A Star Is Born

3-month-old Ursula and her parents

Alfred D. and Clara Cheshire pose with daughter, Ursula, on September 14, 1902, when she was age 3 months, 5 days

On Monday, June 9, 1902, the local newspaper welcomed to San Francisco thousands of Shriners from “all parts of the Union,” who were gathering there for a weeklong convention. Elsewhere in the city that day, Clara and Alfred Cheshire, who had been married for two and a half years, welcomed baby daughter Ursula into their lives. At ages 30 and 49 respectively, Clara and Alfred were older-than-average first-time parents.

Ursula, 1 month old

Ursula at one month old

Ursula was born in the era of silent film; just two months before her birth, the first permanent movie theater opened in Los Angeles. Women would not gain the right to vote for another 18 years, and it was not uncommon to read of lynching in the daily news. Earlier in the year, a great workers’ strike in the anthracite coalfields of Pennsylvania had threatened to shut down winter fuel supply to all major cities until President Theodore Roosevelt got involved. At the same time, the United States of America was enjoying a continued “period of unbounded prosperity,” and its “place must be great among nations,” according to the president’s December 1902 State of the Union address.

Ursula, age 1

The many faces of Ursula, at 1 year old

Ursula at age 1, with Mama Clara

Mama and 1-year-old Ursula

In an uncanny coincidence, the date of Ursula’s birth also happens to be the date of the Roman Emperor Nero’s death by suicide nearly 2,000 years earlier. That in and of itself would not be worth mentioning but for the fact that in 1922, Ursula played the role of Nero’s wife, Locusta, in a college production of the English dramatist Stephen Phillips’s tragedy, “Nero.”

Ursula in the role of Locusta in the play "Nero"

Ursula in the role of Locusta in the play “Nero”


5 thoughts on “A Star Is Born

  1. Hi Liz – the mama’s hairdo, that’s how my grandmother and aunts arranged their hair their whole lives – apparently never had their hair cut. Large brown hairpins needed. Thanks for the new glimpse! gin

  2. silent movies!!! wondrous-
    my granny improvised piano to the silent movies at the cinema -using schuberts “earl king” a lot if I remember rightly-although her father did not approve apparently-#
    so much more fun than the bicycle shop ……
    Ursula has great presence in her photos even as a baby-
    Nero’s wife is a great part to play
    tell us more please, sue

  3. I love the uncanny coincidence of Ursula’s birth with Emperor’s suicide! This is beautifully put together. Fascinating that her parents were older too.

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