American Ancestors New England Historic Genealogical Society - Founded 1845 N.E. Historic Genealogical Society Seal View Your Shopping Cart Join NEHGS
  • #32 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: Notes On Hollywood, The Movies, Theater And Television

    Gary Boyd Roberts

     Today I cover the last (for a short while at least) topic derived from my recent Notable Kin, Volume Two, still available for $30 plus $3.50 postage and handling from the NEHGS Sales Department or from Carl Boyer, 3rd of Santa Clarita, California. Hollywood and the movies are often associated, and thought in part to derive, from British acting families such as the Barrymores, Powers, Oliviers and Redgraves, from vaudeville (George and Gracie Burns, Gypsy Rose Lee, etc.), and from Ashkenazi Jewish families of studio executives and producers (Goldwyn, Warner, Kohn, Thalberg, etc.), and directors and actors (the Marx brothers, Mike Todd and Eddie Fisher, Kirk Douglas, etc.). Much less known but equally impressive are Hollywood figures with readily traceable New England – or in a few cases "Old South" -- ancestry, plus a few similarly derived "behind-the-scenes" authors, composers, musicians, and talk-show hosts.

    In 1986 I published the first of four "New England in Hollywood" articles, which covered Humphrey Bogart, Bing Crosby, Bette Davis, Walt Disney, Jane, Peter and Bridget Fonda, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Perkins, John Wayne and Orson Welles. Bogart, whose mother, a noted illustrator, was a Connecticut Humphrey, was descended from Gov. Thomas Dudley and Obadiah Bruen of proved royal descent (RD), and Gov. William Leete and Thomas Southworth of possible RD. Mayflower connections included a descent from John Howland and from Josiah, brother of Gov. Edward Winslow. Bing Crosby was descended from William Brewster of the Mayflower and from brothers of John Howland and (Josiah and) Gov. Edward Winslow. Bette Davis and Walt Disney were of royal descent via Mrs. Elizabeth St. John Whiting of the Bulkeley clan and Salem witchcraft victim Rev. George Burroughs respectively. Jane, Peter and Bridget Fonda are also Winslow descendants; the Gishes and Anthony Perkins were descended from the Arms and Hawks families of Deerfield and western Massachusetts; via Ways and Murrays, mostly of Guilford, Conn., John Wayne was a fifth cousin twice and thrice removed of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill; and Orson Welles, a near cousin of Texas cattleman A.H. "Shanghai" Pierce, was descended from RD immigrants Thomas and Mary (Jones) Lloyd of Pennsylvania, from Fobes ancestors of the late Princess of Wales and her sons, and from John Alden, Francis Cooke, and Richard Warren of the Mayflower.

    In a look at later "behind the scenes" figures, I noted, for directors, the (mad) Tuttle of New Haven line of Cecil B. DeMille (whose wife was descended from Gov. Thomas Dudley, RD, of Mass., and William White of the Mayflower); the Hawks (and in NK2 the line from RD immigrant Mrs. Agnes Harris Spencer Edwards) for Howard Hawks; and the Warren Mayflower line and Hibbard-derived Princess of Wales connection of Mary Day Thacher, first wife of Elia Kazan. Among authors many of whose works have been repeatedly adapted for movies, Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs shared Parke descent with the late Princess of Wales and her sons, and a line from RD immigrant Mrs. Alice Freeman Thompson Parke; Agatha Christie was descended from RD immigrant Mrs. Margaret Wyatt Allyn; and "Tennessee" Williams, son of a Dakin and grandson of a Coffin, was also descended from RD immigrant Gov. Thomas Dudley, from Christopher and Anne (Bainton) Batt among other RD immigrants, and from Tappans, Gerrishes, and Greenleafs. The second wife of composer Irving Berlin (born Israel Baline) was Ellin Travers Mackay, granddaughter of the Comstock Lode tycoon, descendant of the Virginia Bernard family also in the ancestry of H.M. The Queen Mother, and from Constitution "signer" Rufus King and Degory Priest of the Mayflower. Cole Porter, from Indiana, was the great-great-grandson of a Deming and a Galpin of Connecticut; his Hartford Stanley ancestors are also shared by Jane, Peter and Bridget Fonda and Anthony Perkins. Orchestra leader "Benny" Goodman married Alice Frances Hammond, whose brother was jazz patron John Henry Hammond IV. Both of these last were Vanderbilt descendants; other forebears included RD immigrants Anne (Marbury) and Catherine (Hamby) Hutchinson. Talk-show host Johnny Carson, from Nebraska, descends from a brother of John Howland and from RD immigrant Edward Raynsford of Boston. In a later column and chapter I noted the Pepperrell line, Towne witchcraft victim connection, and descent from RD immigrant Joseph Bolles, for actress Lucille Ball and her daughter Luci Arnaz.

    I was pleased indeed to find two major collaborators in these "Hollywood studies." Memphis – and overall Southern – genealogist John Anderson Brayton, who formerly lived in Boston, extended the "Tennessee" Williams ancestry to ten generations and later published a well-received book on the subject. John also found the delightful and surprising distant kinship between President Jimmy Carter and Elvis Presley. Carter has both Presley and Helms descents and at one time we thought Sen. Jesse Helms was also a Presley cousin. Helms is not, but former President Carter is indeed a cousin of Elvis Presley, Jesse Helms, Sam Nunn, and Gore Vidal.

    At my suggestion John also undertook research on Thomas Jefferson cousin Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, whose RD ancestors include John Hinton, William Farrar, and Christopher Branch; Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, also a Branch descendant – and a descendant as well of English Saltonstalls; and Dubose Heyward, author of Porgy (from which Porgy and Bess) and a descendant of numerous RD immigrants, including Washingtons of Virginia, Gignilliats of South Carolina, and Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson of Rhode Island. John also considered the ancestry of actress Tallulah Bankhead, whose Williams of Isle of Wight Co., Virginia line is almost certainly shared by Harper Lee and Capote; actor Montgomery Clift, whose mother discovered late in life that her very likely parents were children of two Civil War cabinet ministers and descendants (one or the other) of RD Livingstons of New York, RD McIntoshes and Houstons of Georgia, RD immigrant Mrs. Mary Lawrence Burnham of Ipswich, Mass., Carys of Virginia (ancestors of the Presidents Harrison), and Anneke Jans (a forebear of Melville and Louisa May Alcott); and actress Joanne Woodward, wife of Paul Newman. Miss Woodward shares Gignilliats and other South Carolina ancestors with Heyward, is also descended from RD immigrant Alexander Magruder of Maryland, is of Mayflower descent via Isaac Allerton and Richard Warren, and shares Catletts of Virginia with James Madison.

    A second major genealogical colleague, Richard E. Brenneman of Boston, who uses the library most Saturdays, contributed two columns and chapters even more startling in some respects than John Brayton’s. These were "New England in Hollywood, Parts Three and Four," full ancestor tables for the most likely father yet identified of Marilyn Monroe (#s 1-63, with extensions to ancestors of interest thereafter) and teen idol James Dean (13 generations). Charles Stanley Gifford (1898-1965) was a friend of Marilyn Monroe’s mother whom the actress thought – perhaps wishfully – was her father. Mr. Gifford is said to have denied it, and Marilyn’s mother never answered the question of Marilyn’s paternity. Richard traces Marilyn’s mother for several generations to families in Indiana, Kansas, Illinois and Missouri. Gifford, a native of Newport, R.I., was taken as a child to California where his own father, Frederick Almy Gifford, a native of New Bedford, Mass., died in 1957 (well after his alleged granddaughter became famous). Charles Gifford’s ancestry is a smorgasbord or "genealogical sampler" of colonial R.I. Forebears include four RD immigrants to R.I. (the famed Anne [Marbury] Hutchinson and her sister Katherine [Marbury] Scott, Act. Gov. Jeremiah Clarke [my own ancestor], and John Throckmorton); John Alden and very likely Francis Cooke of the Mayflower; and almost certainly Thomas and Margaret (Williams) Mitchell, forebears also of the late Princess of Wales and her sons. Marilyn’s alleged father has presidential connections via Almys, Cornells, Greenes, Motts, and Shermans. Other ancestors include Gov. Thomas Mayhew of Martha’s Vineyard, Thomas Cooke (forebear of "Tennessee" Williams and Sir Winston Churchill), and Richard and Joan (Fowle) Borden, patrilineal forebears of Lizzie, milkman Gail, and Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Laird Borden. Remarkably, Marilyn Monroe may descend – if Gifford was indeed her father – from 34 of the families treated in my 1982 compilation, updated in 1989, "A Bibliography for 100 Colonial Rhode Island Families"; these 34 are Aldrich, Almy, Babcock, Bailey, Borden, Briggs, Brownell, Burdick, (Jeremiah) Clarke, Coggeshall, (Thomas) Cooke, Cornell, Crandall, Dennis, Gardiner, (Dr. John) Greene, Hazzard, Holden, Hutchinson, (George) Lawton, Manchester, Pearce, Peckham, Remington, Reynolds, Sanford, Scott, Sherman, Stanton, Throckmorton, Thurston, Tillinghast, Tripp, and Wilcox.

    James Byron Dean (1931-1955), who starred in only three movies, forms with Elvis and Marilyn the great trio of mid-twentieth century icons in American popular culture. As Richard notes, Dean’s immediate ancestors were border-South families, who migrated to Indiana from Kentucky, Pennyslvania or Ohio, Maryland/Delaware, Virginia, or North Carolina. Quaker ancestry is derived through a Williams great-great-grandmother whose mother was a Hussey descended from Christopher and Theodate (Batchelder) Hussey and Isaac and Susannah (----) Perkins, all of Hampton, N.H., and all ancestors also of President Nixon. Via Batchelders and Perkinses there are presidential connections to Fillmore, Coolidge, FDR, Nixon and Ford. Theodate’s father was Rev. Stephen Batchelder, "ur-father" of Hampton generally, and related Nantucket Husseys were ancestors of Senator Sam Erwin, O. Henry, and the H.L. Hunts of Dallas. Other actors of Perkins descent (the family is from Hillmorton, Warwickshire) include Humphrey Bogart, Montgomery Clift, and Anthony Perkins.

    These glimpses into the ancestry of some major Hollywood figures will, I hope, convince readers that in addition to tycoons, folkloric notables, "flowers of New England," major American, Canadian or European politicos, and the late Princess of Wales and Princes William and Harry, New England (and to some extent Virginia and the "Old South") also produced, or lies in the ancestral background of, much of Hollywood. And our Hollywood figures discussed above include Tallulah Bankhead from the stage (plus playwrights "Tennessee" Williams and Dubose Heyward, and musical theater composers Irving Berlin and Cole Porter), Lucille Ball and Johnny Carson from television, and Elvis Presley from rock music. Among further New England-derived kinsmen of the late Princess of Wales, whom I treated in chapters two and three of Notable Kin, Volume One, I might add, are dancer Fred Astaire (his wife, Phyllis Livingston Baker); opera director Sarah Caldwell; television chef Julia Child; actor Charlton Heston (his wife, Lydia Marie Clarke); folk singer Pete Seeger; director Preston Sturges (Eleanor Post Close, his second wife, an aunt of the half-blood of actress Glenn Close); and actresses Lee Remick and Shirley Temple (for this last, Charles Alden Black, her second husband).

    My next column will be a "fun" revelation of New England ancestry for the new Countess of Paris. I will then offer some musings from a recent lecture on "Spotting Easy-to-Trace Ancestors." Thereafter I may return to summaries of chapters in my Notable Kin volumes, and talk about Yankee inventors and artists, "signers" of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, and possibly American connections to foreign prime ministers and presidents. I hope readers enjoy these summaries and decide to chart their own kinships to favorite notables from the genealogical data in my last two books.
New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA

© 2010 - 2014 New England Historic Genealogical Society