Doris Kenyon: Famed 1920s Adirondack Actress

Ausable Forks was once the favored respite of one of America’s most famed and beloved actresses of her time. During the prime of her career in the 1920s, to escape constant media scrutiny, this lady returned often to the Adirondacks, a quiet, peaceful place filled with the memories of childhood.

Doris Kenyon was born on September 5, 1897, the daughter of James and Margaret Kenyon. James, once a protege of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was a person of some renown in his own right, achieving widespread fame and praise for his skills as a poet. Many of his works were featured in Harpers, the Atlantic, and other reputable magazines.
After writing two books, James remained in the literary world and became a publisher. His position would someday help open doors for his talented daughter.

The family lived for a time in Chaumont, New York, northwest of Watertown, and then moved to Syracuse, where Doris was born. Her brother, Raymond, nineteen years older than Doris, was a dentist and oral surgeon in both Philadelphia and Syracuse. Health issues and a deep love of hunting and fishing prompted his move to the Adirondacks in pursuit of a less strenuous life.

Ray Kenyon chose Ausable Forks as his new home, immersing himself in local life, business, and politics. He served in several key positions, including many years as chairman of the Essex County Republican Party, and several more as state assemblyman. Due to his great skill as a dentist and his affable nature, Raymond became a fixture in the community.

Young Doris was a frequent visitor and guest at her brother’s home—so frequent, in fact, that she has sometimes been claimed as an Ausable Forks native. She spent many summers at Fern Lake and was well known in the village, particularly for her singing ability.

When Doris was in her teens, her father became head of the publishing department of the National Encyclopedia of Biography. It was a position of prominence and power, earning James close ties with luminaries from many venues, including show business.

By this time, Doris had sung with different choirs and had developed a reputation for the quality of her voice. At a meeting of the Authors Club, which she attended with her father, Doris was invited to sing, delivering a very impressive performance.

Among the attendees was the renowned Victor Herbert, who had been a superb cellist in Europe, having played in the orchestra of Johann Strauss. In America, he worked at the Metropolitan Opera and became a famed composer and conductor. Like many other stars, Victor maintained a home in Lake Placid.

Her performance before the Authors Club wowed Herbert, and though Doris was only sixteen years old, he decided to cast her in the stage musical Princess Pat. The show opened on Broadway in the Cort Theatre, and Doris’ stage debut as the character Coralee Bliss was a big success. The movie industry soon showed an interest in her (apparently for her acting skills and not for her lovely voice. The silent film era wouldn’t give way to talkies for another 14 years.)

Doris couldn’t resist the opportunity. She left a promising stage career to appear as Effie MacKenzie in The Rack (Milton Sills was the leading star), which was released in December 1915. That performance earned her the lead role in Pawn of Fate, released in February 1916. Within a month, Worldwide Film Corporation signed Doris to an exclusive three-year contract at $50,000 a year ($1 million per year in today’s dollars) … and she was still a teenager!

Despite her youth, Doris displayed maturity with her newfound wealth, donating to projects like the Children’s Home in Plattsburgh. She supported the troops during World War I, subscribing to $50,000 worth of Liberty Bonds, the highest amount of any actress in show business.

Under her new contract, Doris played the leading role in many movies. In 1917, after making A Hidden Hand for Plathe Films, she formed her own company, De Luxe Pictures. The crew stayed at the Lake Placid Club while filming its first project, The Story of Seven Stars.

As life became more hectic, Doris returned frequently to her childhood roots in Ausable Forks, spending time with Raymond. She and her brother shared an affinity for fox hunting, a very popular pastime in those days. Raymond’s camp on Silver Lake was one of Doris’ favorite places, and there she hosted luminaries from show business and other industries.

Next week, the conclusion: Doris reaches the stratosphere of fame, but tragedy strikes as well.

Photo: A Doris Kenyon collectible tobacco card.

The Doris Kenyon story is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.

Lawrence Gooley: The Power of Wildlife


While collecting materials about attacks by animals in the Adirondacks, I came across several stories involving birds of prey. Maintaining a healthy skepticism is important, especially when reading such accounts in old newspapers, where the tendency was to embellish. But I came to realize that bird attacks were not such a rare phenomenon. Nature films offer scenes of birds assailing creatures much larger than themselves and carrying off some impressive loads.

After all, odd things do happen. I once observed a hawk plummeting at amazing speed into the center of the village where I lived. Moments later, the hawk flew past me, a cat dangling from its talons. Decades ago, when ravens were a rarity in the northern Adirondacks, I was dive-bombed repeatedly by several of them as I bushwhacked across the Silver Lake Mountain Ridge. And on three occasions while canoeing, I’ve had very close encounters with eagles (I’ll admit that a couple of them were scary).

Taking all of that into consideration, I reviewed some interesting regional confrontations between humans and birds. In 1888, at Brier Hill (St. Lawrence County), a bald eagle was said to have attacked ten-year-old George Richards. George used a stick to defend himself until older brother Berton, 20, drove the eagle off. Bert later baited a steel trap with newborn calves that had died. He succeeded in capturing the bird, which was held by the Richards family for display.

In 1893, a Bellmont (Franklin County) farmhand working for Frank Winkley was on horseback, rounding up a herd of cows, when he was attacked by two eagles. He was knocked to the ground, where the birds continued the assault. The farm dog came to his aid, and he eventually managed to club one of the birds and capture it. According to the report, the golden eagle’s wingspan was seven feet. It was briefly kept in Winkley’s barn as a curiosity.

Predatory raids on farm fowl were once common. A dramatic case was reported in Chaumont (northwest of Watertown) in 1903 on the farm of Charles Graham. A hen hawk (any hawk that preys on poultry) grabbed a large Plymouth Rock hen, but about 20 feet above the ground, the hen broke free and landed at Graham’s feet. The hawk followed, knocking the farmer down, gashing his face and neck, and pecking at his eyes. Even as Graham stood to defend himself, the bird continued the attack, finally departing when the farmer grabbed a shovel.

Also in 1903, John Sullivan of Jay (Essex County) was set upon by an eagle, eventually driving it off after suffering lacerations to his face. In 1904 came a report from the Bowditch cottage on Upper Chateaugay Lake (Clinton County), where caretaker Frank Nicholson battled two eagles that attempted to make off with some chickens. One of the birds managed to sink its talons into Nicholson’s leg, but he eventually succeeded in “dispatching them.”

In 1909, a Pitcairn (St. Lawrence County, near Harrisville) farmer, Josiah Almtree, offered a dramatic tale of battling a powerful eagle that had lately been harassing his sheep. The victim this time was Almtree’s daughter, who was carried briefly but then dropped “unhurt on the roof of a little building near the barn.” Almtree managed a shot at the bird, which escaped. Of course, “unhurt” wasn’t possible, but I’ll beg the Fox News defense here: “We report, you decide.”

Most such stories are quite old, but a more recent one (though still over 50 years past) occurred in Ausable Forks in 1957. Young Jimmie Camire, while playing with friends, was attacked by a hawk. The bird grabbed his shoulder, but the boy broke free. Under renewed attack, Jimmie’s shouts brought his brother Butch and friend Jeff Hewston to the rescue. They had been cutting small trees nearby, and used an axe to kill the hawk, which they said had a wingspan of 43 inches.

Not all regional fowl attacks came from above. In 1908, Gouverneur’s Louis Boulet owned a particularly raucous Rhode Island Red, a breed that can be incredibly aggressive. (They’ve been known to kill snakes, cats, foxes, and small dogs.) The big rooster’s frequent attacks made it clear the farmer was not welcome in his own hen house. Egged on by frequent muggings and occasional blood loss, Boulet decided this chicken’s goose was cooked, so he had him for dinner.

Skepticism can be valuable, but before deciding how feasible some of those old stories might be, check out some “eagle attack” videos on YouTube. Be forewarned: several are graphic. Some are simply amazing, demonstrating the willingness of large birds to mix it up with creatures of all sizes, even striking a black bear in a tree.

Photos: Eagle in flight- 1957 headline from hawk attack in AuSable Forks.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 20 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

St. Lawrence Valley Primitive Snowshoe Biathlon

The St. Lawrence Valley Primitive Snowshoe Biathlon, organized by the Fort La Presentation Association and Forsyth’s Rifles and hosted by the Massena Rod & Gun Club, will be held March 3-4, 2012.

“In our primitive biathlon, competitors on snowshoes run or walk a measured course,” said Fred Hanss, an event organizer. “They must load and fire two shots from a muzzle-loading firearm at five targets set at well-spaced stations and throw an axe at the sixth station.”

Two of the three classes reflect the organizers’ mission to educate the public about the colonial and early American history of the St. Lawrence River Valley. In the first two classes, competitors using smoothbore muskets or rifles (flintlock or caplock) must cover the course on wooden snowshoes. In the third category, participants with in-line rifles may wear wooden or modern snowshoes.

The advance registration fee is $20. Registration on the day of the event is $25. After paying the initial registration fee, a re-entry fee of $5.00 will be charged each time that a participant runs the course.

Within the competitive classes, there are men’s, ladies’, and youth divisions. Awards will be presented to the top three participants in each division at a ceremony on Sunday afternoon.

“To add to the fun, a blanket shoot will be held and door prizes will be available Saturday and Sunday,” Mr. Hanss said. “Net proceeds from the primitive biathlon will go to the Fort La Presentation Association for the construction of an Interpretive Center and the reconstruction of historic Fort de la Presentation on Ogdensburg’s Lighthouse Point.”

Participants are encouraged to wear historic clothes covering 1750 to 1812. Fort de la Presentation was one of a handful of French colonial forts in New York State. Forsyth’s Rifles from Ogdensburg re-enacts a U.S. Army regiment posted in Northern New York during the War of 1812. From the French and Indian War period, they portray a unit of French marines.
Registration form and rules are at www.fort1749.org.

Photo courtesy The Dalton gang Shooting Club of NH.

Northern New York during the War of 1812. From the French and Indian War period, they portray a unit of French marines.
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Photo courtesy The Dalton gang Shooting Club[/CATS] of NH.