Not New Hampshire: Waterville Maine’s Motion Picture Actor Lew Cody (1883-1934)

Lew Cody, from a vintage postcard

Lew Cody, from a vintage postcard

Lew Cody (as Louis Joseph Cote aka Lewis Joseph Cody) was born in Maine, and he died in California. So you are probably thinking, “what does he have to do with New Hampshire?” He grew up in Berlin, New Hampshire and called it home. His father moved to Berlin after Lew’s mother, Elizabeth, died, and while he was still young. His actor’s make-up kit can be found in the archives of the Berlin and Coös County Historical Society.

Unless you are a “senior” senior citizen, or an old movie fanatic, the name Lew Cody may not ring a bell.  During his movie career he was considered to be as famous as Clark Gable was in his time. He started in vaudeville, then appeared in some of the early silent films, graduating into movies with sound. He was described as suave, black haired, witty, and having a fairly strong Canadian accent (off screen). He most of all  enjoyed practical jokes. At first he played villains, and because of his popularity he moved on to leading man roles. He often put on corned beef and cabbage dinners, inviting his many Hollywood friends. If people became disruptive at his parties, they often ended up being thrown into his pool. An advertisement in 1921 called him “The Screen’s Most Perfect Lover, Best Dressed Man, and Most Polished Actor.”

Lewis Cody ww1 draft registrationMuch has been written about Lew Cody, and so I will try to focus on things lesser known about him.  I will try to clear up a few mistakes made in various biographies and on web sites.  First, he was born in Maine, not in New Hampshire.  Second, his birthday is generally stated as 22 February 1884 in Lewiston, Maine.  His World War 1 registration card would seem to dispute this, as Lew himself gives his birth year as 1883, listing his names as Lewis Joseph Cody.  At this time he was living at the Hollywood Hotel, and the document shows his eyes were gray and hair black.

June 1934 photograph of Cecile L. Cote, Lew Cody's half sister.

June 1934 photograph of Cecile L. Cote, Lew Cody’s sister.

Another fact often misrepresented, has to do with his parentage.  Most people know that his father was Louis J. Cote, a drug store owner of Berlin, New Hampshire.  However, many cite Lew’s mother incorrectly.  Lew Cody’s father married three times, Lew being the son of Louis’ first wife, Elizabeth S. Hebert.  Lew’s half-sister Cecile Cote, who inherited his estate, was his closest blood relative.  They shared the same father, but Cecile’s mother was Louis’ third wife, Marie Rose Lena (Touissant) Cote. I have included what details I know in the partial genealogy below.

Lew (then known as Louis J. Cote) attended schools in both Waterville, Maine and in Berlin, New Hampshire. After high school he went on to McGill University in Montreal, Canada.  There, according to a story written by his sister Celeste he was majoring in pre-med when he decided to shift his focus to acting.

According to the Berlin NH Historical Society web site, in 1935 his half-sister Cecile wrote a story for that year’s edition of the Berlin High School yearbook. “His early ambition was to become a physician, and he studied at McGill University in Montreal. Finding that amateur theatricals interested him deeply, he put medicine aside and attended the Stanhope Wheatcroft School of Dramatic Art…..In his roles he portrayed the suave villain of society and adventure.”


MOVIE: “X Marks the Spot,” starring Lew Cody [click to watch the movie].

The Dallas Morning News (Dallas TX) April 7 1926, page 3 printed a story about his early acting. “LEW CODY HAS HAD A HECTIC CAREER. Lew Cody was born in Waterville, Maine. He was educated in local schools, later attending college at Montreal and Sherbrook. Cody admits that he was never any world-beater as a head of the class scholar, but is more proud of the fact that he was popular with his fellow-students and instructors alike. While at school and college, Cody dabbled in amateur theatricals enough to awaken an innate taste for the theater, so when his father took into account the popularity of Lew’s soda fountain with the girls of the town and decided he would rather have his son work for someone else, Lew went to a theater and informed the manager that he was an actor. The manager evidently did not agree with Cody for he had to wear out considerable shoe leather before convincing anyone of that ability. One manager, however, exhibited true sporting blood. Cody asked him if he needed any actors. The cynical potentate declared that he never needed actors. The young aspirant declared that that was indeed fortunate and in view of the fact that he was not an actor, but a business man, he’d like a job working in the guise of an actor. So Lew got his start. Thus begins Lew Cody’s career as a trouper….”

Dorothy (Dalton) Cody, from her passport in 1921 where she states she is a divorcee, former wife of Lew Cody.

Dorothy (Dalton) Cody, from her passport in 1921 where she states she is a divorcee, former wife of Lew Cody.

The 1921 Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual does not mention the prestigious Stanhope Wheatcroft school in Lew’s official biography: “CODY, Lewis J.; b. Waterville, Me., 1885; educ. McGill Univ., Montreal; stage career, stock, rep. leads in “Via Wireless,” Frohman prod., 2 seasons at N.Y. Winter Garden, with own co.; screen career, Fox (“A Branded Soul”), Metro, (“Treasure of the Sea,” “The Demon”), Lois Weber (“For Husbands Only”), Artcraft (“Don’t Change your Husband”), Lew Cody Films Corp. (“The Beloved Cheater,” “The Butterfly Man”), Robertson-Cole (“Occasionally Yours”), First National (“The Sign on the Door”). Ad., 1979 Grace ave., Los Angeles, Cal.

The Colorado Springs Gazette of Dec 5, 1920 paints an entirely different picture of Lew Cody’s aspirations: “Lew Cody, debonair lovemaker of the screen, feels perfectly at home in his role as an artist in “Occasionally Yours.”  Before Lew began his career as an actor, he had visions of himself as a portrait painter. He spent a number of years under the tutelage of well-known masters and was rapidly becoming a skilled artist, but tho land of make-believe held out more alluring promise and he cast aside brush and palette for grease paint. That Mr. Cody did not make a mistake is attested by thousands of fans who anxiously await his productions…..”

Mabel Normand, Lew Cody's second wife. They married in 1923 and she died in 1930 of tuberculosis, having been ill from about 1927.

Mabel Normand, Lew Cody’s second wife. They married in 1923 and she died in 1930 of tuberculosis, having been ill from about 1927.

Lew Cody married twice (one source says three times, twice to the same person), both women were actresses.  His first wife remarried, while his second wive, Mabel Normand, died of tuberculosis after only a few years of marriage. Lew Cody died of a heart attack during his sleep, in his Los Angeles mansion. His parents having pre-deceased him, his half-sister and only sibling, Celeste Lena Cote was next of kin, and beneficiary of his estate.

The Friday, June 1, 1934, Dallas Morning News (Dallas TX) page 1, 16 printed this article: “Lew Cody Found Dead in Bed at Hollywood Home. Actor Dies Peacefully in His Sleep, apparently of Heart Attack. HOLLYWOOD, Cal., May 31 (AP)–Lew Cody, film actor and husband of the late Mabel Normand, was found dead in his home, Thursday. Death was apparently due to a heart attack. The actor’s butler, James Glen, summoned police and Ambulance Surgeon Young of Beverly Hills. The latter said the 47-year old actor had been dead about ten hours.The body was found in a bedroom on the second floor of the palatial residence by the butler and Lee Westerman, Cody’s masseur. Cody was clad in pajamas and was apparently peacefully asleep. The butler summoned police who, with the police surgeon, arrived a few minutes after the discovery of the body. “We didn’t think there was any thing wrong for a second,’ the butler [page 16] said, “but we noticed his face was very dark and then we realized he had died.” The actor had returned from his beach home to his city residence at 1 a.m. Thursday. He apparently had died in his sleep. “Mr. Cody went to the beach Tuesday for a few days,” the Butler said. “He had a party there Wednesday night with a lot of film celebrities there, including Buster Keaton. At 1 a.m. he came home in his car.”

Old photograph of Lew Cote's mansion at 1979 Grace Avenue, in Los Angeles, California

Old postcardof Lew Cote’s mansion at 1979 Grace Avenue, in Los Angeles, California

The Friday June 15, 1934 Boston Herald (Boston MA) page 20 announced: ” BERLIN, N.H. GIRL TO HANDLE CODY’S ESTATE. LOS ANGELES, June 14 (AP) — Special letters of administration in the estate of Lew Cody, movie actor, who died May 31, were granted by the superior court today to Cody’s half-sister, 14-year-old Cecile Lena Cote of Berlin, N.H. The value of the estate was placed in the petition at $48,029. Miss Cote came here from New Hampshire with her mother, Mrs. Lena T. Cote.”

Lew’s houses, vehicles and personal items were auctioned off.  The Thursday, August 2, 1934 Dallas Morning News (Dallas TX) Section I, page 1 reported: “Lew Cody’s $50,000 Estate Brings only $10 at Auction. BEVERLY HILLS, Cal., Aug 1 (AP)–The estate of Lew Cody, motion picture actor, actually received only $10 in the sale at auction Wednesday of his Beverly Hills mansion, built at a cost of $50,000 by Pauline Frederick, star of the stage and screen. Subject to approval of the Public Administrator, the rambling English Norman structure was sold to Roberta M. Love for $15,010, but there were two mortgages totaling $15,000 against the property. About 600 persons, mostly sightseers, gathered around the auctioneer as he placed the property on the block and set the opening bid at $15,000. He explained that no bids below that figure would be accepted. Only one bid was made.
Remaining to be sold were the personal effects of the actor and his three automobiles, two of them custom-built machines. Among the effects were more than a score of suits that made Cody one of the best-dressed men in motion pictures. There were twenty-three pairs of shoes lined up in rows for bidders. Other apparel offered included twenty-nine hats, fifty-three shirts, twenty-seven pairs of pajamas, forty neckties and six pairs of spats.
In Cody’s big den were paintings by John Docker, done in the best El Greco manner; of Jimmy Walker, former New York Mayor; Clark Gable, the late Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle, John, Lionel and Ethel Barrymore, Gloria Swanson, Charle Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Cody. Among the mementos offered to the public were two tickets admitting Cody and Mabel Normand, who was his wife at her death, to the annual New Year’s show at San QUentin prison Jan. 2, 1928. The value of Cody’s various properties when he died recently was estimated at $70,000, auction prices. The actor’s beach home north of Malibu, also bought by him from Miss Frederick, who built it at a cost of $40,000 will be sold at auction later this week. Several lots he owned in the San Fernando Valley were sold Tuesday for $2,500.”

Press release photograph of Lew Cody.

Press release photograph of Lew Cody.

His funeral arrangements were simple, and his body was shipped home to Waterville, Maine where he was buried with his father. Saturday, June 2, 1934 Boston Herald (Boston MA). “LEW CODY’S FUNERAL WILL BE HELD TODAY. Movie Actor’s Body to be Buried at Lewiston, Me.. HOLLYWOOD, June 1 (AP) — Simple funeral services for Lew Cody, movie actor who died yesterday while he slept, will be held at 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon, with only close friends in attendance.  Admittance will be y invitation only, said Cliff Durant, automobile manufacturer, and Cody’s close friend, today. Interment probably will be in the family plot in Lewiston, Me., within a week or 10 days. Final arrangements awaited the arrival of a half-sister, Cecile Cote of Berlin, NH, the actor’s only known surviving relative. There will be no pall bearers, although if an honorary list were made up, it might read like a who’s who of filmdom.  Cody was one of Hollywood’s best guests and likewise one of its most frequent hosts.”

A nice recap of Lew Cody’s acting accomplishments and personal traits can be found in the Sacramento Bee (Sacramento CA) Saturday, October 13, 1951: “LEW CODY IN HIS DAY was the most popular screen lover in pictures, though by some of the parts he played he also became known as the male vampire of the screen. When it came to wearing clothes he was the Men jou of his day. He was a handsome guy and the bobby-soxers known as flappers then would swoon every time he appeared on the screen. And Lew was a great guy too. I’ll never forget one time I asked him to make a personal appearance and help me over a charity bazaar. and he willingly consented. Lew showed up as agreed, directed the orchestra and died a lot of clowning, much to the delight of the teenagers. Two pretty girls were running the paddle wheel concession but doing no business until Lew decided to take over and help them. Business flourished at once but right then Lew made one fatal mistake. He boosted the price of the paddles way up which was O.K. Then he announced that every young lady who won would get a Lew Cody kiss. Within half an hour Lew had given out more Cody kisses than he had in his whole movie career. He finally made his escape out the back door. Lew was born in Waterville, Me., in 1885 and was educated at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He finally landed one of the lead parts in the Frohman production hit, Via Wireless. Following this he appeared at the New York Winter Garden for two years. When he started in pictures he was an immediate success and was much in demand at various studios. A few of his early pictures some of you will remember, For NYMP, The Mating, For Balboa, The Lion’s Dove, For Selig, Cycle of Fate, and don’t forget him with Mable Normand in Mickey. Other great pictures for Lew were Within The Law, Rupert Of Hentzau, Souls for Sale and Lawful Larceny. I don’t know the date of his death, but I do know, like a lot of other popular actors of that era, he died way too young.”

====PARTIAL GENEALOGY OF LOUIS J. COTE aka LEW CODY, ACTOR====

Abraham Cote & Francois Genevieve Loiselle

Jean Cote & Ann Martin

Jean Le Frise Cote & Marie Anne Coteau

Pierre Cote, son of Jean Le Frise & Marie Anne (Coteau) Cote, born 22 November 1679 and died 18 August 1715.  He married Marie Charlotte Rondeau.

Jean Francois Cote, son of Pierre & Marie Charlotte (Rondeau) Cote, b. 20 December 1715.  He married 1) Madeleine Huot. He m2) 16 October 1748 to Genevieve Plante.

Francois Jean Cote, son of Jean Francois & Genevieve (Plante) Cote, born 13 October 1750 in Canada. He married 12 Jan 1778 to  Marie Madeleine Fortier.

Augustin Cote, son of Francois Jean & Marie Madeleine (Fortier) Cote.  He m. Marguerite Marquis (or Canac).

Joseph Cote, son of Augustin & Marguerite (Marquis or Canac) Cote, b. 11 Oct 1830 in Quebec, Communaute-Urbaine-de-Quebec, Canada; d. 17 Jan 1886 in Waterville, Kennebec Co. Maine; He married  22 Nov 1858  at La Nativité-de-Notre-Dame in Beauport, Quebec, Canada to Adelaide Fontaine, daughter of Abraham & Marcelline (Couture) Fontaine.  She was b. 1841 in Canada and d. 8 May 1914. They are both buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Lewiston, Maine. [Editor’s note: his marriage record shows his parent’s as those stated here].

Louis Joseph Cote, son of Joseph & Adelaide (Fontaine) Cote, b. 26 Aug 1859 in Sault Mont Morency, Quebec Canada, d. 4 March 1919 in Berlin, Coos Co., NH. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in January of 1881 at the Superior Court in Auburn, Androscoggin Co. Maine. At that time he stated that he immigrated to Lewiston Maine in 1875. He m1) 18 Sep 1881 in Waterville, Kennebec, Maine to Elizabeth Sarah Hebert, dau of Francois “Frank” & Sarah Anathalie (Rancourt) Hebert. She was born Aug 1861 West Waterville Maine, d 28 Jan 1892 in Augusta ME of heart disease, and was buried in St. Francis Catholic Cemetery, Waterville Maine. Louis m2) abt 1904 prob Berlin NH to Sarah Moreau, daughter of Frances & Modeste (Laliberte) Moreau. She b 14 July 1866 Waterville ME, d. 1 Sep 1914 Berlin NH. She is buried in Waterville, Maine.   Louis m3) 6 April 1918 in Berlin NH to Marie Rose Lena Toussaint, dau of Edward & Julia (Guay) Toussaint. She was b 25 Mar 1895 in Berlin NH, and died 29 Nov 1977 Wellesley MA. Lena never remarried. According to family, she is buried in the Toussaint plot in Old City Cemetery, in Berlin NH. According to the Berlin NH Historical Society, Louis “was a prominent pharmacist and business man in Berlin NH for 35 years. He built the Cote Block on Main Street in 1904 and was Berlin’s largest individual tax payer when he died in 1919.”
———————-
Child of Louis J. & Elizabeth Sarah (Hebert) Cote:
1. Louis J. Cote, aka Lewis Joseph Cody, aka Lew Cody, born 22 Feb 1883 in Berlin NH or Waterville Maine, d. 31 May 1934 in Beverly Hills California. He is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Lewiston Maine in the family plot. He married 1st)  1910 (div 1911); m2) 7 July 1914 in Cook IL to Dorothy Dalton. They were divorced again by 1920.  She b. 22 Sep 1893 in Chicago IL and d. 1972.  Dorothy m2d) Arthur Hammerstein.  Lew Cody m2d) 18 September 1923 to Mabel Normand. She was born was born 10 November 1894 at Boston, MA, and died 24 February 1930 at the Pottenger Sanitarium in Monrovia California. [This blog story is about him, please see biography, film credits and photographs above].
Child of Louis J. & Marie Rose “Lena” (Toussaint) Cote:
2. Cecile Lena Cote, born 16 May 1919 in Berlin, Coos Co., NH, two months after her father’s death.  She died 9 May 2012 in Falmouth, MA.  She married 1942 to Edmund F. “Ted” Finnerty, M.D. They had several children.

 

 

 

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