Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Genealogue Challenge #61

This open-ended challenge aims to fill out the online biography of actor Dooley Wilson.

Find whatever genealogical info you can on Wilson.


According to California death index, Arthur Dooley Wilson died 30 May 1953 in Los Angeles County. The index says he was born 3 Apr 1886 in Texas and his mother's maiden name is Lampkin.



That's a good start. You'll find that other records disagree on his year of birth.


1900 US Census

may be Arthur's family. He is the youngest son living at home, age 15, mother is listed as widowed, with 5 children, which is consistent with his biography from "The Making of Casablanca," which says that he was the youngest of five, and that his father died when he was 7.


"The Making of Casablanca" by Aljean Harmetz
States that Dooley was born in Tyler, Texas, the youngest of five children, and began singing at church suppers the year his father died, when Wilson was seven.
By eight, he was singing in tent shows.

by 1908, he was a member of the Pekin Theatre in Chicago, where he became known for singing Irish songs in whiteface, earning the nickname "Dooley."

1914 found him as a member of the Anita Bush theatrical company in NYC, and during 1915 he appeared in Harlem with the Lafayette Players Stock Company.

After WWI he founded a band and performed overseas, but came back after the Depression, and was a member of John Houseman's Negro Theatre Wing, part of the Federal Theatre Project, most notably in the production "Conjur Man Dies."

His breakthrough role was 1940's "Little Joe" from "Cabin in the Sky," which brought him to the attention of Hollywood.

He was signed by Paramount, and in 1942, was loaned to Warner Brothers, for the role which made him a movie legend, the pianist Sam from "Casablanca."


10 May 1943 Issue of TIME magazine notes the following in an article on Wilson and the composer of "As Time Goes By:"

Born in Tyler, Tex., Dooley Wilson trouped at the age of eight with Western medicine shows and circuses. Some time between 1910 and 1914 he went to Manhattan, where he sang with the late James Reese Europe's historic Negro jazz band, which was a feature of the A.E.F. during World War I. When Jim Europe was stabbed to death by his drummer after the war, Dooley Wilson formed his own band abroad, toured from Paris to Casablanca and Port Said.

In more recent years Dooley has worked in the Federal Theater Project with John Houseman and Orson Welles, played in The Show-Off, Androcles and the Lion and the Broadway production of Cabin in the Sky. He is as reticent and earnest as his musical interpretations. His wife is a onetime physiotherapist who trained in Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital. They have a five-room house in Los Angeles. Dooley spends his spare time on a victory garden where, besides vegetables, he is raising chickens by the hundred. Last week, having finished his run in Greenwich Village, he sighed with relief and rushed back to his Los Angeles garden. Says he: "I've had to be a lot of man all my life."


Dooley's WWI Draft Registration lists his birthday as April 3, 1881. He was living on west 131 Street in NYC and listed his occupation as actor at a club. Interestingly, he lists his nearest relative as Cassie Whittaker (friend), living at the same address.


According to Ephriam Katz's "The Film Encyclopedia," Dooley Wilson was born on 3 April 1894(in Tyler, TX)! Who to believe?


Dooley gave his address as 158 West 131th Street when he arrived from Le Havre aboard the S.S. Paris on 21 June 1924. The manifest gives his date and place of birth as 3 Apr. 1884 [sic] in Tyler, Texas. He was married.

I think you're right about the 1900 census, which gives his mother's name as Manda Wilson, b. Nov. 1862 in Missouri. He had a brother George, b. June 1882 in Texas. Their father was born in Missouri.


Since we know that Wilson's mother was a "Lampkin," and that he was born in Smith County, Texas, this 1880 census record might be relevant.


Dooley Wilson Grave Marker

Shows his wife's name as Estelle, with dates 1888-1971.

Grave marker is in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles, CA


Manda Lampkin 1870 US Census

This may be Dooley's mother; name and place of birth are correct, but this DOB is 1855, a bit earlier than the age reported in the 1900 Census.


Two facts I'd still like to know: What was the name of Dooley's father, and what was the maiden name of his wife?


I know this is probably not the right Manda Lampkin, but how common...

According to Ancestry there is a Manda Lampkin who married a Caleb *Williams* in Gregg TX on June 23, 1874. Clerical error?

Caleb and Manda Williams appear in the 1880 census with 2 daughters Mary and Lenora who would have likely been moved out by 1900...but it doesn't explain the surname change.

It would be nice if some biography mentioned the names of his four siblings.


Gregg County and Smith County (the location of Tyler, Texas) are adjacent. In a state the size of Texas, that's quite a coincidence.

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