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Monday, June 20, 2016

It's Showtime : Ancestors in the Entertainment Business

Lights    Camera    ACTION

Do you have any family members that were employed in the entertainment or broadcast business?

It might be interesting to learn about them and their professions.  There are several ways to look up what they might have been up to.

My Uncle Bennie....Horse Trainer, Circus Actor, Western Film Stuntman

images.google.com; public  domain,  accessed 20 June 2016
As little kids, our mother often told us of our Uncle Bennie, who worked in Los Angeles in Western genre films.  I never met the man, but my siblings had.  I only saw photos of him.  After years of hearing about our cowboy relative, I decided to find out a little about him and his career.

Aunt Ethel, wife of Uncle Bennie, often called our home to let us know what films Bennie would be appearing in, and later her son, Carl, also took up the "reins" and followed in his father's footsteps.  He also appeared in films and television shows.

Visiting Aunt Ethel when I was a teenager, I asked her how she and Uncle Bennie met.  She said that she and her brother left their home when teenagers and toured the country in a traveling Wild West Circus Show.  They were from Montana, and had lots of experience around horses.  When the show appeared in the town where Bennie lived, he went to see the performances.  His eyes met hers, Her eyes met his, and "the rest is history", she said.  They traveled with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.

The family that Uncle Bennie came from was very involved in Italian fruit marketing.  Obviously he did not go into this business like his father and siblings.  I looked into the 1911 old phone books and found Bennie listed, living with his parents and siblings, but he was listed as "theatrical" at the age of 19.  The rest of his male siblings were listed as fruit dealers.

Bennie married Ethel, had their son, Carl, in 1916, and at WWI he registered with the draft.  His draft card states that he was employed a performer with the Ringling Bros. Circus.

Several family photos were produced by various persons showing Bennie with western star Tom Mix, who appeared in westerns, most of which were silent films, from 1909-1935.

Many newspaper articles, most of which were from the early 1950s, made mention of Bennie and his touring of the nation in traveling western shows.  Also, there were mentions of his training of movie stars in the western movie business. He was very adept in lassos, knife throwing, hatchet throwing, horse  whip tricks and shooting performances.

He was mentioned as a personal assistant to Will Rogers as a chauffeur, and a very good friend of Will Rogers, Jr.

In his obituary of 1955, it states, "a famed western showman, a long time western film  horse trainer and stuntman, close friend of the late Will Rogers, a double for many famous stars in western films, owner of a ranch formerly owned by Will Rogers, Jr., and appeared  on the television show "You Asked For It" where he performed a knife-throwing act with his wife and partner, Ethel."

There was so much more found in newspapers and ephemera regarding Uncle Bennie.  Too much stuff to mention here. But, at least I found several ways to learn about him, and now you can research your Entertainer Ancestor, too.

from the collection of Mrs. Louis Busalaki Stepler, 1917-2002.

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