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).
My wife, Susan in front of the Pelanconi Warehouse building on Olvera Street
Sign outside the Pelanconi House
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).
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.
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.
Link to YouTube video of “The Kiss”:
She was married briefly to James Park Jones, and had one child, and then to Universal director/actor Allen Watt until her death.
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.
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.
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.
NEXT TIME I’LL BE LOOKING at my wife’s other famous relative, John J. Cook(e). I hope you’ll stop by.
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!