OLD NEWS: Everyone in this story is dead, but some aren’t

When reading stories of Arkansans who lived 100 years ago, it’s easy to forget how these people died.

All have been gone for more or less time; but as I come across accounts of their lives in newspaper archives, the dead seem less and less dead. So there are degrees of death, figuratively speaking.

Figuratively, too, it is fair to call someone “more dead” or “less dead” than someone else.

Case in point: Ouida Bergere Rathbone, who inspired three recent Old News columns, is less dead than her mother.

Both women are, literally, equally dead. Ouida died on November 29, 1974 in a New York hospital. We could, in theory, get in our cars and drive to Hartsdale, NY, to stand in front of his grave at Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum. Plus, we can get in our cars—like I did last week—and drive to Oakland and the historic Little Rock Fraternal Cemetery to stand by Lou Ida Branch’s grave.

The sun was beating down on Oak Avenue, near the west fence of the cemetery, and traffic was coming and going on Barber Street. I found a nicely carved stone monument large enough for two. The reverse of the monument bears the name Branch under several grey-green rosettes of lichen as wide as my hand and prettily dotted with tiny fruiting bodies.

Next to Lou Ida is Ouida’s father, Stephen Walker Branch. Their names and dates are engraved deeply and in an identical style. Their narrow grave depressions – the amount of ground that sinks when a coffin disintegrates – are almost equally depressing. They look dead to me.

But their dead daughter seems alive. Not as lively, however, as her husband Basil Rathbone (1892-1967). He lives off the audiovisual media in his many films and voice recordings.

DEAD NAME

Ouida dropped her maiden identity, Eula May Branch, in the 1910s. But reporters and movie theater operators in Little Rock refused to let “Eula May” die out; they remembered the exotic Ouida Bergère as Eula May whenever she or one of her films came to town.

In 1931, a theater in Little Rock proved that many people remembered Eula May. Sam B. Kirby, publicity director for the Arkansas Theater, hosted an essay contest that challenged fans to name the former Little Rock daughter married to actor Basil Rathbone. Additionally, essayists had to say in no more than 100 words why they admired Rathbone.

Gertrude Green of 211 E. 15th St. won $10 in gold and 17 people won free movie tickets.

People remembered Eula May because Ouida Bergère continued to visit her family in Little Rock; and when her mother (maiden name Lou Ida Williams) traveled to Texas to visit her brother and sister in Amarillo, Ouida sometimes joined her. Columns from the gossip society of the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat noted comings and goings.

Additionally, Ouida’s brother, Bernice Cleveland “BC” Branch (1890-1974), was busy tending to her memory. BC started to look a lot less dead when I looked it up in the archives. He died on Christmas Eve, for example.

BC was 23 when he married 18-year-old Frances L. Giles in the spring of 1912, and they had a son in the fall of 1913. Their address was his parents’ home: 1501 Rock St. The baby does not appear to have survived. childhood.

BC worked as a railroad clerk while living with his father and mother, but most of his life he was a traveling salesman.

“Miss Ouida Bergère” came down from New York in May 1914 to spend 10 days at 1501 Rock. She was then employed as one of two female screenwriters at Pathe Frères and set to move to Paris, according to the Gazette, which cited her announcement that she had no time “to parade for the cause of the women’s suffrage”.

The Gazette has volunteered:

Miss Bergère, however, as anyone who knows her will admit, is able to overcome many of the obstacles that beset women with aspirations. She is young. She has dark brown eyes. Her temper is capricious and she is in love with her work.

Moreover, Ouida had “a faculty of keeping the friends she makes so easily”. She didn’t throw people away.

When another Maddox Seminary graduate, Rhy Alexander, moved to New York in 1916 to pursue acting, Ouida found him a job with Pathes.

In 1918, something even more telling happened: BC and Frances Branch of North Little Rock named their second child, a daughter, Ouida Bergère Branch. Judging by the descriptions in the Basil Rathbone collection of Boston University, this girl was nicknamed “Little Ouida”.

A BAD YEAR

In May 1920, BC – a traveling salesman for the National Biscuit Co. living at 2510 Arch St. – visited Ouida in New York. Then he visited Niagara Falls, Atlantic City, Boston and Washington. Meanwhile, back home, he was declared bankrupt and the bankruptcy arbitrator met with his creditors.

And their mother, Lou Ida Branch, was an invalid taking the waters at Hot Springs.

Ms. George Fitzmaurice (Ouida Bergere), still the former Eula May in print, was back and forth and back and forth. In August, she visits Hot Springs before leaving for Paris.

On Nov. 1, 1920, 62-year-old Lou Ida died of “malnutrition,” a year and seven days after an appendectomy and surgery to remove a gallstone, according to her death certificate. His funeral was held at the Healey & Roth Chapel in Little Rock, and the Reverend Harry Knowles read the service; but she was not buried right away. They kept his body in a reception vault in Oakland until his daughter arrived from Europe.

One can imagine the Ouida Ocean Passage and that long train to Little Rock.

GONE TO TEXAS

In 1921, the biscuit company entrusted BC with the management of its sales operations in Dallas. So he moved his family, and 76-year-old dad went with them. But they continued the Little Rock associations. For example, BC maintained its membership in the Western Star Masonic Lodge.

When Stephen Walker Branch died in December 1936, a notice in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram identified him as “the father of Mrs. Basil Rathbone, wife of the actor”. If Ouida attended her father’s burial at Oakland Cemetery, the Little Rock newspapers didn’t notice.

LITTLE OUIDA

BC retired from the sales department of General Foods. He died at age 83 in December 1974 and was buried in Dallas. His wife, Frances, died there in February 1977.

Little Ouida (1918-1998) led a surprising life. In a small report that once again brought back dark memories of Eula Branch, the Gazette column of February 29, 1960, Between Us reported that Ouida Branch Wagner had an interesting job.

She was a fashion consultant at British Overseas Airways Corp. and an expert who has made appearances around the country at fashion shows and the like. She was a graduate of the Hockaday School in Dallas and had completed her education in Europe, courtesy of her aunt, Mrs. Basil Rathbone.

There is more information to be found on Ouida Bergère Branch that would bring it to life, so to speak. For example, in 1964, Ouida Branch Wagner remarried and moved to England. Her new husband, David Bruce Huxley (1915-1992), had served as Attorney General of Bermuda.

David had famous half-brothers, including 1963 Nobel laureate Andrew Huxley (1917-2012), a British physiologist who discovered how an electrical impulse travels through a nerve cell. His half-brother Sir Julian Huxley (1887-1975) was an evolutionary biologist and proponent of eugenics.

Another of Little Ouida’s half-brothers was Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), author of almost 50 books including the immortal “Brave New World”.

Some dead people live in stories that we can tell about them. They’re really, quite frankly, not completely dead until we stop.

This is the fourth Old News column about the Little Rock girl named Eula May Branch who grew up to be Hollywood hostess extraordinaire Mrs. Basil Rathbone. To read the other parts:

April 11: arkansasonline.com/418eula

April 18: arkansasonline.com/425may

May 25: arkansasonline.com/52party

If the photo gallery does not display, click here: arkansasonline.com/418ouida

E-mail:

[email protected]

Lichen clings to the monument of Stephen Walker Branch and Lou Ida Branch, parents of Ouida Bergere Rathbone. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

Gallery: Ouida Bergere aka Eula May Branch

Comments are closed.