A silent movie film star – our cousin?!?!?
I first heard of Mae Gaston (also May/Mame/Mayme) in a online blog post, “The Wandering Warrener’s” – http://www.valeofglamorgan.net/ where a “long lost cousin”, named Lol, analyzed a branch of my family.
“Mary appears in none of the censuses, but she apparently married and became Mary Baker, before adopting the screen name of Mae Gaston and having a very successful film career in silent movies between 1914 and 1920. There is some conflict here with the fact that Mae Gaston is quoted and coming from Boston, Mass. – but this seems unlikely, unless Edmund and Grace originally landed in Boston and spent time there prior to moving to Illinois.”
My g-g-grandmother, Jane Catherine Roberts was born in 1862 in Lanfairfechan, Caernarvonshire, Wales to Robert Roberts and Jane Roberts (yes, Roberts married Roberts, no relation), in a mountainside stone home named Cae haidd. Jane had three sisters – Mary Ann (b. 1855), Margaret (b. 1867) and Grace (b. 1857).
Grace married an Englishman, Edmund F. Warrener (a gamekeeper, born in Barlborough, Derbyshire in 1853, the 2nd son of John Walter Warrener and Jane Cordwell), and had 3 children in Lanfairfechan - Jane (b. 1879), Ann/Nance (b. 1881) and Robert Cordwell (b. 1882).
Between Sept 1883 and Oct 1885 the Warrener family and two of Grace’s sisters Jane Catherine & Margaret sailed for Boston, Massachusetts (likely1884 as per Robert Cordwell Warrener’s 1941 naturalization papers). The Warrener/Roberts family initially settled in East Boston on Wilbur Court. Edmund worked as a mason. There, on 11 Nov 1885, they had a daughter who was given a birth name of Mary Lloyd Warrener, after Grace’s paternal grandmother – . - http://tinyurl.com/ljpg5uk
On Thursday, December 23, 1886 a 24 year old, pregnant, Jane Catherine Roberts married 47 year old Edwin Lansil (a lumber surveyor). She settled with Edwin in Dorchester, Massachusetts and raised three daughters there – Frances, Edith Bernice and Doris.
Soon afterwards, the Warreners packed up and relocated to Illinois (Margaret Roberts followed sometime later; she married John Williams, also a mason and raised 5 children – Jane Catherine, David, Robert, Grace and John). In the Chicago area, Grace and Edmund had 3 more children – Warren (b. 1889; he went on to Vaudeville), Margaret (b. 1891) and Edmond (b. 1894).
Sadly, the day after Christmas, in 1897, Grace died of complications while giving birth to their 8th child.
Two years later, in 1900, only Edmund jr. was at home. The remaining children were split up (some adopted, others taken in by their aunt Margaret). Edmund had remarried to Sarah Jane “Jennie” Saunders of Toronto, Canada. Nonetheless, I was able to track 6 of the 7 children through marriage and death – all except Mary Lloyd Warrener born in Boston – she was a mystery. Then I read my cousin’s blog! Perhaps she became Mae Gaston?!?!?
I searched in vain for information about Mae Gaston’s childhood. I located many photos and newspaper articles chronicling her film life from 1914-1920. First she was under contract with Reliance Majestic and Fine Arts Studios; then she signed a contract with David Horsley Studios in LA.
She appears in over 40 titles, many as leading lady with Francis Ford. On Sunday, 24 Oct 1920, the Boston Herald describes a movie town known as “Filmland City” on the Fellsway in Medford, Massachusetts where 8 episodes of the popular “Nick Carter” series have been recently filmed. Mae is the leading lady opposite star Tom Carrigan.
Nothing after 1920 – she disappears – no marriage, no death or obituary, no more films. Maybe she was a cousin, but I could find no evidence, I gave up.
Then a few years later I came across a letter dated August 1977 that my grandmother’s sister Natalie had written about her visit to Aunt Doris (Lansil) Jenkins, Jane Catherine Lansil’s youngest daughter, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Natalie writes to her sister: “…We did learn that grandmother Jane Catherine had other sisters. One sister Grace had a daughter who became May Gaston, a movie star (never heard of her). Doris showed us a picture of her autographed to “My dear cousin Frances Lansil”….”
In another letter addressed to Natalie, dated September 1977, Jane Catherine (Williams) Peterson says:
….My mother’s name was Margaret she had two sisters Jane Lansil and Grace Warrener – her husband was Edmund Warrener who was born in England. There were no boys in the family. My grandparents landed in Boston. My mother stayed there for awhile – she met Dad – he came to Chicago to seek work – he was a stone mason and she came later because Aunt Grace and hubby came here sometime before. Aunt Grace’s daughters were such beautiful girls. Mayme was in the movies years ago and Warren (my cousin) was an actor and was the original sissy in “School Days”….”
So 3 separate cousins, who never knew each other, all claim a film star cousin named Mae Gaston through Grace Roberts Warrener! My interest piqued.
I tried another search. In the few years that had past, both FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com have added millions of records to their databases and perhaps my genealogy skills have improved a bit I had never tried searching for “Mae Baker” – silly me!
On Ancestry.com, up popped a California death index – Mother’s maiden name “Roberts”! Birth date of 11 Nov 1885 an exact match to Mary Lloyd Warrener born in Boston!
I sent for her SS-5. Here she lies about her birth year saying she was born in 1904 vs. 1895. But it IS our Grace. Once she reached retirement age she must have submitted a correction to collect benefits, which might explain why the SS index has a correct date. The SS-5 is undated (or I can’t read the date), but probably 1949 since she says she was 44 on her last birthday). She was living at 1341 West 164th Gardena, California (here’s a photo – the house was built in 1923: http://www.trulia.com/homes/California/Gardena/sold/3845274-1341-W-164th-St-Gardena-CA-90247)
Then on FamilySearch.org a marriage license: She married a bond broker, 30 year old Harold Hoover Baker. Mae lied about her age – A 43 year old divorcee claiming to be 32 residing in Beverly Hills (home of the rich and famous?)!!!
Still no Mae in any of the censuses or city directories. But now I knew that she had a 1st husband.
I wrote again to cousin Lol to share my findings. He responded with an old email from another Warrener cousin (Grace’s daughter Jane’s granddaughter) which read:
….”One of Grandma Jane’s brothers, “Warry,” was in vaudeville and was on the same bill as Eddie Cantor and Al Johlson. He died in a vaudeville retirement home in Chicago. In the 1920′s, her sister Mary (Mame) was in silent movies and used the stage name “Mae Gaston.” She had an illegitimate son her husband never knew about. Her married name was Baker”…..
The plot thickens! An illegitimate son that her husband never knew about? Scandalous!
I located a marriage entry in the Cook County Indexes on Ancestry.com. Was this our Mary Warrener? Was Fred Curtis Aldrich her first husband? I couldn’t be sure. I ordered a copy. It will take weeks to arrive. I am not good at waiting
I continued my search.
In the 1920 census, Cook County, there is a Fred C. Aldrich living with wife Estelle and children Edmund (16) and Ardelle (14) – http://tinyurl.com/m5xtwlr – Edmund? Named after Mary Warrener/Mae Gaston’s father? Estelle was just 31 – had she given birth at 16 or was she a step-mother?
Another marriage index shows that Fred C. Aldrich and Estelle Hendricks were married 30 Dec 1913, long after the birth of Edmund and Ardelle! http://tinyurl.com/lhz8a3r So likely this was our Mary Warrener (I have not located birth records for the children).
To date I have found nothing more on Edmund Aldrich.
He is not mentioned in his father’s obituary : “Chicago Tribune June 20, 1946: Services for Fred C. Aldrich, 64, teacher and shop superintendent at Schurz High school for 35 years, will be held at 3 p.m. today from the chapel, at 3918 Irving Park rd. Burial will be in Acacia Park. Mr. Aldrich died Tuesday at his home, 4031 Waveland av. He also was in charge of veterans’ counseling at Schurz, and coached its first football team many years ago. He is survived by his widow, Estelle; a daughter, Mrs. Ardella Thibaut; his mother, a sister and a brother.
I did find daughter Ardelle. She held an MBA from DePauw University, became an elementary school teacher, married Richard Carlisle Thibault and moved to 5931 Morningside, Dallas, TX where she passed away from breast cancer on 31 August 1956 at the age of 50. Her obituary (Dallas Morning News, 1 Sept 1956, section 3, page 15) does not mention any children (or her brother Edmund) and names her mother as Mrs. Fred C. Aldrich of Gobles, MI.
No mention of Mary Warrener or Mae Gaston (who was still living) in the obituary. But, she was listed as “mother” on Ardelle’s death certificate found on FamilySearch.org. Since both children were born after Mae & Fred married and since Fred raised the children and is named as Ardelle’s father on her death certificate, it is likely that the children were legitimate.
So sad… What happened to 13 year old Mary Warrener when her mother Grace died? How was her screen name chosen? Did Mary/Mae abandon her two children for fame and fortune as a silent film star and then deny their existence to marry a much younger, wealthy bond broker? It certainly seems so. Did she ever regret her decision or see the children again? Did she have more children with Baker? Why did she leave the movie world? So many questions that may never be answered.
Someday I hope to find her obituary and probate in Sonoma and perhaps track down Edmund Aldrich and his descendants…..I would love to locate Mae in the 1900 -1940 censuses – I have never had an ancestor with the ability to avoid censuses takers for 40 years! She has to be there someplace! We do know she was filming in Medford, MA in the fall of 1920….but she wasn’t found in any census in the US.
There is a Mae and Harold Baker living alone in 1940, both age 40 (which is about right assuming Mae was continuing to lie about her age), Mae born in Massachusetts and Harold born in California. They have been living on 17104 Figueroa in Compton, California, for at least 5 years, a home valued at $2,500 (one of the least expensive in the area). Harold is an Operator on a Poultry Ranch (perhaps a changed career related to the Great Depression of the 1930/40′s?). In 1930, Harold’s parents Abraham and Ida Baker were living nearby at 17318 Figueroa. According to Wikipedia, Figueroa is one of the longer streets in Los Angeles, it runs in a north/south direction for more than 30 miles. Although I can’t be sure, I suspect this entry is our Mae.
Mae & Harold 1940: http://tinyurl.com/mpeln3s
Abraham & Ida 1930: http://tinyurl.com/k8t22cv