Richard Henderson (1876 – 1935) of Mason, Michigan, was the founder of the longest running traveling repertory theatre company. His father, Wade J. Henderson, owned a photography studio, had served as an advance man for touring companies, and encouraged his son in acting. According to a playbill in this collection, at age six Richard Henderson was touted as “the most wonderful child in the world . . . who recites Shakespeare and other difficult selections with all the embellishments of a polished elocutionist.” In 1898 he founded the Henderson Stock Company in Otsego, Michigan and toured theatres and opera houses throughout the mid-west and the east coast. He was highly regarded as a performer. As historian Dawn Nicely writes, “The Henderson company maintained a high level of professionalism, preferring to present only legitimate theatre, not Toby or parody of melodrama, a then popular art form.” Henderson was particularly admired by other actors for playing Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde: “ . . .when Jekyll began the transformation into Hyde, Henderson would turn away from the audience, put in fake teeth and muss his hair . . . he wore two little dots of black grease paint near the inside corners of his eyes that, while turned away, he would smear under his eyes to give his eyes a sinister, sunken look. According to Harold’s story, when Henderson quietly turned and gazed out into the house, the effect was so frightening that people would nearly faint.” (quoted from Dawn Nicely, citation below).
Henderson was married twice, both times to actresses in the company, but had no children with either wife. Details of his first marriage to actress Edith Prettyman are scant but a note in the collection (Box 2, Folder 2) indicates she left him sometime between 1901 and her death in 1908. His marriage to Fannie Henderson lasted from 1912 or 1914 (sources differ) until his own death from a heart attack in 1935. His wife continued to run the show until 1937, when she sold it to Harold Rosier and Waunetta Rosier Oleferchik, two young actors in the company, also from Michigan. Fannie Henderson continued acting with the troupe until 1940. The Rosiers, who renamed the company The Rosier Players, directed the rep company through the war years and into the 1950’s. In 1966 they bought the Collier Show, a tent show complete with trucks, chairs, scenery, props, scripts and a tent trailer, and began to travel sometimes with the tent, keeping The Rosier Players as their name and featuring “Toby shows”. Eventually they donated the show to Jackson Community College after collaborating with them on summer productions throughout the 1970’s. Even after Harold Rosier’s death in 1980, in the middle of a show, Waunetta worked with the college troupe until JCC discontinued the program in 1991 and put the show’s equipment in storage. The show was later bought by theatre historian and director, Dawn Larsen Nicely, who has continued the tent tradition with her company, The Hard Corn Players, in Tennessee.