Henry B. Walthall was an early Hollywood star known as the "Little Colonel" and remembered primarily for his role as Col. Ben Cameron in D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation."
Walthall was born March 16, 1878, on a plantation in Shelby, Ala., the son of a onetime Confederate captain who was later appointed Shelby County's sheriff. He was home-schooled by a private tutor.
As a young man, Walthall served in the Spanish-American War as a private. The experience afforded him his first taste of the theater when he and a group of fellow soldiers began providing entertainment to other troops.
At the war's end, he headed to New York City, where he acted in a play called "Secret Service" before joining a stock company in Providence, R.I. He soon began touring with a repertory group and appearing on Broadway.
He left New York behind and moved to Hollywood in the very early years of narrative film, and quickly became a favorite foil of Griffith's. During production of "The Birth of a Nation," Walthall reportedly earned a then-princely salary of $150 a week.
Walthall remained closely associated with his role in "The Birth of a Nation" despite appearing in many other films.
The rise of the talkies caused his career to falter, although at the time of his death he was attempting to stage a comeback. He collapsed while filming "China Clipper" in 1936 and died a few weeks later at age 58. His cause of death was reported as "exhaustion and intestinal influenza."