This was a big year for genealogy enthusiasts. As anyone who traces their family history knows, there is a wealth of information contained in census records. However, due to privacy reasons, only one decade’s census is released every 72 years. After much impatient waiting, the 1940 United States census is now public record.
Every citizen of the country has to be included on and give personal information for the census. And for that reason, I thought it would be interesting to look up the census listings of celebrities and future newsmakers of the year 1940.
The first person I looked up, of course, was Ernest Hemingway. I found him living at 907 Whitehead Street in Key West, Florida. The 40-year-old was listed as a writer born in Illinois, who had received no more formal education than four years of high school. He lived with his second wife, Pauline, and his two sons, 11-year-old Patrick and 8-year-old Gregory. Also living in the house was the children’s 38-year-old nursemaid, Ada Sterns. His neighbors were a grocery store owner and a grocery store clerk.
Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, was living at Highland Hospital in Ashville, North Carolina. The 40-year-old Alabama native was one of 100 patients, suffering from a mental imbalance which would plague her for life.
Future bombshell, Marilyn Monroe, was still Norma Jean Baker. A 13-year-old seventh grade student who was born in California, she was living as a ward in the home of Ervin and Grace Goddard. Ervin was a traveling vacuum cleaner salesman and resided at 11336 Nebraska Avenue in Los Angeles, California. As her mother was mentally incapable of caring for her, Marilyn would spend much of her childhood in foster homes.
Also living in Los Angeles, at 201 Veteran Avenue, was 21-year-old Rita Hayworth and her 42-year-old husband, Edward Judson, an office manager. Rita was listed as being an actress born in New York. Their neighbors were a railroad traffic manager and a motion picture photographer.
Joan, Crawford, noted to be a 32-year-old divorced motion picture actress, was living at 426 North Bristol Avenue in Los Angeles. The Texas native had a whole staff living with her. This included widowed French maid Senta Sieveking, cook Ida Hjellum, divorced butler Harwood Biggs and Norwegian maid Christine Hagan. Her neighbors were a motion picture producer and an attorney.
Humphrey Bogart, another Los Angeles resident, lived at 8787 Shoreham Drive. The 40-year-old motion picture actor and New York native was noted as having two years’ worth of college education. The closest neighbors to him and his wife, Mayo, were a motion picture actor and director, and a novelties importer.
In New York, New York, Katherine Hepburn lived at 244 49th Street with butler Erie Oberg and his wife Ruth, who was employed there as a cook. A native of Connecticut, Katherine was noted as being a divorced theatrical actress with four years of college education. Her neighbors were a wholesale corporation director and a sculptor.
At 5508 White Oak Avenue in Los Angeles, Spencer Tracy shared his home with wife Louise and children; 15-year-old John and 7-year-old Louise. The census states that the 40-year-old Spencer was born in Wisconsin, was employed as a motion picture actor and had two years of college under his belt. A butler, Cyril Shannon, also resided there, as did cook Isabelle Shannon, and children’s nurse Eleanor Lystad. His neighbors were a wood working factory owner and a WPA watchman.
Gene Autry lived at 10985 Bluffside in Los Angeles. The 32-year-old motion picture actor was born in Texas and resided with his wife Barbara and maid Marie Bowman. His neighbors were an advertising company president and the owner of a beauty supply store.
Still another Los Angeles resident was Walter Disney. Born in Illinois, the 38-year-old motion picture producer lived with his wife Lillian and daughters; 6-year-old Diane and 3-year-old Sharon. Butler Almice Buddhu, cook Verda Buddhu and English nurse Olive Smith also resided in the home. Their neighbors were a movie studio auditor and a pharmacy owner.
Lawrence Welk lived at 4320 Newton Court in Dallas, Texas. Having only an 8th grade education, he is listed as being a dance orchestra leader from North Dakota. The 37-year-old lived with his wife Fern and daughters; 7-year-old Shirley and 3-year-old Donna. His neighbors were a dress manufacturer and a railway clerk.
At 112 Mercer Street in Princeton, New Jersey was the home of Albert Einstein. The German-born, 61-year-old widower was listed as a physics professor at a private school. He lived with his 40-year-old divorced daughter Margaret, his 58-year-old sister Maja Wheeler and 43-year-old lodger Helen Dukas, who was listed as being a scientist’s private secretary. Their neighbors were the president of a personal products company and a coal business owner.
In Atlanta, Georgia, I found Martin Luther King. A native of the state, the 40-year-old was recorded as a church pastor with four years of college. His wife Alberta, a church pianist and music director lived there along with 12-year-old daughter Willie, 11-year-old son Martin Luther King Jr. and 9-year-old son Alfred. Alberta’s 65-year-old mother Jennie Williams resided in the home also, as did the elder Martin’s 63-year-old aunt Ida Wartham. A lodger named Carrie Rutland was also listed. Their neighbors were a loan association partner and a lodging house owner.
Obviously none knew what the future held, from there in their 1940 existences. Foster child Norma Jean would go on to become a world-famous bombshell and the subject of a controversial alleged suicide. The young Martin Luther would change the world and be killed while doing so. Einstein would go down as the epitome of genius, and Zelda would die horrifically while locked in her hospital room during a fire. Fitzgerald would die young of a heart attack after a lifetime of alcohol abuse and Hemingway would take a gun and end his own life of extraordinary literary success. It’s amazing, in hindsight, to see all that fate had in store.
Kelly Sullivan is a freelance features and history writer for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers.