Donnelly

WEEK 28: My 2nd cousin 1x removed found out long ago… it’s a long way down that holiday road

This week’s theme for the 52 Ancestors challenge is “Road Trip.” I would say that my second cousin, 1x removed, hands down, went on the most epic road trip.

Back in 1983, Edna was staying with the family of her daughter, Catherine, in Kansas. However, Edna wanted to go stay with her son, Normy, who lived in Phoenix. Fortunately, her niece, Ellen and her family, from Chicago were coming to visit. They were passing through on a road trip to California. So Edna, and her dog, Dinky, decided to ride along with Ellen’s family and have them drop her off in Phoenix.

However, it was a tragic road trip for both Edna and Dinky. Ellen’s husband, Clark, was a terrible driver who was always driving above the speed limit and arguing with Ellen. Along the way, they stopped at a campground to eat. Clark tied Dinky to the bumper of the car, while they ate. However, Clark forgot to untie poor Dinky when they drove away. Clark did not realize his mistake until a state trooper pulled him over to cite him with animal cruelty. Dinky’s little body was not seen and all that was left was the leash and collar still tied to the bumper. Sadly, Edna also passed away at some point after a stop at the Grand Canyon. Instead of calling for officials, Clark wrapped up Edna’s body in a tarp, and tied her to the roof of the car. They dropped off her body at Normy’s house, only to find that he was not home. Clark insisted that they leave her body on his doorstep, in the pouring rain, and continue on to California.

NationalLampoonsVacation-Still2

Many of you are probably thinking that this story sounds very familiar. That is because my second cousin 1x removed is actually actress and comedienne, Imogene Coca, who played “Aunt Edna” in the iconic road trip movie, National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Imogene Coca was born on November 18, 1908 at 3009 North 11th Street in Philadelphia, PA. Her parents were Joseph Fernandez Coca, an orchestra conductor and Sadie C. Brady, who was a magician’s assistant and vaudeville performer. Sadie’s mother, was Mary Ann Donnelly, who was a sister of my great grandmother, Elizabeth Donnelly.

Imogene was encouraged to become a performer and took singing, dancing and piano lessons. She had her first job as a dancer at the age 11 and also sang at the Dixie Theater in Manayunk, PA. At the age of 15, she moved to New York City to try and become a singer and dancer on Broadway. She spent much of the 30s, unknown, and performing in various shows and clubs in New York. She became a comedienne by accident one night while performing in a theater where the heat did not work. She borrowed a coat from another performer in the show. She was only trying to keep warm, and began jumping up and down, dancing and performing a mock strip tease while dressed in the rather larger, woolen overcoat. The director thought it was funny and incorporated into the act. Critics also found it funny, which encouraged Imogene to continue to develop her comedy skills.

In the fall of 1950, Imogene was paired with performer Sid Caesar to star in Your Show of Shows. This was the show she was best known for. Imogene won a Best Actress Emmy for her work in 1951. The show lasted until 1954 when she and Caesar left the show to pursue individual careers. Imogene continued to work on several short-lived TV shows and many guest appearances.

Imogene was first married to music arranger, Robert Burton on January 7, 1935. They were married for 20 years, until he died in 1955. On October 17, 1960, she married actor, King Donovan.

On a foggy New Year’s Eve 1973, Imogene and her husband, King Donovan, were driving to their theater performance in Florida when her husband accidently ran a red light and crashed their car. Imogene had extensive facial injuries because the rear view mirror ended up entered her right eye and also smashed her cheekbone. She lost sight in her eye and had to undergo plastic surgery to repair the damage to her face. She also developed a huge fear of being in automobiles after that accident. This proved to be a challenge for her while filming Vacation, since most of her scenes were filmed inside a car.

Imogene had initially turned down the part of Aunt Edna, because she did not think she could play someone that mean. Eventually, did accept the part. However, even during filming, Imogene, who was actually a gentle and shy person, was concerned that she was being too mean to her fellow cast members.

During the filming of Vacation, Imogene also suffered a mild stroke. She had shot a scene during the morning. However, in the afternoon, she could not remember anything they had did. So, she went to the hospital. After being released, her husband, King Donovan, helped her re-learn her lines and soon she was back on set and finished the movie.

Imogene went on making guest appearances on several TV shows and on Broadway. In 1988, she received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series for her role as the mother of character, Agnes DiPesto, in the TV series, Moonlighting.

Imogene died on June 2, 2001 in Westhaven, Connecticut at the age of 92 after suffering from Alzheimer’s. She had requested that there would be no funeral service and her remains were cremated. She had no children. However, many performers have said that she was a huge influence on their own careers. The television series, Your Show of Shows will always be considered a television classic.

WEEK 7 – 2015: John and Elizabeth (McGowan) Donnelly – Scotland/Philadelphia

John J. Donnelly

I know we all look at our family trees and wonder what our ancestors were really like. This week’s 52 Ancestors theme, Love, made me wonder how many of those couples lived their lives deeply in love with each other.

My great, great grandparents, John and Elizabeth Donnelly, are one of those couples that I can imagine were so much in love that they could not live without each other.

John Donnelly was born sometime around May 1844 in Ireland. His parents names may have been John Donnelly and Nancy McEntyre. At some point, John ended up in Greenock, Scotland and worked as a mason. It was there that he met Elizabeth McGowan, who was a daughter of Hugh and Mary (Fife) McGowan. They married June 11, 1867 at St. Mary’s Chapel in Greenock.

John and Elizabeth had 4 children, with at least 3 of them baptized at St. Mary’s Chapel: Mary Ann, Sarah, John and Hugh.

However, John and Elizabeth did not seem to find life in Scotland fulfilling. Around 1871, John decided to set out across the ocean to America. Elizabeth followed him shortly afterwards. She and her children, Mary Ann, Sarah and John, boarded the ship Europa in Glasgow, and arrived in New York on July 20, 1872.

John and Elizabeth took their young family to Philadelphia, where John continued working as a stone mason. Elizabeth gave birth to 5 more daughters, with only 3 of them surviving into adulthood: Agnes, Elizabeth and Catherine. John managed to save up enough money and bought a small rowhome for his family on Glenwood Avenue, in Philadelphia.

On February 1, 1909, 77 year old Elizabeth was busy taking care of things around the house, when she stumbled and fell down the stairs. Her neck was broken from the fall, and she died almost immediately. Her husband, John, must have been overcome with grief over the sudden loss of his wife. He became so ill, that he signed the house to his daughter, Agnes and her husband, Albert Tolle in March of 1909. Then, on April 13, 1909, John J. Donnelly died of pneumonia, almost 2 months after Elizabeth had died.

They are both buried together in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham, PA.

14. Agnes V. Tolle – “The Singing Harpist”

This past week, I was enjoying browsing through Newspapers.com and GenealogyBank.com finding old newspaper articles about various ancestors. That is when I stumbled on to this distant cousin, and immediately knew that she would be this week’s post for the 52 Ancestors challenge.

Advertisement from The Springfield Republican, Springfield, MA. March 17, 1946.

Agnes V. Tolle is my 1st cousin, 2xs removed. Her mother, Agnes Donnelly, was a sister to my great, grandmother, Elizabeth Donnelly. Their eldest sister was Mary Ann Donnelly, who was the grandmother of comedienne, Imogene Coca. So, I had always known there was a little bit of showbiz on that branch of the family tree.

She was born on February 1, 1905 in Philadelphia, the daughter of Albert and Agnes (nee Donnelly) Tolle. Agnes began playing the harp at the age of seven.

“Well, my mother decided that I should play the harp, and after all, it’s an Irish harp.” Agnes was quoted as saying in the February 20, 1939 Harrisburg Telegraph.

Agnes and her 2 brothers, Albert and William and her sister, Mildred grew up on Glenwood Avenue in Philadelphia. Their father, sadly, had taken his own life in 1914, leaving their mother to raise them on her own. However, the arts must have been a huge influence in their life. Sometime before 1930, Agnes and her mother and sister moved to Manhattan where she began pursuing a career as a musician. They were located there in the 1930 census on West 170th Street, Agnes’ occupation listed as a musician at the theatre and her sister, Mildred was working as a dancer in a night club.

I found many advertisements and articles on Agnes, spanning from 1928 to 1950. She performed with Victor Borge’s orchestra and performed all over the country. And she performed at several cocktail rooms and restaurants in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

Advertisement from TheSheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin., November 14, 1947.

Advertisement from TheSheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin., November 14, 1947.

Advertisement from The Springfield Union, Springfield, MA., May 1, 1948.

Advertisement from The Springfield Union, Springfield, MA., May 1, 1948.

 

Advertisement from The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA. March 30, 1928

Advertisement from The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA. March 30, 1928

However, I discovered that playing the harp was not Agnes’ only passion. I found her name in the book, Bums No More: The 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers, World Champions of Baseball by Brian M. Endsley. On page 25, in a chapter talking about when the team last played as the Brooklyn Dodgers I found:

” ‘Died – Sept. 24, 1957’ That was the text on the hand-written cardboard epitaph placed in the rotunda at Ebbets Field that same evening in Brooklyn, New York by two distraught Brooklyn Dodger fans, Rosemarie Keegan and Agnes Tolle, after a night game with the Pittsburgh Pirates.”

Could it be that Agnes was a die-hard Brooklyn Dodger fan?

And then I discovered that this beautiful, sophisticated harpist also enjoyed BOWLING! In an article from the Reading Eagle on April 24, 1942:

“Agnes Tolle, harpist de luxe at the Abe Lincoln, bowls in the wee hours at Cole Watson’s… the harp hasn’t taken up the game as of yet.”

As an avid bowler myself, I really enjoyed finding that last article. I never would have guessed that I would have found another ancestor that enjoyed bowling.

Before searching the newspaper sites above, Agnes would have been just another name sitting in my family tree. Thanks to performing a few searches, I was able to find out that she was actually a fascinating person.