The name is a mystery

Ralph Forbes (1904-1951) by Russell Ball. Click on the images to expand them.

Given the range of databases like Wikipedia and IMDb (more formally The Internet Movie Database), it can be surprising to find a scrap of biographical material that has not been covered. I encountered this paradox recently, when writing up notes on some photographs I’ve bought of the actors Ralph Forbes (1904–1951) and his mother Mary Forbes (1879–1974). Ralph Forbes Taylor was born 30 September 1904 and baptized in the parish of Streatham, Surrey – now part of the Borough of Lambeth in Greater London – the son of Ernest John Taylor and his wife Ethel Louise. The Taylors lived at 142 Gleneagle Road in Streatham (where Ralph was presumably born), and Ernest was a commercial traveler.[1]

But who was Ernest John Taylor? And who was his wife, Ethel Louise, who would in time become the character actress Mary Forbes?[2]

Mary Forbes and Charles Farrell in SUNNYSIDE UP (1929).

The IMDb biography for Mary Forbes has few fixed points. She was born in Hornsey, Middlesex 30 December 1879 and would marry three times: to E. J. Taylor, Charles Quatermaine [sic], and the aptly-named Wesley Wall, a “house builder.” But in what order did these marriages occur? (IMDb lists Wall as her final husband.)

Mary Forbes’s brother-in-law, Leon Quartermaine, with his wife Fay Compton in THE MAN WITH A LOAD OF MISCHIEF (1924). Photo by “Sasha”

After a glance at the 1911 England Census, where I found the Taylor family grown to five with the addition of daughters Phyllis, 4, and Dorothy, 2,[3] I went looking for Charles Quatermaine, brother of the better-known actor Leon Quartermaine. I soon found Charles’s arrival in New York with his first wife, the actress Madge Titheradge,[4] but the odd spelling of his stage name kept me from finding either one of his marriages.

I then found Ernest Jno. Taylor, 24, a native of France naturalized by his parents’ British citizenship, living in his father’s household in Streatham in the 1901 Census; there was an Ethel in the household, but she was Ernest’s sister.[5]

There was a clue here, if only a negative one. Ernest Taylor was unmarried in 1901, and his son Ralph was born in 1904, so a marriage – likely to be in London – took place shortly before Ralph’s birth. I turned to the England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837–1915, and after a false start or two came to a marriage between Ernest John Taylor and Ethel Louise Young during the period January–March 1904.[6]

A look at the 1891 and 1901 Censuses yielded no likely Ethel Louise Young (in part because, I would find, her date of birth was also incorrect), so I turned back to Mary Forbes’ probable second marriage, to Charles Quatermaine, and soon stumbled upon Charles Quartermaine’s 1910 marriage to Margaret Naomi Titheradge, and his second marriage in 1925 to Ethel L. Taylor or Young.[7]

Note that Ralph Forbes’s birthdate is given here as 1905. Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration

As I was putting this post together, all the puzzle pieces fell into place with the discovery of a document – helpfully promoted by Ancestry, but with a typo in the name – for the naturalization of “Ethel Louese Wall.”[8] The complexity of Mrs. Wall’s life by the date of this petition (March 1943) is captured in her legal name (and the name she wishes to adopt): “Ethel Louise Wall nee Young (Taylor) (Quartermaine),” which she wishes to exchange for Mary Wall. But here she is an actress, born in London on 1 January 1883, which matches up neatly with the Ethel Young, 8, a scholar, living in Hornsey in the household of Charles E. Young, an artist (sculptor), in the 1891 Census.[9] And here she is, in the records of St. Michael’s Church, Highgate (Camden): Ethel Louisa Young, born 1 January 1883 and baptized at St. Michael’s 26 July 1883, the daughter of Charles Edward Young and Louisa Mary Young of Westfield Road, Hornsey; Charles is an artist.[10]

To recap: Mary Forbes was born Ethel Louise Young on 1 January 1883, presumably at home in Hornsey, Middlesex. She married, first, in London in 1904, Ernest John Taylor (born in France circa 1877); second, in Kensington (London) in 1925, Charles George Quartermaine (1877–1958); and, third, in Los Angeles on 1 June 1935, Wesley Wall (1900–1978). Her three children were Ralph Forbes Taylor, Phyllis Mary Taylor, and Brenda Dorothy Taylor [the actress Brenda Forbes]. Mary Forbes was 91, rather than 95, when she died in 1974.



Tying up the loose ends, of which some remain, one of Mrs. Wall’s witnesses to that 1943 petition was the actress Lucile Gleason, who appeared with Mary Forbes in Should Husbands Work? (1939).

James and Lucile Gleason, who usually appeared in films together, with their son the actor Russell Gleason. Photo by Nancy Smith


[1] London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813–1906 [database on-line].

[2] See the arrival of the Orca in New York on 25 August 1924, bearing Ralph Forbes Taylor, 19, son of Mrs. M. Forbes of The Laurels, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire (New York, Passenger Lists, 1820–1957 [database on-line]); four months later young Taylor/Forbes would marry his co-star – in The Magnolia Lady (1924–25) – Ruth Chatterton (see their respective IMDb entries, as well as The Internet Broadway Database).

[3] 1911 England Census [database on-line]. Ethel Taylor was 27, and had been married seven years – which should have been a clue!

[4] On the Baltic, arriving on 24 August 1912 (New York, Passenger Lists, 1820–1957 [database on-line]).

[5] 1901 England Census [database on-line].

[6] England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837–1915 [database on-line].

[7] The difference being in entering Quatermaine’s stage name as the more usual Quartermaine. For Quartermaine/Titheradge: London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754–1921 [database on-line]; for Quartermaine/Taylor or Young: England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916–2005 [database on-line].

[8] California, Federal Naturalization Records, 1843–1999 [database on-line].

[9] 1891 England Census [database on-line].

[10] London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813–1906 [database on-line]. The name Forbes is a mystery, since Ethel’s parents would appear to be Charles Edward Young (of All Saints’ Highgate) and Louisa Mary Bagshaw (of Hornsey Rise, Islington), for whom banns were read at St. Mary’s Church, Hornsey, in June and July 1879 (London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754–1921 [database on-line]).

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

4 thoughts on “The name is a mystery

  1. Ralph lead such an interesting life too – I see where he married his third wife Dora Sayers in the home of his first wife Ruth Chatterton – with “Rafe’s” 1st wife and third wife remaininng good friends long after his death.

  2. I wonder if Forbes reflects an adoption. Orphaned and illegitimate family members were often “absorbed” into the family.

    1. Thanks, Brenna! A review of the 1901 England Census shows Ethel Young living in her stepfather’s household in Mountnessing, Essex; also in the household was (her likely grandmother) Mary Bagshaw, 76, who perhaps provides the Forbes as well as the Mary in Ethel’s stage name.

  3. 18 June 1919 The Times (London)
    Miss Madge Titheradge’s suit for Divorce
    Quartermaine v Quartermaine
    In this petition Margaret Naomi Quartemaine, whose maiden name was Titheradge, prayed for the dissolution of her marriage with Charles George Quartermaine on the grounds of his statutory desertion in failing to comply with a decree of restitution of conjugal rights, pronounced on 6 December 1918, and of his adultery.
    The case was undefended.
    Mr R. F. Bayford, K.C. and Mr. Thomas Bucknill appeared for the petitioner.
    The petitioner said that she was married to the respondent on March 8, 1910, at Holy Trinity Church Sloane Street. They lived together at 66a High Street St John’s Wood, and there was no issue of the marriage. In 1914 she had reason to complain of her husband’s coldness and indifference, and in September, 1914, he left her. She and he met occasionally. The last time when they met was in September, 1917 when she tried to get him to return to her but he refused. She then instituted proceedings for a restitution of conjugal rights and she obtained a decree on December 6 last, which he had not obeyed.
    After she had obtained evidence of the respondent’s adultery she filed this petition.
    Evidence was given the respondent had spent a night with a woman at a boarding house at Herne Bay, and that the woman was not the petitioner.
    Mr Justice Coleridge pronounced a decree nisi with costs.

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