Life has changed much for us here and it’s been a long while since I posted a new blog. In fact, it’s been almost exactly nine months. That’s long enough to have a baby, so, I’m going to give birth to a new blog right now.
When I came across Barbara I didn’t recognize her until I saw her photos from later in her life when she was on the TV show Green Acres. The difference in her appearance was dramatic, to say the least. Dramatic enough to make me dig into her life. So here goes…..
For the uninitiated, I generally start with the recapping of the information found at other sites. This helps to point out errors later and raise questions that need answering. All that being said, what I found on other sites revealed that she was born in 1915 in New York City. In fact, she would often say that she was born at Times Square in the Hotel Astor, where her father (David) ran the desk. She’d go on to say that she was destined to go into show business because of this. When she was five years old (about 1920) David accepted a management job at a hotel in Albany, New York. She and her mother (Sally) moved there with him.
By 1928 David had moved the family back to the Hotel Astor to take a management job there. Living on Times Square was exciting for Barbara and she met all types of people from various careers, including exciting and nefarious ones. Her parents enrolled her in a preparatory school in Virginia near the Shenandoah National Park to get her away from this environment. She was home soon for a visit and didn’t go back. Instead, she auditioned to be a chorus girl with Lee Shubert and won the job at 15 years old.
Within a couple years she was in the Ziegfeld Follies, where a year later Eddie Cantor found her and took her to Hollywood. She did some time as a Goldwyn Girl and it was there that she became great friends with a young Lucille Ball. Her career never bloomed fully but she was busy for some time, making a decent amount of movies. A few were “A” movies but most were “B”. She married screen star, Craig Reynolds, in 1943. They had two sons together, Dennis and John. Craig was killed due to a motorcycle crash in 1949. Barbara never really recovered from the loss and became depressed, which lead to alcoholism. She worked sporadically after this, and much of this thanks to Lucille Ball helping her out. She ended her career with Green Acres and died in 1969.
One of the first things I do when beginning a new research project is to check on Ancestry.Com to see how many family trees on the person are already up there. If I discover that there are many and that some are well-documented then I drop the project. There’s no point in doing it if it’s already been done. For Barbara there was a total of four trees and none of these even had her parents in it. To top it off, there was almost zero documentation. It was time to get started. I began building her tree with what was known, like dates and places. After this I added her parents, though this was really after I did some quick basic digging on them to clear up a couple of items.
Her father was David Mitchell Pepper. He was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on 16 February 1889. Her mother was Harriett Sarah Pilson. She was born in Banbridge, Northern Ireland on 28 May 1884. I am not 100% certain of her birthplace but fairly confident. I was a bit into the research when I came across her birth info but more on that later. Since Barbara was born in 1915 in New York, there was a slight chance she would be on the 1915 New York State Census.
Taking a look at it, scroll down to line 32. You’ll find David, who says he’s 32 (he’s 26) and born in the USA. It then shows him as being a manager at the Hotel Astor, thus backing up Barbara’s birth story. Below David is his wife, Harriet. She always went by Sally and from here on we’ll call her that. Anyway, she says she is 28 (she’s 31) and a housewife. Ages on censuses are generally not reliable, as you can see. I assume he was afraid management would see how young he really is. After David and Sally comes Barbara (Marion B). Remember I said there was a slight chance she’d be on the census. Look at her age. She is one day old. It doesn’t get much slighter than that.
I was never able to find them in the 1920 US Census or the 1925 New York State Census. They did show up in the 1930 US Census though. Look at the left side of the census and you’ll see that everyone on this page live on West 48th Street in Manhattan. Go to the top at line 51 and you’ll see the street address for the entire page is 319. So this is an apartment building or hotel that they are all in. It so happens in this case that they are living in the Belvedere Hotel, which at that time was only seven years old.
Back to the census, scroll down to line 72 to find David and Harriett (Sally). Go right and you’ll find their ages. David says 41 and Sally claims 39. David’s is right but Sally is 45 at this point. Go two spaces right and it wants to know their ages when they each married for the first time. Based on their answers they got married 17 years ago, or 1913. Keep in mind that this can vary a year or two. Scroll more to the right and you’ll see David say that his father was from Ireland and his mother from Wales. Sally says her parents were both from Ireland. Continue on to the right with Sally and she says she arrived in America in 1914 and that she is naturalized. Now on to Barbara. Her age shows as 14, which is accurate because the census was done in April in this case and her birthday is in May.
At this point I decided to leave Barbara for now and concentrate on her parents’ previous lives first. The first thing I came across was Sally on a passenger list from January 1914 arriving in New York from Liverpool in the UK. At the top left you’ll see the name of the ship was the Lusitania. If you’re not familiar with that name keep in mind that WW1 begins in just a few months and in May the following year the Lusitania is sunk by a German submarine. For more on that go here: War
Now, on the manifest scroll down to lines 26 and 27. You’ll find David and Sally there. Go to the right and you’ll get to the block where they want to know your birthplace if you’re a U.S. citizen. David verifies his Indianapolis birth and the right date. Notice that Sally is now a citizen by marriage.
This 1914 trip across the pond and their earlier claim that they married in 1913 makes me think that they probably got married in the UK somewhere. A quick check there lead me to their marriage info. They got married sometime between January to March of 1913 in Birmingham, England. I say January to March because the English have this annoying habit of using indexes that list date info in Quarter/Year, such as Jan-Feb-Mar 1913. Makes verification more difficult unless you buy a copy of the actual document. The cost to do that for the average person’s family tree would probably finance the budget of some small countries. But I digress….. Luckily, I did manage later to find the actual document online while writing this blog. They were married on March 26th.
I began looking into Sally’s roots but just couldn’t pin anything down with certainty. Much of this is due to the sporadic ability to find Irish records. I set her aside for now and went after David’s past. The first thing I came across was the 1911 Wales Census with him working as an assistant hotel manager in Swansea, Wales. You’ll find him near the bottom of the page. On a side note, one thing I like about the censuses in the UK is their asking for birthplace.
I found him in 1901 still in Swansea, Wales. The whole family is there in the Wales 1901 Census. The handwriting is a little hard to decipher but it lists his father, Robert and mother, Annie. David’s middle name of Mitchell is Annie’s maiden name. Next are their children, in age order: William S, Robert A, David, and lastly Annie E. All the children had been born in America except for little Annie, who was born in Bristol, England.
All of this means that at some point Robert and Annie had gotten married, gone to America, had three kids and then came back to the UK and had the fourth. I found their marriage in Jan-Feb-Mar 1885 in Swansea, Wales. Also found a couple on a passenger manifest arriving in America on 9 February 1885 (they’re passengers 80 and 81 on the manifest). The problem is that their names are Robert and Mrs Pepper. Not exactly conclusive, is it? However, if they got married in early January and then boarded the ship soon after it could be them. I don’t have an exact birth date for their oldest son, William, but it appears he was most probably born sometime in 1885 in the USA. He couldn’t have been born in 1886 since the next child was born in September of 1886. I did find them in Indianapolis city directories for 1887, 1888, 1889 and 1890. So where were they in 1885 and 1886 then? Regardless, they were back in time for that 1901 census there that we covered earlier. Coincidentally, I did a blog on James Baskett (Uncle Remus from Song of the South). His grandparents and Barbara’s grandparents lived in Indianapolis at the same time.
Going back to David, I discovered that the story about him taking a job in Albany in 1920 and then back to New York City about 1928 wasn’t quite accurate. Let’s start with his 1917 WW1 draft card. In it we see that he’s an assistant manager at the Hotel Astor and that they’ve moved to some apartments at 1636 University Avenue. This is also their address for his 1918 city directory. Unfortunately the ones for 1919 and 1920 are not available.
By 1921 he is in the city directory for Albany so it’s entirely possible that his moving during 1920 is why I was unable to find him in the census that year. The 1922 directory wasn’t available but the 1923 directory says he has moved to New York City. He shows up again at 66 N Pearl in Albany in the 1926 and 1927 Albany directories but in the one for 1928 he has moved into the hotel and is now the resident hotel manager. He’s gone in 1929 and he was in Manhattan for the 1930 census we covered earlier. Before I forget, here’s an interesting newspaper item concerning David from July of 1917: Lawsuit
I can’t find proof of them in California until Barbara gets her career started there in about 1933 so let’s leave off here and cover Sally now. What broke it open for me regarding Sally was that while searching for news items about her I came across an obituary for a brother I didn’t know about named John. I dreaded getting into the Irish side because of the lack of records there. For example, the government destroyed all of the 1861, 1871, 1881, and 1891 census records. On purpose, no less. However, bit by bit, John and Sally lead me to find most of their family and also lead me to confirm 100% that Sally’s birthplace and date are correct as stated at the beginning of the blog. This research we are talking about actually took place while I was already writing the blog. Here’s another tidbit I found about John during this time: John
I’m not going to go into a blow-by-blow accounting of each small discovery (since I’d like to finish this blog some time in the next few years….) but I will show you the documents. First off is the family in the Ireland 1901 Census. They are living in Clifton, County Atrim, Ireland. First up is Sally’s mother, who goes by Lizzie. She is a 52 year old widow who was born in Banbridge, County Down, Northern Ireland. In fact, all of the children are from there, too. Next up is Minnie, her 23 year old daughter who is a weaver. Then comes her 21 year old son, Richard, who is a french polisher. Now we get 21 year old daughter, Lizzie, who is a weaver like her sister, Minnie. Then comes Sally, who is 16 and, oddly enough, a machinist. Last on the page is 14 year old John, the fellow that broke open this roadblock for us, and notice that it says he is doing time for fitting (I assume they meant fighting).
Besides John’s obit that helped me break through the wall, a passenger list with him on it helped clinch it for me. John is just a few down the list and when you get to him, go across to the block where they want the name and address of someone located where you came from. He lists his sister, Sarah Elizabeth Stevenson. This is the married name of the one named Lizzie who was a weaver. I had seen another minor document somewhere that listed her husband, John Henry Stevenson.
Things like this kept happening so eventually I felt much better about the Pilson line in the tree. I think there are a few other kids from earlier that are missing and I’m pretty sure of two or three of them are correct but not sure enough to add them to the tree. Sally’s parents got married in 1871 and the oldest child on that 1901 census was born in 1878. That means easily a few more kids may be possible.
Now that we are able to take Barbara back at least to her grandparents, lets return to her and her parents where we left off earlier. First though, let me clear something up. A couple times I came across claims that Barbara had married first to a Leon Janney and that they divorced shortly thereafter. This was Jessica Pepper and no relation to Barbara, though I did see an instance where they said her name was Barbara Jessica Pepper. OK. Stop it already. If you would do 30 seconds worth of research you’d see that they aren’t the same person, but no. Here is Jessica’s obituary from when she passed away in May 2003. Sheesh! Now, let’s get on with the show.
For those unfamiliar with my blogs, if I research an actor or actress I do not cover their career. This has already been done ad nauseum around the internet. Besides, I am here for the genealogy. In this case not much goes on for the next several years with her parents but this is her heyday period. As such, I’ve amassed a collection of news articles concerning her and this would be a good time to share them with you.
When 1940 rolled around David, Sally and Barbara all lived together in Beverly Hills at 1009 Sierra Bonita Avenue. This is where they were later when the 1940 US Census was done. You’ll find them beginning on line 27. All three are there but the part to notice is when you scroll over to the right side of the page and notice that David and Barbara are saying they are motion picture people for a studio. Look more and you’ll see that David worked 12 weeks the past year in the motion picture business and earned $500. That’s about $9,000 today. Barbara, though, worked 5 weeks and earned $2500. That’s approximately $45,000.00 today
By the time David filled out his WW2 draft card in 1942 they had moved to 607 W Knoll Drive in Hollywood. This is the address that he and Sally would live at for the rest of their lives. Barbara stayed there until she and Craig married. By 1954 she would move back in to her parents house for the rest of her life, too. As far as acting during the 1940s, she actually did quite a bit of it. However, these parts were almost all small uncredited parts. By about 1942 she was engaged to Craig (real name Harold Hugh Enfield). They married on 28 April 1943 in Hollywood. Here are both sides of the marriage document: Side1 Side2. If you look at the witnesses you’ll see Hal and Evelyn Mohr. Hal Mohr was an award-winning camera man of the day and figured prominently in another blog of mine, the one on actress Claire DelMar. They had been married for a few years. Evelyn was a beautiful young actress of the day named Evelyn Venable.
Barbara’s life may have gone to the dogs after Craig died in 1949 but Craig’s crappy life pretty much started not long after he got back from the war and got married. He had two strikes against him. One was that he suffered from the same thing that many of the pre-war stars suffered upon their return, namely that they were forgotten. It was an out of sight, out of mind kind of thing, and many of them had been popular bankable stars. The difference with Craig though was that he had a second problem, namely a bad war injury. Although the bottom half of one leg was useless at first, over time it got better and supposedly he barely limped at the end of his life. But the damage was done. By the time he was killed Barbara had filed for divorce. I have several news items on him that I’ll give you in chronological order so that you can get a better feel for his misery. 26 Apr 1945 28 Jun 1945 14 Dec 1946 11 Jul 1947 1 Sep 1947 13 Apr 1948 5 Oct 1949. This last one is from the day after he died: 23 Oct 1949
Before we get into Barbara’s last few years let’s finish off the rest of her family. We’ll start with her father’s family first.
- David’s father, Robert, died in the first quarter of 1908 in Swansea, Wales. David’s brother, William S, also died then. I was never able to find out what happened to them both.
- His brother, Robert A, was an air raid warden when Swansea was attacked by German bombers and he was killed. This was in the first quarter of 1941.
- His sister, Annie Elizabeth, married a David John Fisher in 1914. She died in July of 1976.
- David’s mother, Annie, stayed in Swansea after her husband died in 1908 and she passed away there in 1935.
Now for the family of Barbara’s mother, Sally.
- I was never able to find anything on Sally’s father, John Pilson.
- For Sally’s mother, Lizzie, she stayed on in Belfast for a while but I was unable to find any more on her. There is a chance she died about 1914.
- No info was found for Sally’s sister, Minnie.
- For her brother, Richard, it appears he died in Belfast in 1904 but that has not been confirmed.
- Her sister, Lizzie, married John H Stevenson in 1905. They had at least one son and daughter but I lost track of them afterwards.
- Lastly, for her brother John, the one who gave us that break that opened up the family for me, he died in Monterey Park on 24 Oct 1942. His wife, Myrtle passed away in 1959.
Barbara’s parents are buried together in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood. David died 12 March 1955 and Sally died 9 June 1958.
Barbara struggled on through life until she passed away on 18 July 1969 in Panorama City, California. She is also buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, as is her youngest son, John, who died at the age of 58 in 2005. Her son Dennis has a couple of kids, one of whom plays soccer for a team in Europe.
In the end, I really hope that Barbara and Craig found some kind of peace.
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Thanks for stopping by! -Ray
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