Shooting an Actor

10:45 AM

 Here’s a story that is maddeningly lacking in follow up, but I am going to print it anyway, because it’s a story about a local actor getting shot by a jealous husband, and if such a story doesn’t have a home here, where does it?

The victim in the story is James Kellogg, who the World-Herald from July of 1911 identifies as an out-of-work actor. Kellogg hadn’t been doing very much to deserve a shooting. He had stopped by his wife’s place of business, a short-lived but marvelously named theater called the Cameraphone at 1403 Douglas, where she played piano.

The trouble was that Mrs. Kellogg had a former husband, J.W. Wheaton. He had apparently disappeared for a few years, his ex had divorced him, and he wasn’t happy about the fact. Returning home, he “tried to pay attention to his former wife,” according to the World-Herald; the term is vague, but he probably engaged in the sort of behavior we would now identify as stalking.

On the night of July 4, Wheaton found Kellogg in the alley behind the theater, talking through the stage door to the former Mrs. Wheaton (and current Mrs. Kellogg.) Wheaton called to his ex wife, she refused to talk to him, and then Wheaton fired three shots at Kellogg. Kellogg at once ran into the theater. The third shot caught Kellogg in the shoulder. Kellogg was taken to Wise Memorial hospital where they probed his wound, trying to recover the bullet, but were not successful. At the time the story was written, Kellogg was “suffering intensely” and might die.

Wheaton, in the meanwhile, wandered to a nearby saloon, Stoddard and Meredith’s, on 14th between Douglas and Farnam. This is where the police found him.

And then? Well, nothing. Presumably Kellogg didn’t die, or there would have been a follow-up story about Wheaton’s murder trial. Kellogg and his wife never appear in the papers again. I wish Mrs. Kellogg were Margaret Kellogg, the eccentric local millionaire who lived with a lifelong female friend, a monkey, and pug dogs who she dressed in jewelry, and who, when she died in 1957. She had a provision in her will that one of the dogs be put to death because after she  passed away; he was “mean.” But Margaret was not the Mrs. Kellogg from the Cameraphone shooting.

And we don’t know much about the shooter. There was a wealthy local businessman named J.W. Wheaton, but it hardly seems likely that he would disappear for a few years and then reappear just in time to shoot someone without it being a bigger deal. It’s possible that he was the same man that had been discovered unconscious in March on 12th and Harney, intoxicated and concussed, either from his fall or from being attacked by hoodlums. This Wheaton was a railroad man who then lived in Iowa, which is consistent with the newspaper’s report that the shooter had been away. And the Bee tells us that this Wheaton had a wooden leg. It’s not proof of anything, but if I had a wooden leg, and I shot someone, I wouldn’t bother trying to run away, but instead head to the nearest bar. But this is conjecture. We just don't know anything more about who shot James Kellogg.

Anyway, neither the Bee nor the World-Herald ever revisit the story, and so there is nothing more that I can tell you, except that, in 1911, you could shoot an actor and nobody would think it was a very big deal.

I can, however, tell you more about the Cameraphone theater, which opened in 1908, because it straddles the moment between live performance and film. It mostly showed movies, but they were generally filmed versions of popular stage shows or variety performers. The theater’s name means “talking picture,” and its first ad boasts of “motion pictures that actually talk.” This was done using a system designed by Oregon inventor James Whiteman that was also called cameraphone, and used a synced wax cylinder to play sound along with a movie years before sound movies became commercially viable. The theater also had live acts, and they primarily consisted of an “illustrated” song – a live singer would stand before the crowd and enjoin them to sing along, while the text of the song played behind her, often with pastoral illustrations. The theater also had an amateur night.

The Cameraphone doesn’t seem to have been a very well-maintained organization. A 1915 issue of The Moving Picture World contains a report from a man named Joseph Smith who had visited the theater and found the projectionist smoking. Back then, film stock was made out of nitrate film stock, which was highly flammable. Smith complained to the proprietor, who told him he should visit a doctor. Further, the picture quality was terrible: “During the entire three reels the picture was half yellow, and I guess the operator had planted a grass seed on the aperture and it had started to grow,” Smith wrote.

The theater wasn't much better with their live performers. In 1910, an actress named Marie Morrell Farrell was struck by a falling curtain as she performed. She subsequently suffered ongoing violent headaches, and sued the theater for $1,000 for damages, citing negligence.

The theater seems to have gone out of business in 1917, but it went uncommented on in the local papers. Back in those days, the passing of a theater attracted as little attention as the shooting of an actor.

About the author

Max Sparber is a playwright and historian who lives in Omaha, Nebraska.