Finding RoMere Darling

Posted By BrokenClaw on February 9, 2007

Long after my grandmother died, one of my cousins began to compile some of our family history. One of the stories involved my grandmother’s half-sister, Josephine Caleb, who married Frank Grinnell and had a daughter who became a film star under the name, “Rose Marie Darling”. When I took over the project, I tried to find Rose in our family tree. After working on the Grinnell ancestry for some time, I discovered that Rose Marie Grinnell was not the daughter of Frank Grinnell, but she was the daughter of Frank’s brother, Ona. In other words, Rose Marie was not directly related to us, but she was a cousin of the Grinnells who were related to us.

The Grinnells were alloted members of the Prairie Band Potawatomie through their mother’s ancestry. On the 1920 federal census of Mayetta, KS, Rose was enumerated in her father’s household: Rosie, age 8, daughter of Ona Grinnell. Rosie’s mother was already deceased. I searched the 1930 census but could not find Rosie Grinnell or her father.

Next I tried to find some record of Rose Marie Darling as an actress, with no success. I also tried to find some connection between Grinnell and Darling, but searching the Internet with just those two names is overwhelming, since there are at least two towns, a college, and lots of associated companies named Grinnell, and Darling can be an adjective as well as a name. Nevertheless, eventually I came across a message on a Grinnell family website, where someone had posted an inquiry about a Grinnell who went into show business as RoMere Darling. I tried to contact the poster via email, but in those days people changed ISPs and email addresses quite often, so I wasn’t surprised that the email address was no longer valid. [More recently, the website updated their forums software and deleted all of the old messages.]

Now knowing that Rosie also changed her first name to RoMere, I did indeed find some online references to her being in the movies. She had a very brief listing on the International Movie Database. I also found a postcard dealer who had a postcard of “Romere Darling, Pottawatomie Indian.” I purchased the postcard and tucked it away. I realized that she wasn’t a film star per se, but a professional dancer and real Hollywood actress nonetheless. Over the years I would periodically search for RoMere Darling online, to see if any new data appeared. Occasionally I would find her listed on the cast of another movie.

In the old days of Hollywood movies, only the principal characters would have their names appear in the credits that ran at the beginning or end of the movie. Other actors and actresses who appeared in the film, usually in the background as extras, without on-screen credit were said to have an uncredited role. From a historical standpoint, since their names do not appear in the film themselves, the only way to verify these uncredited roles is to research the studio’s paper documents associated with that movie production: casting, payroll, etc.

As different companies, such as the International Movie Database, and Turner Classic Movies, and Because Films Care, become more and more involved in researching these old films, more and more cast members come to light. At present, I have found RoMere Darling listed in an uncredited role in five Hollywood movies, as well as her one credited role, but that number may climb. Today of course, the credits at the end of a movie are much more comprehensive and may include even the most minor contributor to a production, both cast and crew.

At this point, I knew nothing of her personal life. I didn’t know why she used the name Darling. There was a Darling family in the Potawatomie tribe, but I didn’t know if she had ever married someone by that name, or if she simply took it as her stage name. Then in 2006, someone started posting on the Helen Dagner forum about the Darlings of the Potawatomie. Among the postings were some short excerpts about RoMere Darling Martin and her husband, Julius, living in Tiff City, Missouri. There were also stories about her Aunt Annie Konkoskie. The postings there did not have any specific information about their relationship, but by researching the censuses and tribal documents again, I was able to clarify their true relationship.

RoMere’s aunt, Mary Grinnell [sister of Frank and Ona above], married Edward Konkoskie. After Mary died, Edward married Anna Darling Hicks, whom RoMere referred to as her Aunt Annie. The postings on that forum also confirmed that RoMere was the sister of Lawrence Grinnell, a fact that is probably confusing to anyone reading them without the back story of her professional career and name change. My next discovery was an eBay seller of old magazines, who had a 1938 edition of an entertainment rag called “PIC” magazine, which contained an article featuring RoMere Darling, so I purchased it. The article contained no personal or professional information, but it did have several photographs of her.

The final piece of the puzzle was provided by the Crawford County (Kansas) Genealogical Society, which published a list of obituaries which had appeared in their local newspaper, and which could be ordered as a photocopy. Among that list was RoMere Darling Martin. Naturally, I sent away for a copy. It turns out that RoMere wasn’t local to that newspaper, but her obituary was carried by the Associated Press, and their newspaper just happened to print it. The obituary indicated that RoMere had moved to Phoenix, Arizona, prior to 1930. So I went back to the censuses and searched the index of Maricopa County, AZ, for anyone named Rose, Rosie, or Romere of the appropriate age. I found Rose M. Gerrell. When I looked at the census page, I could see that it really was our Rose: age 18, single, born in Kansas, father born in California, mother born in Kansas, no current occupation, living in a boarding house.

The obituary reported that RoMere had been married three times. Her first husband, Harold Rogers, was killed during World War II. Her second husband, Julius Martin, had died in 1968, and her last husband, O. B. Collman, had died in Feb 1979. Since there was no mention of her ever being married to a Darling, it’s reasonable to conclude that she had taken Darling purely as a stage name, perhaps in honor of her Aunt Annie. The obituary also made no reference to any children.

I found Harold Rogers on the 1920 census of Delaware County and the 1930 census of Ottawa County, Oklahoma. His military service was confirmed on the Access Genealogy website, among the list of Oklahoma casualties of World War II. I used the Social Security index to confirm the identities of Julius Martin, who died August 1968 in Tiff City, MO, and Ovando Collman, who died February 1979 in Tiff City, MO.

I now had enough data to publish the biographical sketch: Remembering RoMere Darling. My website has been online for several years now, so Google indexes it regularly. I posted the article on a Wednesday night. By the next Sunday, I was pleased to see that it was on the first page of search results for RoMere Darling.

Indian crusader dies in Joplin

JOPLIN (AP) RoMere Darling Martin, a Pottawatomie Indian who turned her back on a Hollywood acting career to settle in southwest Missouri, died Monday at a Joplin hospital. She was the leader of a yearly four-state Christmas charity drive for needy Indians. The 67-year-old Mrs. Martin’s death ended a battle of almost two years against cancer of the larynx, which had forced her last month to announce her withdrawal from the annual Box 14-A drive.

For 26 years, Mrs. Martin spearheaded the Box 14-A effort, a Christmas crusade to collect food and toys for needy Indians in northeast Oklahoma, northwest Arkansas, southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri. Box 14-A, named after Mrs. Martin’s post office box number, began in 1952 when she distributed food and clothing to four Indian families in the Tiff City area. In recent years, the drive has grown to serving over 300 families representing 1,800 persons from 10 Indian tribes in the four states.

Mrs. Martin, who was born July 20, 1911, on a Pottawatomie reservation near Holton, Kan., later moved to Phoenix, Ariz., where she was named Miss Original America in 1928 and Miss Real America in 1938. In the late 1930s, she went to Hollywood and appeared in such movies as “Anchors Aweigh” and “Unconquered,” and toured with Tex Ritter as an Indian dancer. Mrs. Martin first came to Tiff City in the 1940s to bury her first husband, Harold Rogers, who was killed during World War II. She moved to the southwest Missouri village permanently in 1950 with her second husband, Julius Martin, who died in 1968. Her third husband, O.B. Collman, died Feb. 18 at Tiff City.

Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Council House Church near Grove, Okla. Burial will be at Bassett Springs Cemetery near Grove.

— Reprinted from The Morning Sun, Pittsburg, KS, 27 March 1979

» Read my biography and see the photos: Remembering RoMere Darling.

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