In March of 2007, John Steins, who was mayor of Dawson City at the time, made a trip to Hollywood. Sponsored by the Yukon Film Commission, he was on a journey of discovery for a Dawson-born man who had established himself as a stage and screen actor. The actor’s name was Victor Jory.
Victor Jory was a well-known character actor, who, during his 50-year career, appeared on stage and in numerous films, including Gone with the Wind, and The Miracle Worker. He was Lamont Cranston in The Shadow, and a police lieutenant in the syndicated television series Manhunt.
His name and face were instantly recognizable to millions. Jory’s name is even immortalized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He was said to have been born in Dawson City in November of 1902, but that, and just about everything else about his early years in the North is hazy. I decided to learn more about this distinguished actor.
There is not much recorded about the young Victor Jory during his years in the Yukon, but his mother’s name popped up in the historical record.
Mrs Johanna (Josie) Jory had been in the Yukon since October of 1899, at first with her husband, but they soon separated. The 1901 census shows Mrs. Jory was a landlady in Dawson City and with a better than average income at the time. In February of 1902, Mrs. Jory’s husband, Edwin, left the Yukon and they were subsequently divorced.
It was also during this period that she became employed, or so she claimed, in the service of George De Lion, proprietor of the Monte Carlo saloon. According to Dawson City newspaper reports, over a period of three years, between January of 1900 and December of 1902, she had acted as cook, housekeeper, bookkeeper, general agent and manager for De Lion, who ran the Monte Carlo saloon on Front Street in Dawson.
In July of 1903, Jory filed charges of assault upon De Lion, and claimed damages of $2,000, but the charges were withdrawn before they ever came to court.
A month later, Jory was in court claiming $6,000 in unpaid wages from De Lion. The proceedings proved to be entertaining for onlookers. According to The Yukon Sun, some of the evidence, as well as many of the frequently inserted asides, was highly entertaining, but both parties, by tacit agreement, left out the more salacious testimony.
The jury could not agree on a verdict, so in September, the case was retried. The second time, the jury found in favour of Jory and awarded her the sum of $1,444. As soon as the verdict was read out, reported The Yukon Sun, Jory began to wail hysterically, claiming before God that she was being treated unjustly.
The histrionics were not over yet. Mrs. Jory was soon back in court, this time as the defendant against charges of unlawful entry into De Lion’s apartment in the Monte Carlo building. After the previous trial, Mrs. Jory had made De Lion’s life miserable by frequent, uninvited visits. On the evening of October 2, De Lion asserted that Mrs. Jory broke into his apartment with her baby in her arms. When he tried to push her out, she spat in his face and bit his hand and leg.
Mrs. Jory was hauled away to jail, leaving the baby in the custody of De Lion’s son, Maurice. The hearing in police court was so spicy, The Yukon Sun reported, that the courtroom had to be cleared.
Mr. De Lion clearly wanted to dispose of the case if only she would leave him alone. He even offered to pay her bail if she would stay away. She refused, and was sent back to jail, but a half hour later, she was back in court, with a promise that if she could go and retrieve her baby, a “fine husky lad about 18 months old,” she would thereafter leave De Lion alone. This she did, but not before telling De Lion what she thought of him in no uncertain terms.
At the trial that followed, Mrs. Jory explained how she and De Lion had been married in an anarchistic ceremony during a visit to San Francisco, followed by a second wedding before a rabbi (when deposed, De Lion denied that they were ever married). The jury found her innocent of the charge, and when Mrs. Jory, upon hearing the verdict, was about to make a dramatic gesture in the courtroom, her lawyer C.M. Woodworth wisely restrained her.
Mrs. Jory left Dawson with her child by stage March 30, 1904, but was gone only a short time. Over the next six years, she continued to reside in the Klondike, where she appears to have run the Sixty Roadhouse on Bonanza Creek. Her name does not appear in the newspapers again in conjunction with De Lion.
The true nature of Victor Jory’s time in the north has been clouded by conflicting press reports over the years. An article in The Syracuse Herald, November 24, 1932, alludes to Victor Jory being born “in a gold rush, up in Dawson City, Alaska.”
The following year, The Daily Oklahoman of June 30 states that the parents of the actor went north to Alaska to prospect for gold. Little Victor was born in a roadhouse at Little Salmon shortly after they climbed the Chilkoot Pass, and remained in the north for 11 years. In another press item, Jory claims he was born in a roadhouse on 76 Below Discovery on Bonanza Creek.
The family genealogy website joryfamilyandfriends.org suggests that Victor Jory was born in April 1903, but that the birthdate was revised to November 23 of 1902 to mask the fact that he was the illegitimate offspring of De Lion. Yet if the newspaper account during Mrs. Jory’s 1903 trial is to be believed, young Victor was already 18 months old in October of 1903.
With further research we may be able to sort out the truth of this famed actor’s origins and the time he lived in the North. It is clear that he was born in Dawson City, Yukon (not Alaska), but when, and under what circumstances have been totally muddied by the press agent’s rewrites.
Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His new book about the Yukon during World War I, titled From the Klondike to Berlin, is due out in April. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org