Home > 999. Lost Landscapes, Places > Coney Island and my Grandfather

Coney Island and my Grandfather

Coney_Island_beach_July4--CC2.0generic

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Information can appear from unexpected sources. My grandfather the actor registered for the draft (WWI) in 1917 while he was performing in Montreal. He gave a Coney Island address near Mermaid Avenue; the building has apparently been torn down. The chronology I’m compiling of his life is spilling over onto page 5, with new plays being added at a fairly regular clip.

Just what was Coney Island all about? It appears to have had several incarnations: as a distant resort for New Yorkers in the mid-19th century, then as a day trip once NYC transit arrived at the end of the century, then as the amusement park/area in the 1920s…and then into decline after the WWII…and now reviving again with a stadium for minor-league baseball (don’t quote me on all that, but i think it’s more or less correct).

Which was the Coney Island that my grandfather knew? Why did he choose to live there? Was he, in his mid-20s, in possession of sufficient cash to be able to send money home to his mother, as he claimed on his draft card (“supporting mother”)? To that last question, given his steady work and good reviews, RT is inclined to answer, yes.

And by the by, just exactly what did actors get paid in say, 1915?

Stay tuned for more…  RT

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PhotoBeach patronage on Coney Island, New York on Fourth of July 2006. Author: Jaime Haire. WikiCmns. CC 2.0 Generic. 

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  1. aubrey
    January 15, 2014 at 5:14 am

    I know that many actors were ‘drafted’ into the war effort – to be used in patriotic musicals, plays, movies, bond rallies, etc. In 1915, that would have been the case in Europe, and the US too, as people were eager to help the Belgian refugees and other victims of the war. And I don’t think pay would have been good, as monies were being thrown into the trenches, the skies and factories. The case would have been different for some of the better-known actors involved in the war effort: Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, etc.

    America wasn’t at war until 1917 – maybe your grandfather had a couple of more years of good pay!

    • January 30, 2014 at 6:41 am

      aubrey: greetings from the land of research! this is what i’ve discovered over the last several weeks: charlie chapiin was outrageously rich: making millions a year; mary pickford also did very well, thank you. your starting bit part player? $5 a week. with this kind of a range, it’s hard to say what granddad made, but i’m betting it was about $50/wk in the teens, when the average salary was $10,80/wk. & he had a brief stint with a silent movie company in 1915, making, it seems, quite a bit more…

      he was also very active in the teens, with 1916 being his annus miribilis; i’m counting 15 plays that year for him, with gaps for more…in short, during his prime (1912-1922), i think he was indeed in a position to send his mom money… RT

  2. Sean Glover
    January 16, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    My Great Grandfather was the Fire Marshall of Coney Island at that time! From my understanding, there were three amusement parks at that time and two of them burned. Maybe I shouldn’t be so proud of my GGF? lol

    • January 30, 2014 at 6:45 am

      SG: be proud, be proud…your GGF had a very responsible job, and without having researched it at all, i’d guess that fires were *very* common in all-wood-construction amusement parks of the time…and he was responsible for coney island! wow! RT

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