Old Man Jefferson Connection

The following correspondence from Houdini to Quincy Kilby intrigued me when I read it in Houdini, The Key on page 96:

Hollywood, California June 9, 1919

Dear Q.K.

Thomas Jefferson and myself frequently converse about you, and it was through an accident that I found out young Joe Jefferson was a friend of mine.

I thought that young Joe was an old man, but it appears that he was younger than I.

Worked with him in vaudeville, that is he was on the same bill, and very pleasant, and very pleasant weeks we had

So Mr. Thomas J. and I have lots to talk about…

It intrigued for a number of reasons:

First off the date of the correspondence is during the time that he lived in Hollywood and was filming the Grim Game.

Srapbook compiled by Quincy Kilby
Img: flickr/boston_public_library

Second, who was Q.K.? Quincy Kilby, was a personal friend of Houdini, who compiled a Houdini scrapbook which is in the Boston Public Library.  He also wrote a history of the Boston theatre, and another book on actor/assassin John Wilkes Booth.  He spent 20 years accumulating the items in his Houdini scrapbook.  These include letters, newspaper clippings, and a very exciting scene and prop list.  Houdini knew about Kilby’s project.  He sent his friend items marked “for your Houdini scraps book.”

Joseph Jefferson III as Rip Van Winkle

Third, who was young Joe Jefferson?  Let’s look at who his father was first. Joseph Jefferson III (1829-1905) was the 4th generation of a theatrical family that was established by Thomas Jefferson (1728 -1807), an English actor who managed several theatres.  Thomas’s son Joseph Jefferson I (1774-1832) came to America in 1795 on tour and remained to manage the John Street and Park Theatres in New York and the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia.  He played a comic actor.  Joseph Jefferson II (1804-1842) was an actor as well.  All three Jefferson’s were noted for playing old men.  Joseph Jefferson III was born 20 February, 1829 at Philadelphia United States of America, son of Joseph Jefferson, actor, and his wife Cornelia Frances Thomas Burke.  He began is stage career at 4, and, after his father died in 1842, relied on acting for a living. At 21 he married Margaret Clements Lockyer. On February 18, 1861 his wife died, leaving four children.  On December 20, 1867, he married Sarah Warren the niece of the actor William Warren. Fame came with his creation of the role of Rip Van Winkle. He died in 1905.

Young Joe

Joseph Warren Jefferson IV was a child of the second wife.  He was born July 6, 1869.  He was a member of his father’s company.  So at the time of the Grim Game, Joe Jefferson IV would have been 50 years old and Houdini 45 years old, making young Joe Jefferson five years older not younger than Houdini. Joseph Jefferson IV (1869 – 1919) performed at Macauley’s Theatre three times in Rip Van Winkle.

And last but not least, what was the connection with Thomas J and young Joe? Thomas Jefferson played Old Man Cameron in the Grim Game.  Like young Joe Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson was one of Joseph Jefferson III sons. He acted in his dads company in several roles opposite his father.  He became an actor in D.W. Griffith’s stock company appearing with Houdini in The Grim Game.