Surprise Celebrities in the Family by Tony Piazza

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Myrtle Gonzales (my wife’s second cousin)

You’ll never know what you’ll dig up when you start exploring the roots of your ancestral tree. This tree isn’t mine however, but the paternal side of my wife’s family. Incidentally, I’m afraid to trace my roots. My father’s side originated in Sicily, and I may find out that I’m related to Don Corleone. But, returning to the subject: my wife’s sister, Kathleen has been intrigued by their family history- as well she should be-  she’s traced it back seven generations in Los Angeles history. Kathleen has spent three years researching their family background and dug up some interesting facts. Their ancestors were of the first families who settled in what was then called Pueblo de Los Angeles. The Avila’s and Pelanconi’s are all ancestors of their family, and adobes bearing those names can be found on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. Another branch, which I’ll be talking about are the Cooke’s. My wife’s father’s mother’s family name was Cooke, and they were a multi-talented family of ten children who became musicians, singers, and actors (both in theater and eventually film).

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My wife, Susan in front of the Pelanconi Warehouse building on Olvera Street

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 Sign outside the Pelanconi House

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Avila Adobe on Olvera Street

In Kathleen’s searches, she discovered that they were related to two silent screen actors, Myrtle Gonzales and John J. Cook(e).

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 Mytrle Gonzales “The Virgin White Lily of the Screen” was born September 28, 1891 to Manuel George Gonzalez and Lillian L. Cook(e) in Los Angeles, California. Her father was a native Hispanic Californio of Spain and her mother’s family was of Ireland,  County Cork.  He was a grocer, and she a former opera star. Myrtle obviously inherited the “talent gene” from the Cooke side, because from early childhood she acted and sang in many local events. The Merced Theatre near the plaza on Arcadia Street is a site where she had performed.

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As an adult she transitioned into silent pictures working for both Vitagraph and Universal Studios. In five of her films (1913-1914) she worked with William Desmond Taylor, one of which was called “The Kiss” and interestingly enough, clips of this film can be seen in the opening sequence of the film “The Spiral Staircase” starring Dorothy McGuire from 1946.

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Link to YouTube video of “The Kiss”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNepyCE9w2U

She was married briefly to James Park Jones, and had one child, and then to Universal director/actor Allen Watt until her death.

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Myrtle is regarded as Hollywood’s first Latin and Hispanic movie star actress. She made a total of 80 films- all silent. Most were considered shorts, such as “The Thief of the Desert” and “The Gambler”,  but others like “The Greater Law”, “The Girl of Lost Lake”, and “The Secret of the Swamp” were full features.

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Myrtle’s life was all too short however. She died October 22, 1918 at the age of 27 from the Spanish flu- a worldwide pandemic which struck that year.

 

Trivia:

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William Desmond Taylor

Her co-star of five films, William Desmond Taylor was murdered in 1922- shot to death in his bungalow. In 1964 Taylor’s co-star Margaret Gibson shortly before her death confessed to having murdered him, but this has never been proven to be true.

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Margaret Gibson

NEXT TIME I’LL BE LOOKING at my wife’s other famous relative, John J. Cook(e). I hope you’ll stop by.

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Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His next novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was released early 2012 and is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden.  His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it where fine books are sold, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic charity: www.bullittpoints.com.

Also: Watch for the new Tom Logan mystery thriller published soon by Amazon!

Due out mid-2013!

 

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5 Responses to “Surprise Celebrities in the Family by Tony Piazza”

  1. Julie Dulac says:

    Myrtle Gonzalez was my great-grandmother. Her son, James Parks Jones, Jr. was my grandfather. I must be related to your wife!

    • tonypiazza says:

      Hi Julie,

      This is exciting news to my wife. Her sister is doing the family tree and we’ll pass this onto her. We must keep in touch!
      All the best,
      Tony Piazza

      • Laura Lee says:

        Also, Hi Tony,

        You can read my reply to Julie. I’m another relative. I remember talk of the Cooke side of the family, and Olvera Street.

        Did you also know that Myrtle was married to James Parks Jones, also an actor on Los Angeles, both stage and screen?

        I hope you also see this and reply. I’m just starting to put together some family history on my fathers side. I was always told that we went back 8 generations in Los Angeles through the Gonzalez side.

        I’m glad I found the website, and will check back again soon.

        • tonypiazza says:

          Hi Laura,

          Thank you for contacting us. My wife Susan (formerly, Haskins) would be your cousin. Yes, we knew about James Park Jones through my sister-in-law, Kathleen (Haskins) Fahmy who is also doing a family tree. You are correct, the family does go back 8 generations. Actually, there are quite a few surprises that she has discovered. Also, look up John Cooke. Appreciate your interest. Please stay in touch.

          Sincerely,
          Tony & Susan Piazza

    • Laura Lee says:

      Myrtle Gonzalez was my grandmother, and her son, James Parks Jones, Jr. was my father. I was born in Los Angeles, and now live in Montana. I don’t know you, but it seems we have a shared lineage.

      You say that my father was your grandfather. Might you be the daughter of my half sister Mary Lou? My mother was Edith Jones, but I know that my father was married previous to marrying my mother.

      I hope you see this and can reply. I would love to get in touch. I’ll check back regularly.

      Thanks.

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