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"I was born Kathleen Morrison. I was also born a Yankee--in Port Huron, Michigan--but I lived most of my childhood in the South..."

Port Huron

   Port Huron was a bustling town along the St. Clair River, on Lake Huron and across the river from Port Edwards in Ontario. There had been a copper mining boom in the area in the mid-1800s, though that boom had petered out by the 1880s. Besides copper, thee was lumber; Michigan was a leading producer of iron ore. The family of Thomas Edison moved to the area at the mid-century point. Port Huron was home o the state’s firs electric railway, Jenks Shipbuilding Company was established, the first underwater railway tunnel was opened, and the city thrived as a hard-working manufacturing center where people rolled up their sleeves and worked long hours. Robert Morrison was one of those hard-working individuals, father of Charles Morrison. Charles Morrison was the youngest of five siblings. His older sister Elizabeth, “Lizzie,” would end up marrying a grocer with he surname “Moore.”

   The city was home to immigrants, which helped drive it’s population growth. One family was the Kelly family, from Ireland. John Patrick Kelly had married Mary Moylan and they established a busy, crowded household full of daughters. Elizabeth Kelly went by the name “Liberty” so that men would say “give me Liberty or Give me death,” an indication of the spirited nature of the family. Agnes Kelly was a school teacher. She met Charles Morrison who had been schooled in business in Saginaw, and nature took its course. As the song goes” first came love, then came marriage, then came babies in a carriage.

   In the “Personal Notes and Social Happenings” section of the Port Huron Times of August 24, 1899, there was recorded the notice of a birth: “A daughter was born to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Morrison on Tuesday.” Tat daughter would be named after Agnes’ sister, Kathleen

Avid readers will recall that Colleen Moore, in her book Silent Star, would write (and for the rest of her life would vocally claim) that she had been born in 1901. The book Silent Star was a precursor to the tell-all books that would be popular for decades to come. To a degree, the book was about setting records straight, or at least cementing stories. Surely, if Colleen had known her birth year to be 1899, she would have said so: the difference in age between 1899 and 1901 would have been, sixty years later, insignificant. And there are artifacts that seem to point to 1901 as her birth year.  Plus, the record-keeping of the age left plenty of room for questions. Record 14010 indicates Chas. and Agnes Morrison did indeed have a child named Kathleen Morrison, though a box was checked indicating the infant was a boy.

   Those facts aside, there are records that indicate that Charles and Agnes Morrison had a daughter in 1899, and that she was named Kathleen. Whether this Kathleen was the same one that would grow up to become Colleen Moore is impossible to know. Colleen might have had an older sister who had not survived infancy that she never knew about. In any case, the difference in years has no effect in her story.

   The new family had been living with Charles’s family, but unfortunately for them, his father was in poor health at the time, which was not an ideal home for an infant. By that time, the Kelly household, once the bustling center of the neighborhood, had gotten emptier as the daughters married and moved away and Patrick had died. That left just the widow Kelly and Agnes’ younger sister, Kathleen Kelly. Charles, Agnes and Kathleen moved into the Kelly house at 817 Ontario. The 1900 census records indicate that in June 1900 young Kathleen, daughter of Charles and Agnes, was living with her Grandmother, her Aunt Kathleen, her Mother Agnes and Father Charles.

   Besides her grandmother, who had plenty of time to dote on young Kathleen, three of her five aunts had no children of her their own, and Kathleen became the center of a lot of attention. They brought her dolls to play with, laying the groundwork for her life-long love of dolls and helping spark a story-telling instinct in her. As a child, she would act out plays with her dolls, and later accompany her stories on the piano. Eventually she staged plays using neighbors as actors, directing them herself. Her aunts with children often brought Kathleen’s cousins to visit.

   Records indicate that in the middle of 1901, Agnes gave birth to a son, recorded by the county just over a year later as a healthy white boy named Cleeve T. Morrison. In fact, Cleeve’s middle name was Palmer; he was named after Sir Thomas Cleeve. 

By 1902, both of Charles’ parents had passed, and so he moved his family out of the Kelly house and into their own home two blocks north, also changing jobs from a bank collector to a manager at a company that produced furniture and plumbing supplies. Soon, young Kathleen’s grandmother moved from the Kelly homestead in with the new Morrison family.

   After that, the whole family left Port Huron.


Hillsdale, Michigan

   As Kathleen’s collection of dolls grew, it came with a growing collection of dollhouse furniture. Before long, her father built a wall-hung cabinet to house the furniture; the cabinet was called “Kathleen’s Collection,” and was the first of several incarnations of her dollhouse that would grow in size and complexity over the decades. Over the years, Kathleen’s collection of miniatures would continue to grow (culminating in Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, which is currently housed in Chicago at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry).

   Business would frequently take Charles Morrison out of town, and sometimes force the entire family to relocate. Kathleen would end up living a nomadic childhood until her teens, hopping from town to town. Business soon required the family to relocate to Hillsdale, Michigan, though the entire family did not necessarily move together. There was mention in Polk’s Hillsdale City and County Directory (1905 – 1906) of Charles Morrison, travelling agent for Alamo Manufacturing Company, boarding at 89 S. Howell in Hillsdale, Michigan. However, there was no mention of a family with him. The logistics of moving the family were likely complicated enough that either the family moved in stages, or, if the job was of short duration, Agnes and Grandma Kelly and the kids would stay with family while Charles went off to work alone.

   There had been, in fact, no mention of the Morrison family in the Hillsdale Democrat for the span of when they were supposed to have resided there. The Hillsdale Democrat at the time was given over largely to local and state matters, like this small gem: Another item on the front page of June 30, 1905 was as concise as any news story could be, offering both summary and commentary: “A lighted match dropping into a show window full of fireworks caused a premature celebration in a grocery store at Hudson Tuesday night. The effect was dazzling, the damage considerable.”

   Hillsdale was over 150 miles to the southwest of Port Huron and at the base of the Michigan peninsula, a booming railroad town. Those railroads brought tourists in by the bushelful to visit Baw Beese Lake, which was becoming a popular tourist attraction. It’s potential for attracting visitors was seen decades earlier. “…it is nearly two miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide, and it has been made attractive to summer resorters and picnickers by improvements in the way of hotel, pavilion, toboggan slide and bath houses.” There were a picnic grounds and dance pavilions and rowboats for rent, a scenic lake. The building where Charles was boarding was in a residential area less than two miles from Baw Beese Lake. Had Kathleen and Cleeve visited their father, they would have loved the lake. Both children would grow up to love water sports. In winter or summer there would have been plenty to keep them busy.

   In whatever form the family stayed in Hillsdale—Charles alone with the family left behind, or eventually the entire family in Hillsdale—this state of affairs lasted about two and a half years.


Atlanta, Georgia

   Colleen would acknowledge that though she was born a Yankee and names Kathleen Morrison, Colleen Moore was a southern girl who had lived much of her life in the south... first in Atlanta, Georgia, and later in Tampa, Florida.  By 1908, the Morrison family was living in Atlanta. During their stay in Atlanta, they had lived at three different addresses. Each home was a large, two-story structure with front and rear galleries, according to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of the time. Along with Grandmother Kelly, they first moved into 301 Capitol Avenue near downtown Atlanta. The second Morrison home was at 41 Linden Avenue, about a mile and a half directly north of their first Atlanta home on Capitol. There was a narrow alley that ran between Linden Avenue and Linden Way that bordered their house on the left. The third house was at 240 North Jackson Street, and it provided Kathleen and Cleeve with something they had not had before: a car barn at the rear of the property, with a loft in the roof.

   In 1908 and 1910 the Morrison family would have lived within the territory of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is probably where Kathleen went to school (though there were Immaculate Conception elementary schools, to complicate matters). In 1909, it is possible that Kathleen attended Sacred Heart Academy, as the Morrison home at the time would have been within their parish boundaries. The 1910 Federal Census confirms that the Morrison family was living in Atlanta: Charles, Agnes, Kathleen, Cleeve. Grandmother Kelly resided elsewhere at the time of the enumeration, perhaps back in Port Huron.

   The family had stayed long enough in Atlanta and been influential enough to warrant frequent mentions in the Atlanta Constitution’s social pages:


September 5th, 1909: “Mr. E. Elwyn Spencer, of Chicago, is the guest of his aunt, Mrs. Charles Morrison, on Jackson street.”

September 5th, 1909: “Mrs. Kelly and Mrs. Charles Morrison have returned from Chicago (directly below other social item of 9/5/09.)

September 9th, 1909: “Mrs. Charles Morrison has as her guest at her home on North Jackson Street her sister Mrs. Stone.”

November 9th, 1909: “Miss Beatrice Stone (Agnes Morrison’s sister) will be in town for the auto races. She will be the guest of Mrs. Charles Morrison.”  [Beatrice Stone was the mother of Jack Stone, who would later appear with his cousin in several of her films including most famously in Lilac Time.] During this time the family lived on Jackson Street.

January 20th, 1910: “Mr. Charles Morrison, who has been ill at his home on Jackson Street, is better.”

February 18th, 1910: “Mr. Charles Morrison has returned to the city."


   Shortly after the census, the family moved on again.

   The June 10th, 1910 issue of the Atlanta Constitution social page reports, “Mr. and Mrs. Charles Morrison and children and Mrs. Beatrice Stone (Colleen’s aunt and mother of Jack Stone, her cousin who would appear with her in Lilac Time) leave today to make their home in Warren Pa.”


Warren, Pennsylvania


   Warren was a lumber town that later turned to oil refining (there are more than one city in the state named Warren, I have not identified which one they moved to). If their Warren was the seat of Warren county, Kathleen most likely attended school at St. Joseph. The school encompassed all of Warren County and children from St. Joseph, Holy Redeemer (Warren), St. Anthony (Sheffield) St. Thomas & St. John (Tidioute) and St. Luke (Youngsville) could attend. “As per parish borders St. Joseph covered most of the north, south and west side of Warren Holy Redeemer covered the east side and was a much smaller parish.” (Thanks to Lynnette Hinton, Parish Secretary, for this information.)

   The relocation to lasted about a year, and then they were on the move again, this time for Tampa, Florida.

Tampa, Florida

   Of all the places that her family would move, Tampa was the place that Colleen would say felt most like home; she stayed there longer than anywhere else until her move to California, stayed in the Holy Names School the longest, and passed from childhood into her teens there. With tropical weather and warm waters, it would have been a fun place to grow up: no long, dreary days spend snowed-in: lots of space to run and play. They were a few blocks from Tampa Bay itself, a quick run south on Magnolia Street past the fire station on the corner at the intersection of Magnolia and Platt, kicking up clouds of dirt behind them, and then off the end of the pier and into the water.

   Hers was the first generation of children to grow up in a world where motion pictures had taken firm hold in society. Colleen was a great fan of motion pictures.

Cleeve Moore, Marie McRea, Edith Gibbons, Mildred Gibbons, and Colleen Moore.png

Cleeve Moore, Marie McRea, Edith Gibbons, Mildred Gibbons, and Colleen Moore on the right.

   She would write in Silent Star that she discovered and fell in love with motion picture in Atlanta while watching Grace Cunard and Francis Ford in the Lucile Love series of serials form Pathe. Even so, it was in Florida where her fascination with motion pictures matured into a determination to become part of the industry. No doubt her wish to be in the motion pictures resolved itself from a dream into a goal, a thing achievable, just like all the other actresses she read about in the movie magazines who had been given a chance on the screen and rocketed to stardom.

   On May 28, 1911, at the age of 11, Kathleen received her First Communion at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tampa, possibly at the same time as her brother. Both she and Cleeve posed side-by-side for a studio photographer, both in fine white clothes: Kathleen serious, staring straight into the photographer's lens, perhaps rehearsing her most serious expression in advance of the day when she would pose before a motion picture camera. Cleeve seems to suppress a smile, his attention off slightly to the side maybe watching the photographer at work. Perhaps mischief lay ahead: both kids had a sense of humor and both played off each other, no doubt co-conspirators in all sorts of pranks.

   Colleen was enrolled in Convent of the Holy Names School in Tampa. Ledger books in the school’s archives list payment for Kathleen, classes as well as music lessons. Colleen wrote that her brother Cleeve had attended the same school for a time (this report from a newspaper clipping, though the claim is unverified by records); the ledgers only indicate a payment by Charles Morrison in the form of a check for Kathleen, though photographs from the time show groups with both boys and girls, so it is possible that he was indeed a student there for a time. The clipping claims Cleeve was later placed in St. Michael’s College in Toronto, though there is no record of his attendance. Theirs was a tight-knit family

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