Here Sarah Viola Warmbrodt, the mother of my kindred, Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor. She was an actress under the name Sara Sothern. She looks like Lerona Rosamond.
Many online biographies of Elizabeth Taylor will state that her mother Sarah had been a stage actress, who gave up her career upon marriage. These brief comments, don’t however satisfy me. I want to know more details. So I dig. My full biography, ancestry, and movie list for Elizabeth Taylor is at my Knol “Elizabeth Taylor”
Sarah Viola Warmbrodt was born 21 Aug 1896 in Arkansas City, Cowley County, Kansas, the daughter of Samuel Sylvester “Sam” Warmbrodt (1861-1948) and his wife Anna Elizabeth Wilson (~1864-1932). In 1900, the family is found in the U.S. Federal Census that year, living at Arkansas City, Cowley County, Kansas, where he learn that Sam was born in Illinois, and his wife Anna in Ohio. The family had lived in Kansas for several years by this point, as their eldest surviving son Wilson was also born in Kansas Sep 1892. Wilson’s World War I Draft Registration Card where he states that he was born in Arkansas City, Kansas, is the evidence that Sarah was also born in Arkansas City. If you quote this fact, be sure to credit it properly to this blog or to me Will Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org, CountyHistorian.
They are yet living still in Arkansas City in the U.S. Federal Census for 1910. In both 1900 and 1910, Sam is listed as owning or operating a laundry. In 1910, his son Wilson, is listed at age 17, as a photographer, in a picture gallery. Wilson moved to Fort Dodge, Iowa, married Kathleen Owen and had at least two children.
C David Heymann, wrote a book called “Liz : An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor”. In his book he states that Sarah and Francis met while they were both attending school in Cherokee, Oklahoma. However I doubt this is true. I think it’s more likely they both were attending school in Arkansas City. Cherokee is about 60 miles or so away, and both the Taylor family and the Warmbrodt family are living in Arkansas City in the Special 1915 Kansas State Census. In his book he goes to quote Nona Smith, said-to-be a schoolmate from those days who says, “When Francis was nineteen his wealthy uncle arrived from the East Coast, to take him back to New York City, where he was buying and selling art.” This is perhaps somewhat true, but the World War I Draft Registration Card for Francis shows that as “Secretary to Howard Young” he was living actually in St Louis, Missouri.
Sara Sothern in 1925 as Colette in “The Dagger”
Meanwhile Sarah and her parents had moved to California, where with her mother’s encouragement, she began an acting career. Joining Edward Everett Horton’s group, she made it to Broadway as “Mary Margaret” in the play “The Fool” (1922-1923). Her entry in the Internet Broadway Database lists five shows she was in from 1922 to 1926. While looking for her next role, she happened to go with a girlfriend to the El Morocco Club in New York City, where she re-met Francis who was there with his uncle. They begin courting then, and were married within a year. At first uncle Howard Young opposed the match, until she agreed that she would give up her acting career.
Sara Sothern in 1926
The following article appeared in the New York Times, 12 Sep 1926, pg X4, “Who’s Who on the Stage” :
“About four years ago a young girl with large dark eyes came from California to act the role of the crippled girl in “The Fool”. Channing Pollock’s somewhat inspirational play had previously been given its premiere in Los Angeles by a repertory company which included this actress, Sara Sothern. As many who saw “The Fool” will remember, her performance was one of its outstanding features and won her a three years’ engagement during which she not only played in New York and all the other large cities of America, but also had a London season, where, unless the cables and her press clippings are all wrong, she more than duplicated her success here. In her official biography it doubtless will even be recorded that she received gifts and tokens of esteem from the royal family.
“But here long runs in ‘the Fool’ were not duplicated on her return to America. A jinx which seemed to hang over her led to her being cast in ‘Arabesque,’ the most pictorially beautiful of last year’s failures and such now forgotten pieces as ‘Fool’s Bells,’ ‘The Dagger’ and ‘Mamma Loves Papa.’ After such a search as that any actress would deserve a rest, and Miss Sothern accordingly went back to her home in California to get it.
“When she returned she was offered the title part in ‘The Little Spitfire’ to succeed Sylvia Field, who had left to go in the production of ‘Broadway,’ impending for this week. Miss Sothern’s acceptance brings the story more or less up to date, and the management of ‘The Little Spitfire’ certainly would not consider it andything but a public service were these columns to state in black and white that her current role seems to be her most fortunate choice since her engagement in Mr. Pollock’s play.”
Now a reader recently chastised me that Francis Taylor “never lived in New York City”. To that reader I will respond: “I’m right, and you’re wrong, nyah, nyah”. And to back it up, the “Waterloo Evening Courier” (Waterloo, Iowa), 2 Nov 1926, at their marriage states : “…Mr Taylor is associated with his uncle Howard Young, in the Howard Young Museum of Art in New York, one of the largest art galleries in the country.”
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