Uyttenhove, Henri

Fencing coach, Professor Henri J. Uyttenhove

Henri Uyttenhove, a graduate of the illustrious Belgium Military Institute of Physical Education and Fencing, was Hollywood’s first swordfighting choregrapher when Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. hired him for “The Mark of Zorro,” in 1920.  He also was the first fencing coach at the Los Angeles Athletic Club where he coached such fencers as Ralph Faulkner 1928 & 1932 Olympian, 1928, 1932 &1936 Olympian Helene Mayer, Al Couturier (coach of Salle Couturier for many years), 1940 Olympian Ed Carfagno, 1936 US Olympian Andrew Boyd, 1932 Olympian Harold Corbin & US epee great Fred Linkmeyer (US medalist and organized largest club in US on the west coast).  He was also the first fencing coach at USC beginning in the early 1920’s. By 1940 the USC fencing team had collected 14 Pacific Coast Intercollegiate titles. Uyttenhove’s stint as fencing trainer for Douglas Fairbanks, Ramon Navarro and others continued through such films as “The Three Musketeers” (1921), “The Prisoner of Zenda” (1922), “Robin Hood” (1922), “Monte Cristo” (1922), “Rupert of Hentzan” (1923) and “Scaramouche” (1923). Uyttenhove was a pioneer in that he began the expert technical staging of screen duels. His legacy was felt by all who followed him, including Fred Cavens, Ralph Faulkner and Jean Heremans.

Coach Henri Uytenhove , a master from Belgium, leads the U.S.C. fencing class circa 1930.
Uytenhove was the first “Hollywood” choreographer for fighting with swords.

Obituary by Fred Linkmeyer, American Fencing Magazine, July 1950


One of the most beloved and highly respected of all fencing masters, Henri J. Uyttenhove, was born in Herch-La-Ville, Belgium in 1878 and has just passed away.His spectacular rise in European fencing circles found him, at the age of twenty-six, Head Professor of Fencing at the national Belgium Normal School of Fencing where fencing masters were taught their profession, trained and received their diplomas. Many presently living Belgium fencing masters treasure their diplomas signed by Professor Uyttenhove.

He arrived in the United States in September, 1907, and after a short stay in New York and Chicago came directly to Southern California. Mr. Frank Garbutt, President of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, immediately recognized his superb qualities and offered him the position of fencing master. He remained with the A.C. for 5 years where he was successful in building the popularity of the sport. He then opened his own private salle in Pasadena. Probably the first fencing competition held in southern California was between his Pasadena pupils and his pupils from the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
Beginning in about 1916, his services were in great demand by the motion picture industries and in rapid succession, with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and his pupil, he was appointed the technical director of “The Modern Musketeer”, “The Mark of Zorro”, and “The Three Musketeers”.

He returned to the Los Angeles A.C. in 1921 and remained as fencing master there until 1950 when he retired in favor of his personally selected successor, Professor Jean L Heremans. His duties also included coaching at the Hollywood Athletic Club, a subsidiary of the Los Angeles A.C.., until 1939 when he installed Duris W. De Jong as coach.

In 1922 the University of Southern California decided to make fencing one of their sports and, under his inspirational coaching, interest in fencing increased. It was from his classes at the university that fencers such as Edward Carfagno, Herman Hersum, (who is now chairman of the San Diego division), and the writer of this article were developed.

Without remuneration, and in the interest of the sport, he started classes at the University of California at Los Angeles and continued until a proper coach could be found in the person of captain of Capt. John Duff, a prominent English fencer.

A committee of Belgium fencers, headed by the late Professor Deladrier of the U.S. naval academy, recently petitioned the Belgian for award of the Legion of Honor to Professor Uyttenhove in recognition of his great contribution to the Belgian school in the United States.

Here, truly, was a maker of champions. His pure, classical form, his great ability as a teacher, his personal magnetism and above all, his innate humility and sportsmanship won him the love and loyalty with all of whom he came into contact with. Without question, here was one of the greats among fencing masters, who did much to promote the sport of fencing in this country. He will live long in our memories. His passing is a great loss to fencing.