Sunday, August 7, 2011

Before Hollywood, there was Nebraska

Earlier this weekend, I was having a bit of fun with blog readers, coming up with our ideas for celebrities to feature on a season of NBC's Who Do You Think You Are? In addition to genealogy, I have a passion for learning as much as I can about movie actors (and other media celebrities) who have their roots in Nebraska. I indulge my passion for Nebraska personalities and movies filmed in the state on my web site, Someday, you might even spot me wearing an outfit that Kathy Bates wore in the Nebraska-based film, About Schmidt.

So, you ask, what does that have to do with genealogy? Well, once I get on, I sometimes get distracted. If I can't find what I'm looking for (remember, all you have to do is look!), I will poke around and see what I can find about our Nebraska actors. Since I named Jane Fonda in my WDYTYA fantasy season, I was going through some of my old folders and found that I had already done some digging into her family history.

The William B Fonda Family
Omaha Nebraska, 1930 Census
In 1930, we find 24 year old Henry J. Fonda living with his parents and younger sister in Omaha. I love what I see as I scroll across the page:

Henry Fonda's Occupation in Omaha
Stage Actor
1930 Census
Henry's occupation is a stage actor! He made his stage debut at the Omaha Community Playhouse, under the direction of Dorothy Brando. Does that last name sound familiar? It should. A six year old Marlon Brando, Jr. also appears in the 1930 census for Omaha, along with his parents, Marlon, Sr. and Dorothy and two sisters.

Marlon Brando, Jr., age 6
Omaha, Nebraska 1930 census

Although not born in Nebraska, Johnny Carson always considered himself a Nebraskan, having grown up in Norfolk and graduating from the University of Nebraska. Where was he in 1930? He was four years old and living in Red Oak, Iowa with his parents, Homer ("Kit") and Ruth Carson, and his siblings Katherine and Dick, who worked with Johnny during much of his show business career.

The Homer Carson Family of Red Oak, Iowa
John W. "Johnny" Carson, age 4
1930 Census

Going back even farther, to 1900, we find the Austerlitz family of Omaha. Frederick Austerlitz was the son of Austrian immigrants and was born in Omaha on May 10, 1899. He and his older sister, Adele, went on to become dance partners in vaudeville until she married in 1932. You probably know him better by his stage name, Fred Astaire.

The Austerlitz Family of Omaha, Nebraska
1900 Census

It's always great fun when I can combine my two passions: genealogy and Nebraskans on film.


  1. What a fun post! I also enjoy looking into the family trees of some of my favorite old movie stars. Marlon's sister, Jocelyn (also listed on the census) was also an actress. I recently re-watched one of her movies, The Big Heat, and you could definitely see the family resemblance.

  2. From another movie lover, I loved this post. And, would like to borrow your idea, if I can think of a few actors from MA (besides Matt and Ben).

  3. Barbara,
    I was just recently looking into a MA movie star, Edna May Oliver (a native of Malden, MA). According to all the biographies I've read on her, she is descended from John Quincy Adams. I wanted to verify it so I did some poking around and guess what? She isn't related to John Quincy or any members of that particular Adams family. You just know some Hollywood publicist thought that connection up...

  4. Barb, here's about 1,000 you can pick from:

  5. Fun post. Thanks for showing Johnny in Iowa, as a youngster! We like to claim him, as well! ;-)
    [I'm native born Iowan, in case you missed that!]

  6. Bill - OF COURSE, I know you're Iowan! I think Johnny maintained dual citizenship between the states, LOL. His boyhood home is on the main drag in Norfolk, NE, so I drive by it every time I'm in town. Henry Fonda's birth place was moved to the site of the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island.