The death date of Phyllis Gordon Demarest, an author now with two credits in Crime Fiction IV, was noted in a previous post on this blog, which concluded with some information provided by Victor Berch about Ms. Demarest’s parents, and her stepfather, actor William Demarest.  Thinking that that was not the end of the story, Victor continued his search into her past.  Here are the results of his investigation:

Some Background Notes on Phyllis Gordon Demarest
by Victor A. Berch


Thursday evening, January 4, 2007.

    Estelle Collette [note the spelling correction] appears to have been the stage name of Phyllis Gordon Demarest’s mother.  She was more than likely first married to Samuel Gordon (1871-1927), the English novelist. At what point in time and why they separated is unclear.  Nor is her real name known.

    In the 1920 U.S. Census, she is listed as Estelle Demarest, living with the actor Carl [William] Demarest as his wife. Living with them was William Demarest’s mother, Minnie [her actual name was Wilhelmina].  It is unclear at that point in time whether Estelle was actually married to Demarest.  Strangely enough, returning from a trip to England on board the S.S. Aquitania, which landed in New York on September 9, 1921, Estelle Collette, violinist, is among the manifest of aliens entering the U.S. As she was required to give the name and address of someone in the U.S. who could vouch for her, she gave the name of C. W. Demarest as her friend, while giving her home address as 16 Burgin Place, Long Island, an address different than that of William Demarest.

    In that same 1920 U.S. Census, Estelle lists her parents as being born in Russia; that is to say, somewhere in the then Russian Empire.  What her real name might have been still remains a mystery.  Samuel Gordon, born in Bavaria, came to England as a young boy.  His father, the Rev. Abraham Elias Gordon, was the leading cantor in the Great Synagogue of London.  I strongly doubt that Samuel Gordon would have married outside of his religion. This leads me to suspect that Estelle Collette was of the Jewish faith.


Friday morning, January 5, 2007.

    After rereading what I had written on Thursday, I was more convinced than ever that Phyllis Gordon Demarest’s mother, Estelle Collette, was indeed using that name as a stage name. That name kept popping up in the newspaper reviews of theatrical acts in which she appeared with William Demarest in the early 1920s.  But what was her real name?  The few theatrical reference books on stage/screen actors kept referring to her as the wife of William Demarest.  No birth or death dates were given for her. 

    Since it had been established that Phyllis Gordon Demarest was the daughter of the English novelist, Samuel Gordon, and the then Mrs. William Demarest, I felt that the answer might lie with Samuel Gordon.


Friday afternoon, January 5, 2007.

    I quickly found an obituary for Samuel Gordon in the New York Times .  He died in London on January 10, 1927.  There was no mention of a wife, but it did say that he was survived by a daughter.  Again, no mention of who she might be.  I then went to the London Times and it carried about the same news as the New York Times. No hint of a wife.

    It then occurred to me that, perhaps with a person of his stature in the Jewish community of England, an obituary could be found in the Jewish Chronicle of London.

    Sure enough, in the January 14, 1927 issue, there was an obituary.  It stated that Samuel Gordon was born September 10, 1871 in Buk, Bavaria [then part of the German Empire].  He had come to England at the age of 12, attending the City of London School and later Cambridge.   Further down, the obituary stated that in 1907 he had married Miss Esther Zichlin, “a violinist of great promise. There was one child of the marriage, a daughter.”  So!  At last, here was the real name of Estelle Collette.

    Who, then, was Esther Zichlin?  And when in 1907 did Samuel Gordon marry her?  I ran her name through the usual genealogical databases that I subscribe to and the only hit that I got was one that gave her marriage date as sometime in the April to June quarter of 1907.  Well, that certainly narrowed the time frame that I would need for examination of those issues of the Jewish Chronicle for a wedding announcement.

    Within a half an hour I did find an article announcing the marriage of Samuel Gordon and Esther Zichlin in the June 14, 1907 issue of the Jewish Chronicle.  They had been married on June 12th.  There were even  photographs of the bride and the groom.

    There was a short description of the wedding, but there was no mention of any relatives of the bride at the wedding.   She had been given away as a bride by Samuel Gordon’s father, the Rev. A. E. Gordon, and she was attended by the two-year old niece of the groom.  The best man was Samuel Gordon’s brother, Leo.

    Again I asked myself “Who was Esther Zichlin?” As Estelle Collette, she claimed to have been born in England.  As Estelle Demarest, the SSDI gave her birth and death dates as October 26, 1886 and November 19, 1968 and her birthplace was given as England.  Therefore, she should have appeared somewhere in either the 1891 or 1901 English Census.  Such was not the case.  Perhaps, when the 1911 English Census appears, we might learn Esther Gordon’s real nationality. (Unlike the US Census records, those wishing to access the English Census records are required to wait until 100 years have elapsed).

    I also ran the name Zichlin through other genealogical databases without any luck.  But there were quite a few Polish and Jewish last names for Zychlinski or Zychlinsky (a name meaning someone from the town of  Zychlin).  My conjecture about her early life is that she was born in Russia/Poland and sent to England as a young girl to advance her studies.

    There is one minor correction to be made in the the previous posting about Phyllis Gordon Demarest.  I’m not sure who is to blame for the mistranscription of PGD’s birth date.  She was born 3/31/1908, not 3/13/1908.  That date of birth was confirmed in the Jewish Chronicle of April 3, 1908.

Copyright © 2007 by Victor A. Berch.