I always knew that fact is stranger than fiction! Little did I realize, when I married Linda almost forty-eight years ago, that I was marrying into English royalty and Hollywood history. She was not completely aware of it all, either, until later in life.
Linda with her Grandmother Ruth in 1967
First, the Queen of England
It appears quite certain that my wife is descended from Anne Boleyn’s sister, Mary, mistress to the notorious King of England, Henry VIII. Because younger sister Anne resisted Henry’s later overtures to have her as his mistress as well, Henry did the noble thing and married Anne on 25 January 1533. She was crowned Queen of England on 1 June that same year.
As time passed, Anne disappointed Henry by not providing a male heir to the throne. Henry later had her investigated for high treason (based on various charges, apparently including adultery) which led to her trial at the infamous Tower of London. She was found guilty and famously beheaded four days later.
Henry’s involvement with Anne Boleyn subsequent to his marriage with Catherine of Aragon precipitated the historic break of the Church of England with Catholic Rome. For even more intrigue, it happens that the daughter Anne initially bore Henry would turn out to be none other than Queen Elizabeth I, one of Europe’s most storied leaders.
Stepping Back and Taking Stock of All This
I do not know this history well! As I write this post, I am learning it – mainly from the thirteen-page account of Anne Boleyn on Wikipedia. I have long been aware that Anne Boleyn and Henry were smack in the middle of the most turbulent and historic times in all of history; that assertion is supported by the details I am now learning.
So I ask myself, how is it that my sweet wife who, like myself, comes from a seemingly ordinary, hard-working, middle-class background is actually found to be related to Mary and Anne Boleyn? Is not life amazing? Linda’s Aunt Helen, on her father’s side, did the definitive genealogy detective work which almost certainly connects Linda with those people and those times. Mary Boleyn married a William Carey, and it is through the Carey line and Linda’s paternal grandmother that the connection is made. We first became aware of Linda’s lineage some twenty four years ago, thanks to her Aunt’s diligent research. When Linda first informed me that she was related to Anne Boleyn through Anne’s sister, Mary, I advised her not to lose her head over it.
Oh, and one more interesting tidbit: Linda may also be related directly to Henry VIII, himself, by virtue of long-held speculation that the son that Mary bore around the time of her marriage to William Carey, was actually fathered by Henry. Linda’s paternal grandmother passed the “Carey” name along. That name was passed along by quite a few generations, it appears.
The Movie Mogul from Brooklyn and Hollywood
As if the Anne/Mary Boleyn revelation were not enough, I learned many years ago that Linda’s maternal grandfather was a half-brother to one of the movies’ first real moguls, James Stuart Blackton. Linda’s mom had this old, browned news clipping in a simple plastic frame standing on the guest bedroom bureau. Linda brought it to my attention, and that is when I first became aware of this other rather amazing connection.
Yes, it is all true, as indicated by the list of “firsts” for Blackton. As one of the three original founders of the old Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn back in 1896, Blackton was as influential in the infant movie industry as any man – until the advent of World War I. At that point, Vitagraph began to flounder as newer, larger, better-funded competitors like the Warner Brothers began to erode Vitagraph’s head-start in the fledgling business of making movies.
Particularly noteworthy is the fact that James Stuart Blackton was the first to bring character animation to film – in 1906, some twenty years before Walt Disney released the film “Steamboat Willie” which featured the prototype of Mickey Mouse. One can find Blackton’s first animated film on the internet; it is called “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces.” In 1911, Vitagraph, with Blackton as co-director, released another milestone in film animation, “Little Nemo,” the brainchild of the incomparable comic strip illustrator, Winsor McCay.
McCay was already a very successful comic-strip artist working for The New York Herald newspaper when he took the lead from Blackton of things to come in film animation. Together, under the auspices of Vitagraph, they co-produced the 1911 animated film, “Little Nemo.”
I recently bought the DVD of Winsor McCay’s major animation works including that 1911 film. Watching it is fascinating and magical; four thousand sequential, hand-colored drawings to create a celluloid “flip-book” of moving pictures lasting several minutes. The artistry of Winsor McCay is truly astounding. I have just ordered the definitive book on his work to see and learn more – he was THAT good.
Bear in mind that these were extremely early times for film of any sort, and the animation pioneering of Blackton and artistic prodigies like McCay are certainly worth noting. Walt Disney readily acknowledged McCay’s genius and influence.
Blackton, and especially his founding partner, Albert E. Smith, ran Vitagraph until it was suddenly sold one day in 1925 to Warner Brothers. By 1912, Vitagraph had begun moving most of its film studio work to Hollywood, California, the destined movie capital of the world. Linda’s mother, Ruth, was born and spent her young years in Brooklyn. Ruth’s father, Billy Stuart Adams, was a movie cameraman at Vitagraph in addition to being the younger half-brother of James Stuart Blackton. About the time of the Vitagraph sale to Warner Brothers, Ruth, her younger sister, and their mother moved from Brooklyn to Hollywood to join Billy Adams out in Hollywood.
Billy died in Borneo from a disease contracted while filming a movie on location there in 1929.
Although only six or seven when they moved west from Brooklyn, Ruth recalls quite a lot about the times and even has limited recollections of her then-famous half-uncle. It seems that there was some estrangement within the families involved, so Ruth saw little of Blackton and his circle. When Ruth’s father, Billy, was no longer with the family, her mother, also named Ruth, went to work for Warner Brothers as a film-cutter. Sad to say, we do not know what famous early films she may have worked on in the cutting room.
Linda’s young mother, Ruth (on the left), on film location near Calabasas in Southern California with parents Billy and Ruth Adams and younger sister Jessamyn (about 1926).Note the jodhpurs typically worn by early movie cameramen.
What Goes Up Must Come Down; Descending from the Summit
Ultimately, the story of James Stuart Blackton turns very sad beginning with the sale of Vitagraph to Warner Brothers Studios in 1925. Blackton and his longtime friend and co-founder, Albert E. Smith became very wealthy men from the sale. Both were assured they had a role in the new ownership of their dear Vitagraph, but Blackton’s role was abruptly cut short when Warners soon eliminated his film unit. From there, Blackton bounced from one grand adventure to another, enjoying life immensely, but making foolish business decisions and burning his money along the way. By the late nineteen-thirties, he was essentially penniless and dependent on welfare. The end came quite abruptly in 1941 when, while attempting to cross busy Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, he was struck by a car. He soon died from his injuries – to all intents and purposes, a failure. Those who knew him late in life were stunned by his equanimity, his willingness to take his fate in stride, without bitterness or remorse. Life, for him, was to be lived!
His early life was a grand adventure and a notable success, no doubt.
I never would have guessed that, on that sunny August afternoon in Santa Barbara in 1966, I was marrying the (half) great-niece of a pioneering, once-famous movie mogul and the descendent of historic Mary Boleyn! I did know I was marrying one fine gal, and that certainly turned out as expected. Isn’t life grand?