Here are 10 things you should know about the legendary Jack Benny, born 125 years ago today. Benny was a show business icon who was said to be the very opposite of the parsimonious, vain and persnickety figure he portrayed for so long. We suspect the American public knew it all along.
Here are 10 things you should know about the legendary Lillian Gish, born 125 years ago today, whose acting career spanned nine decades.
Here are 10 things you should know about Fred MacMurray, born 110 years ago today. We can’t think of another actor as widely underestimated as MacMurray. He is most remembered today for the latter phase of his career—his Disney movies and his television work—but in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, he exhibited a wider range than most My Three Sons fan might ever imagine.
This prose snapshot of songbird Ruth Etting might fairly be said to be a doctored “photo”—or at the very least retouched. For this profile, from the April 1935 issue of Popular Songs, makes no mention of Martin “Moe the Gimp” Snyder, a gangster to whom young Ruth was wed in 1922 and who had a major impact on her career.
After achieving huge success in radio, Broadway, recordings, and movies, Etting divorced Snyder in 1937, having fallen in love with her pianist, Myrl Alderman, who was nearly ten years her junior.
That old saying “Heaven has no fury like a mobster scorned” applies here, as Snyder soon plugged Alderman with a bullet, spending a year in jail before being released on appeal.
The surrounding scandal seems to have pulled the plug on Etting’s career, alas, though she would go on to marry Alderman and, one hopes, live happily ever after.
We only knew one of our great-grandparents, our mother’s grandmother Maude Ellen Johnson Oakes, who as a teenager in the 1890s, traveled with her family in a covered wagon from Illinois to Oklahoma. She lived to the age of 92, so in her lifetime, she saw an astonishing number of changes. Think of it—she came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon in her youth and lived long enough to see men on the moon, not to mention the advent of cars, radio, moving pictures, television, women being given the right to vote (she was nearly 40 then), the civil rights movement, and on and on.
Distracted by the tunnel vision of youth, it never occurred to us to ask Maude, who was in her eighties and nineties when we knew her, about her husband, and though we’re not proud of it, we’ve long considered genealogy buffs kind of, well, dorky.
But with the recent passing of our mother and our weekly devotion to Who Do You Think You Are?, the notion of tracking down info on our ancestors suddenly began to appeal. We took Ancestry.com, which is featured frequently on WDYTYA?, up on their offer of a two-week trail membership, and began digging.
It’s remarkable, really, what one can uncover in a short amount of time.
Patterson and Maude
in happier times
In 1900, Maude married a man named Patterson Nehemiah Oakes, who was born in North Carolina (as was his father before him; his mother was born in Tennessee). Maude was born in Illinois (Taylorville, we learned from a news clipping published at the time of her death), as was her mother. Her father was born in Ohio.
In 1910, Maude and Patterson lived in a town called Canadian in the Texas panhandle. All three of their sons—Cecil (my grandfather), Herbert, and Elmer—had already been born. Patterson was working as the manager of a confectionery.
In 1920, they were still married and living in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, about 60 miles south of Oklahoma City. Their address was 102 N. Elm Street. Patterson was a civil servant—a rural carrier (which I’m guessing refers to mail). Maude was a saleslady at a dry goods store.
Maude is listed in the 1920 census as being 37 years old, which is a couple of years younger than we thought—we had her as being born in 1881, but perhaps she fudged her age a bit? Patterson was 41.
One additional tidbit of info: According to that census, everyone in the family—Patterson, Maude, and their three sons Cecil, Herbert, and Elmer—could read and write.
We’ve not managed to pin down the date, but Maude and Patterson were divorced sometime relatively soon after that 1920 census was taken. We know it wasn’t long after the census because Cecil, their eldest son who was born in 1904, was still in high school at the time. We may never know why Maude and Patterson (did he go by Pat? Not sure) parted—Granddad never spoke of the divorce or, indeed, Patterson himself to our mother and her siblings.
Now, let’s jump forward to 1930.
dog ever, in 1970
Patterson is now married to a woman named Ellen, who was born in Indiana (as were both her parents) and was 12 years older than Patterson. In 1920, he is 52; she is 64.
Ellen has been married before (as has Patterson, of course).
They live at 338 East 3rd Street in Oilton, Oklahoma, about 39 miles west of Tulsa, where he is employed as the manager of a filling station. Ellen works as a seamstress out of their home.
They own a radio (yes, that was a question on the 1930 census).
Patterson died in 1948. The date, place, and cause of death we’ve not tracked down, though we’re still on the case. Maude died in February 1972, on our mother’s birthday.
That’s all we have so far. I’d still like to know what came between Patterson and Maude in the early 1920s, but when you consider that, six or seven weeks ago, we didn’t even know a single thing about Maude’s husband—not even his name—it’s not a bad start.