The Female Charlie Chan & Suspect #1 (part 3)

I am currently struggling to edit a fundraising trailer for my new documentary FINDING KUKAN.  As my mind gets muddled with soundbites and competing shots and scenes, it’s helpful to remind myself what drew me into the story to begin with — the search for a missing Chinese American heroine.  That there were sophisticated, modern, gutsy Chinese American women out there in the 1930′s and 40′s that were worthy of lead-character status in mystery novels was a revelation provided to me by reading Juanita Sheridan’s Lily Wu series.  Although my documentary is focussed on one woman in particular — Li Ling-Ai, the ground-breaking exploits of other courageous Chinese women from the period have slowly begun to populate my consciousness.  Now I realize that there were Chinese heroines aplenty back then.  It’s just that they haven’t been talked about enough, written about enough, or had enough movies made about them for people like me to be aware of them.

So what about Wai Sue Chun?  Could she have been one of the inspirations for Lily Wu?  Although her daughter Juana and her sister Wai Chee don’t think so (they had never heard of either Juanita Sheridan or Lily Wu), I still think the circumstantial evidence is strongly in Wai Sue’s favor.  Plus, reading about Wai Sue’s early married life in China during the Sino-Japanese War reminds me a little of Inn of the Sixth Happiness with Wai Sue taking the place of Ingmar Bergman, leading children to safety during the Japanese invasion of the country.

Wai Sue Chun College Yearbook Photo

Wai Sue’s husband Fawn Louie was an engineer working for the Chinese Nationalist government setting up factories to help finance China’s war of resistance against the ongoing Japanese invasion.  Since the lost film KUKAN is also about this time period, I’ve been learning a lot about how the continuous bombing of Chinese cities affected the populace and the hardships that people who chose to remain in China faced.  Wai Sue left her husband for 2 years during the early part of the war and came back to Honolulu with 3 young children.  Incredibly, she chose to return to Kunming with her children in 1940 — the Japanese had already taken over most of the Chinese coastal ports and were relentlessly bombing other parts of the country.

Ambulance destroyed by Japanese bombs near Nanking, Sept 1939 (courtesy Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library)

After Pearl Harbor and the official start of WWII, living conditions in China became even more difficult.  Wai Sue’s young family seems to have been constantly on the move.  Her husband’s factory in Kunming was bombed and destroyed forcing the family to move to Guilin where they barely escaped the invading Japanese Army by taking the last train out of Guilin before the city was destroyed.  Wai Sue’s children, who wrote a tribute to their mother in ACUW’s wonderful book about pioneering Chinese women from Hawaii, remember their terror when  caught in a bombing raid halfway between school and home.

A Chinese refugee family during the Sino/Japanese War (courtesy of Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

It’s really hard for me, living in this tranquil Kailua beach town, to imagine what the stress of raising young children amongst the danger of daily bombings and constant threat of an invading army must have been like.  The pictures of Chinese refugees I found in archives are almost too glossy to communicate the reality of the situation at hand.

A group of refugees on the move (courtesy of Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

I imagine that Wai Sue’s experiences of war provided her with a reservoir of strength and courage that could have inspired a novelist like Sheridan to create Lily Wu.  Of course when Wai Sue was on the same boat as Earl Derr Biggers and Juanita Sheridan, she had not yet had those experiences.  Could Sheridan have started a friendship with Chun on the boat that lasted long enough to hear about her later exploits?  Or was the comment that Lily Wu throws out in THE MAMO MURDERS about a friend who married another student at the University of Peking then joined the Eighth Army and “During the Japanese invasion of Kuei-Tsu was one of the women who helped to carry a dismantled factory several hundred miles and then set it up again.” taken from stories passed along to her by another Chinese woman?  I will probably never be able to figure it out.  But regardless, Wai Sue Chun is definitely worthy of fictional immortality, and more people should know about her.

Posted in 1930s china, 1940s china, Asian Women Role Models, Chinese American History, Female Role Models, Inn of the Sixth Happiness, kukan, Lily Wu, Second Sino-Japanese War, The Mamo Murders, Wai Sue Chun | Leave a comment

Kailua Time Warps

In looking backwards by a year — I found the film KUKAN about a year ago — I started thinking about time warps and how your mind can so easily slip from present to past and back again, jumping decades in a split second of memory access – and how images from photographs and movies give shape to that journey, making the unknown seem suddenly familiar and the forgotten moment come alive once again.

After writing my last post, I rented the movie version of THE BLACK CAMEL, wondering how much of Biggers’s keen observations about 1928 Hawaii would be transferred to the 1931 screen version of his fourth Charlie Chan story.  I got chicken skin when the first scene of the movie ended up being on the southern end of Kailua Beach, the beach I’d grown up on in the 1960s and 70s.

Opening Scene of THE BLACK CAMEL shows 1931 Kailua Beach, Mokapu Peninsula in the background

The fake film crew shoots Sheila Fane on the sand near Kailua boat ramp with the first Mokulua Island in the background

In many ways the beach looked much like it does now — the familiar landmarks were easily recognizable – Mokapu peninsula on the left, the Mokulua Islands on the right, and the Bird Lady’s House built into the cliff overlooking Lanikai point.

Robert Young playing Jimmy Bradshaw talks on the sand with Sally Eilers playing Julie O'Neill. The Bird Lady's house can be seen to the left of Young's head.

As children we always called this the Bird Lady's House since the woman who lived there would nurse injured birds that were brought to her.

But as the movie scene progressed, it was clear that this was not the bikini-strewn, Hobie Cat dotted beach of my teenage years.

Kalua Beach circa 1978

The tailored flowing dresses, and tank swim suits of the women, the period movie camera set up on the sand, and the majestic curving lines of the old automobiles gave evidence of a 1931 Kailua beach scene I could never have known without the magic of film.

The monument at Lanikai Point in 1931 Lanikai Point monument 2010

Lanikai Point monument 2010

Robert Young approaches the canal that goes past Buzz's Restaurant. I wonder if the children on the banks are local Kailua extras.

The same canal circa 2010, courtesy Wikicommons Kim Starr

The presence of a Hollywood movie crew must have caused quite a stir in Kailua back then.  In 1931 the town was really “out in the boonies” and so remote that Kailua Beach was the only beach that Honolulu prostitutes were officially allowed to go to.  In THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER, Mamie (a fictional character loosely based on infamous Honolulu prostitute Jean O’Hara) conspires with her journalist friend to be picked up in his car at Kailua Beach and smuggled back to his Honolulu ridge top house, since it was also illegal for prostitutes to socialize with men outside of the brothel.

Like most of Hawaii, a lot has changed in 80 years.  Now Kailua Beach is the location of President Obama’s annual Christmas vacation, and on any weekend or holiday hundreds of people flock to it’s southern end.

Kailua Beach Park looking towards Lanikai

From the sleepy, surftown suburbia that I grew up in, Kailua has burgeoned into a tourist destination complete with two Starbucks, a Whole Foods Market, a Target store on the horizon, and a growing number of Japanese tourists.

Kailua Town Starbucks

Kailua Tourists

Kailua Town urban renewal 2010

The demise of the good ‘ole days of our youth is happening all over America.  Perhaps that’s why we impart so much nostalgia to physical locations and landmarks that remain the same over the years despite the changing populace and politics that flow by them from one generation to the next — why the site of the Lanikai point monument in an old Charlie Chan movie makes me so excited.  It’s amazing how a location, a town, a landscape has the power to leave an emotional imprint on a person – and how that imprint changes as layers of memory and knowledge are added to it year after year, decade after decade.

The Royal Hawaiian or Pink Palace -- hotel of choice for many in the 1930s including Earl Derr Biggers and his fictional characters Tarneverro and Shelah Fane

I wonder if it works at all the other way around?  Do we leave any imprint on the sites we inhabit?

The Royal Hawaiian in 2010

The next time I visit The Royal Hawaiian Hotel — if I drink a cocktail in particular way and turn my head at just the right angle, might I apprehend the ghosts of Warner Oland and Bela Lugosi coming around the bend?

Warner Oland playing Chan and Bela Lugosi playing Tarneverro share confidences in the lobby of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel

Will the pink stucco walls echo with the spirit of Juanita Sheridan’s Lily Wu laughing over a rum punch, or will I be lucky enough to see in a shadow on the lawn the young Li Ling-Ai dancing under the moon?

Posted in 1930s Hawaii, 1930s movies, Charlie Chan, hawaii history, Hawaii Prostitution, The Black Camel | 15 Comments

The Female Charlie Chan & Suspect #1 (Part 2)

EARL DERR BIGGERS’S 1928 TRIP TO HAWAII

Just what was Charlie Chan’s creator doing in Hawaii in 1928?  He was meeting Chang Apana for the first time — the Chinese police detective that many (including most Honoluluans of the time) credit as the real life inspiration for Charlie Chan.

Earl Derr Biggers meets Chang Apana, July 7, 1928 Honolulu Star Bulletin (click on photo to read the full article)

Two Chan novels had already been made into films and Biggers was enough of a big shot for the Hawaii Tourist Bureau to stage a photo shoot with him at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel with a “fake” Charlie Chan.  (Photo below taken from the well-researched article on Biggers by Barbara Gregorich)

Earl Derr Biggers poses with "fake" Charlie Chan in 1928 (click on photo to read Biggers bio)

Given the hoopla that surrounded Biggers’s visit and Juanita Sheridan’s interest in writing fiction, she was probably well-aware of his presence in Hawaii.  Who knows, maybe she even ran into him on the island while searching for her wayward husband Ross Sr.

According to Gregorich’s article, Biggers was recuperating in Hawaii after working 7 days a week to finish BEHIND THAT CURTAIN and gathering information for his fourth Chan novel THE BLACK CAMEL, the second Chan novel set in Hawaii and the first to mention Chan’s daughter Rose who is next in line after Number One Son.

Most likely Biggers had already started writing notes for THE BLACK CAMEL when he returned to California on the S.S. Maui in August 1928, so any chance meetings with interesting passengers might have influenced a scene, a character or a situation.   For a  budding author like Sheridan, having Biggers aboard the same ship,  must have set her thinking about her own writing and the older writer’s formula for success — A Chinese sleuth and an exotic setting.  For both writers, you would think that a young woman traveling alone on the same ship would draw attention, especially if she was the only young Chinese American woman on board — To determine whether the 7-day trip on the S.S. Maui influenced the writing of Biggers or Sheridan, I had to see if I could find out more about that young woman Wai Sue Chun.

WHO WAS WAI SUE CHUN?

It turns out I had read about Wai Sue while flipping through the pages of CHINESE WOMEN PIONEERS IN HAWAII, edited by May Lee Chung and Dorothy Jim Luke.  My librarian friend Patrick McNally had recommended the book when he heard that I was searching for a Chinese American woman with the background of Lily Wu – university educated, cosmopolitan, with a Hawaii background.  A group called the Associated Chinese University Women, formed in 1931, published the book, and it featured short biographies of some of the founding members of the Hawaii club.  Many of the women written about were 2nd generation Chinese Americans who had attended mainland universities in the 1920s and 30s.  Wai Sue Chun was one of them.

cover of CHINESE WOMEN PIONEERS IN HAWAII

According to the biography written by Wai Sue’s children, Wai Sue was born on Christmas Day in 1905 and was a year older than Juanita Sheridan.  In 1928 she graduated wtih a B.A. degree in Education from the University of Hawaii and that fall she attended  Columbia University in NYC for graduate studies — hence her trip with Earl Derr Biggers and Juanita Sheridan on the S.S. Maui.  Wai Sue’s father had bought her a fur coat to keep her warm in the cold New York winter and while in Hawaii she drove a Chevrolet touring car, an unusual thing for Chinese young woman of the time.

My heart started beating fast when I read this bio.  For the first time here was evidence of a Chinese woman who had the makings of a real life Lily Wu — a contemporary of Sheridan’s, an educated woman who had spent time in Hawaii and NYC, and a woman who is distinguished by her expert driving abilities and ownership of a fur coat.  When I discovered that Wai Sue had named one of her daughters Juana and another Lorraine, I was even more positive that I had found a possible real life version of Lily Wu.  Juanita Sheridan’s middle name was Lorraine.

But the photo staring out at me, from the pages of the book didn’t match my idea of who Lily Wu was.  Wai Sue, pictured in 1952, is an attractive Chinese woman wearing a dark dress, with a glimmer of a smile on her face.  By herself I could imagine her as an older Lily Wu.  She is surrounded, however, by five immaculately dressed children and a suit-wearing, bespectacled husband.  The conventional life that this picture suggested did NOT equate with my idea of what the future held for a daring character like Lily.  Obviously, I was going to have to do more digging into this matter.

Posted in 1920's Hawaii, Asian Women Role Models, Books About Hawaii, Charlie Chan, Juanita Sheridan, Lily Wu, The Black Camel, Wai Sue Chun | 1 Comment

The Female Charlie Chan, Ross Hart Resurrected & Suspect #1 (Part 1)

Ship records can provide fascinating information about someone from the past.   Examining passenger lists can also give you interesting information about your subject’s traveling companions — who was single and who was married, if they were traveling with spouses or children, if there were foreign diplomats or movie stars on board, who traveled first class and who was in cabin class, where did they embark and disembark etc.   While checking out Juanita Sheridan’s fellow passengers on her  first trip home from Hawaii I came up with a surprising discovery and the first Lily Wu suspect of the case.  The discovery all started with a Charlie Chan detour and the online appearance of  Juanita Sheridan’s missing son Ross Hart.

The Warner Oland Charlie Chan movies have been restored and are available at Amazon and Netflix

When Rue Morgue Press owner and Juanita Sheridan publisher Tom Schantz found out about my desire to turn my search into some kind of documentary film.  He suggested that I could think of Lily Wu as a kind of female Charlie Chan (although Lily was a much more realistic portrait of an Asian American than Charlie was).  Some of the old Chan movies had just been restored and were available on Netflix.  They seemed to be getting some buzz by reviewers on-line.  I had never read a Chan book and had only a vague recollection of the Hollywood Chan’s portly bowing figure  and sly smile (neither one seemed to suggest good reading to me in my youth).  I picked up a copy of THE HOUSE WITHOUT A KEY and THE CHINESE PARROT.  I found them to be surprisingly entertaining with evocative settings and fully formed female characters.

Earl Derr Biggers's Charlie Chan Novels

Tom also let me know he’d been able to track down the once-thought-possibly-dead Ross Hart, Juanita Sheridan’s son by her first husband — none other than Ross Hart Sr.  After some prodding, Ross answered a few of my email queries and provided some great memories of living in Hawaii, including walking barefoot down to the beach at Waikiki  to go surfing, and making money delivering papers and shining shoes for tourists coming off the cruise ships (all things my father reported doing as a kid too).  Ross also reported seeing long lines of sailors outside one of the “cat houses” by the Chinatown waterfront called the Rex Room (something my father may have also seen but never told me about).  Apparently long lines of men calmly waiting out in the open for their turn to go in to one of Honolulu’s many houses of prostitution was a common sight before and during WWII.  For a great first-hand account of the “legalized” prostitution brought in by the US military to Hawaii, see Ted Chernin’s wonderful article “My Experiences in Honolulu Chinatown Red-Light District” from the Hawaii Journal of History.  Another great account comes from the fiction book THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER by William Bradford Huie.

A souvenir photo from a Honolulu "cat house" compliments of Ted Chernin

Huie’s fictional prostitute Mamie may have been based on the infamous Jean O’Hara who exposed the graft connected with Honolulu’s red light district in her slim book HONOLULU HARLOT.

Cover of Jean O'Hara's expose

Another thing Ross revealed was that Juanita had visited Hawaii long before she moved there in 1935.  Juanita first came to the islands in 1928 on a rather grim mission.  She was trying to chase down the husband who had left her with a 2-month old baby in California. Ross Sr. had fled to Hawaii presumably to escape paying alimony.  So, on June 26, 1928 Juanita, with baby Ross in tow, arrived in Hawaii for the first time via the S.S. Maui looking for her husband.

The S.S. Maui in the mid 1920's

I don’t know if Juanita was ever able to track Ross Sr. down, but years later in her third Lily Wu book THE MAMO MURDERS Sheridan would write a very realistic scene of a desperate young mother (Cora) confronting her wayward husband (Denis Desmond) in a Maui hotel bungalow — “…Every day somebody comes with another bill– payments on the car, the furniture, on the house — you never even paid your helper the last three weeks before you left!  And the baby’s been sick; he’s had chicken pox, and I’ve almost gone out of my mind, worrying!” We can only guess about what part of that fiction story came from fact.

What we do know is that Juanita and baby Ross stayed in Hawaii a little over a month and returned to California on the S.S. Maui on August 1, 1928.  Juanita was listed as Mrs. Ross Hart, married.  Her husband was not on board.  He would return to California three weeks later, listed as single.

S.S. Maui leaving Honolulu Harbor

So, who accompanied Juanita and baby Ross across the sea after what must have been a very disappointing first trip to Paradise?  In a quick scan of the passenger list one name popped out at me:  EARL DERR BIGGERS – the famous author of the Charlie Chan novels himself was on the boat!

Earl Derr Biggers, creator of Charlie Chan

Could Juanita have met the famous detective novelist aboard ship?  Could that have been the impetus for  Sheridan’s creation of Lily Wu, “the female Charlie Chan”?   Did Juanita traveling alone with a young baby raise questions?  Sympathy?  Who else was on the boat that she might have gravitated to?

Checking the next page of the ship’s passenger list, another name popped out at me:  Wai Sue Chun.  For some reason that name sounded familiar to me.  She was a year older than Juanita, from Honolulu, single, and seemed to be traveling all by herself.  She was one of only 5 passengers on board with obviously Chinese surnames.  Did Juanita and Wai Sue become friendly on the ship?  Did Juanita confide in Wai Sue and ask her for help with her marital problems?  Could Wai Sue have been the budding inspiration for the first Chinese female sleuth in an American detective series?  Did Earl Biggers try to pick Wai Sue’s brain for details for his next Chan novel?  Did all three of them get together on the ship and hatch out a plot?  Where was Wai Sue going anyway?  And what had Earl Biggers been doing in Hawaii?

I was to find the answers to a few of these questions in the  next few days…To Be Continued

Posted in 1920's Hawaii, Books About Hawaii, Charlie Chan, Chinatown Hawaii, Hawaii Prostitution, Juanita Sheridan's Husbands, Lily Wu, Mystery Characters, Ross Hart Sr., Rue Morgue Press, The Chinese Parrot, The House Without a Key, The Mamo Murders, The Revolt of Mamie Stover, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Slow Boat to China – Travel & Immigration Law

After a couple of research trips to Los Angeles and New York, I’m back in Hawaii recovering from jet lag and contemplating the old style of travel that Juanita Sheridan and Li Ling-Ai used – the ocean liner.

1930s Matson cruise ship departs Honolulu for San Francisco

I’ve never been on a cruise ship, so this type of travel has a romantic attraction for me.  I imagine chugging slowly across the ocean gives you time to adjust to the date line changes in a civilized manner, not to mention allowing for shipboard romances to commence and intriguing crimes to be solved.

First class dining room on 1930's Matson ship

Dance floor of Veranda Cafe on 1930's Matson liner

Since both Li Ling-Ai and Juanita Sheridan traveled extensively by boat in the 1930s and 40s, I’ve been able to learn fascinating things about them by examining ship records available on Ancestry.com and at the National Archives Regional Center in San Bruno.  The ship records are a boon to researchers and genealogists, but how did the ship passengers of the time feel about them?  The careful details kept on all ship passengers was a result of  US Immigration Law.  Chinese ship passengers were put under even greater scrutiny due to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that wasn’t repealed until WWII.  It was one of the earliest restrictive US Immigration Laws and reflects the extreme anti Asian attitudes that existed in the United States at the time.

On my NYC trip, I viewed some of the “Yellow Peril” memorabilia on display at the Museum of the Chinese in America.

1892 Anti-Chinese poster exhibited at MOCA

"Chinese Must Go" cap pistol exhibited at MOCA. When the trigger is pulled, the man kicks the "Chinaman" in the rear

The anti-Chinese posters and objects seem almost campy these days, but they are solid reminders of  the racial ignorance and prejudice that still existed in the 1930s and 40s and that Sheridan captures so well in her Lily Wu books.  Today, it’s hard to conceive of all the barriers that Li Ling-Ai faced as a Chinese career woman in 1930′s New York.  A detail  from a 1937  ship record provides a clue.   Along with the usual age and occupation, a physical description of Ling-Ai was recorded that included small ID marks that could only have been gathered during a close (and probably humiliating) physical inspection.  The detailed ID marks noted were  “small mole rear left corner of mouth and sear on back of left wrist.”

Of course having to submit to close personal inspections and questioning has not gone away for travelers  in today’s jet age.   Like filling out the ship logs in the 1930s, taking off your shoes, being patted down at x-ray machine, and giving the airlines your address and phone number can be seen as the necessary evils of traveling.  I tend to go numb during the process in hopes that it will go by faster if I don’t think about it.  It’s only when I’m back at home, recovering from the speed of my travels  that I have time to dwell on what all that screening actually means.

Posted in 1930s Hawaii, 1930s Matson liners, Chinese American History, Chinese Exclusion Act, Juanita Sheridan, Li Ling-Ai, Mystery Novels, The Chinese Chop, Yellow Peril | Leave a comment

Investigating Family Murders

Pancho Villa circa 1915

Juanita Sheridan, author of the Lily Wu mystery series attributed her inclination to writing about murder to “ancestral genes,” claiming that her grandfather was murdered by Pancho Villa and her father was also probably murdered by a political rival.  This claim seemed slightly far-fetched and I wondered if I could trust Sheridan’s other claim that Lily Wu was “a composite of several Chinese friends.”

Sheridan’s letter to her Doubleday editor that is quoted in the Schantz’s bio gives a colorful portrait of her maternal grandfather and his violent death:  “Grandpa House came from Texas; a cousin of his was advisor to Woodrow Wilson.  Instead of hanging up his law degree, Grandpa went adventuring, and part of the time he dragged his family along.  They lived in Texas.  Indian Territory, the Yukon during the gold rush, Arizona (where he killed a man and had to leave the state until the ruckus died down) and finally,  Mexico.  He was a gambler, and his dependents never knew security.  After the children grew up he took Grandma to Mexico where he became paymaster for the Texas Oil Company.  Pancho Villa ambushed the Tampico River boat and demanded a $30,000 payroll. Grandpa pulled a gun — but Villa shot first.”

In fact, a search in the New York Times archives confirms much of Sheridan’s colorful story.  Here is the headline from the article of October 20, 1918.

The article reveals that US dependency on oil and violence related to that dependency started early on in our history.  “If conditions now existing in the great Mexican oil fields are allowed to grow worse it is inevitable that our army and navy and the armies and navies of our allies will feel the petroleum pinch — that to a serious extent they too will become “gasless.”  US oil reserves were only expected to last a month according to the article and the concern was that Mexican imports had fallen off due to a reign of banditry.  The article goes on to list a series of outrages against the oil companies in Mexico, including the murder of one Paymaster House (Juanita’s grandfather).

portion of New York Times article from Oct 20, 1918

Of course nothing was said about Pancho Villa in the article, but since he was one of the most famous Mexican bandits of the time, it’s plausible that he was involved.

How about Sheridan’s claim that her father was also probably murdered?  Armed with census records from Ancestry.com, I located the obituary for Juanita Sheridan’s father John Light.  It DOES appear that he died under suspicious circumstances:

From the July 3, 1911 Daily Oklahoman

The funeral of John R. Light, who died suddenly Friday afternoon at 4 o’clock while playing with his little daughter at him home, 917 West California street, was held Sunday afternoon at 3 o’clock from St. Luke’s M.E. church, and was very largely attended. Mr. Light was president of the New State Laundry company, and was well known here. He was born in Texas, December 3, 1872 and removed to Ardmore, this state, later going to Lawton where he engaged in business. He came to Oklahoma City nine years ago. He is survived by his wife, one daughter, Juanita, three brothers, a sister and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. R. D. Light of Ardmore.

It must have been very traumatic for the 4-year-old Juanita to witness her father keel over and die so suddenly.  The July 1 paper’s death notice reported that the attending physicians attributed the cause of death to be “heart trouble induced by nicotine poisoning and severe stomach trouble of several years standing.”  Hardly a conclusive diagnosis and one that leaves the door open for an active imagination.  According to Sheridan, “We never found out where he had lunch that day — or with whom.”

Since Sheridan’s family murder stories panned out for the most part, I had a lot more confidence in her claim that Lily Wu was based on several Chinese friends.  I would just have to keep on digging to find out who they were.

Posted in Archival Research, Ed House, John Light, Juanita Sheridan, Juanita Sheridan's Relatives, Lily Wu, Pancho Villa | Leave a comment

Donald Duck, Animation Bloggers & Ancestry.Com, or Robin’s Rules of Research #2 & #3

Dick Lundy, 1933 (courtesy Joe Campana)

With Juanita Sheridan’s Hawaii marriage certificate, info from the Advertiser article, and a little bit of Googling, I found Richard “Dick” Lundy, Juanita’s second husband who she was married to while working at Disney.  It turns out that Dick Lundy was well known in animation circles and credited with working on the early Disney classic “Steamboat Willie” as well as helping to develop Donald Duck.  For those interested in Lundy’s career after Juanita, check out a letter from Dick Lundy to Mary Mayerson.

Another  Animation History blog by Joe Campana actually had biographical information about Dick and his marriage to Juanita, including the addresses of the houses they lived at.  Camapana’s blog page about another Disney animator Art Babbitt told of a 1934 summer trip that Babbitt took with Dick and Juanita Lundy to New York, sailing back through the Panama Canal to Los Angeles.

How did Campana get all of this information – had he known Juanita and Dick personally?  Could he have information that would lead me to the real Lily Wu?  I had never tried to contact a blogger before and didn’t know if it was correct blogging etiquette to do so, but there was an email address listed, so I  threw out the questions anyway.

I became a real  fan of hard-working, independent bloggers everywhere when Joe answered me back right away with a very informative email:

“Here is everything I have on Juanita Light (Lundy…)

She was born 15 November 1906 in Oklahoma City, OK.
Her parents appear to have been John R. and Ora B. Light, they had both been born in Texas.
At the time of the 1910 census the family was living at 917 W. California Street in Oklahoma City.
(a copy of the 1910 census page is attached)

Portion of 1910 Census showing Juanita Light daughter of John and Ora

As far as her marriage to Richard “Dick” Lundy, I have only been able to confirm that they were married for a few years 1932-1934. The marriage may have started earlier and ended later, but I have not been able to find dates as yet. (Dick was single in April 1930 and he had remarried by 1939.) There is no record of any children from this marriage.

She must have been gone from the Disney Studio by 1936 — at the time Social Security Numbers were issued to all employees. I would guess that she would have had good reason to leave at this time because the studio was really expanding during production of Snow White.

Regarding the trip from New York; I am including a copy of the passenger manifest. I cannot imagine what brought them to vacation together, but this must have been the few weeks in summer when the studio was closed for a hiatus.

As best I can figure, she passed away in (or around) Guadalajara, Mexico in May, 1974 as Juanita Graham.
(Though I am not totally certain that this is her, I do know that the “Juanita” in this case was born 15 November 1906, and had lived in Hawaii — because that is where her Social Security Number was issued.)

I have researched the work and lives of almost 500 people who worked in and around the field of animation. Information that was very hard to find when I began this work some fifteen years ago. Most of the information I have was obtained by digging through city and state records, old phone books and city directories in the main branch of the Los Angeles Library.  More recently I have turned to Ancestry.com to further my research.”

Well I knew about digging through old phone books in the library, but I had not heard of Ancestry.com.  This little gem of  a database would lead me to all sorts of future discoveries, and I will be forever indebted to Joe Campana for being the first one to tell me about it.  Although a fee is required to access most of the information on Ancestry.com, at most public libraries you can log on for free!  If you are looking for info on dead people, this is the nearest thing to heaven on earth.

So here are Robin’s Rules of Research #2 & #3:  Never hesitate to contact a blogger for leads on obscure pieces of information; and make Ancestry.com one of the first stops when searching for clues on elusive dead people.

Posted in Archival Research, Dick Lundy, Juanita Sheridan, Walt Disney Studios | 1 Comment