Reader’s Question:

Could you provide some information about notable people who were from Indianapolis but did not remain in Indianapolis all of their lives.  ~ Hattie Byland, Riverside, California    

HI’s Answer: 

Kurt.Vonnegut.quote.reducedAs Indianapolis-born author Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “I don’t know what it is about Hoosiers.  But wherever you go, there is always a Hoosier doing something very important there.”

In the two centuries since Indianapolis was first settled, the city has produced many interesting individuals who got their starts in Indianapolis but who moved on to other places.  It would be impossible to write about all of these individuals in the space allotted here, so I will profile nine who were born in the nineteenth century.

Louis Howe (1871-1936)  Close Friend and Political Advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt                               Louis McHenry Howe’s ancestors were among Indiana’s first non-native settlers.  At the time of his birth, the family of Captain Edward Porter Howe and Eliza (Blake) Howe lived at 519 N. Pennsylvania Street, which after renumbering became 953 N. Pennsylvania Street.  To see what is located at that address today, click here.  Although Howe’s family had been quite well-to-do, his father lost a great deal of money in what is now referred to as the Long Depression.  Due to the financial strain, the family moved to Saratoga Springs, New York, to live with Louis’ uncle, his father’s brother.  Edward Howe decided to get into the newspaper publishing business, and by the age of 17, Louis had also joined the staff of The Sun.  When the newspaper folded in 1900, Louis freelanced articles for other regional papers, until he received a reporting job at the New York Herald.  His assignment to the New York legislature in Albany was the springboard for his transition from covering politics to being a part of politics.  Howe initially accompanied Franklin Delano Roosevelt on business and speaking trips as a trusted friend.  Eventually he joined FDR’s campaign staff.  After FDR was elected President, Howe assumed the role of Secretary to the President, a position that has been known as the White House Chief of Staff, since the time of Harry S. Truman’s administration.  Howe also served as Eleanor Roosevelt’s trusted advisor.  Howe died in Bethesda, Maryland, and was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Mary Ritter Beard  (1876-1958)  Historian, Archivist, Suffragist                        Mary Ritter was one of seven children born to Quakers Eli Foster Ritter, an attorney, and Narcissa (Lockwood) Foster, a teacher.  At the time of her birth, Mary Ritter’s family lived at 375 Central Avenue, which after renumbering became 1641 Central Avenue. To see what is located at that address today, click here.  Mary Ritter was valedictorian of her 1893 Indianapolis (now Shortridge) High School class.  She met her husband, Charles Beard, while both were students at DePauw University in Greencastle.  After living in England, so that Charles could study at Oxford University, the couple settled in New York City.  Mary joined the National Women’s Trade Union League and the Congressional Union, two organizations working to improve the conditions under which women labored.  With other activists and feminists, Beard founded the World Center for Women’s Archives in 1935.  Critical of the viewpoint that men were the sole influences in the rise of civilization, in 1940, Mary undertook a project to analyze Encyclopaedia Brittanica‘s representation of women.  Committed to getting women’s names into the history records, Charles and Mary Beard became proponents of the “New History” and wrote several books arguing that women played an indispensable role in the advancement of civilization.  Mary died in Hartsdale, New York, and is buried in Ferncliff Cemetery in Westchester County.

Albert Von Tilzer  (1878-1956)  Songwriter, Composer, Music Publisher  Born into a musical family, Albert Gumbinsky was one of five brothers who abandoned their birth name for a contrived but classier sounding professional name.  Tilzer was their mother’s maiden name, and Von was added to make it sound artistocratic.  The Gumbinsky family lived at 434 S. Illinois Street before Albert struck out for New York, which after renumbering became 544 S. Illinois Street.  To see what is located at that address today, click here.  Albert dropped out of Indianapolis (now Shortridge) High School to help make a living for the family in his father’s shoe store, located first at 303 W. Washington Street and later at 153 W. Washington Street.  During this time, Albert taught himself to play the piano.  When he was in his early twenties, Von Tilzer moved to New York.  He worked in a Brooklyn shoe store while he learned how to compose music.  He got his first break with the song, “Tell Me That Beautiful Story.”  He went on to collaborate with nearly every lyricist of the day.  It was Jack Norworth’s and his 1908 song, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” that established Von Tilzer as a superstar in the music world.  In 1970, Albert and his brother Harry were posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Albert Von Tilzer died in Los Angeles and is buried in Old Mount Carmel Cemetery in Queens County, New York.

Sidney Grauman (1879-1950)  Theatre Mogul, Entrepreneur, Impresario Sidney Patrick Grauman was born to railroad ticket broker David Grauman and Rosa (Goldsmith) Grauman.  At the time of Sidney’s birth, the Graumans lived at 181 S. Illinois Street, which after reunumbering became 361 S. Illinois Street.  To see what is located at that address today, click here.  Sid left Indianapolis in his teens, when his father decided to go north to Alaska for the Klondike Gold Rush.  Although the Graumans did not succeed at prospecting for gold, they became moderately wealthy during their time in Alaska by charging miners admission to various types of entertainment venues they produced, including boxing, wrestling, singing, and dancing events.  When Sid’s aunt became ill, the family moved back to the contiguous states.  They opened two theatres in San Francisco, the Unique and the Lyceum, shortly after 1900.  Both theatres were leveled by the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.  Salvaging a projector from the ruins, as well as a tent from an evangelist preacher and some pews from a nearby church, the Graumans operated a makeshift theatre on the site of one of their destroyed theatres until they could rebuild the New Lyceum.  Once they were reestablished in San Francisco, they expanded to other cities.  As the movie industry gravitated to southern California, the Graumans relocated their base of operations from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1917, where they built the Million Dollar Theatre.  Their first movie palace in Hollywood was Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre.  Built in 1922, the Egyptian was undoubtedly the inspiration for Indianapolis’ own Zaring Egyptian Theatre, built three years later on Central Avenue near Fall Creek Boulevard.  Grauman’s most famous theatre is Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, built in 1927, which is the site of about 200 handprints, footprints, and autographs of Hollywood celebrities.  Sid Grauman died in Los Angeles and was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.

May Aufderheide (1888-1972)  Ragtime Composer, Pianist                         May Frances (Aufderheide) Kaufman is generally regarded as the most important female composer of Ragtime music.  At the time of her birth, the Aufderheide family lived at 235 Davidson Street, which after renumbering became 233 N. Davidson Street.  To see what is located at that address today, click here.  Although she studied classical music during her formative years, she was drawn to popular music.  As a young woman, she began playing and composing rags.  Her first composition was “Dusty Rag.”  It was so successful that her father started the J. H. Aufderheide Music Publishing Company, to sell the sheet music for her pieces.  May married an architect, Thomas M. Kaufmann, in 1908, and they adopted a daughter.  May outlived both her husband and her child.  May died in Pasadena, California, and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena.

Noble Sissle (1889-1975)  Jazz Composer, Lyricist, Bandleader                        Noble Lee Sissle was the son of Reverend George Sissle, a Methodist Episcopal minister and organist, and Martha (Scott) Sissle, a school teacher and juvenile probation officer.  At the time of Noble’s birth, the Sissle family lived at 160 Howard Street, which after renumbering became 1560 Howard Street.  To see what is located at that address today, click here.  As a youth, Noble sang in his high school glee club and the church choir.  He attended DePauw University on a scholarship, but later transferred to Butler University.  He joined the 369th Infantry Regiment, a highly respected African-American regiment that served in both World War I and World War II.  He helped form the 369th Regimental Band, considered one of the greatest jazz bands of all time.  In 1919, the director of the band was murdered, leaving Sissle and his friend Eubie Blake to take charge of the band.  Sissle and Blake would collaborate many times during their lives, writing songs and appearing in both vaudeville and musical revues together.  Their first song “It’s All Your Fault” was introduced by Sophie Tucker and became a hit.  Other standards were “Love Will Find A Way” and “I’m Just Wild About Harry.”  In the 1920s, Sissle made two films for Lee DeForest using the Phonofilm sound-on-film process.  In the 1950s, Sissle was a disc jockey for New York radio station WMGM, which was owned by Lowe’s Theatres.  Sissle died in Tampa, Florida, and was buried in Long Island National Cemetery, in Farmingdale, New York.

Monte Blue (1887-1963)  Movie Actor 
Born Gerard Montgomery Blue, his father is listed in biographies as having been half French and half Native American.  This report appears to be unsubstantiated.  At the time of Monte’s birth, the family lived at 314 N. Noble Street, which after the city streets were renamed and renumbered in the late 1800s for consistency became 514 N. College Avenue.  To see what is located at that address today, click here.  William Jackson Blue died in an automobile accident when Gerard was eight years old.  His mother, Orphalena (Springer) Blue, was unable to raise five children alone, so Monte and a brother were sent to the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans Home in Knightstown, Indiana.  Monte worked his way through high school and Purdue University, where he played football.  As a young adult, Monte worked as a fireman, railroad worker, coal miner, ranch hand, circus rider, and lumberjack.  His first screen appearance was as an extra and a stuntman in the silent classic, “The Birth of A Nation” in 1915.  Monte was one of the few silent stars to survive the transition to talking movies.  His movie career spanned four decades and included such leading ladies as Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Clara Bow, Gloria Swanson, and Norma Shearer.  One of his memorable roles was the sheriff in “Key Largo,” opposite Lionel Barrymore.  He was also a Mason and a Shriner, serving for many years as an advance man for the Shrine Circus.  Blue died while on a business trip to Milwaukee and was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

Clifton Webb (1889-1966)  Stage and Movie Actor, Dancer, Singer       Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck was the only child of railroad ticket taker Jacob Hollenbeck and his wife Mabel (Parmelee) Hollenbeck.  At the time of Webb’s birth, the family lived at 305 N. Mississippi Street, which later became 305 N. Senate Avenue.  To see what is located at that address today, click here.  In 1892, Webb and his mother moved to New York City.  His parents divorced, and his mother remarried by the time of the 1900 Census.  In New York, Webb assumed the stage name of Clifton Webb and became a professional ballroom dancer.  He performed in operettas before debuting in the play, “The Purple Road.”  From 1913 to 1947, he worked in 23 Broadway productions with the likes of Al Jolson, Will Rogers, Cole Porter, and Oscar Wilde.  He was the first to sing Irving Berlin’s song, “Easter Parade” and George and Ira Gershwin’s “I’ve Got A Crush on You.”  Webb was in his 50s when he was chosen to play the radio columnist in the 1944 film noir, “Laura.”  That led to roles in “The Razor’s Edge,” and “Sitting Pretty.” He received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor for all three of those performances.  He went on to make many popular films, including “Cheaper By the Dozen,” “Three Coins in A Fountain,” “Titanic,” and “The Man Who Never Was.”  He played the title role in three Mr. Belvedere movies.  Webb never married and had no children.  His mother lived with him until her death in 1960.  Clifton Webb died in Beverly Hills, California, and was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Janet Flanner (1892-1978)   Journalist, Author                                             Janet Tyler Flanner was the middle daughter of Francis W. Flanner and Mary (Hockett) Flanner.  Frank Flanner was the founder of Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Centers, along with his sister’s husband, Charles Buchanan.  At the time of Janet’s birth, the family lived at 952 N. Delaware Street.  To see what is located at that address today, click here.  Janet attended IPS School 32, Tudor Hall School for Girls (now Park Tudor School), and the University of Chicago.  When she returned to her hometown after two years of college, she became the first film critic for The Indianapolis Star.  In 1918, she married William Lane Rehn, a friend she’d made at the University of Chicago.  He was an artist, and they moved to New York City to join the art scene.  It was there she met Solita Solano (born Sarah Wilkinson), an editor for the New York Tribune and a writer for National GeographicThe women were lovers for many years, although both were married to men and had relationships with other women.  In 1925, Flanner was offered the position of French Correspondent to The New Yorker magazine.  By that time, she and her husband had divorced.  Janet moved to Paris and spent the next five decades there, writing a bi-weekly “Letter from Paris” under the pen name of Genêt.  Flanner became friends with writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, e. e. cummings, Hart Crane, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.  She played an important role in introducing artists like Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Mattise, and André Gide to her American readers.  She authored several books of her essays, letters, and journals, as well as one fictional novel, The Cubical City.  Janet Flanner returned to the United States in 1975 and resided in New York City for the last three years of her life.  A segment of her appearance on the Dick Cavett Show with Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer is a much-viewed video on YouTube.  Upon her death, she was cremated, and her ashes were scattered at sea at Cherry Grove, Fire Island, New York.

 

If you have a question about Indianapolis history, please send it to historicindianapolis (at) yahoo (dot) com, with “HI Mailbag” in the subject line, and I will do my best to answer it.

~ Sharon

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