Finding Priscilla (my search for Princess Aura)

priscillalawson5

More pictures of Priscilla:  Pic1   Pic2   Pic3

After publishing Eldorado’s Blog I needed a break and some time to determine who I was going to research next or to figure out if I was even going to do another one. I wasn’t having much luck finding someone I wanted to do when I remembered that I used to go online to FindAGrave.Com and read their Necrology ListThis is a year-by-year death listing of famous and semi-famous people. It begins with death dates in 1900 and goes up to the current year. I knew that I wanted someone where the majority of their life was before 1940, the year of the last census available online. So I started with people that died in 1958, partly because that is the last year that Tennessee online death records are available. This was just in case I ended up with someone from Tennessee, which is what I preferred this time.

Once I reached Priscilla’s name on the list I was smitten with her story and quickly did some online searches for her from other sites to see how much was known. There were mostly short bios on her and some of what was disseminated was rumors. She was turning into the perfect candidate for me. The only disappointment was that she wasn’t from Tennessee, but you can’t have everything. 

I’ll start her story the same way I always do, and that is with a synopsis of what was available from the other sites. She was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on 8 March 1914 as Priscilla Shortridge. Not much is written about her early life, though some mention a marriage to a Gerald Lawson and then her mother takes her to Miami Beach on vacation where, at the last minute, she enters a beauty contest and wins the title of Miss Miami Beach of 1935. This leads her to modeling and an offer from Hollywood. From there she does some bit parts and eventually ends up with one of the main roles in the Flash Gordon serials playing Princess Aura. 

Her contract wasn’t renewed and she was signed up by MGM. This is where she met and married fellow actor Alan Curtis (real name Harry Euberroth). Though she made some movies after this they were generally “B” movies and later even these tapered off to uncredited roles.

She joined the military in WWII under her married name and divorced Alan after her time in the service. There are also unverified rumors of her having a jeep accident and losing a leg during her military time. Her career never recovered and after the war she ended up managing a stationery shop in Los Angeles and then died there on 27 August 1958 from a duodenal ulcer (some sites say at the VA hospital there) and that she is buried in Live Oak Memorial Park, Monrovia, Los Angeles County, California. All in all her life seemed pretty depressing after leaving Indianapolis.

After starting her tree on Ancestry.Com I commenced searching. In the 1920 Census she is living with her mother and father in Noble, Shelby County, Indiana. Shelby County borders Marion County, where Indianapolis is located. Priscilla is listed as 5 years old. Her father is Elmer Shortridge and he is shown as 39 years old, his and his parents’ birthplace is Indiana and he is a locomotive mechanic for the railroad. Priscilla’s mother is Minnie E, 34 years old and she and her parents are also all from Indiana. They also own their own home, with a mortgage. There is also an aunt of Minerva’s staying with them.  1920 Census

Next I looked for Priscilla’s parents’ marriage. Found it on FamilySearch fairly quickly. They were married 8 March 1907 in Shelby County, Indiana. Between this and the 1920 Census I have to wonder if Priscilla’s birthplace was actually Shelby County (two updates on this at the end). 

Once in a while in genealogy we come across fantastic marriage records like this one. Thank you, Indiana! This document provides a wealth of information and I wish all marriage records were like this. It shows Elmer Shortridge and Minnie Elizabeth Hess and then lists pertinent data for each. Elmer’s says he was born in St. Paul, Shelby County, Indiana on 12 November 1880. He currently lives in St. Paul and is a machinist. His father is James Marshall Shortridge, who was born in Greenwood, Johnson County, Indiana. He is currently living in St. Paul and is a hardware dealer. Elmer’s mother is Allie Martin, who was also born in St. Paul and is currently living there as well. Elmer is shown as this being his first marriage.

For Minnie Hess, she was born in St. Paul on 29 January 1886 and still lives there. Her father is George Louis Hess, born in North Vernon, Jennings County, Indiana. He lives in St. Paul and is in the liquor business.  Minnie’s mother is Nettie Mae Frakes, who was born in St. Omer, Decatur County, Indiana and currently lives in Milroy, Rush County, Indiana. Apparently Minnie’s parents are divorced. It also shows that this is Minnie’s first marriage. By the way, the name Minnie is generally short for Minerva. Marriage Record

I went ahead and checked into Elmer’s 1910 Census, this being the first after their marriage and there wasn’t anything in it of note. Elmer is a machinist at an auto company and he and Minnie have no children at this time. Speaking of Elmer, I found a news item from 1913 where he had brought a train on in to the station after hitting and destroying a huckster wagon (Typical Huckster Wagon), even though he had been seriously injured. So sometime between 1910 and 1913 he started working for the railroad. Crash News

Next thing up was Elmer’s WW1 draft card from September 1918. It verifies his birthday and shows him and Minnie living in St.Paul. It also shows that his place of employment with the railroad was in Indianapolis, so this is probably why they moved there later on. WW1 Draft Card

We covered the 1920 Census earlier so the next step was to find the family in the 1930 Census. Discovered that they were living in the Center Township part of Indianapolis. Elmer is 49 and a foreman on the railroad. Minnie is now Minerva, and 44 years old and Priscilla is now Priscilla J and is 16 and a student. Keep the Center Township location in mind for later. 1930 Census

The next thing I wanted was Priscilla’s first marriage, the one with Gerald Lawson. It turned up on Ancestry, but only as an index, not like that beautiful document of her parents’ marriage. However it did show them as marrying in Indianapolis on 8 March 1932. Unfortunately no other info came from this index. I am providing a screenshot of the page.

Priscilla's first marriage
Priscilla’s first marriage

I wanted more on Gerald then just a name. Searches revealed a Gerald Lawson that was born in 1906 and died in 1933, the year after the marriage and that he is buried in Indianapolis. What bothered me is that the few other trees online for Priscilla showed a Howard Gerald Lawson that died about 2001. As usual, none of these trees provided any sources. My gut told me that the one that died in 1933 was probably him. I scoured the newspapers but never found any mention of him, his marriage or death, nor his mother Orpha. I only found one item about his father, William Emery Lawson, but it was something unrelated to Gerald so this was a dead end. If I had the right Gerald and since the wedding was in 1932 I decided to check the 1930 Census for him and see where he lived. When I found it, he and his parents are living in Indianapolis, in the Center Township part. See, I told you to remember that little tidbit. This made him one step more likely to be the right guy.

As I got more into her life later I became fairly certain that this is the correct Gerald, but we’ll talk about that later. Up on FindAGrave there turned out to be two postings of his gravesite. Both were in Indianapolis but both had different cemeteries. The picture of the tombstone was correct in both. I am providing the link to the one I believe is correct. Gerald’s Grave

Next up in Priscilla’s life was the vacation that her mother took her on in 1935 to Miami. I was able to find a couple of news items about it and it appears this happened about March of that year. Miss Miami Beach 1   Miss Miami Beach 2.  Just a few months later that year, on 15 August, she left for Hollywood to begin her new career.  15 Aug 1935. Then I came across this item from the following summer on 22 July 1936. She has just been given a contract with Paramount. 22 Jul 1936.  She had been busy during the 1935 to 1936 time-frame and I found many promotional clippings. This is one example for the movie Rose Bowl. 27 Dec 1936.  

Earlier it was mentioned that she had met Alan Curtis and married him. No marriage shows up anywhere online and it was estimated they married in 1937 or 1938. I got lucky with the newspapers again and found that they married in Las Vegas on 14 November 1937. It also shows her middle name as Jones. Now we know what the “J” stood for in the 1930 Census. The Jones name becomes important later, too.  14 Nov 1937. The funny thing was that I soon thereafter found an article where she says that she and Alan are engaged. Problem was it is from two weeks after the wedding. 27 Nov 1937

Next I found her in the 1938 Los Angeles city directory. She’s listed as Priscilla Lawson, actress, and lives at 9343 Burton Way. 1938 Directory.  Priscilla broke an ankle during a trip overseas. The article is from 7 September 1939. Kind of surprising since the invasion of Poland happened a week earlier.  Ankle. Priscilla left Trieste, Italy on 1 November 1939 bound for New York and arrived there on the 17th. 1939 Arrival

This was a tough time for Priscilla as this time-frame was when her mother and father both died, her mother in May of 1938 and her father on 14 March 1939. Here’s the short news clipping about it. Parents’ Death News    Elmer’s Death

During the late 1930s, since her marriage to Alan Curtis, I found a lot of gossip items in the papers about their marriage crashing, mostly due apparently to Alan stepping out with other actresses, including Sonja Henie. Although it’s always stated that they divorced after her time in the military this turned out to be not true. First was this item from January 1940 discussing the eminent divorce. 17 Jan 1940.  Next is this news clipping from March 1940 talking about the divorce being granted on 11 March 1940. Divorce Granted

On 10 April 1940 she was listed in the 1940 Census. She is using her Lawson name again instead of Ueberroth, Alan’s true surname, however this wasn’t that unusual for her anyway. She appears to be staying at some kind of boarding house or staying with friends and has no occupation listed. 1940 Census

Found an ad for her movie Billy the Kid from Jun 1941. 13 Jun 1941.  She next shows up leaving Los Angeles on 21 July 1941 for a trip to Hawaii, arriving in Honolulu on the 28th. I tried to find anything to explain the trip but was unable to do so. Hawaii Trip

We finally get to her Army enlistment. She used Alan’s surname of Ueberroth to do so and she enlisted as a Private into the Inactive Reserve of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) on 15 February 1943 in Los Angeles. It shows her as divorced with no dependents. She is 5 feet 5 inches and 150 lbs.

She was called up to Active Duty on 3 April 1943 and was assigned to the 774th WAAC Post Headquarters Company. The strange thing is that she was discharged just a few months later on 10 August 1943. This information came from the government headstone application done after she died. So why was she discharged after a few months? She received an honorable discharge so it wasn’t for performance or criminal reasons. Two other possibilities come to mind: either the loss of the leg story is true or maybe she was diagnosed with the duodenal ulcer at that time. Either reason would work but for now I go for the ulcer theory.  Headstone Application

When I got to her death searches she was listed twice in the California Death Index. Once as Priscilla Ueberroth and once as Priscilla Jones. So had she remarried at some point after WW2? If you look at the headstone application again you’ll see that Jones is among her names. That’s when I remembered that Jones was her middle name. I attached both indexes to her tree anyway and then went in search of city directories using Jones for the surname. 

First though, on the off chance she had coincidentally married a Jones, I searched high and low for marriages using her different surnames in California and Nevada. Results were negative so I went on to the city directories. She popped up as Priscilla L (for Lawson) Jones in 1953 in Monrovia, Los Angeles County. This is the same town she is buried in later. She’s living at 703 S. Shamrock Avenue and she is a finisher at Hagen-Renaker Potteries. It’s now obvious that she doesn’t want anyone to know who she really is. 1953 Directory.  Found her again in Monrovia in 1955. She’s now Mrs. Priscilla Jones, living at 547 Alta, and an employee at Walker’s Potteries. 1955 Directory

The reason I only found two directories with her in them is that these were the only two years available online. Considering her burial place I’d assume that she was living there for quite some time before she died. Maybe someone in the Los Angeles area can check the city directories not available online. 

I never was able to find anything about the stationery shop she supposedly managed either. Here is the link to her grave site: Priscilla’s Grave. Notice that her name is not really correct. I have tried twice to submit corrections to Find-A-Grave but they apparently don’t want accurate graves. Here is their most recent answer to me:

Greetings,

This is an automated email letting you know that your recent edit for the Priscilla Lawson (1914 – 1958) Find A Grave memorial has been declined.
General reason: No change. The memorial is up to date with submitted edit.

Thanks for your input,
Find A Grave
http://www.findagrave.com

So much for accuracy. A tip to you all: if you add a grave there, do NOT tell them the person was famous at any level. This way YOU maintain control of it and can keep it correct. 

PriscillaTomb

Earlier I mentioned that I believe the Gerald Lawson who died in 1933 to be the correct one. Maybe his death was the reason Priscilla’s mother took her on that trip to Miami, to help her deal with the depression and grief. Also there is the closeness of their residences in the 1930 Census. And did you notice that she seemed to always revert back to that name? Whether this was for her career or it was some attachment to his memory I don’t know. I do know that she had some amazing luck getting her career kicked off so quickly, but then just as quickly her star dimmed and faded away. To me she had a fairly sad adult life and left way too early at the relatively young age of 44. 

Update 21 Sep 2015:  Today I came across a brief mention of Gerald Lawson’s death in an Ohio newspaper. He had tonsillitis for a few days that turned into pneumonia and he died 24 September 1933. There is no mention of Priscilla though. However it wasn’t an obituary so that may not mean anything.  Gerald Dying

Update 22 Sep 2015:  Today I found Gerald Lawson’s birth record up on FamilySearch, the LDS site. He was born 6 August 1906 in Bradford, Miami County, Ohio. This record also gave me his mother’s maiden name, which is Copeland. After all this time and energy spent on Gerald I’m going to feel foolish if he turns out to be the wrong one. But that’s how genealogy works sometimes. Gerald’s Birth

Update 29 Sep 2015:  Early on in this blog I mentioned that I had to wonder if she was actually born in St. Paul, Shelby County, Indiana instead of Indianapolis. Everything from the beginning of her life pointed to it. Found an article today that clears this up and confirms St. Paul to be her place of birth. Priscilla News

Update 29 Jan 2016:  Got up early this morning and decided to pursue Gerald again. This time I went back to the newspapers. I have a membership at Newspapers.Com (an affiliate of Ancestry.Com) for about 70 dollars a year. It comes in handy sometimes and is where I found the article about how he died. Well, today I found his obit there! The only problem is that it would only show me snippets of it unless I upgraded to the next level, for only 139 dollars a year! At least I saw enough in the snippets to confirm that Priscilla was his wife. I took some screen shots of them and they are good enough to use here. If I get froggy and decide to upgrade then I’ll post the full ones in their place. (see below in updates for more on this)

Update 9 Jun 2016:  It has been a long time since I was able to get back to Priscilla’s tree and do some fresh searching and I am so glad I did! I finally came across the death certificate of her husband, Gerald. It verifies the information about him but one thing is confusing. Earlier I stated that he was listed for two different cemeteries. They both turned out to be the same cemetery (Washington Park Cemetery) at two different addresses, however the death certificate shows that he was interred at Crown Hill Mausoleum. Here is the link to the certificate:  Gerald’s Death Certificate

Update 16 Sep 2016:  Earlier I explained about Priscilla being born in Shelby County, not Indianapolis. Well, finally came across her actual birth certificate. Sometime between her parents’ marriage in 1907 and the 1910 Census, they had moved from Shelby County to Indianapolis. By the time her father filled out his WW1 draft card in 1918 they had moved back to Shelby County. We now know that they were still in Indianapolis in 1914 because Priscilla was born there after all. Here’s the link to it:  Priscilla Birth

Update 15 Oct 2017:  It’s been a very long time since I did an update because much has been on in my personal life (nothing bad), but finally found a picture of Priscilla’s first husband, Gerald. Here it is:

GeraldLawson

With access to more papers I have found many items about Priscilla’s life. They will include many items, including her and Gerald’s obits. I’ll just post them here in chronological order:  29 Mar 1931  05 Jun 1932-A  05 Jun 1932-B  25 Sep 1933-A  25 Sep 1933-B  26 Sep 1933  27 Sep 1933  25 Mar 1935  16 Aug 1935  12 Mar 1936  24 Sep 1936  28 Sep 1936  12 Dec 1936  12 Dec 1936  24 Dec 1936  21 May 1937  03 Aug 1937  19 Dec 1937  20 Dec 1937  25 May 1938  24 Sep 1938  18 Jan 1940  14 Mar 1940-A  14 Mar 1940-B  24 Sep 1940  28 Jun 1941  30 Aug 1958

Later when I have the time I will do a re-write to incorporate the info and items into the proper places in the blog.

Thanks for stopping by! -Ray

For my other research blogs:  HOME

Comments are welcome and encouraged. You’ll find them here near the bottom or a link to them near the top. Also feel free to share, like or follow this or any of my blogs.

 

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12 thoughts on “Finding Priscilla (my search for Princess Aura)

  1. This is brilliant! You have done some fantastic detective work and you have published a biography of Priscilla which is better than anything available! Have you been able to locate her birth certificate?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I don’t know how I missed that, especially since I read your article twice and thought I had clicked on all of the document links! It is interesting that her birth certificate has her first name as Biscella or Biscilla. The name Biscella also appears on the headstone application. When I first saw the headstone application I was confused by that name. Seeing the birth certificate, it now makes sense.

      I also looked into her addresses in Monrovia which you posted in your article. There is a photo on Google maps of the dwelling on S. Shamrock Ave. It looks like the dwelling is old enough that she could have lived there in 1953. In the photo (whenever it was taken), it looks like the building is about to be renovated or demolished. I could not locate the Alta address. I came up with Alta Vista and what appeared to be a newer house.

      The directories you cited above have her working at 2 different pottery places in Monrovia. There appears to be a relationship or connection of sorts between them as the name Walker is mentioned on the website of Hagen-Renaker

      http://www.hagenrenaker.com/Newpages/aboutus.php

      Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the link! I’m going to call them and see if they can help me with info on her years there. The variations on her name Priscilla is strictly human error. Seen it many times with all kinds of names, even with other Priscillas in trees I’ve done. Some people just shouldn’t be making documents….

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  3. Do you mind if I share a link to your article on a Flash Gordon Facebook page that I am a member of? There are a few people who will find this article as fascinating as I have. Jean (Dale Arden) Rogers’ daughter also visits the page.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Please, by all means. Maybe someone there can help with information. I also had a relative of Priscilla contact me a few months ago. Unfortunately she learned more about Priscilla from my blog then what she knew.

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    1. A few years ago, there was an article online which came from a local newspaper (perhaps a Monrovia newspaper?) in which the reporter discribed how Priscilla lived the last years of her life in Monrovia and had a man friend with whom she used to go out on a regular basis to a local restaurant or bar. I can’t remember exactly. The article has long since vanished. I am wondering if the Richard H. Merchant who signed the headstone application was the friend mentioned in the article. I used to have the link to the article but at some point the article was removed and I deleted the link. I did a search for the address of Richard H. Merchant which appears on the headstone application and it appears that the house at that address was built in 1957, one year before Priscilla’s death. If you can find that article somehow, it may help your research.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ralph, I’ve done the tree for Merchant and he died a few years after Priscilla but so far nothing much helpful. I did come across the city directory for Priscilla the year she died. She had moved to 1124 Loma Avenue. That part of of the street is now long gone, replaced by I-210 and massive commercial buildup. Oddly, though, Merchant had been living with his widowed mother every year prior to this. Then in 1958 he is no longer there and Priscilla has a new address. Makes you want to go “Hmmmm”…..

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  5. Thanks! All it takes sometimes is one clue and sometimes a small one. I’ll look into it. I really appreciate the help. Priscilla is one of my favorites of all my blogs.

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  6. I wish that article I mentioned above was still availbale online. It would probably help fill in some gaps. Have you been able to get Priscilla’s death certificate? Your ability to find all of these documents is amazing to me. I don’t do geneology work so I wouln’t know where to begin. This is fascinating to me.

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