spotted on a golf course by a Paramount official … given a screen test” and then pacted for We’re Not Dressing.
Appropriately for a young performer (Henry was 21 at the time), Henry was subjected to inter-studio training: He and other “embryo actors” – Ida Lupino, Kent Taylor and Toby Wing among them – rehearsed for a stage performance of the suspense thriller Double Door as 1934 dawned at Paramount. Shooting on We’re Not Dressing commenced in mid-January.
Henry also was, for a while, regularly name-checked in the fan magazines. He was most conspicuously linked to Dorothy Dell, another nascent Paramount player, whom he accompanied on an impromptu raccoon hunt — hounds included — at an L.A. harbor on a spring night in ‘34. Dell (who would die in an auto accident that June) imported the raccoons from her native Dixie for the out-of-place stunt.
One fan-mag account had Dell denying reports that she and Henry were engaged, although he had gifted her with a good-sized engagement ring. Another had Henry stepping out with another Southern-bred Paramount contractee, Gail Patrick.
By March 1934, with the release of We’re Not Dressing slated for late April, Henry was already being announced for a part in Paramount’s next W.C. Fields comedy, then titled Grease Paint. That film became The Old Fashioned Way, but Henry was nowhere to be found in the finished product. In June, Henry was reported to be driving by auto back to New York.
That Henry apparently never appeared in another movie may have had to do with his ineffectual work in We’re Not Dressing, in which his dark/exotic features, lack of suavity, tentative line readings and slightly oversized nose contrast poorly with the look of fellow “heavy” Milland. The presence of much bigger names also accentuates the problem. In other words, Henry is out of his league.
But here’s the thing … Henry didn’t have to act. The son of glue manufacturer Henry Rosenstein, he didn’t need the money. And anyway, his father intended him to run the family business. In 1938, Henry was mentioned in Walter Winchell’s column as “stuck with the glue millions” and said to be in a “blazing romance” with prominent model Joan Taylor (not to be confused with the ’50s film actress Joan Taylor).
Taylor, from the prestigious John Robert Powers agency, had attracted national attention as an advertising pinup. She and Henry were bridesmaid and best man at the wedding of model and ex-Paramount actress Linda Yale to a paper company executive in December 1938, then they eloped immediately after their friends’ nuptials. By this time, Henry was advertising director of the family concern, the New York City-based Thomas W. Dunn Co., a maker of gelatin and glue.
Jay Henry died way too young – but not during his service in World War II, when he was a Navy pilot who rose to the rank of lieutenant commander. Upon the death of his father in 1949, he rose to the Dunn company presidency. On December 23, 1951, Henry succumbed to a heart attack at his home in White Plains, New York. He was only 39, survived by his wife, mother and sister.
Ray Milland, Wide-Eyed in Babylon (New York: William Morrow, 1974).
“Along the Rialto,” The Film Daily, April 23, 1934.
“Par’s Embryo Actors,” Variety, January 9, 1934.
“Having Fun in Hollywood,” The New Movie Magazine, June 1934.
“Here’s Hollywood,” Screenland, May 1934.
“Tomorrow’s Stars,” Screenland, July 1934.
“Two for Jay Henry,” Variety, March 27, 1934.
“Coming and Going,” The Film Daily, June 25, 1934.
“Walter Winchell … on Broadway,” September 1937.
“Modeling Is Hard Work, Joan Taylor Declares,” Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times, August 10, 1938.
“Broadway,” New York Daily News, December 19, 1938.
“Henry Rosenstein” (obituary), New York Times, October 28, 1949.
“Jay Henry” (obituary), New York Times, December 25, 1951.