Louise Emmons: unique, mysterious and unforgettable

For Halloween month, we showcase Louise Emmons, an unknown actress today, except for truly hardcore students of film. Her unusual looks have caused many film-goers to squirm in their seats from her silent film roles to her last appearance in Tod Browning’s horror classic, Mark of the Vampire (1935).

Louise Emmons began her career late, at age 56, yet she worked steadily for the next twenty years in small and extra roles. A woman of mystery and misperception, nothing is known of her early life and there is little written about her film career. There are no interviews that would give a hint about the woman who was described as having “the kind of face that could stop a clock.” Yet, Emmons has endeared herself to fans by her distinctive look and moving performances.

First, to refute some of the erroneous information about her: She was not born in Germany, or during any of the birth years attributed to her. Regrettably, the month and date of her birth is still a mystery. In some cases, Emmons herself is the source of the incorrect facts. What follows is only a hint of this enigmatic actress’s early life:

Louise Emmons was born with the unusual first name, Louie—Louie A. Adkison–sometime in 1858, and most likely at, or near, Camptonville, Yuba County, California. She was the middle child of D. O. (David Oliver) Adkison (at the time a miner), and his second wife Mary A. Johnson.

Juliet J. Adkison, the older sister of Louise Emmons, died at age ten. Is there a family resemblance? (Findagrave)

After spending a brief time in Sonoma County, the family moved again to Virginia City, Nevada, where she spent her childhood and most of her early adult years. Louie, or Lucy as she was called as a young girl, had two siblings: an older sister Juliet (1856-1866), who died at the age of ten from typhoid, and a younger brother Oliver Charles (1860-1861), who was not yet one-year-old when he passed from infant fever. Both are buried in Virginia City’s Silver Terrace Cemeteries.

Throughout her childhood in Virginia City, Lucy lived downtown on South C Street and outside the town limits on Geiger Grade Road. Her father, originally from Indiana, was a well-respected man of multiple talents. During his time in Nevada, Adkison served as the Speaker of the Nevada Assembly; a justice of the peace; Virginia City’s postmaster, and as a judge.

When Lucy was twelve (1870), she attended the Young Ladies Seminary in Benicia, California. There she developed her artistic talents and by 1881 (she now went by the name Lou), she prophesied that she would “become famous as a landscape artist.” However, her local “fame” and talent developed more as a portrait painter. In fact, a journalist for the Reno Gazette boasted that the likeness of local businessman J. J. Becker, “painted by Miss Lou Adkinson [sic] of Virginia City, is by far the best oil painted likeness this reporter has ever seen by a Nevada artist, and compares favorably with those having national reputations as portrait painters.” Indeed, her talent was so celebrated that the following year, in September 1882, Lou had an exhibition of her work at Reno’s Pavilion during Fair Week.

After the deaths of both her parents in 1887, Lou moved to San Francisco where she continued to make her living as a portrait artist. Because of her unusual first name, she was known professionally as Miss Louie A. Adkison or Miss L. A. Adkison (sometimes misspelled, or perhaps purposely, as Adkinson).

Around 1903, Lou lived briefly in Santa Barbara. There she met her future husband, Roswell G. Emmons, a machinist who was thirteen years her junior. They married on April 24, 1904. Not long afterward, the couple move to Los Angeles where she continued with her painting. Within two years, they had a son, Marion.

From the 1910 census. Emmons gives her age as 37 but she was actually 52-years-old. They were living at 1021 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. (click on image to enlarge)

1920 census. Louise (as Lewis) is widowed and living with her son at 1625 Echo Park Avenue, Los Angeles (click on image to enlarge)

Confusion about her age and name probably got their start from the 1910 census; even though she was in fact 52-years-old, she gave her age to the census enumerator as 37 (making her two years younger than her husband), and her name as Louis (her profession was still artist/painter). In the same census, and in other records, Roswell is credited as a ‘photographer for motion pictures,’ possibly for shorts where he would receive no credit. Yet, it’s likely that it was through his efforts that his 56-year-old wife first entered motion pictures in 1914; her first billing was as Mrs. Emmons, then Mrs. Louise A. Emmons, Mrs. L. A. Emmons and finally—when she was credited—simply, Louise Emmons.

Over the next two decades, classic movie fans would get glimpses of her in small roles, many times uncredited, in such films as Judith of Bethulia (1914), and three Rudolph Valentino films: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), The Conquering Power (1922) and Blood and Sand (1922). In addition, she appeared in von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives (1922), Rex Ingram’s Scaramouche (1923), DeMille’s King of Kings (1927), and more, for a total of seventy-four films. Her unique look often typecast her in mostly offensive sounding roles such as Hag, Smiling Hag, Old Hag, Crackling Hag, Gypsy Hag, and many variations of Gypsy and Old Woman. Still, she kept busy appearing in multiple films each year until her death.

Death certificate of Emmons’ husband, Roswell. (click image to enlarge)

On November 22, 1919, Roswell Emmons died from heart problems; he was buried in the Masonic section of Glendale’s Forest Lawn Cemetery. However, to further confuse matters, on his death certificate, while Louise is the informant (as Lewis A. Emmons), she states that Roswell’s wife is Laura A. Emmons. And again, just several months later for the 1920 census, she has herself listed again as Lewis Emmons. For the remainder of her life, she would refer to herself legally as Lewis or Louis Emmons.

Another mystery concerns her son Marion. He was reportedly born in 1906 in California, yet there is no record of his birth under that name. Considering that Louise would have been 48-years-old at the time, it’s possible that he was adopted. At any rate, other than the 1910 and 1920 censuses, there are no official records of Marion P. Emmons to be found—he has simply vanished.

By 1935, Louise and her many aliases was living at 5738 Waring Avenue in Hollywood. On March 6, she died from heart disease and pneumonia at nearby Hollywood Hospital. She was either 76 or 77 years old. Her death certificate is under the name Louis Emmons; information given by her informant Ralph Burbank, an electrician at one of the studios. However, he didn’t know her birthday, but approximated her age at 73.

Louise Emmons’ death certificate. Her mother is listed as Juliet Johnson, however, she was her maternal grandmother. Her mother was Mary Johnson. (click on image to enlarge)

Louise Emmons was buried at Hollywood Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever) in a grave paid for by the Actor’s Fund. Why she didn’t join her husband at Forest Lawn is not known. For the next 79 years, Emmons gravesite remained unmarked and as mysterious as her life. That is, until March 23, 2014, when through the efforts of a dedicated group of fans (Lon Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake, animator Jenny Lerew, and Mike Hawks of Larry Edmunds Bookshop), her grave was finally given a marker and can now be visited by a new group of devotees.

The grave marker of Louise Emmons after being unmarked for 79 years. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Section 2W, #99, east of the peacock cages. (click on image to enlarge)

 

(NOTE: Information for this story was pieced together through census reports, newspaper articles, family trees and death records.)

 

Please follow and like us:

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Responses to “Louise Emmons: unique, mysterious and unforgettable”

  1. Rosebud says:

    Fascinating story. Another great research. I will be visiting her and checking some of her work. Thank you for highlighting her.

  2. Allan Ellenberger says:

    You’re welcome. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Michael F. Blake says:

    EXCELLENT work!!! Bravo!

  4. Allan Ellenberger says:

    Thank you.

  5. Thanks for putting this all together. Fascinating! Very happy to see she has not been forgotten.

  6. kathleen says:

    Maybe the Actors. Fund doesn’t have arrangements w FLG

  7. Sue Slutzky says:

    Allan, I’m sure you’ve made Mike Hawks’ year with this post! Terrific detective work.

  8. Allan Ellenberger says:

    Thanks Sue, I appreciate that.

  9. David Wright says:

    This is a wonderful article; I always suspected her German origins were not true. Highlights a problem with census records, too much trust in whoever was enumerating the data. I have the feeling she said her name was “Louie” to the census takers, and they assumed it was either the French ‘Louis’ or similar.

    Glad to see she hasn’t been forgotten-she stands out, even her brief moment in the New York fog in King Kong.

  10. Jim Booe says:

    Allan – Thank you so much for posting this article. Louise’s father was the brother of my great great grandmother, Mary Adkison Booe and I’ve done a fair amount of genealogical research on the family. I’ve always been intrigued about what happened to Louise because she seemed to be such a promising artist but then disappeared from view after about 1901. So your research was a real revelation. What a strange and fascinating story! I’m wondering about that photo of Juliet. It really looks like Louise and I can’t help but wonder if it might actually be her. I say this because the man who posted the picture on Find-a-Grave is a notorious fabricator of “alternative facts” on that website. Almost all the info he included in his postings of Juliet and her brother Oliver is false. Juliet’s parents names, her place of birth and so on and on are all wrong. In my view, only the gravestones themselves are above suspicion. If the date he gives for the photo is correct (1865) Juliet would have been about nine years old, but the child in the photo looks much younger. I’d love to see the original and see just how it is identified. A posting I saw on IMDB indicates that Louise suffered from hypothyroidism which can be hereditary so her sister certainly may have had the same affliction, but I just wonder. Anyhow, thanks again for the terrific work.

Leave a Reply