Harry Ollen Bartron was born in Van Etten, New York, on December 26, 1917, the fifth and youngest child of Fernando and Margaret (Cranmer) Bartron. Shortly after Bartron's birth, his mother divorced his physically abusive father, and married a tenant farmer named Frank Whitmore, and Harry lived his childhood on several farms in the neighborhood of Troy, Pennsylvania. Bartron's mother left Whitmore when she discovered he had never divorced his first wife, and Bartron found himself on his own at age 13. He spent his high school years boarding with relatives and private families in Elmira, New York. Raised a Baptist, he joined the fundamentalist Pilgrim Holiness Church in his late teens, and completed seminary work at the Allentown Bible School in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he met Inez Lee Fotner, whom he married. He joined the Navy in 1943 and converted to Roman Catholicism in boot camp; he was expelled from the Navy later that year with an "Undesirable Discharge" for making sexual advances to another sailor. He returned to his wife and son Stephen, born during his deployment, and moved Cincinnati, where he obtained work with a Catholic goods shop, joined the Third Order of St. Francis, and took classes at Xavier University. Bartron and his wife had two more children, Elizabeth (born 1945) and Carol (born 1947). In 1947, Bartron moved to Chicago to attend Loyola University. He also became very active in the Uptown Players of Chicago, both as an actor and assistant to the director; he also took private lessons in performance. His wife left him in 1948; she later married Paul Marcus Marker (1925-1997), with whom she had several children, and died in 1986. Now single, Bartron developed a one-man show, first as a monologist, then as a mime, and for the next 18 years performed over 4,200 times throughout the United States, Canada, the British Isles, and Mexico. With the success of Marcel Marceau, Bartron was billed as "the American Pantomimist".
Bartron retired from full-time performance in 1966, and returned to school, earning a BA from Mansfield State College, in Pennsylvania, in 1970. He moved to Los Angeles later that year, and in 1972 received an MA in Speech from UCLA and a Community College Instructor Credential in Language Arts and Literature. He played small roles in films such as Cutting Loose (1980), Let's Do It! (1982), and The Seventh Sign (1988) and in television shows such as Archie Bunker's Place (1981) and Mysterious Two (1982); he also appeared in several commercials.
Bartron's later years were devoted to writing, in particular poetry. His first volume of poetry, Contemporary Words in Sound, was published while he was still a student at Mansfield State University. The poems address a wide variety of subjects, but the majority explore his Roman Catholic faith and his sexuality. His accomplishments as a poet were recognized by induction into the International Poetry Hall of Fame in October 1996. Bartron also published a novel, Drummer Boy, on drummer boys in the American Civil War, published in 2004. He was also active in the Roman Catholic Church, writing liturgical material for the Los Angeles chapter of Dignity/USA, joining the Knights of Columbus in 2001, and constantly exploring the position of Catholic homosexuals through speeches, essays, and support groups. He also became involved with the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, in particular the Oral History Project; advocated for housing for GLBT seniors; and continued to perform as a member of a senior theater group. He died in Los Angeles on July 18, 2007, at the age of 89.
Source: Harry Bartron Papers, Coll2008-054, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California.