Kate’s questions

Fred Stone (1873-1959). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Kate had questions. Her father’s family history, with its many connections to the Stone family of Hollywood, had been shrouded in mystery for years. She explained that it had been covered up through old family rifts, and, as happens to many of us, become surrounded by proverbial brick walls.

I didn’t know Kate all that well, but as she spoke about her father and grandparents, and the few things that she could recall, I could see her family history start to take shape in part, out of what she only thought she couldn’t remember. I sensed that for Kate, as for many of us, all those secrets, all of that family history, lay just beneath the surface. So I resolved to try and pay it forward “genealogically” (as has been done for me so many times) in hopes of helping Kate to find some answers…

Like a wannabe Dick Tracy, I asked Kate to start out with what she did know about her family. She talked about her connections to Kansas and her family’s journey west to California. Listening, I heard her wonder about the why and where of it all – and what might have caused those old rifts in the first place. She remembered bits and pieces, including details about her paternal grandmother and the family’s show business roots. She recalled her grandmother‘s maiden name had been Mildred May Stone, and mentioned that “Grandma Mildred” had died fairly young.[1]

She had understood that her grandmother was somehow connected to Doc Adams from television’s Gunsmoke,[2] and to a guy they called “Uncle Fred” – of whom she knew nothing more – although she had once seen his picture at a museum in Cody, Wyoming. She had heard that Uncle Fred Stone was perhaps connected to the stage, and to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, but that was about it.[3] Then she related hearing about an older “aunt” whom she understood had appeared on an episode of TV’s Bewitched. (Well, what could I say? If there was a witch to be found – even if only a TV witch – I was all in.)

Well, what could I say? If there was a witch to be found – even if only a TV witch – I was all in.

But the how and why of the connections between these folks was lost to her. While Kate couldn’t be certain, she hinted that her grandparents’ marriage had been a bit troubled, and she wondered if Grandpa hadn’t been a bit of a scoundrel. Was it because of Grandpa’s shenanigans that the ties to Grandma Mildred’s family became frayed? Indeed, after Grandma Mildred died in 1946, relations with the larger part of the Stone family dissipated, with any discussion of Grandpa’s second marriage to a woman named Ruth having been politely swept under the rug.

Paula Stone by Scotty Welbourne. Courtesy of Scott C. Steward

In the meantime, I set about connecting Kate to her Stone kinfolk. And in truth, this was easy enough to do. Her degree of separation to Milburn Stone (aka Doc) wasn’t all that far removed. Even the very cool “Uncle Fred” showed up after a bit of sleuthing, bringing with him an amazing theatrical career (including his appearance on Broadway in The Wizard of Oz as the Scarecrow) and the Stone family’s trifecta of mid-20th century Hollywood starlets: his daughters Dorothy, Paula, and Carol.[4] Still, Kate’s “aunt” – that family television “witch” – eluded me. It looked like this part of the ‘story within the story’ was going take a more circuitous route to resolve the question.

Although it varied, the list of the ladies who had played the character of a witch on Bewitched was ‘relatively’ finite. Kate indicated she had been told that her aunt was not the more well-known “Aunt Clara,” that her “aunt” had portrayed one of Samantha Stevens’ lesser-known witch aunts.[5] This left actresses Reta Shaw and Madge Blake to consider.

Reta Shaw and Madge Blake in “The Witches Are Out” episode of BEWITCHED, broadcast 29 October 1964. Courtesy of followsshows.com

Working backwards from each “aunt,” I soon discovered that Madge (Cummings) Blake was the daughter of Alice Frances (Stone) Cummings.[6]  So, this TV witch was no “aunt” at all, but a cousin to Kate and a first cousin to her grandmother, the former Mildred Stone. This wasn’t all that curious – that a cousin should be referred to as an aunt – yet it still nagged at me, as there seemed to be more to the story.

About this same time, I started to take a look at Ruth, the second wife of Kate’s grandfather.[7] I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to Ruth Johnson, but something caught my eye about her name in the California Death Index.[8] The index indicated that Ruth’s mother’s maiden name was (of all things) Stone. While again, not unheard of, it did seem unusual in the twentieth century that Kate’s grandfather had married two ladies from the same family. But what was perhaps more interesting was that Ruth’s obituary also mentioned a sister, one Madge Blake. Then I recalled that Kate’s grandfather had married a Miss Ruth Cummings as his second wife. Indeed, he had married his first wife Mildred Stone’s first cousin, Ruth, the sister of a television “witch” and Kate’s “aunt” – Madge (Cummings) Blake.[9]

So the truth will out, as it always does. Kate’s TV witch and aunt was indeed her cousin – and, via her grandfather’s second marriage, a great-aunt (as the sister of her step-grandmother). And while it isn’t always wise to speculate, it looks like her grandfather’s two marriages to first cousins may have separated the sides of her very talented Stone family. This left a young lady named Kate with some new unanswered questions[10] – along with some surprising answers.       

Notes

[1] Mildred May (Stone) Johnson (1901–1946).

[2] Hugh Milburn Stone (1904–1980), who played Doc Adams on television’s Gunsmoke.

[3] Fred Andrew Stone (1873–1959). See “Grand Old Man of the American Theater,” The Los Angeles Times, 7 March 1959.

[4] Dorothy Stone (1905–1974), Paula Stone (1912–1997), and Carol Stone (1915–2011).

[5] Aunt Clara was portrayed by actress Marion Lorne MacDougal (1883–1968), with Elizabeth Montgomery (1933–1995) as Samantha Stevens on television’s Bewitched 1964–72.

[6] Alice Frances (Stone) Cummings (1868–1931).

[7] Ruth (Cummings) Johnson (1905–1958).

[8] Obituary for Ruth M. Johnson in The Los Angeles Times, 1958. Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 (Ancestry.com).

[9] Madge (Cummings) Blake (1899–1969). See “Services Scheduled for Actress,” The San Bernardino County Sun, 21 February 1969, at newspapers.com. Madge also acted with Gene Kelly, was a series regular on TV’s Batman, and is remembered as Jack Benny’s “little old lady from Pasadena.”

[10] “The Witches Are Out” episode of Bewitched, with actress Madge Blake as “Aunt Mary,” aired 29 October 1964.

Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

6 thoughts on “Kate’s questions

  1. Again what a good piece of research and I suspect some delight to be able to help on your part. The change of names for female relatives can get complicated, then sorting them becomes the challenge. I usually almost call that the fun in this challenge:) Good Work Jeff

  2. What a great story! I got to meet Bernie Koppell of Love Boat and Get Smart fame, who also worked on Bewitched and told me the worst person he ever worked with in Hollywood was (sadly a favorite of mine…Paul Lynde!). As for “celebrities” in my tree, most all are athletes or politicians, no actors, which is strange since I always considered my family theatrical and dramatic.

  3. No media celebrities in my tree, but I did sorta meet Milburn Stone once. In the 70s I briefly worked as a plain clothes store detective in a high-end dept store in Las Vegas patronized by celebs. Basically I got paid to pretend to shop all day while keeping an eye out for shoplifters and employees with sticky fingers. We were expected to be polite to celebs but barred from any other interaction with them, i.e. no asking for autographs, etc. One morning I found I was being followed around several women’s clothing depts by Milburn Stone, whom I knew had a houseboat at Lake Mead. Even in civilian clothes, there was no mistaking he was “Doc Adams”. He always stayed several feet away and smiled rather sheepishly whenever I looked his way, and I could only smile back before continuing on my rounds when I really just wanted to hug him. Apparently following me was his way of killing time while his wife shopped. I got used to into celebs on the floor and in store rooms, but Milburn Stone is the one I remember most simply bc our encounters were such a pleasant way to spend an otherwise routine morning.

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