I've spent a good amount of time recently researching the life and career of Louis Wolheim, the smashed faced actor best remembered as Katczinsky in the classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), in preparation for a biographical post about him. Well, I sat down and started writing today, but one bit of information has proven too distracting right from the start to be included in a general Wolheim bio.
Biographical records list Wolheim as being born in New York City, March 28, 1880. Online the IMDb and Wikipedia have that info, and so it's quoted and imported to just about every Wolheim reference around the internet. The date is right, but census records say the place was actually Russia. More exactly, Russian Poland.
The Wolheims, parents Elias and Lena, sons Louis and Morris, didn't arrive in the United States until 1888. Louis Wolheim lists as place of birth as Russia in census records through 1905, but by the time of the next available census I found him in, 1930, he claims to have been born in New York. New York is also the birthplace reported for Wolheim in all period news articles about him during his active stage and film career.
I had a similar experience earlier this year when researching Freddie Bartholomew, the child star who had a very sloppy online record that has since been corrected. Now, I'm no genealogist, but it doesn't take one to simply follow the census records. For Louis Wolheim, as in the case of Freddie Bartholomew, I just think no one had bothered to follow the brightly lit paper trail until now.
Please feel free to discuss or correct any inaccuracies in the comments section of this post down below. Following is that Wolheim paper trail with all links pointing to FamilySearch.org, a (mostly) free genealogy site.
Working backwards, the 1930 census correctly places film star Louis Wolheim in Beverly Hills with wife Ethel, listed here as Ethel Wolheim. Ethel is the former Ethel Dane, Wolheim's Australian born wife. Also listed as a member of Louis and Ethel's household is a nephew, Charles Wolheim, his approximate age given as 20.
Much earlier a 2-year-old Charles is listed on the 1910 census as living in New York with parents Morris J. and Augusta Wolheim.
Back another step, both 1900 and 1905 censuses list Elias Wolheim as head of family with two sons, Louis and Morris Wolheim. Birthplace for all Wolheim family members on this 1905 census is given as Russia Poland.
That 1905 info is a little sloppy on the preview, but the original document is available for that page and if you open it up and makes things a little clearer (or just click Wolheim family member names from the preview page).
Curiously the 1900 and '05 censuses list Elias with two different wives, Lena, approximate age 52, in 1900; and Hinda, approximate age 53 on the 1905 census. Both women were born in Russia and as we see with Charles' inexact age these figures aren't always entirely accurate. I imagine one of two possibilities: Lena and Hinda are the same woman, perhaps just skimming some years off of her age for the sake of vanity; or Lena died between 1900-1905 and Elias remarried Hinda.
An interesting aside giving tragic color to the times is a more detailed look at Lena's page on the 1900 census. Lena clearly notes that she had given birth to 10 children, but as of the year 1900 only 3 were living. Two were Louis and Morris, I don't know who the third was, perhaps an older child who remained in Russia.
The more important bit of information gleaned from that 1900 census in direct regards to Louis Wolheim is that all Wolheim family members list their year of immigration from Russia to the United States as 1888. Here is the naturalization record for patriarch Elias Wolheim that further confirms the 1888 date. This paid site site also gives a preview of the actual document.
Like I said, genealogy experts, have at it. This is not my domain and the main purpose of my posting this is so I could write "Louis Wolheim was born in Russia" in my coming biographical article and just link back to this information for further clarification.
Les H says
Wolheim’s New York Times obit “Wolheim, ‘Bad Boy’ of Movies, is Dead” lists him as having been born on March 28, 1881, not 1880. I would go with that over IMDB or Wikipedia.
Cliff Aliperti says
I’m pretty sure that date is incorrect–I don’t place much faith in the IMDb/Wikipedia either, but those original census documents more clearly pointed to 1881. From what I’ve seen on the pre-Internet era obits, the NY Times record could be a bit sloppy.
Diana Genders says
I am Diana Genders of South Australia. I am the great niece and god daughter of Ethel Wolheim, Louis’ wife.
Her stage name was Ethel Dane. She was born Ethel Spiller, in Adelaide in 1876. She was a grand success as a stage actress from the late 1800’s until she married Louis in 1923. She was most famous for her Shakespearean performances, and as KiKi in The Glad Eye. I believe Ethel and Louis met when costarring in The Fair Circassian on Broadway in 1921.
Census would surely be correct. As Louis spoke Russian, it is reasonable to also assume that it was his first or second language.I can confirm that Charles Wolheim was Louis’ nephew and a constant companion to Ethel for many years after Louis’ untimely death.