This is a brief overview of Josephine Cunningham…she lived so much more life than I have captured here, but I hope this gives you some more insight into this part of George Whittell’s life and his relationships.
Josephine Cunningham Whittell, date unknown. UNR Special Collections. UNRS-P1997-58-21
Birth: November, 1883
Death: June 1, 1961. Los Angeles, CA.
George Whittell Jr.’s second (or legally speaking, first) wife, was Josephine Cunningham. I had hoped tracing Josephine’s history would be easier than Florence’s, but her youth was just as mysterious.
Josephine Cunningham graduated from San Jose High School. It seems however that she was born in Arizona to parents from Kansas and Missouri. It appears she made her way west without her family. In the 1900 Census she is listed as living in San Jose a boarder (age 16).
While in high school she was active in the arts and was a member of the California Ladies Band. At some point she met Anna Held and become a chorus girl with the famous performer’s company. Josephine was NOT a Florodora girl, she even would go on record with the newspapers stating such. However, even that same article calls her a Florodora girl. Almost all articles about her early years call her one, but it is simply not the case. There were only a few main Broadway performances of Florodora and it is fairly easy to find the cast listings. Josephine is not listed. However, she was active in Anna Held’s Dance Company and that is probably where the confusion came from.
Oakland Tribune, July 3, 1906. This is from an article about the later divorce, but her we can see Josephine trying to set the record straight.
Some reports state that Jr. met Josephine through Anna Held. This makes sense because Anna Held’s business partner/ common-law husband, Florenz Ziegfield, was known for introducing his Follies’ girls to wealthy men and Anna did the same. It was good business practice to have young wealthy men attending the shows and the girls to keep them coming back. Jr. visited New York often as can be seen in both travel news in the papers as well as ship manifests of his departure and arrival in NY.
Jr. was still in the middle of the argument over money with Florence Boyere when he married Josephine in 1904. Of course this was after his engagement to San Francisco socialite Pearl Landers had been called off.
From what the newspapers report, Sr. sent Jr. off to Europe with Ray Baker in order to get Jr.’s mind off his new girl. In Paris, Jr. ditched Baker and returned to the states to marry Josephine in Jersey City. The elopement was not known to the family at the time.
San Francisco Chronicle, October 11, 1904.
Once the family did know, it was reported that the couple was on a “one year probation” in which Josephine had to prove herself as a good wife (probation article 29 Oct).
Oakland Tribune, October 29, 1904.
During this time, Josephine sent several letters to Sr. that are in the TLPS archives. Josephine pleads with Sr. for sympathy and money. It seems that while she was trying to set up house, Jr. was off having fun and taking all the money with him. Her letters speak of a very cold man who cared little for his new wife. Of course, that is only one side of the story. Some gossip columns point to Josephine starting her affair with Robert Warwick about the same time.
Even if she was a spurned wife, she did fight the law to try and save Jr.’s car:
The San Francisco Call, March 31, 1905.
However, Josephine finally tired of staying home neglected and sued for divorce. In complaints to the court, Josephine claimed “her wealthy husband had crushed her spirit by his brutality.” In return, Jr. said “she had crushed my trunk by throwing it out in the street.”
Throughout the divorce and even after, there were constant rumors of Josephine and Jr. getting back together. At one point she had even agreed to remarry him and had announcements of the engagement sent out. However, one demand from Jr. was that Josephine give up her acting career, something she was not willing to do. The courts ruled in favor of Josephine and this time the Whittells did not fight over money, but gave her an allowance (the amount of which I cannot find yet).
The divorce was finalized in July 1907 and Josephine was given back her maiden name. However, from then on she performed as Josephine Whittell, even after her marriage to actor Robert Warick. That marriage took place on March 21, 1910. I am still searching for their exact divorce date, but Josephine and Robert remained friends, as seen in this article:
Lincoln Evening News, September 26, 1931.
Josephine’s Broadway career started picking up in the 1920s and she eventually transitioned into film. She was never a leading lady, but rather a fairly well known supporting actress. She never remarried after Robert.