WE ARE HOMETOWN NEWS.

WHATELY — For a family in the early 1900s, receiving a telegram was a terrifying event, especially for a mother. Western Union usually brought news of a death among distant relatives or, in wartime, a son’s death.

At 10:50 a.m. on Dec. 23, 1914, silent film actor William Henry Brown, living on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, drove over to the Western Union office and sent his aging mother in Ohio a telegram for Christmas. The Christmas missive undoubtedly melted his mother’s heart.

“My best love to you mother God bless you goodbye,” Brown wrote.

The telegram did herald a death. Carolyn Belden Brown passed away a month after the actor sent the telegram.

Brown grew up on North Road in Whately. Born in 1860, Brown made his way out to California and acted in dozens of silent films. He was at the epicenter of an exploding industry already minting national media stars, though on a much smaller scale than today.

Brown’s scrapbook now rests with the Whately Historical Society, a gift from Rose Mary and Robert Badovinac, a Colorado couple. Between the hard covers are documents that touch the heart. Brown was on good terms with family members in Ohio.

Brown saved postcards and small delicate envelopes from Cuba, Spain, Belgium and other foreign countries. His uncle was a philatelist. Brown once sent his uncle an envelope addressed only to Toledo, Ohio and “the stamp lover.” It was no joke. The stamps were canceled, the letter was sent and received.

Brown saved an inciteful account of a young man’s experience leaving Northampton to go off to war. On June 14, 1905, a local writer published a piece, “Old Days Recalled”, that described the 10th Massachusetts Regiment’s departure to fight in the war between the states.

“June 14, 1861, was a memorable day to that company of young men, many of whom were scarcely out of their teens, who had never before hardly been away from home to stay over night, but had now left home to suffer hardships and privations and face danger and death in one of the bloodiest wars in modern times. Some never returned, many who did return have since died and the remnant of survivors are old gray-haired men.”

Brown was a grown man by the time Lumiere invented moving pictures. The Internet Movie Database lists him as an actor in 60 films including “Mounted Officer Flynn,” “A Cure for Carelessness,” “The Tide of Destiny” and “The Courting of Mary.” He lived at 4412 Sunset Blvd. until his death on Feb. 13, 1924, in Hollywood.

The Colorado couple that donated the scrapbook, the Badovinacs, emailed Neal Abraham, president of the Historical Society, to ask if Whately’s historians would like the scrapbook for the town’s collections. The Badovinacs wrote that a great-uncle gave them the scrapbook that looks put together by the actor or his son Karl, a cinematographer.

A possible connection? The great uncle’s mother lived across the street from the actor’s widow and son, Lucille and Karl, according to census records from 1950. The Badovinacs saw the possibility that Whately would like the scrapbook because it held a program for the town’s centennial celebration.

Brown’s father died in May 1913, in Los Angeles, probably while living with the actor. Brown’s mother, Carolyn Belden Brown, died in January 1915 in Ohio, probably while living with the actor’s brother. The scrapbook holds the Resolution of Respect, an official recognition of Brown’s father’s service in the Civil War.

Among the personal keepsakes are also pictures of film sets and announcements of Brown’s acting projects. A timely piece praising President Teddy Roosevelt begins, “Oh Rough Rider Teddy you’ve always been ready.” A news article on presidential elections since 1856 suggests to readers, “Good Thing to Cut Out and Save for Reference.”

The scrapbook has cultural and historical importance beyond a glimpse into the life of a film actor in the early era of cinema. Abrahams commented that it’s important for current and future residents who may want to know practical facts.

“By looking at diaries and photographs and scrapbooks we can piece together the story of how things came to be the way they are,” Abrahams said. “It’s both to have memory about those things, but also to answer questions about them. [But] we can’t address those questions without the bits and pieces that give us the answers.”

The scrapbook of William Henry Brown, iconic film actor from the early days of cinema, can be viewed by contacting the Whately Historical Society at info@whatelyhistorical.org.

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