|Sidney Olcott, the First Eye|
November 22, 2021
Gauntier's Hidden Child
In a previous post, I revealed that Gene Gauntier has been buried since 1973, in Sweden, alongside her sister Marguerite and her brother-in-law, Axel Wenner-Gren, who made a huge fortune with Electrolux. Gauntier died in 1966, in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Her ashes were repatriated to Sweden with those of her sister to be buried at Häringe Castle, the summer residence of the Wenner-Gren family, where the Swedish billionaire was buried since 1961.
While browsing the Find a Grave website, I learn that Gene Gauntier married Harry Richard Pottery on January 2, 1901 in Kansas City, Missouri. And a short article, published in The Kansas City Times, relates the event on December 4 :
Investigating further, I find their Marriage License on ancestry.com. One line intrigues: the bride is over 18 years old. But when we consult all the official papers (passport, death certificate...), Genevieve Liggett was born on August 26, 1885. She was therefore only 15 years old when she got married. Apparently, Pottery did not kidnap the young woman since the wedding took place at the home of her parents who knew the civil status of their child and, one imagines, with their consent.
Who is Harry Richard Pottery? He was born on April 6, 1874 and grew up in Kansas, he is treasurer of the Auditorium Company, a Kansas City theater, says The Wyandotte Herald (December 20, 1900) in an echo announcing the future marriage. Another source (The Kansas City Times, June 10, 1905, p. 11) tells us that Gene Liggett met his future at the Auditorium Theatre School, without specifying the date. Probably in 1900.
Married at 15 years, she performed on the stage at the age of 16 years in interesting companies.
In 1903, Gene Gauntier, her name as an actress, was in the play "An American Gentleman", produced by her husband. The tour was disappointing.
On June 10, 1905, The Kansas City Times announces the divorce of Gene Gauntier, after a court decision:
« She was awarded the custody of their child, Jean. Mrs Pottery declared in her petition that her husband had threatened her life several times and in other ways treated her with indignity. »
On December 3, 1906, The Kansas City Star headlines:
« Gene Gauntier’s Son Dead » Jean Jerome Pottery, the infant son of Mrs Genevieve Pottery, died Saturday at the home of his grandfather, James W. Liggett, 3000 Prospect avenue. The mother of the child, known to the stage as Gene Gauntier, was in Dayton, O, with « The County Chairman » company and is expected to arrive this morning. »
- county where the individual died (Jackson), roll number (c 19510), page (68), number (24238)
- name (Potten), sex (M), color (W, white), age (1), occupation (?)
- date of death (01/12/1906); single, married, widower or widow (S); nationality (KC.MO); place of birth (?)
- place of death (3000 Prospect avenue); cause of death (inanition)
name and residence of physician returning certificate (Henry Croskey)
A small note: OCR is not an exact science. It depends on the quality of the handwriting of the person who filled in the form. Thus the name of our deceased "Pottery" became "Potten" on the site. It is therefore impossible to find the original name by typing it on a site. This is undoubtedly the percentage of error tolerated in view of the millions of pages that are digitized.
Beyond this tragedy, what is striking is the silence that surrounds this episode of Gene Gauntier's life. None of the hundreds and hundreds of articles devoted to her that I have been able to consult mention her marriage or the death of her child. She is equally silent on this subject in Blazing the Trail, her autobiography.
For lack of private sources, I have scoured the American press to try to reconstruct Gauntier's public life during this crucial year. June 1906, the actress is in New York. The theatrical season is over. She signed on to play in "The County Chairman", the successful play by George Ade. But before leaving on tour in September, she accepts Sidney Olcott's proposal to play in a film "The Paymaster" for the American Biograph and Mutoscope Company, which I mentioned in a previous post. The film was broadcast from June 28.
From September 1906, thanks to the local newspapers, one follows the journey of the troop of "The County Chairman" of which Theodore Babcock is the star. It includes about sixty people! It was in Pennsylvania at the beginning of September, in Virginia at the end of the month. Then it will be in October in North Carolina, in November in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky... It will be on display for several days in the major cities. Two days in Atlanta (Georgia), in Memphis (Tennessee), three in Louisville (Kentucky)... The company travels by train.
When Jean Jerome died on December 1, Gene Gauntier was in Dayton, Ohio. She returns to Kansas City.
On the 5th, The Champaign Daily News, a daily newspaper in Illinois, announced that "The County Chairman" would be performed at the Walker Opera House on Saturday, the 8th, with Gene Gauntier as the star. Is this possible? There is no report of the performance. It's hard to imagine the young woman on stage a few days after the death of her baby boy.
Today, by Greyhound bus, it takes more than 15 hours to go from Dayton to Kansas City, about 1000 km away. How much by train at the time? Probably more. Let's say a good day. The actress was not at her parents' house until the 3rd and more likely the 4th. It takes almost 11 hours, still by Greyhound, to reach Champaign, Illinois. That was enough time to put on the Lucy Rigby costume on the 8th. The article in the Champaign Daily News is an announcement, in fact a press release from the theater. Due to the deadline, it was probably too late to correct the information.
It wasn't until December 21 and the article in The Omaha Daily News (Nebraska) that I found a proven record of Gene Gauntier. The critic found it "delightful".
However, according to findagrave.com, the little boy was not buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri, block J, lot 7, until April 7, 1907. Normal! The freezing cold of the ground in the center of America prevented the gravediggers from digging, thus giving Gene time to embrace the remains of his son and to join his troop.
The behavior of the young woman is of course questionable. With these few elements, it is not difficult to diagnose that she did not have much maternal instinct. Ambitious, ill-married, Gene Gauntier probably had no rplace in her exalted life for a little boy who lived only 20 months.
On May 11, 1912, in Jerusalem during the shooting of "From the Manger to the Cross", directed by Sidney Olcott, Gene Gauntier married Jack J. Clark, the young first of Kalem with whom she shared the poster in dozens of films. On February 1, 1918, the couple divorced. They had no children.
Gauntier give up cinema in the early 20s. The time of the pioneers is over. She became a journalist, a novelist, and took advantage of the largesse of her brother-in-law who owned properties in Sweden and Paris. She traveled and recounted her early life in Blazing the Trail, an autobiography published in serial form by the monthly Woman Home Companion in 1928-29.
Her returns to Kansas City are the occasion of articles in which Gene Gauntier delivers some confidences. Thus, on November 23, 1930, in The Kansas City Star, she answered a question from a journalist who was surprised that she had come from Sweden, with her sister Marguerite, just to bury the ashes of her father:
She has not a word for Jean Jerome who is buried with his grandparents! She did not keep her word. None of the three children of James W. and Ada J. Liggett are buried with their parents. Richard Green (1880-1941), the eldest, is buried in Memorial Park Cemetery and Sunset Gardens in Kansas City, Missouri, next to his wife; Gene (1885-1966) and Marguerite (1890-1973) are buried in Häringe Slott, under a Viking stone, about 50 kilometers from Stockholm, Sweden
Sorry for my English
Stan Laurel parodies Rudolph Valentino in Monsieur Don't Care
A sequence of Monsieur Beaucaire in the biopic Valentino (1951)
"The Paymaster" the first role of Gene Gauntier at the movies
Sidney Olcott working in the studio sets
|©2009 Michel Derrien||