Earl Oliver Henry Jr., a former leading character actor at Arena Stage known to theater goers by his stage name, Henry Oliver, died of cancer Sunday in a Pasadena, Calif. hospital. He was 57.

Mr. Henry embarked on his stage career in 1945, and by 1952 had completed over 750 consecutive performances with Arena Stage's repertory company. His opening role at Arena was as Squire Hardcastle in "She Stoops to Conquer." Among his other favorite roles were Sir Tony Belch in "Twelfth Night" and Preacher Haggler in "Dark of the Moon." He also appeared in "The Hasty Heart," "Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Rivals."

In 1952, while reminiscing in his dressing room at Arena Stage where he was making up for the part of the Duke in "The Firebrand," Mr. Henry said that the theater bug first bit him when he played a Negro butler in a first-grade grammar school play. He was then 6 years old.

A native Washington, Mr. Henry married actress Pauline Hageman Leake, whose stage name is Paula, in 1952. They got so used to seeing each other on the Arena Stage, Mr. Henry once said, that they decided they mights as well continue the association across the breakfast table.

Mr. Henry graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1939. He attended George Washington University for two years before enlisting in the Navy in 1941. He served as a gunner's mate on destroyers and was among the first Americans to land in Italy during the invasion of Sicily.

When he left the Navy in 1945, Mr. Henry enrolled at the former, Washington Academy of the Theater. Early on as a student, he was cast for three roles in "Macbeth" - King Duncan, the tipsy porter and the Scottish physician. He took further training in New York at the American Theater Wing, which cast him in leading roles in "The Man Who Came to Dinner," "Angel Street," "Dear Ruth," "The Vinegar Tree" and "Strictly Dishonorable."

Mr. Henry was also a featured player in four production of the Manhattan Repertory Company and was assistant stage manager for "Sword by His Side," a religious drama produced by Carnegie Hall.

In addition to performing at theaters here and in New York, Mr. Henry also appeared in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin before moving to California about 15 years ago.

Described as likable and portly, Mr. Henry was frequently mistaken for the late British primie minister Winston Churchill. About three years ago, he played the part of Churchill in "The Woman I Love," a television drama that starred Faye Dunaway and Richard Chamberlain.

Mr. Henry had been working on a script for a one-man show that he named "Winston Churchill: The Lion Roars." The script and tape of the show were two-thirds finished when he became ill.

He was a member of the Equity Theatrical Association, theScreen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Survivors include his wife, Paula, and three sons, Tanner, Dene and Kevin, all of the home in La Crescenta, Calif.; his mother, Mrs. Earl O. Henry Sr., of Bethesda, and a brother, Charles J., of Tampa, Fla.