Finding Vera (my search for a Sennett Bathing Beauty)

VeraSteadman2

After completing my last blog, on Medal of Honor winner Frank J Bart, I took a much needed break before deciding on who to do next. During my last search on FindAGrave’s Necrology List. I had saved a few to my favorites as possible future research subjects. One of these was Vera Steadman. 

The short bios I found on her said that Vera had been a well-known actress in the silent films of the late 1910s and on through the 1920s. After the talkies came in, her career became almost non-existent. Although she participated in some movies during the 1930s and even into the early 1940s, these were almost always uncredited bit parts. She was born in 1900 in California, had married a few times and died in 1966 in Los Angeles. Vera had also been a very accomplished and award-winning swimmer in her day.

I decided to do this blog as a timeline of her life, with the occasional foray into interesting side items. To begin, Vera was born on 23 June 1900 in Monterey, California. Four days later the 1900 US Census was done in her area.

In this census is her father, Montague Steadman, who is a farmer. He says he was born in New Zealand in September of 1870 and that both his parents were from England. He claims to have arrived in the U.S. in 1889 and is a naturalized alien. Next is Vera’s mother, Mary A. She was born in California in December of 1873 and her parents were born in California and Virginia. Mary claims to have had two children, both of whom are still living. This census also shows that Montague and Mary have been married about 8 years. Next up is Vera’s older brother, Montague. You’ll see that the enumerator first listed his last name as Gregg and then scratched it out. Gregg turned out to be his middle name. Anyway, it shows him as being born in California in April of 1897. Vera is next, showing her as 0/12 months old. You can’t get much closer to zero than four days old. After Vera comes Mary’s father, Joseph W Gregg. He is a widower and farmer from Virginia and he was born in December of 1829. After Joseph is Vera’s uncle, Percy Steadman. Percy is listed as being born in New Zealand in April of 1875, arriving in America in 1899 and is an alien. Finally is the family’s Japanese cook. His name is not too easy to decipher but I think it is actually something like Ttauzo Nakatani. I could be way off on this though.  Here is the census. You’ll find the family at the top of the page:  1900 Census

Now that I had Vera’s mother’s maiden name (Gregg) and approximate year of marriage (1892) it was time to see if I could find their marriage. For a while now I’ve been having better luck looking for marriages up on FamilySearch instead of Ancestry. This time was no different. They had gotten married in Monterey County on 23 Dec 1891. Montague’s middle initial was B, which I found out later was for Bryant. Mary’s name turned out to be Mary Ann. The original document wasn’t available but here is a screenshot of the marriage transcription: Montague&Mary Marriage

When I next searched the 1910 Census I discovered that Vera’s parents had apparently divorced. Her father was still living in Monterey. He now operates a livery stable and has been remarried for about 3 years to a Frances and now has another new son named Montague B (also Bryant), who is about 1 year old. Frances is 36 and was born in California, as were her parents. They start on line 36:  Monte’s 1910 Census

With this new information I went looking for their marriage up on FamilySearch again and easily found it. They had married 5 Feb 1908 in Monterey County. Monte’s parents are listed as Thomas Steadman and Ella Battman. Frances is listed as Frances Josephine Heron and her parents are Alexander Chavoya and Magdalina Culmer. Here’s the screenshot: Monte&Frances Marriage

It was time now to find Monte’s first family so I went back to the 1910 Census. It ended up that they had moved to Los Angeles. Vera and her brother Monte are there but now her mother is listed as Dollie. All of her other information fit her correctly though. It could have just been a mistake made by the enumerator. They begin on line 16:  Vera’s 1910 Census

Mary Ann’s name being Dollie bothered me so I decided to get side-tracked for a while and research her early life. Maybe it would reveal more on this “Dollie” situation. I already knew her father’s name due to the 1900 Census so I began searching. What I discovered was that Mary Ann’s mother had been Ysidora Lola Soberanes, who had married Mary’s father, Joseph Gregg, in Monterey County on 9 May 1868. Together they had four children I know of before Ysidora died around 1878, making her about 27 or so at her death. During all my research in this direction I always saw Mary Ann listed that way, and never as any other name. I had to assume at this point that it was a mistake by the enumerator after all.

Vera showed up next in the Motion Picture Studio Directory for 1919. This directory was sort of like a smaller, print version of the IMDB.Com website. It showed her as having a dark complexion, brown eyes and dark hair. It also shows her as being about 5′ 2″ tall and 118 lbs. It gives her address as the Prince Rupert Apartments in Hollywood. If I understand it correctly online, these apartments are still rented today and are quite nice.  Vera’s 1919 Directory

Next up was the 1920 Census. In this one, Vera and her mother are still in Los Angeles. Her mother is now Dolores. Everything pretty much fits for her to be Mary Ann but why is she still Dolores or Dollie? I thought that maybe she had gotten involved in the movies too, so had changed her name. If this was the case, then why didn’t it show this in her occupation? Something just wasn’t making sense. As far as Vera, she is now listed as an actress. Vera’s 1920 Census  You’ll find them at line 70.

In 1920 Vera’s father, step-mother and half-brother are living in San Jose, California. Her father is now a stock auditor for the Standard Oil Company. They begin on line 77:  Montague Sr. 1920 Census

As far as her brother Montague G., he had joined the Army and had gotten stationed at Fort Sill in Comanche County, Oklahoma. While there he had married a local girl, Esther Eugenia Linville, on 13 November 1919. If you look at their marriage record you’ll see she was 19 years old. The truth is, she was only 16. For their 1920 Census, they are still at Fort Sill. Monte G’s Marriage    Monte G’s 1920 Census

Eight months after the census, Vera got married to Jack A Taylor on 28 Sep 1920 in Los Angeles. Jack was a musician. The marriage document shows that Jack was 24 at the time and Vera was 20. Notice that Vera lists her mother as M A Gregg, no mention of Dolores or Dollie. Jack claims his birth in Pennsylvania and that his father is Nathan Taylor and his mother is Bella Goldberg. He also says that both his parents were from Russia. I’ll get more into Jack later but here’s the document:  Vera Marriage 1

Next is this story with some interesting info about Vera published on 10 Apr 1921:  Apr 1921 Story

Vera’s mother remarried in Los Angeles on 7 June 1921 to a Fred Rowalt, a recent widower with three sons, one of whom was a minor. This son of his turned out to be quite interesting as he spent the vast portion of his life in and out of prisons for check fraud. As far as the marriage record for Vera’s mother, it shows her not only as Dolores but she signed it using her mother’s maiden name of Soberanes. This name thing with her was driving me crazy!  Here is the record:  Mary Ann Marriage 2    Vera’s mother and Fred divorced sometime before 1940 and Fred went on to pass away in 1959.

On 7 October 1921, Vera gave birth to twin girls, Frances and Marie. Here’s a couple of news stories about it published a few days later:  Vera’s Twins Story 1    Vera’s Twins Story 2

I found a few references to the fact that Frances died very young but never found a single official record about it. The only thing I could find was an excerpt from the book by Bret E Walker: Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory: A History and Filmography of His Studio and His Keystone and Mack Sennett Comedies, with Biographies of Players and Personnel. His claim in it puts Frances’ death in November of 1921:  Frances’ Death Claim

Sometime in late 1922 it appears that Vera may have hit a pedestrian in Hollywood with her large touring car. The victim, one Mrs. Marguerite Carmack, claimed severe injuries and sued Vera in April of 1923 for $52,418, a huge sum in those days. Here is the news about it:  Lawsuit Story  

If you don’t recognize her name, don’t feel bad because I didn’t either. However, she was married to George W Carmack, who is arguably the discoverer of the Klondike gold rush in Alaska in 1896. When I got a little deeper into her story I realized she was all about money. George had married Marguerite after the discovery and she took his wealth to new heights through shrewd investments. Here is the Wiki page on George and his story:  George Carmack Bio 

I found numerous stories on Marguerite, mostly dealing with attempts to get more money or keep what she had. I never did find any resolution to her claim against Vera and have to assume that they settled out of court. 

It appears that Vera’s marriage was definitely not ideal and she filed for divorce in early January of 1923. I found several new stories about it, one in particular accusing him of being responsible for Frances’ death. Here are the stories, the first one giving the most info:  13 Jan 1923   10 Jan 1923  24 Jan 1923

As far as the divorce, I found different dates for it. The first was a news story from 15 June 1923 saying it had been granted:  Divorce Story.  Fortunately I was able to find the actual divorce paperwork. When you look at the first of the two pages notice the phrase interlocutory judgement at at the beginning of the decree. This was used back then as a temporary decree until it either came before a judge or some specific time frame had passed. This was meant to give a chance for reconciliation and to test whether the terms agreed upon were going to be satisfactory to both parties. It’s rarely used anymore since it was found to be ineffective:  Divorce Decree 1.   The second document has the actual divorce date, 7 July 1924:  Divorce Decree 2 

I said earlier that I’d get to Jack Taylor later. What I found on Jack was that his name was Jacob A Taylor. His Hebrew name was Yaakov Baer b Natah. He had actually been born in the Ukraine and he and his family had immigrated to America in 1902. His parents were Nathan Taylor (Natah b Yisrael) and Bella Goldberg (Baila b Avraham).  Jack had gone out to California shortly before 1920 and the rest of his family followed shortly thereafter. They all lived out their lives there and are buried in the Mt. Zion Cemetery there.

In the 1930 Census I found Jack living with his widowed mother (his father had died the year before) in Los Angeles County and it’s the only document of his I ever saw that admitted to his birth in Russia. His partying lifestyle resulted in his death just two years later on 21 October 1932. Here is a picture of Jack:  

JackTaylor

This brings us back to Vera. Immediately after Vera’s final divorce decree, she received her passport. She had planned an extensive European vacation. Here are the three pages of her passport:  Passport 1   Passport 2   Passport 3     The main thing for me to note when I saw it was on page three where her mother was still using the Dolores name.

I found Vera on the passenger list for her return to the U.S. on 6 September 1924 aboard the SS Paris.  She may have traveled with a friend but I saw no family member on the list. I also Googled the address she listed and it is now a parking lot. You’ll find her near the bottom, using her maiden name:  Vera’s 1924 Trip

The following year she went to Europe again, but this time with her daughter, Marie. Now she is using the Taylor name again and I assume because of her daughter being with her. They arrived back in the U.S. on 2 December 1925.  You’ll find them on lines 27 and 28:  Vera’s 1925 Trip

Speedboats became very popular during the early 1900s, partly I assume due to prohibition. Vera had apparently enjoyed fast cars and then fast boats. Here’s a story about her agreeing to race one in Florida in February of 1926:  Vera Speedboat Race

On her way to Florida for the race a few days later, Vera had a horrible accident in New Mexico. It resulted in the death of the mother of Marie Provost, Vera’s friend and even better-known actress of the day. Supposedly this was also who daughter Marie was named after. As near as I can tell it was caused by a broken axle. Here is the story about it:   New Mexico Crash

In December of 1927 Jack was in court for apparently not paying the amount of child support he had been ordered to and ended up cited for contempt of court. The judge apparently got really ticked off and sent him to jail:  Jack in jail

If you research Vera at all, you’ll find mention on many sites of a marriage in April or May of 1928 to a Russell K Dougherty, a prominent businessman in the Colorado Springs area at the time. There were numerous mentions of this intended marriage in the newspapers at the end of April in 1928 but not a single one after the marriage would have occurred. I don’t believe they ended up getting married and won’t until someone can prove it to me. Vera was still popular enough at the time that there would have been mention of it. Also, I never found any official documents, whether marriage records or anything that showed her with the Dougherty name. Here is one of the announcements, from 29 April 1928,  of their intent to marry the following week:  Intent to Marry

In the 1930 Census, Vera’s father and his family are still living in San Jose, California.  Monte 1930 CensusVera’s census for 1930 shows her still living in Hollywood with her daughter and mother. Dolores is still going by that name and still married, but her husband Fred is not there.  Vera’s 1930 Census

Apparently, Vera’s brother Monte G had left Oklahoma within a few months of his marriage to Esther because in his 1930 Census they are living in Los Angeles and his son (Monte G Jr) shows as being born about 1921 in Connecticut. He was actually born in August of 1920 so they didn’t hang around Oklahoma for too long after they got married.  Monte G’s 1930 Census

Vera got married again on 17 April 1935 in Los Angeles to Martin Padway, a member of a prominent Beverly Hills family. In the marriage record, the main thing to note is on the first page where Vera’s mother has reverted to her prior married name of Steadman. So she had gotten divorced from Fred between 1930 and 1935.  Vera Marriage Front    Vera Marriage Back

Found this news item from March of 1937 talking about her attempting a comeback in movies:  Vera ComebackSpeaking of 1937, on 30 June Vera’s father died in San Jose.  Montague’s Obit. Sometime prior to 1 August 1938 Vera filed for a divorce from Martin. I don’t have the actual divorce documents but a news story alleges that he left after giving her a beating. Martin passed away in 1985.  Vera Divorce   

In the 1940 Census Vera is shown as divorced and still an actress. Her daughter and mother are still there, however now her mother is back to using her true name, Mary. So what prompted her to drop the Dolores name? That’s when I realized something. Mary had changed it sometime after her divorce from Monte but before the 1910 Census. Her ex-husband had just died three years before the 1940 Census and now she was back to using Mary. Did this name-change have something to do with her ex? Maybe it was a way to hide from him, but if this was the case I wouldn’t exactly call living with her daughter as hiding. I was never able to confirm this theory though and it could just be a coincidence.   Vera’s 1940 Census

On 28 January 1941 Vera as involved in another accident, but this time she was a pedestrian crossing at an intersection. She was hit by a car and when she was thrown from the impact, she was then hit by another. Story here:  Vera Accident. Six months later another story was done on her recovery. She was in pretty rough shape at the time.  Vera’s Recovery. Two years later, another recovery story from 16 February 1943:  More Recovery News

A few years later Vera was doing a benefit at the VA Hospital where she met a former jockey named Joseph Milton Flynn. He had been injured in the war and was working at the hospital. They got married on 14 November 1948. This marriage would be her last.  News of Wedding    Marriage Record

Vera’s mother died on 22 April 1956. California is unusual in that if a person used multiple names you’ll find them listed in the death index with each name. I had first encountered this when I had researched the actress Priscilla Lawson. Mary was no different. I found her listed as both Dolores Steadman and Mary Ann Steadman. Prior to her death I found her in the city directories living with Vera and her husband. 

Since the mid-1950s, Vera had volunteered with the local Salvation Army. She continued this work until she died on 14 December 1966 in Long Beach, California. There were numerous versions of her obituary but this one is the best and recounts her service with the Salvation Army:  Vera’s Obit

So what happened to everyone else? Her brother, Monte G, worked as a cameraman in the movies for quite some time. He passed away in March of 1983 in Los Angeles. Monte B Jr passed away in California in 2007. Vera’s stepmother died in California in 1961. As far as Vera’s daughter Marie, she is a tougher nut to crack. I could never discover her marriage info or even her husband’s first name. I had seen mention that her middle name was Jackie but I never saw it on anything official. She apparently passed away in January of 1976. 

Vera turned out to be an interesting project due to her life and the amount of information available. Her career collapse when talkies came about was all too common of many actors and actresses of that period. Sometimes their voices didn’t lend to sound and sometimes their true acting skills (or lack thereof) were more evident with sound. Regardless of the reason, Vera seemed like one tough little cookie to me and I have think she would have been fun to know.

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Thanks for stopping by! -Ray

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