The Catalina Kid

During the evening and night of January 15 and 16, 1927, a 17-year old Toronto boy, George Young (briefly mentioned previously in this blog here and here), became the only finisher of a 22-mile swimming race between Catalina Island and California. His feat earned him the nickname “The Catalina Kid” and made him famous.

To say that the Toronto Daily Star was following Young’s exploits with great enthusiasm would be an understatement. The January 31 1927 edition of the paper contained five articles, one photograph, and one ad referencing young Mr. Young.

First, there was an article in which William Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum magnate who sponsored the swim, asserted that nobody but Young could have done it. Mr. Wrigley claimed that the young man would soon be worth $100,000:

And there was this photograph of two of Young’s family and his trainer, on their way to join him in California:

And there was this article about a dispute between Young and his competitor and former friend, Bill Hastings:

George Young apparently had William Wrigley’s yacht at his disposal:

And there were articles written (or perhaps ghostwritten) by Young and Hastings themselves:

And, finally, there was an ad stating that Young would be making personal appearances at theatres in Toronto:

Sadly, life did not go as well for George Young as he and others would have hoped. He married another distance swimmer, Margaret Ravior, in 1932. They had a son together, but, as the January 22 1934 edition of the Daily Star recounted, he died shortly after birth:

Young and the former Ms. Ravior eventually divorced. The ups and downs of Young’s life are described in detail in this Maclean’s article from 1949. He passed away in 1972.


Sixth in as many months

The photo page of the January 22 1934 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained this picture of Cubans acclaiming their new president.

Carlos Mendieta (1873-1960) was installed as the acting president of Cuba after a coup. During his presidency, women gained the right to vote. He resigned in December 1935 as unrest continued.

Mr. Mendieta was indeed the sixth president of Cuba in as many months; in fact, he was the fourth man to hold the office in the preceding week. There were two more presidents in 1936; after that, they lasted for approximately four years at a stretch.


Wedding off

Here’s a photograph from the January 22 1934 edition of the Toronto Daily Star that was deemed interesting enough to be on the front page:

John Jacob Astor VI (1912-1992), nicknamed “Jakey”, was known as the “Titanic Baby”: his mother, Madeleine Astor, was five months pregnant with him when she was rescued from the Titanic. Her husband, John Jacob Astor IV, went down with the ship. The Titanic Baby had the name John VI instead of John V because another branch of the Astor family gave birth to a John V first.

John VI and Ms. Gillespie were planning to marry just over two weeks from the date of this article. According to his Wikipedia page, she claimed that he wasn’t mature enough to venture into marriage. After being dumped, he went off to Shanghai for three months, then returned and almost immediately married one of Ms. Gillespie’s friends, Ellen Tuck French. She would have been one of the bridesmaids had the original wedding taken place. They divorced in 1943.

Mr. Astor married three more times. He and his third wife separated shortly after their honeymoon; his fourth marriage, to Sue Sandford in 1956, lasted until she passed away in 1985.

Eileen Gillespie Slocum (1915-2008) became a society grande dame in her home of Newport, Rhode Island. She was known for her impeccable manners and her unflinching devotion to the Republican Party.


Prize-winning cockerel

I don’t think I will ever get bored with the photo pages of old Toronto newspapers. Here’s a photo from the January 22 1934 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of an actress with an award-winning cockerel:

Unfortunately for her, Marie Felique did not have much of a career. A search revealed that she appeared on Broadway in 1933 as part of the ensemble cast of Shady Lady, but that was it.

I could find out nothing about what happened to the cockerel. Presumably, it grew up to become a rooster.


Not dead, he insists

On January 12 1934, Edgar “Barney” Ward was in New York state, working as a mover, away from his wife and family in Toronto. That day, he grabbed a copy of a two-day-old edition of the Toronto Daily Star. Out of habit, he turned to the Deaths section of the newspaper, and was quite startled to discover his own name in it:

Apparently, someone who looked a lot like the unfortunate Mr. Ward had committed suicide by taking cyanide. The double had been taken to the funeral home and a period of mourning had happened before Mr. Ward’s son realized that the dead man was not his father.

Upon reading the news of his own death, Mr. Ward sat for fifteen minutes, understandably shocked, before calling his wife on the telephone and assuring her and his family that he was, in fact, still alive.

The January 22 1934 edition of the Toronto Daily Star provides the complete story:

The paper also included a photo of Mr. Ward, looking very much not dead:

I tried to trace Edgar Ward in the Toronto city directories, but the records are unclear.

  • The 1933 directory lists him as a labourer living at 10 Grenadier Ravine Drive, as mentioned in his bogus death notice.
  • The 1934 directory doesn’t list him in the Names section, but the Streets section lists Edgar Ward at 10 Grenadier Ravine.
  • The 1935 directory lists an Edgar Ward working as a mechanic and living at 202 Seaton Street. In the Streets section, 10 Grenadier Ravine Drive is listed as “information unobtainable”.
  • The 1936 directory still lists Edgar Ward at 202 Seaton, but now lists Mrs. E. Ward at 10 Grenadier Ravine. She is not listed as Edgar’s widow, which might mean that the Wards split up at about this time. 202 Seaton and 10 Grenadier Ravine are at opposite ends of the city, which might (or might not) support this hypothesis.
  • The situation remains unchanged in 1939. In 1940, Mrs. Ward is still at 10 Grenadier Ravine, and Edgar Ward is no longer listed.
  • Mrs. Ward last appears at 10 Grenadier Ravine in the 1945 directory. In 1946, there is a Mrs. E. Ward elsewhere, but Ward is a common name, so there is no way to tell whether this was her.
  • Neither of them is listed in the 1947 directory, so the trail ends here.

Grenadier Ravine Drive is a small road resembling an alleyway in what was formerly the town of Swansea. 10 Grenadier Ravine has obviously been remodelled since 1934.


“Buzz” Boll

Here’s a photograph from the November 16 1934 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

If Frank “Buzz” Boll (1911-1990) looks young in this picture, it’s because he was young: he was 23 and in his second year as a Maple Leaf. He went on to a long career in the NHL, playing with the Leafs until 1939 and in the league until 1944.

His most memorable accomplishment was probably when he scored seven goals in nine playoff games in the 1935-1936 season; this was a record at the time. He also scored a playoff goal after 31 seconds of overtime, which was also a record.


Glamorous star

Here’s an ad from the November 16 1934 edition of the Toronto Daily Star for an upcoming performance at Massey Hall.

Unlike some other Massey Hall ads from around this time, this one featured the performer’s full name. Bernice Claire (1906-2003) was a singer and actress who appeared in 13 movies between 1930 and 1938; she was more successful in films where she was asked to sing. She later moved to Portland, Oregon, and died a few days before her 97th birthday.


Cooking school

Here’s a grocery ad from the October 4 1934 edition of the Toronto Daily Star. Can you guess what the problem is with this ad?

Readers of this ad would have been confused. Miracle Marketeria was offering a cooking school on Friday at 1:30, and again next week – but at which of their two locations?

The Toronto city directories suggest that the cooking classes were held at 2424 Yonge Street, as this was the company’s main store. Miracle Marketerias expanded aggressively in the 1930s; by 1939, there were five branches, though they had moved from 2187 Bloor West to 2269 Bloor West. They didn’t survive the war, though: by 1941, there were just two stores, at 2424 Yonge and 883 Bloor West, and in 1942 these had both become branches of the Dominion food store chain.

The 1934 directory lists Jay M. Laws as a home economist for Mills & Hadwin, with her home address in an unspecified location in Islington. She doesn’t appear in the 1937 directory.


The Vanderbilt custody trial

The biggest news item in the October 4 1934 edition of the Toronto Daily Star was the Gloria Vanderbilt custody trial. Young Ms. Vanderbilt was 10 years old at the time and heiress to half of a $5 million trust fund left to her when her father passed away in 1925. Since she was 18 months old when she received her inheritance, management of the trust fund went to her mother, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt.

In 1934, the elder Ms. Vanderbilt’s sister-in-law, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, sued for custody of the child, claiming that her mother was unfit to be a parent. Ms. Whitney won the suit; the elder Ms. Vanderbilt was granted occasional visitation rights but lost access to the trust fund.

There were a number of articles and photographs related to the custody trial in that day’s paper. The front page included a photo of actress Constance Bennett, who was prepared to serve as a character witness for Ms. Vanderbilt:

An article on the front page of the paper, continuing into page 2, mentioned support for Ms. Vanderbilt from Ms. Bennett and others:

The others included “the blue-blooded marchioness of Milford Haven”:

Another supporter was Prince Gottfried Zu Hohenlohe-Langenburg:

And, last but not least, there was Lady Furness, Ms. Vanderbilt’s twin sister:

The Daily Star also printed a photograph that was part of the case for the prosecution, as it were, showing Ms. Vanderbilt “dining out” with A.C. Blumenthal, a theatre producer:

The quotaton marks in “dining out” were presumably meant to insinuate that the two were a couple. I’m impressed by the sheer quantity of glasses at the table!

All of the leading protagonists in this drama have Wikipedia pages, of course:

  • Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt (1904-1965) tried to obtain custody again in 1936; the New York State Supreme Court granted her more time with her daughter, but did not give her custody. She received a $21,000 annual allowance from her daughter until 1946; at that time, her daughter cut her off, suggesting that maybe she should get a job. She passed away in 1965 of cancer.
  • Ms. Vanderbilt’s twin sister, Thelma Furness (1904-1970), started off her life by forming a motion picture company in 1923 that would create films in which she would star. She appeared in movies between 1922 and 1925. She later became a mistress of the future King Edward VIII; this ended when she introduced him to Wallis Simpson.

Wikipedia quotes photographer Cecil Beaton as describing the Morgan twins as

…alike as two magnolias, and with their marble complexions, raven tresses, and flowing dresses, with their slight lisps and foreign accents, they diffuse a Ouida atmosphere of hothouse elegance and lacy femininity. … Their noses are like begonias, with full-blown nostrils, their lips richly carved, and they should have been painted by Sargent, with arrogant heads and affected hands, in white satin with a bowl of white peonies near by.

My oh my! The twin sisters, sometimes called “The Magnificent Morgans”, appear in a brief video here, in which they appear to be watching somebody model clothes for them.


  • Gloria Vanderbilt (1924-2019) outlived her mother by over half a century. She went on to become an actress, a fashion model, and a fashion designer. She was the mother of television personality Anderson Cooper.
  • Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942) was a sculptor and supporter of women in the arts. She would not have needed her niece’s money: she inherited a $72 million estate when her husband, Harry Payne Whitney, passed away in 1930.
  • Constance Bennett (1904-1965) was the daughter of two actors and the older sister of two others. She appeared regularly in movies until the mid-1940s and occasionally after that. She was married five times; her last marriage, to John Theron Coulter, was the one that lasted. Mr. Coulter later became a brigadier general, which meant that Ms. Bennett was buried in Arlington National Cemetery when she passed away from a brain hemorrhage.
  • Nadejda Mountbatten, Marchioness of Milford Haven (1896-1963) was the daughter of Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia, who was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. During the custody trial, a maid of Ms. Vanderbilt claimed that she and the Marchioness were lovers, which she denied.
  • Gottfried, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (1897-1960) was reportedly engaged to Ms. Vanderbilt during 1927-1928, but later married Princess Margarita of Greece and Denmark. Her brother, Philip, who was 16 years younger than the princess, married Queen Elizabeth II.
  • Alfred Cleveland Blumenthal (1885-1957) was a real estate developer, theatre producer, and one-time speakeasy owner. He was married to actress Peggy Fears at the time of the photograph appearing in the paper, so perhaps he didn’t particularly want his picture taken.


The October 4 1934 edition of the Toronto Daily Star contained perhaps the most sparsely-written ad I’ve ever seen:

I suppose that there is no need to say anything else.