If you’re new to Mystery Dancer, welcome! The best place to start is at the beginning and go from there.
Since I wrote the last post, I have corresponded by e-mail with a reference librarian at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the “Academy Awards” organization). I was disappointed to learn that she found in her sources neither a movie called “Maui” filmed in the late 1920s or early 1930s, nor a mention of Ursula.
Of course, I have searched the IMDB.com movie database for Ursula (and Claire, her middle name) Cheshire, and come up blank. This makes sense, even if Ursula was “in the movies.” The librarian told me:
“Many performers were not credited in early films. Those without speaking roles, and musicians in particular, are often uncredited as well. This was common for a rather long time. Some researchers have been able to properly credit performers when they were not credited by the studios. If she was not an actress, as well, it might be rather difficult to find any mention of her…”
Trying a different research tack today, I type Ursula’s Hollywood address, 1967 N. Bronson Ave., into Google search. (I had previously found out where she lived from the California Voter Registration lists of 1926 and 1930 ). Among a bunch of irrelevant real estate results, I get a hit for a book published in 2015 entitled, “The Movieland Directory: Nearly 30,000 Addresses of Celebrity Homes, Film Locations and Historical Sites in the Los Angeles Area, 1900-Present.” Apparently, Ursula’s address is listed in this publication.
Hmm, this is intriguing.
I click on the link and start reading the directory entry for that address. The first word that jumps out at me is “Wanda,” and I feel a little disappointed; this first name means nothing to me. But then I see her last name: “Cheshire.” Wait a second! Could this be Ursula? The timing is right—the entry indicates that the author confirmed the address using the 1930 U.S. Census and notes Wanda’s occupation as “singer.”
My excitement returns. I know of no Wandas in the Cheshire family; is it possible Ursula picked that as a stage name? Or is this a random person with the same last name and same occupation living at the same address at the same time as Ursula? That seems unlikely; a mistaken identity would be more plausible.
I have to see the source of this information—the 1930 Census listing—for myself. I go to Ancestry.com, input the Bronson Avenue address and “Cheshire” and click “Search.” Appearing in a typed sans-serif font, the first result from their database says not “Wanda,” but rather “Evranla” Cheshire. OK, that’s an odd name—but this person’s parent is listed as “Clara,” Ursula’s mother’s name, and the birth year is around the right time.
I click on the “View Image” icon so I can see the original census form. There it is. On April 14, 1930, a Los Angeles census taker wrote in pen on Sheet no. 16A, line 5 a name that Ancestry interpreted as “Evranla” and the “Movieland Directory” author as “Wanda.” The cursive scribble does seem a bit difficult to decipher if you don’t know what you’re looking for, and I can see how someone might give it their best shot and land on those other names. But I am looking for the letters U-R-S-U-L-A, and see them clearly: “Ursula” (or, at worst, “Ersula”). Above that entry, line 4 lists her mother, Clara, and all the correct corresponding information, confirming this is our gal.
With my index finger, I trace across the long line of Ursula’s demographic information to the Occupation and Industry categories, where the census taker has written, respectively, “Singer” and “Motion Pictures.” Aha! Another piece of evidence that Ursula was “in the movies.” (Whether she actually appeared in any released films may have to remain a mystery.)
It’s curious that the “Movieland” author included her in his directory about “celebrities.” In addition to the information it gleaned from the original census form, the book notes that Ursula (“Wanda”) worked on “silent and sound films,” and was a “studio employee.” Did the author gather this further information from another source, or did he extrapolate it from the census answer “Motion Pictures”? I’m going to try to track him down and find out! I’ll let you know what (if anything) transpires.