Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Genevieve Larsson (1886-1942)

Pseudonym of Jennie Christina Larson
Teacher, Author, and Reviewer
Born August 1886, Wisconsin
Died April 16, 1942, Riverdale, New York

Since writing about Genevieve Larsson the other day, I have received information on her from Steven Rowe and Randal A. Everts. Although I can now fill in some gaps in her biography, she remains something of a mystery.

Jennie Christina Larson was born in August 1886 in a log cabin in Wisconsin. She was the daughter of Swedish immigrants who lived on a small far with their large brood of nine children. The Larsons resided in the towns of Ella, Frankfort, and Durand, Wisconsin, all in the western part of the state, during Jennie's childhood. At age nineteen and into her early twenties, Jennie taught school in Frankfort. At some point, she also taught at Centennial High School in Pueblo, Colorado.

According to her niece, Jennie received a scholarship to Columbia University. I don't know when that would have been, but I suspect it was sometime in the late 1910s or early 1920s. (1) Described as "a free spirit who did her own thing," Jennie lived in Greenwich Village, wrote magazine stories, and shared her home with a man who worked for National Geographic magazine. I have a possible identity of the man, which matches the name of another pulp author. It also matches the name of a man who was married to another woman. I guess I'll refrain from engaging in gossip until I know something more.

At some point, Jennie Christina Larson gave her name an artistic flourish and became Genevieve Larsson. She is supposed to have known the Danish-American artist Kay Nielsen (1886-1957), illustrator of East of the Sun and West of the Moon (1914) and a designer with the Walt Disney studios in the 1930s and '40s. I don't have a detailed biography of Nielsen, so it isn't clear to me when he and Genevieve Larsson would have crossed paths. Genevieve was also friends with Agnes Tufverson, the woman who disappeared so mysteriously in 1934.

Like Kay Nielsen, Genevieve Larsson died in poverty, "a charity case" at Seton Hospital in Riverdale, New York, where she lingered many months with tuberculosis before passing away on April 16, 1942. Her body was sent to Pueblo, Colorado, the home of her brother, for burial.

For many years after her death, Genevieve Larsson's niece (not the same niece to whom I have referred) tried to secure movie rights to her early story, "Witch Mary." An artist, designer, and actress, Marjorie Goss, aka Christine Larsen or Larson, lived a life that echoed that of her aunt. Born on March 15, 1918, in Durand, Wisconsin, Marjorie Goss studied art and design in high school and at the Stout Institute in her home state. In 1942, she moved to Los Angeles and went to work designing costumes for the Western Costume Company. Marjorie worked on the films State Fair (1945), The Dolly Sisters (1945), and Dragonwyck (1946) before setting off for New York to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She supported herself by creating designs for greeting cards and illustrations for children's books.

In 1947 or 1948, Marjorie Goss returned to the West Coast and, adopting her grandmother's name (Genevieve Larsson's mother's name), began making movies and television shows, many of which were in the Western, detective, and science fiction genres. (Christine Larsen appeared in two episodes of Science Fiction Theatre in 1955.) Romantically linked with Prince Youka Troubetzkoy, John Howard, Mickey Rooney, Lew Ayres, and Ronald Reagan, Christine Larsen--like her aunt before her--seems to have led an unconventional life. (2) 

Christine Larsen's show business career appears to have been brief. The Internet Movie Database lists credits from 1948 to 1958. She remained in southern California and in later years designed needlepoint patterns. Her death is something of a mystery, for Christine Larsen died "a tragic death" according to her cousin, on February 13, 1973, in Los Angeles County. A search of the Los Angeles Times reveals nothing except that--according to the announcement of her funeral--she had a daughter who survived her.

Notes
(1) Jennie Larson's instructor in writing the short story was Blanche Colton Williams (1879-1945). Dr. Williams was on the faculty at Columbia University in 1913-1925.
(2) Marjorie Goss' picture--with Troubetzkoy--appeared in the February 17, 1947, issue of Life magazine.

Author Genevieve Larsson, a photograph that may have been taken at a time when she was still known as Jennie Larson. Her niece remembered "how beautiful she was even after such a dreadful disease": Genevieve died from tuberculosis in 1942. Photo courtesy of Randal A. Everts. 
"She has sparkling facial beauty," a journalist wrote of Genevieve's niece, actress and artist Christine Larsen. "Enormous blue eyes light up deeply dimpled features framed in a wealth of reddish-blond hair. Her smile is almost lyrical."
Christine Larsen, born Marjorie Goss, enjoyed a ten-year career in movies and on television. Here's the obligatory swimsuit photo of her, probably from the early 1950s. I wonder if that could be the lagoon from Gilligan's Island behind her.
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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