Finding Lillian (“It’s a Wonderful Life” searching for Annie the maid)



Back in March of this year, after I posted the blog on Laura G Slocum, I stopped writing my blogs to concentrate on selling my house and moving to another state. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t researching though. It just meant it would be much slower. I began delving into the life of Frank Shannon, from the old Flash Gordon serials. If you’re a regular reader of my blogs you know I like to have two people to research concurrently. This time was no different. I chose Dooley Wilson, the black singer/piano player from the movie Casablanca

Anyway, in October of 2016 I had posted a blog on James Baskett, the star of the Disney movie Song of the South. Later I posted a link to the blog in the comments section of one of his videos on YouTube. A month or so ago, a user there (blofeld39) remarked that he thought that James Baskett’s uncle might have married the actress Lillian Randolph. I had mentioned this marriage in the blog but never made the connection nor had pursued it in the research. I had forgotten who the actress by that name was until I looked her up due to this suggested possibility. Quickly enough I discovered it wasn’t her that had married the uncle but in the process I became enamored with her life. This brings us up to now and to my newest blog. So let’s begin. 

Lillian is well known for her extensive work in radio, movies and television. You can see it for yourself at her IMDB Page. I remember her most from the Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life where she played Annie the maid and also from her being the voice of Mammy Two Shoes in the old Tom and Jerry cartoons. She was also the sister of actress Amanda Randolph. Here is a picture of her sister.   


There is much unknown and many incorrect “facts” about Lillian and Amanda, as you’ll see. This blog will be primarily about Lillian but much about Amanda will be included. As intertwined as their lives were, it was necessary to research both of them deeper than normal.

Lillian was born as Lillian Castello Randolph on 14 December 1898 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her father was Jesse William Randolph, who at times went by the first name of Peyton. I never discovered where the Peyton thing came from. He was born 11 June 1846 in Pennsylvania (possibly Philadelphia) and was already in his early 50s when Lillian was born. He had served in the Civil War as a drummer with Company C of the 79th U.S. Colored Troops. Much of his later life he spent as a poor Methodist preacher and consequently the family moved quite often. Lillian’s mother was Jane Frazier, who was born in October of 1859 in Kentucky (probably the Louisville area) to Henry Frazier and Amanda King. 

Jesse and Jane got married in Louisville on 17 September 1889 and were still living there when, on 21 September 1896, Lillian’s sister Amanda was born. Within two years though they had moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. Lillian was born there in 1898 but by the time the 1900 US Census was done, they had moved to Tangipahoa, Louisiana. You’ll find them in this census at the top of the page. It shows Jesse as a clergyman and that Jane has had two children, both of whom are still living. They also verify that they’ve been married about 10 years. This census also verifies Lillian’s and Amanda’s birth information.

By 1903 they had moved again and were living at 1506 6th Avenue in Birmingham, Alabama and were listed in the city directory there. Although they may have moved other places, by 1907 they were living in a small town just outside of Pittsburgh. In October of that year Jesse was arrested for posing as a representative of the Industrial Home for Colored Girls, to solicit subscriptions for the institution and pocketing the money. On 9 December 1907 Jesse was indicted on four counts of false representation. He went to trial on 28 January 1908, found guilty and sentenced to one year in the Allegheny County Jail. While there he served as their chaplain. He was released from jail on 10 September 1908 but died the very next day from chronic meningitis. His veteran burial card mistakenly shows the burial date as the death date. He is buried in Oakdale Cemetery in Allegheny County. Jane filed for her widow’s pension less than two weeks later.

Sometime between then and 1910, Jane moved them to Cleveland, Ohio. They were in the US Census there, done on 18 April 1910 and living at 2228 East 48th Street. Jane is the head of the house and is a laundress. Also living with her is her mother, Amanda Frazier, and both of her daughters. The enumerator has mistakenly listed Jane’s mother as married but Jane’s father had actually died five years earlier. 

On 29 April 1913, when Lillian was just 14 years old, she married a chauffeur named Walter F Briddell. He was 28 years old and from Maryland. His parents were Joseph and Susan (Miller) Briddell. Notice that Lillian has lied and said she was 18 years old.

The following year, on 14 June 1914, they had a daughter named Evelyn. I don’t know why but she later ended up being raised by Amanda and for all intents and purposes, became Amanda’s daughter. During the research I never saw any claim of Evelyn by Lillian. 

I don’t believe she and Walter Briddell were together very long. He next appears in 1918 back home in Maryland and I found Lillian in 1916 living with her sister and mother at 706 Kenyon Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio. Walter passed away in 1982 in Berlin, Maryland. It is here in Cincinnati that she next gets married to Robert Short, a 20 year old New Orleans native. They got married on 27 May 1918. The odd thing is that she states she was a widow, but she was not. Shortly after, on 12 September 1918, Amanda married a cook named Arthur Sherman. He was a Chattanooga, Tennessee native who was born in 1895. 

Amanda, her new husband, and her mother are in the 1920 US Census done on 5 January. They are still living at the 626 West Eighth Street address that she and Lillian had both used for their last marriage records. Lillian and Evelyn are missing though. I was never able to find them in the 1920 census. Amanda had started her career a few years before and lists herself as a pianist. Their grandmother, Amanda Frazier, had moved back to Kentucky to live with another daughter named Angeline. Amanda passed away there in 1922.

After Lillian and Robert Short got married, I found him in the 1919 city directory for Cincinnati but after this they disappear. Due to the fact I knew so little about him and with his very common name, I never found him again, at least with any certainty. Lillian was also gone. She didn’t appear again until her next marriage. This was to James Lott and it was on 9 September 1929 in Toledo, Ohio. James was born on 4 January 1894 in Brookhaven, Mississippi to Allen and Mary (Webster) Lott. This was apparently another bad marriage for Lillian because just a few months later, on 8 April 1930, James is in the US Census living with his brother and mother in Flint, Michigan. However, Lillian shows up in the US Census on 2 April 1930 living in Detroit. In this one she admits to being 14 years old the first time she got married. She also says she is an actress. James eventually obtained a divorce from her in Michigan in 1936 due to desertion.

Meanwhile, Amanda must have split with her husband Arthur about 1921 because after that he disappears from the city directories there but Amanda and her mother continue living at the same address as their 1920 Census. This goes on until about 1926 when she and her mother disappear from Cincinnati. I did fine one news gossip item from January 1928 where apparently Amanda is living in Pittsburgh but her mother and Evelyn are still in Cincinnati. Jane and Evelyn are visiting Amanda there.

They show up though a few years later in the 1930 Census living in Manhattan, New York on West 121st Street. Amanda is now married to an Albert Watts, who is about 50 years old and is a theater manager. Searching the newspapers in the 1920s lead me to many entertainment articles where Amanda was performing and one of the other performers was an “Al F Watts”. I have to assume this is the guy. Plus, these performances were all during the late 1920s, after Amanda had left Cincinnati. Also on the census is Amanda’s mother and finally Lillian’s daughter Evelyn has reappeared, but listed as Amanda’s daughter.

Now here’s the weird part. Just three months later, Amanda is returning to New York City aboard the SS Aquitania. She had left Cherbourg, France on 19 July 1930 and arrived on 25 July. In the manifest, she is using her maiden name and says she is single. She has also shaved five years off her age. I wasn’t able to find any family with her either. So were she and Albert actually married? I did find that in the 1933 city directory there Amanda was back to the Randolph name and living in her own apartment. Albert was nowhere to be found in the directory. 

The 1930s was a busy time for Lillian and her family. Lillian and Amanda were busy with their careers and Lillian’s daughter Evelyn got married to Albert Oliver on 20 Jun 1934 in Manhattan, New York. I am assuming there was a reason that Evelyn gave birth in Michigan instead of Manhattan during the 1934/35 time-frame. This was a son named Joseph L Oliver. Personally I am betting that Lillian was still living there somewhere. Remember that it is only two years later that her husband James Lott divorces her there in 1936. James passed away in 1966 in Flint, Michigan. Lastly for the 1930s, on 22 August 1937 Lillian and Amanda’s mother died back in Manhattan. 

I was unable to find Lillian in the 1940 Census, even though I knew she was in the Los Angeles area but Amanda was still in Manhattan and showed up in the Census there. It shows her as an actress renting an apartment. Next is Harry Hansberry, the proprietor of an exclusive dinner club called “The Clam House”. He’s important because he becomes her next husband. He was born in 1888 in Savannah, Georgia and would die of a heart attack in 1961. They were estranged at the time of his death but apparently had remained friends. Next is a lodger named Anna Threatt and then Evelyn and her young son Joseph. Evelyn is now a beautician at a beauty shop. Apparently she and her husband have split up.

Sometime in the early 1940s, Lillian married the boxer Isaiah James Chase, better known as Jack Chase. I found the best info on him here. The most important event of their lives together was from when they bought a home in an area that tried to get them blocked from moving in due to their race. This important case ended up going to the California State Supreme Court. The story is in two parts, here and here. In November 1949 Lillian filed for divorce from Jack. Story is here and here. He died in Spokane, Washington in 1972.

On 5 May 1942 a girl was born in Detroit that later became known as Barbara Ann Sanders and later as Barbara Randolph. She was supposedly adopted by Lillian. She also became well-known as a singer and actress. You can read more about her at her Wiki Page. Here are a couple of pictures of her.


Was she Lillian’s natural child? Possibly. Lillian was 44 years old when Barbara was born, but with Detroit being involved my gut tells me that Barbara was already family somehow. Possibly Evelyn’s? If she was Lillian’s natural child then I have no way of telling who the father was. Lillian married Jack Chase sometime in the early 1940s but I feel it was later, like around 1945. It could have just been some dalliance Lillian had with an admirer. Who knows? The Sanford name that Barbara used earlier was because that is who Lillian was married to when Barbara began her career. Barbara went on to pass away in South Africa back in 2012.

The 1950s saw Lillian and Amanda both transition to television, and very successfully too. It also continued on until their deaths. As was said earlier, Amanda married that Harry Hansberry during the 1940s or 50s. Lillian married Edward M Sanders in Gardnerville, Nevada in August 1951. It only lasted until she filed for divorce in February 1953. On 7 October 1959 Lillian married Garcia Delano McKee in Elko County, Nevada. He was 22 years her junior. They stayed married until her death. He went on to pass away in 2012 in Escondido, California. 

Amanda had an interesting night in February of 1961. A man wielding a knife broke into her home. She fired several shots at him, hitting him once. Her grandson Joseph was injured with a knife wound when he came to her assistance. Supposedly the attacker was a neighbor. In Los Angeles, on 24 August 1967, Amanda finally passed away from a stroke. She is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park there.

Lillian lived another 13 years, passing away on 11 September 1980 in Los Angeles. Supposedly it was from cancer. She is buried in the same cemetery as her sister. 

Evelyn went on to marry a guy named Swanson at some point and died with that last name in Los Angeles on 15 November 1981. She is also buried in the same cemetery.

All in all, I really enjoyed researching Lillian. I am just a little frustrated with some of the mysteries still left and some of the gaps in their lives. This is quite normal though and you better get used to it if you want to do genealogy. Hopefully this blog will shed more light on a very talented family.

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Thanks for stopping by! -Ray

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