August 26, 2015

Lenore Jackson Coffee, Hollywood Screenwriter (1896-1984)

I was watching an old Turner Classic movie yesterday [Stronger than Desire, 1939 starring Virginia Bruce and Walter Pidgeon) when the name Lenore Coffee appeared as one of the screenwriters. Being a Coffee/y researcher, I sent myself a reminder to find out who she was. 

This is what I learned: 

Lenore Jackson Coffee was born to Andrew Jackson Coffee/y and wife Ella Lenore Muffley in San Francisco, CA on Jul. 13, 1896.1 She died Jul. 2, 1984 in Los Angeles and, her obituary, published in the San Diego Evening Tribune, reads:
LOS ANGELES(AP) -- Lenore Coffee, who as a young moviegoer complained to her mother that "I could write a better story that [sic] [than] that," has died after a long career in which she created some of Hollywood's most popular romance dramas. She was 87.

Coffee, whose husband was novelist-director William J. Cowen, died Monday at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in suburban Woodland [H]ills, said her daughter, Sabina Johnson.

Coffee, who began her career thinking up titles for silent movies, among them "Wandering Daughters" and "The Age of Desire," said her interest in films began during her youth in San Francisco. "Sometimes I'd leave a theater and tell my mother, 'I could write a better story than that,' " she said in 1956, four years before she wrote her last film, "Cash McCall," starring James Garner and Natalie Wood.

"Mother always said, 'Why don't you?'" Coffee said.

In 1924, she wrote her first feature film, "Volga Boatman," for Cecil B. DeMille, whose then-assistant Cowen later became her husband. With the advent of talkies in the late 1920s, Coffee began writing romantic dramas and suspense films that became widely popular. Among them were "Evelyn Prentice," "Age of Indiscretion," "My Son, My Son!" "The Way of All Flesh," "Till We Meet Again," "Beyond the Forest" and "Another Time, Another Place."

She said she wrote the novel "Another Time, Another Place," the film adaptation of which starred Lana Turner as an American reporter who romances British correspondent Sean Connery, to warn "that a woman can be a career women with lots of brains and have no sense." Church[e]s around the world continue to perform her play, "Family Portrait," which studies Christ's family dealing with his spirituality.

In addition to Johnson, Coffee is survived by a son, Gary. 
Lenore always claimed, surely influenced by her father’s belief, that she was descended from Gen. John Coffee, the friend and partner of President Andrew Jackson. 

Her father died Nov. 28, 1928 at the home of his son Luen in Fresno, CA. His short obituary reads: 
Jackson’ Kin Dies
Fresno, Nov. 28 – Andrew Jackson Coffee, 67, native of Oakland and a grandson of Andrew Jackson, former president and Mexican war hero, died here today at the home of his son, Luen Coffee.2
The father was born in CA c1861; her mother was Ella Lenore Muffley, born Feb. 25, 1878, died in Los Angeles on Jan. 4, 1944.3
Her grandfather was also named Andrew Jackson Coffee/y who was born in TN c1820. He was married in Alabama to Elizabeth A. Hutchings on Apr. 3, 1839. Andrew and Elizabeth, along with their first born, appeared in the 1840 Lauderdale Co., AL census. The entry reads: A. J. Coffee, one male, 20-30; one female child under 5; and one female, age 20-30. He is likely the Mexican War vet mentioned above.

Kate was born in Alabama and appeared in the 1860 census of Oakland Twp., Alameda Co., CA as an 18 year old along with her parents and others. Children in the household that year were: John, age 14, born AL; Frank, age 11, born LA; Nellie, age 5, born CA; Sinie [sic], a female, age 3, born CA; Hettie, age 10, born CA and Comchalina [sic], a female, age 9, also born CA. Why the children are not listed in birth order is unknown to me. 

I have been unsuccessful locating the family in 1870. In 1880 the family was found in San Francisco. Those in the household were Andrew, Sr., age 60, born TN, a notary public; Elizabeth A., wife, age 58, born AL; John, son, age 35, born AL, express office clerk; Frank L., age 32, born LA, business broker; Susan H., age 22, single, and Posey G., a daughter-in-law, age 20, born c1860 in CA and wife of Frank. Andrew J, Jr. age 19, and employed as an electrician was also at home . Others in the household were boarders and do not appear to be part of the family. 

Coffee 1880 San Francisco
There was another Coffee in the family that year; a 14 year-old female servant named Minnie who was enumerated as an Indian, born in CA, parents born CA. I wonder if Coffee was added as her surname because she did not know, or the family did not know what her surname was?! 

We know from history that Andrew Jackson and Rachel had no children of their own. They did however, adopt several including Andrew Jackson, Jr., a son of Rachel’s brother, Severn Donelson. They also adopted two Indian children, on named Theodore and the other, a child he found with its dead mother after one of the Creek Indian battles. That child was named Suncoya who died at age 16 in 1828. Other children were Andrew Jackson Hutchings, grand nephew of Rachel; Pres. Jackson and Rachel also became guardians of the three sons of her brother Samuel Donelson as well as three children of family friend Edward Butler.4

There appears then that there were no descendants of Jackson that married a Coffee/y. We know that John Coffee and Mary Donelson had a son they named Andrew Jackson Coffee who married Ann Eliza Sloss. They could be the great-grandparents of Lenore. Other genealogies say that John and Mary’s son Andrew married Eliza Hutchings [see above]. 

Both records could be accurate but, irrespective of that, history seems to prove that Lenore Coffee5 was not descended from President Andrew Jackson but from the more sedate – compared to Jackson – General John Reid Coffee. 

1 Wikipedia
2 San Diego Union, San Diego, CA, Thu., Nov.29,1928, Page 5
3 California Death Records -
4 Wikipedia
5 Lenore was married twice; first to Lucien L. Littlefield on Aug. 8, 1919 in Orange Co., CA and, second to William Joseph Cowan, a director with whom she often worked, on Jun. 8, 1924 in Los Angeles.

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