Didn’t have time for a full post this week but in honor of today’s holiday please enjoy this film still I found of my 2nd great-uncle House Jameson (youngest son of Joe Lee), in Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot, which has been running daily at the Colonial Williamsburg visitor’s center since 1957 (that’s right, almost 60 years, the longest-running film in history). House played the high-rollin’ gamblin’ Colonial planter William Byrd III. He’s the one standing and holding his hand out, all like, “pay up!” America!
If you’ve just recently joined us (ME) here at this blog, here’s a fresh introduction to the folks whose lives I’ve been researching, as well as few I plan to talk about soon.
All of these people are related to me through my mother’s father, Malcolm MacGregor Jameson, known to me as “Grandpa Mac” and to others in the family as MacGregor. He didn’t talk much about his family and the relationship I had to him and my grandmother wasn’t a close one. So some of this stuff I’m learning is very new to me.
On Mac’s dad’s side is my great-great-grandfather Joe Lee Jameson, a Texas bureaucrat who had been bookkeeper at an insane asylum, the State Revenue Agent of Texas, endorser for an adding machine, and had recently become an oil company executive when he died of typhoid fever at the age of thirty-four. He was married to Amaryllis Routh Jameson (whose later married name was Ward and who took the nickname “Jamie”), and at least half the stuff I know about this family comes from her scrapbooks, so she is my hero.
They had three children,* all born in Texas:
The eldest, Malcolm Routh Jameson (my great-grandfather), also died relatively young, in his fifties. He had been a Naval officer during WWI and later in life became a science-fiction writer. I’ve built a web site for him and I’ll sometimes call him MRJ for short.
The second child was Vida Jameson (or “Vida I” because MRJ named his daughter after her). She died when she was just five. *There were also twin boys in the family who were born and died (or else were stillborn) in 1901. They’re the ones with unsettling little angel baby jpegs on their Ancestry.com profiles (no, I don’t know who put them there).
A year after the twins, and two years after Vida’s death, House Baker Jameson (named for his father’s mentor, Colonel Edward M. House), was born. He became an actor and worked on stage, radio, TV and film from the 1930s into the late 60s. His first wife was Edith (Edie) Taliaferro, a stage actress who had been a child star and who also had appeared in a handful of silent films, only one of which survives. After she died, House remarried, to actress and dancer Liz Mears. (And while he’s not a blood relative, I’ll tell you about her dad sometime, because… well, you’ll see.)
MRJ was the only one of his siblings to have children of his own: my Grandpa Mac (the second born), and Vida Jameson (aka Vida II), who as a young adult became friends with some Golden Age sci-fi writers her father knew, and eventually published stories of her own.
Vida and Mac’s mother was my great-grandmother Mary MacGregor Jameson (I grew up hearing her referred to as “Nana”), who first met MRJ when they were kids, when both his family and hers were living in the administrative staff quarters of the Southwestern Insane Asylum in San Antonio, Texas, around 1897. If you’re following along, you’ll remember my great-great-grandfather Joe Lee Jameson was the bookkeeper; my other great-great grandfather was the superintendent.
Like MRJ, Mary was the only one of her siblings to have children. She was the second of five sisters, the four others being:
- Anna MacGregor Collins, the oldest, who was the family archivist and genealogist, and whom I have to thank for saving a lot of this stuff.
- Helen MacGregor, who never married and became a schoolteacher (oh, but she left some compelling stuff).
- Margaret MacGregor Morgan, who moved to New York City in the 1930s. Still trying to figure out her story.
- Kathryn MacGregor Burgess, who along with her sister Anna married military officers stationed in the Philippines.
The MacGregor sisters’ parents (see how I pivoted and am now going backward through the generations of my Grandpa Mac’s mother’s line?), were my great-great grandfather Dr. William Wallace MacGregor, a physician and surgeon, and Anna Jones MacGregor, my great-great grandmother (whose birth was celebrated in this lovely letter).
Beyond this generation and going backward, Anna Jones’s line is the most well-documented—most of the material I have from the 1880s and earlier is from her side, and she and some of her daughters claimed DAR membership based on her ancestors (the Moores, the Markses, and the Meriwethers). We’ve already had a glimpse of Anna’s maternal relatives, and there are some letters from her father and his people too.
I’ve also started to find out a little more about Dr. MacGregor’s family, who I think came over to the US from Glasgow, Scotland, around 1850. I have a few scraps (and I mean, literally, scraps) from that side.
And then, jumping ahead about a century (oh, the whiplash!), I have some stuff that provides some interesting glimpses of my mother’s very early childhood in New York, when she and my grandmother lived with MRJ and Nana while Grandpa Mac was off in the Pacific in WWII.
I’ve set up a category list in the sidebar to be a sort of index, so feel free to click on those names (or places or details) to see where else they come up. And I’ll be updating the family tree info when I get a chance. Until then, consider this your cheat sheet. Any questions?
This stage photo of my great-great uncle House Jameson (actor, New York dweller, second husband extraordinaire), has been knocking around in my files for awhile; his name and the play title, The Patriots, are scrawled on the back in pencil. But somehow I hadn’t bothered to look up who he was playing in that getup until I stumbled across the info in a letter. He was Alexander Hamilton, you guys! He played Hamilton on Broadway in 1943, 73 years before being Hamilton on Broadway was cool.
The Patriots ran for several months, during which time House continued his role as Mr. Aldrich in the radio show The Aldrich Family (which turned out to be a long-term gig for him). But this meant that House had to come to the NBC studios dressed and made up as Hamilton in order to do both his live radio performance and the play that evening. So he’d be there in the studio speaking his loveable sitcom dad lines for listeners who’d have no idea he was at that very moment wearing 18th-century knee breeches and a wig (though for the studio audience it must have been pretty surreal). Then when the show signed off he’d run into a waiting elevator and then into an ambulance (!) at the NBC exit, which would rush him a few blocks over to Times Square. He’d come through the backstage door just as the curtain went up. Or so the story goes, according to a letter House’s second wife, Liz, wrote my grandmother in 1977, a few years after he died.
Anyway, that is some hardcore Hamilton, right?
Bonus fact: if you are wistful about being 70 years too late to see House Jameson perform in dapper colonial American garb, you can still—to this day, and just about every day—see him in breeches and a waistcoast on the big screen, in Technicolor and VistaVision, playing William Byrd III in Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot, which has been airing at the Colonial Williamsburg visitor’s center since 1957. And yes, that makes the longest-running film in history. History! Hamilton! House! Sometimes it’s crazy what you find out.
While researching that last post I came across some great photos of Edie and House in the Broadway archives at the Museum of the City of New York. It appears the permissions unlicensed use of these pictures on a web page, but they do allow for social media sharing, so I created a Pinterest board for these images. Go take a look! I’ll put other online archive finds up there, such as covers for the pulps that ran Malcolm’s stories. There won’t be private pictures there, just links to images at other sources. (Yes, another thing I’m going to make you go look at.)
You know how you sometimes forget you already knew something? That’s what happened with me when it comes to (my great-great aunt-by-marriage) Edie’s previous marriage. I’d long suspected that House wasn’t her first husband, given her age and the age difference between them, but it completely slipped my mind that I’d found and saved a snippet of info that confirmed this.
So after writing last week’s post and realizing there were all sorts of little clues leading in the direction of an earlier marriage, I looked Edie up in some other family trees on Ancestry and found “Thomas Earle Browne” listed as her first husband whom she married in Canada. Of course Ancestry won’t let me see the Canadian record without signing up for their international plan, but the metadata lists the year as 1912, when Edie was around 18. (So Wikipedia was partially right: she married someone that year, but not House).
When I saw the name Thomas Earle Browne I looked back in my Evernote files and remembered that I’d snipped this thing from Google Books, where it had appeared in a theatre magazine from the late 1910s:
Then another search on Ancestry showed Edie and Earle living together on 83rd street in the 1920 census. So there you go. From what I can tell, Earle Browne was a screenwriter and actor with a handful of Broadway and early film supporting role credits. He was nearly 20 years older than Edie and died in LA in 1944. Here’s a picture of him I found.
Still no idea when Edie and House were married—or for that matter, when Edie’s divorce took place. Looking up an actress in the marriage and divorce announcements on Ancestry winds up being a hilarious fool’s errand, since apparently the database flags instances of the word “engaged” appearing alongside names, so every article about Edie being engaged to appear in a production of “Private Lives” or “Young Wisdom” comes up in the search results. And did the fact that Edie married Earle Browne in Canada meant perhaps that the divorce had to be filed in Canada? Is that how it worked? Both Edie and House went through Canada on their way to and from an Australian theater tour in 1930, so maybe they tied the knot then? (I also have a few other questions which I don’t want to put on a public site… anyone who knows anything should email me!)
Way back in late 2012 I promised to post my photos from New York, where I’d visited places where the Jamesons and MacGregors (well, Margaret at least) had lived in the 1930s and 40s. So here’s 244 E. 48th Street in Manhattan. The building shows up in a photo album that belonged to (my great-great uncle) House Jameson and his wife. Edith:
But since there are almost no notes or captions the album (shakes fist at ancestors ) I didn’t know this was the 48th Street place until I went there myself, using an address that I’d found for House in the 1930 census. And as it happened, it looked almost exactly the same:
Obviously this was an ideal location for House and Edie, who were both performing in Broadway plays on a regular basis at the time (and House’s radio career might have started by then too).
But apparently, for a time, House’s brother and his family lived in the building too. Here’s the 1930 listing for all four of them—Malcolm and Mary (my great-grandparents), 13 year-old Vida, and 11 year-old Mac, my grandfather.
The family posted for several photos at this spot. When I visited this street, I noticed those ornaments between the windows on the top story of one of the buildings across the street, and they helped me confirm I was in the right place. Cool, huh?
According to the census record, Malcolm was working as a salesman for International Correspondence Schools at the time. He had retired from the Navy just a few years before for health reasons, and after working various jobs in Texas (I think), perhaps it seemed a good idea to join his younger brother in the city. I also found a brief mention of this time in a journal written in the 1990s by my grandmother (Mac’s wife), who said that Malcolm and Mary had originally come to New York with plans to open a Mexican restaurant. Really?
House had been in the city after graduating from Columbia in the late 1920s (except for the times he toured with theater companies around the US and Australia). I’ve found a couple of other Manhattan addresses for House, but in at least one case the entire block had been razed for office buildings. This block on East 48th is relatively unchanged, although the 244 building has since been rehabbed into a single-family home that sold for over four million dollars a few years ago. (It originally listed for $12M!) But at the time the Jamesons lived there the building had several units, with Malcolm and Mary and the kids in one apartment and House and Edie in another. At least that’s what it seems when you go by the 1930 Census, which visited Malcolm’s place one day, and House’s place a few weeks later.
You’ll notice that Edie is listed as head of household, and House is a “roomer.” Interesting! But weren’t they married to each other by then? We thought so, but the census lists “Edith Brown Taliaferro” as married and House as single. Oh my. Of course census records get stuff wrong all the time, and it’s possible that the census-taker didn’t know how else to list two people with two different last names (which House and Edie had for professional reasons) living in the same place. Or perhaps the place had been Edie’s first and her name was on the lease. (She was ten years older than House, after all.) Or maybe House and Edie were having a bit of fun with the census-taker. At any rate it makes me realize that we don’t seem to have a record or even a date for when House and Edie got hitched. Edie’s Wikipedia page says she married House in 1912, but that would have been when House was ten, so let’s assume that was wrong. Perhaps Edie married someone in 1912…maybe that’s where the odd “Brown” in her name in the census record (which I’ve never seen anywhere else) comes from. But I guess I’ll have to add House and Edie’s marriage record/date to the list of things I need to look for.
Stay tuned for more New York photos (at some point), including one photo—the only one I’ve ever found!—that shows Edie with other Jameson family members. And I bet you want to see more House and Edie, too, don’t you?
I know I’ve been spending a lot of time hanging around the year 1900 on this blog, but let’s jump up to 1967 for a minute, okay? Because with the Dark Shadows movie coming out this week and the mention of the original series on Mad Men, this seems a good time to put up screen-grabs of my great-great uncle’s stint on that crazy gothic soap opera.
That’s him in the middle, with the white hair.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that House Jameson was the youngest son of Joe Lee Jameson and Amaryllis Routh, and if you’re in my family, you know that House was an actor with a long career in stage, screen, and radio. Here is his IMDB page with all his TV and movie appearances.
He appeared in two episodes of Dark Shadows as a judge who comes to the house to officiate Elizabeth Collins Stoddard’s wedding to some guy who is blackmailing her because she thinks she killed her first husband. Below is House with Elizabeth’s daughter Carolyn, who is packing a pistol in her clutch handbag so she can shoot the groom.
Finally Elizabeth breaks down during the ceremony and confesses to killing her first husband. Sadly the vampire never shows up. House is great, though. The show is on Netflix streaming and you can watch his scenes in Episodes 269 and 270.
I really should call this “Things you can find out about Joe Lee Jameson using the Google Books search feature.” Google Books is pretty handy for identifying books that briefly mention people. Some of the books allow only a few pages or snippets to be viewed online, but at least it gives me a sense of books that may be worth tracking down at the library. There’s also some full-access content as well, much of it older ephemera, and there’s a fun feature where you can embed selections on a web page (like this blog) that allow you to click back through to Google Books to see the source.
And thus I am able to bring you this informative and somewhat grandiose profile of Joe Lee Jameson, taken from the Year Book For Texas, 1901, a sort of state annual report and Who’s Who of Texas officials:
It’s a helpful overview of his professional career, from deputy county clerk to bookkeeper of Southwestern Insane Asylum, secretary for Joseph Sayer’s gubernatorial campaign and then the Texas Democratic Committee, and then, by 1899, state revenue agent.
(That bit about his ancestry, on the other hand, is pretty hilarious. I’m fairly certain the claim about Jehu Reece Jameson being the lone survivor of the 1835 Dade Massacre is bullshit, since his name doesn’t come up in any historical accounts of the battle and he would have been 41 at the time. But this is for another post.)
What the Year Book profile doesn’t mention is Joe Lee’s relationship to Edward M. House, a wealthy Texas businessman turned political kingmaker who was instrumental in the election of several Texas governors, including Sayers, and who became a diplomat and highly influential advisor to President Wilson. The 2006 book Woodrow Wilson’s Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House, by Godfrey Hodgson, has a couple of brief mentions of Joe Lee as an aide to Colonel House, including this bit in the footnotes:
Jameson worked as an aide for Governors Sayers and Lanham. More completely than the other members of “our crowd” he was a creature of House; in a letter to [former Texas governor] Culberson after Jameson’s death, House wrote: “He was my political right hand. I had him trained for so many years that he knew exactly what I wanted without telling him and he had the political instinct which made him absolutely invaluable.”
It certainly makes sense, then, that when Joe Lee’s youngest son was born in 1902, he named the child House Jameson in honor of his mentor—or, as Hodgson believes, his maker.
The letter referenced above was written in May 1904, shortly after Joe Lee died of typhoid fever at the age of thirty-four. Considering who he knew and how he was regarded (both on and off the record), it’s fascinating to think about what kind of career he could have had, and how the family’s life might have been different if he’d lived.
You’ll notice that the Year Book profile ends with a citation number. Here is the footnote:
Mr. Jameson resigned March 1 1902 to accept the position of general sales agent of the Beaumont Confederated Oil and Pipe Line Company, and was succeeded on that day by Judge J.D. Cunningham, of Kaufman county, appointed by Governor Sayers to fill the vacancy. Mr. Jameson’s resignation was tendered a month or more prior to March 1 but at the request of the Governor he continued to discharge the duties of State Revenue Agent until work in hand was completed His headquarters are in Austin.
So, with his “step by step” rise well under way, Joe Lee left his government job to work for an oil company. Interesting, yes? I wonder how his political involvement related to his move to the private sector—was he moving towards politics, or away?