The 93rd Oscars ceremony is tonight … which got me wondering about my great uncle’s possible connection with one of the movie industry’s most important pioneers.
George Louis Ross (1884-1949) was my paternal grandfather’s oldest brother. He was an eye, ear, nose & throat doctor in Milwaukee, Kenosha & then Racine, Wisconsin, but was also very active in other pursuits, notably aviation (he created Racine’s “Air City” airport & development) and real estate investments. (In 1930, during the Depression, my grandparents moved their family from Kenosha to the Lower Rio Grande Valley in south Texas to manage one of his citrus orchards in Edinburg, Tex., for a salary of $10/week!)
Family Photo (~1903) — My grandfather: 3rd from left, young child; George Louis Ross: tallest child; middle back)
“Uncle Louie” (as he was called) and his wife didn’t have any children, and since he died when I was only 1 year old, I learned nothing about his life in Wisconsin. But now, through various webpages and online newspapers, I’m finding some pretty interesting things.
These two newspaper articles from late 1927, for example, tell parts of the same story: One day in 1902, George bought a coat at a store in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and then went across the street with the salesperson and some other friends to view a “flicker” motion picture, which featured a 9-year-old future movie star, Mary Pickford.
Nov. 9, 1927, Racine (Wisc.) Journal Times, p.4
Dec. 11, 1927, Wisconsin State Journal, p.41
Merging quotes from both articles, all but that salesperson agreed “that ‘flickers’ were terrible. …(He) realized…that they could be improved and made the most popular form of entertainment. He went from acquaintance to acquaintance trying to interest them in his idea. But they…shrugged their shoulders and turned away.”
The salesman was Carl Laemmle (1867-1939), a German immigrant who found his way to Oshkosh, where despite his stable job managing that clothing store, he felt that as he approached his 40th year he was not becoming the successful man of his dreams.
In January 1906, Laemmle quit his job at the clothing store and with his wife and young daughter moved to Chicago to start following his dream.
And what a dream-come-true life he had!
There are too many important milestones in Laemmle’s later life to list here – because they are unrelated to my Uncle Louie – but know that Carl Laemmle ultimately broke Thomas Edison’s monopoly on the moving picture business, founded Universal Studios and became known as “The Father of the Hollywood Star System”.
Here is an Associated Press photo of Louis G. Mayer (left) presenting Laemmle (right) with the “Best Production” Oscar (now called “Best Picture”) at the 3rd Oscars awards event (1930) for “All’s Quiet on the Western Front.”
But while Laemmle became an acclaimed Hollywood mogul, are these two 1927 newspaper articles accurate regarding Uncle Louie’s participation?
While it may be impossible to know for sure, I’m concerned about some clear inconsistencies.
1) An unpublished autobiographical manuscript commissioned in 1927 by Laemmle makes no mention of that 1902 event or his unsuccessful touting of “Laemmle’s Lure.”
(Manuscript URL – https://www.jstor.org/stable/3815079 – Free registration required to read)
Rather, Laemmle’s manuscript said that when he left for Chicago his dream was to create a chain of five-and-ten-cent stores, which were becoming popular. It was only after he saw a crowd lining up to pay 5 cents each to watch short films at a nickelodeon that Laemmle said he realized that moving pictures should be his future.
2) In 1902, Louie would have been 18 years old, surely too young to have already graduated from medical school and “struggling to obtain a practice in Oshkosh,” as the Racine paper’s article said.
3) While both articles mention Louis attending Rush Medical College, the Madison paper’s one, datelined “Oshkosh,” said he was attending that college “here” … i.e., in Oshkosh. But since it opened in 1843, Rush has been located in Chicago. I’ve not found any mention of an Oshkosh branch, and Uncle Louie is not listed among Rush’s graduates (through 1913 – URL: https://archive.org/details/addressbookofalu00rush/page/66/mode/2up?q=Ross )
4) Moreover, I have found that Louie graduated from Marquette University’s School of Medicine in 1914 … long after any 1902 meeting with Laemmle.
On the other hand, I do note that in the 1905 Wisconsin State Census, Louie is listed as being a student (aged 22) living with in a cousin’s home in Oshkosh. But it doesn’t say where or what he is studying.
And I’d think that some of the inconsistencies noted above would have been so obviously wrong at the time, if they were not true, that the local newspaper would surely have corrected them before publication.
Like many aspects of family history research, I’m learning some very interesting things … some of which are surely true, and others that may instead be tall tales.
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FYI, Here are some URLs of interesting articles about Carl Laemmle’s life: