Thursday, January 30, 2014

Izola Forrester: American Author

I first found Izola in the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. She was living with her husband, Mann Page, in Santa Monica, California. In 1925, they were living in New York and in 1942, New Hampshire. I opened the scanned image of the Census form and discovered that Mann Page was a dramatic actor and Izola Page was a novelist. And that's why you should always open the document and look at it. You will occasionally discover very interesting things about your ancestors, or in this case, my sister-in-law's ancestor.

Once I learned she was a novelist, I Googled. A Wikipedia article about Izola Forrester was returned as a search result. Why did I get that person? That sure didn't seem like the right Izola, but after reading the Wikipedia article, I discovered she was my Izola Page. Her name was Izola (Hills Forrester) Merrifield Page.

She was born in 1878 to George Wallingford Hills, a Harvard-educated travel writer, and Ogarita Elizabeth Bellows, who was a stage actress and went by the name of Ogarita Booth Henderson. George and Ogarita never married. Ogarita was convinced her father was John Wilkes Booth. That is possible as the man listed as her father on her birth certificate was on a ship off the coast of Uruguay, during the critical period and could not have been her father. Ogarita married Alexander Henderson, a director of light operas. After Ogarita died, Izola was adopted by newspaper man George Forrester and his wife, Harriet, and lived for a time in Chicago.

Ogarita Booth Henderson as Mary Queen of Scots

So what makes her so interesting?

She was a prolific author of magazine articles, novels, and silent movie scripts, including The Quitter (1915), starring Lionel Barrymore, and collaborated with Douglas Fairbanks and Sinclair Lewis on Rent Free (1922).

Film still from The Quitter

She met Ruben Robert Merrifield in Chicago at the age of 15 and he was a banner artist for Ringling Brothers. There were married on 29 October 1899. In 1910 she is a boarder a the home of Columbus and Julia Smith in Canterbury, Connecticut. She indicated she was married and is living with her four children, but her first husband is not living with her. On 10 November 1913, she married Mann Page, the eighth cousin, once removed of my sister-in-law.

Izola was hired by the New York World as a feature writer and was a regular contributor to many periodicals, including The Saturday Evening Post and McClure's, then edited by Willa Cather. Izola also authored over 20 books, including the popular Greenacre Girls and the Polly Page fiction series.  Izola's last book was This One Mad Act: The Unknown Story of John Wilkes Booth and His Family by His Granddaughter (1937). I found that book on eBay and it is quite a read.

Izola (Hills-Forrester) Merrifield/Mann in 1898

She was the embodiment of the post Victorian-era independent woman.

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