Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Was Granddad in Show Biz?

Several months ago, I found my maternal grandfather's WWI US Draft Registration Card. The registration date of the card is June 7, 1917.  Although I've since found other references for my grandfather's birth place, there was some new information, information I had not found elsewhere. These include my grandfather's birth date and place of birth, as well as his location in 1917. On this card, Galen W. [Weiker] Rote reports that he is living at 525 Locust in Toledo, Ohio, and was born on Mar. 7 1888 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

I also learned that his “present trade, occupation, or office”is “Show Business.”

WWI US Draft Registration Card for Galen W. Rote

Wait a minute! Show Business???!!

I hadn't seen that before. On census forms and in city directories for Toledo and for Sandusky, Ohio, where my mother was born and where Galen died, I've seen him employed as a brakeman, a salesman, even a bartender for the Central Labor Hall. On his wedding license application, Galen gave his occupation as machinist. According to my dad, Granddad Rote also managed a restaurant for a time, although I've found no confirmation of this. But, show business is different, and intriguing.  

On his draft registration card, Galen gave his employer as J. S. Forenze. Or, are those even initials? They could easily be the number 28, possibly added later, although I don't know what that might mean. If you have a suggestion, please let me know! For “where employed” I first interpreted his answer as “Peerless Mrs. Ed. [unreadable] Mich,” but with some help from a second cousin have since come to realize it was “Peerless Mus Co. Det Mich” (Peerless Music Co., Detroit, Mich.).

A bit of research, plus a couple of conversations with a friend and coworker who works in independent film, suggested that Peerless Music Company was probably a branch of the Peerless Film Corporation. I was fortunate enough to turn up a photograph of the Peerless Film Corporation's Detroit headquarters in 1917. The building was located at 153 East Jefferson in Detroit, Michigan, as referenced in the photo and comments for the photo. I love the coincidence of the photograph being from 1917. Did my grandfather walk down that street? Did he work in this building?

I'm fascinated. In what capacity was my mother's father working? None of his other positions have a obvious connection to the music or film industry. I wonder whether this just was a young man's willingness to take advantage of an opportunity, or whether it reflected a dream close to his heart. What was his position, really? Did he take tickets, work backstage, or was he part of a variety act? His use of the phrase "Show Business" seems to suggest a romantic attachment to his work, but did his actual position place him in some dusty corner dreaming of fame, or did he have the opportunity to appear on stage or screen?

Did Lulu approve, or disapprove, of the work? When Galen left this job, did he do so because it had never been more than a temporary situation, because he'd found himself unsuited for the work, or because his wife required more stability? Certainly I know that by the time his first child was born, he was working in more traditional, less unpredictable fields, as a brakeman.

My mother was fairly reticent when it came to talking about the details of her life, so I don't know whether her silence about her father's foray into show business reflected a lack of knowledge of events that happened well before she was born, or whether she grew up hearing about her dad's adventures on the stage. Either way, I would dearly love to know more about this aspect of my grandfather's life.