At first, I didn’t understand why Bill Henderson didn’t have a Wikipedia page. Well—there are a lot of Bill Hendersons with Wikipedia pages. If you simply type “Bill Henderson,” it sends you to a disambiguation page with literally three or four dozen William Hendersons. But none of them were “actor.” The closest I found was “performer.” But that was too broad, right? Oh. It turns out that he was a jazz musician as well as an actor, and prominent enough at both that they weren’t going to limit him to one or the other. Well, that makes sense.
I believe that most people, when they think of Bill Henderson, probably think of him in Clue or City Slickers. (Few likely think of the Scottish footballer born 1898 or the English one born 1899.) They’re probably the two roles that elevate him from the ranks of the Hey It’s That Guy. Oh, he was in Buckaroo Banzai, but that’s a cult classic that even I haven’t seen that therefore doesn’t really count as “most people think of.” His career includes some fascinating offerings, but those are the two most prominent. Though now I’m curious about the made-for-TV movie he did with Robert Mitchum.
People more into jazz than I probably know more about his music, but what I can say for sure is that he worked with some of the greats. Sure, he had a wide number of albums of his own, starting with 1959’s Bill Henderson Sings. However, he also performed with people such as Count Basie, and he got his start working with Horace Silver. Given the sheer number of blue names on his admittedly short Wikipedia page, it’s clear that there’s a lot of jazz history involved in his career. You don’t have to know jazz; you just need to know how to tell when a lot of things mentioned are considered significant enough to have their own page, be it other people or specific songs.
Which is probably at least part of what he’s doing in Maverick. He has no previous connection with James Garner, the other primary “we’ll stick them in for two minutes” factor, and he definitely wasn’t a country musician, which is most of who populates that poker game at the end. But we know from context clues that Jim Rockford listens to jazz, which makes it at least plausible that Garner did as well. It wouldn’t at all surprise me to know that Garner had been a long-time fan who saw it as an excuse to work with someone whose music he admired.
He’s fantastic in City Slickers. He’s got one of the handful of serious emotional moments in it, where he tells his son that what’s important to him is not being a cowboy, it’s connecting with his kid. He holds his own in his brief Clue appearance, and half the reason that movie exists is to have a packed cast. I’ve just gone ahead and added the last handful of people from the movie that I haven’t gotten to yet to the calendar, leaving aside a few people for whom, say, “Cop #3” was their most prominent role. But you can just hear him telling the main characters that they’re going to be arrested for murder, can’t you?