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Eulah Marie Jewett: Queen for a Day, Daughter Forever

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 15, 2010

Reality TV isn’t an invention of the 1990s – it dates back to the earliest days of television and shows like “Queen for a Day” (broadcast nationally by NBC from 1956 to 1960, after ten years on radio and local television). On that show, host Jack Bailey interviewed contestants, extracting all the tearful details of their unhappy lives, as those contestants explained why a new washing machine or a weekend in Las Vegas would help them cope with unemployed husbands, crippled children, and house fires. The contestant with the most pitiable story, sobbed out in the most engaging manner, was rewarded by the highest score on the audience applause-meter and was crowned Queen for a Day. Seated on a throne, cloaked in satin and fur, with a sparkly crown on her head, the Queen received the item she had asked for, together with a boatload of other “fabulous prizes” donated by the show’s sponsors.

Near the end of July, 1956, a dark-haired young woman from Oklahoma stood in line day after day, hoping for a ticket into the studio and an interview with producers. When she won a spot on the show on Thursday, August 2, and Jack Bailey asked her to tell her story, she looked through the camera and into living rooms all across America.

“I want to know, Who am I?

-oOo-

In 1927 Bertha Jewett and her baby arrived in Salt Lake City from North Bend, Oregon. Bertha didn’t know anyone in Salt Lake – it was just the next big city on the bus route. Just 21 years old, she had separated from her young husband and needed to find work to support herself. She was unable to care for her baby, Eulah Marie, while she worked, so she asked a new acquaintance – J.M. Jones, or maybe it was J.M. Johnston, or maybe it was something else entirely – and his wife to care for the child. Bertha paid for Eulah Marie’s board and came to see her as often as she could, while she worked long and late to scrape together a living.

One dark day when Bertha went to see Eulah Marie, she found to her horror that the apartment was empty, that the Joneses, or the Johnstons, or whoever they were, had disappeared, taking the baby with them. Bertha went to the police, and eventually J.M. Johnston was indicted for kidnaping.

But it was 1927. There was no Amber Alert or Code Adam, no “America’s Most Wanted” or Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The pictures of missing children were not printed on milk cartons or posted in shopping centers. There wasn’t yet even an F.B.I. charged with solving kidnapings, and there was no interstate law enforcement communication. For an unsophisticated, young, and impoverished single mother like Bertha, there was nothing else to do, nowhere to turn. Her daughter, not quite two years old, had vanished, and soon no one but a heartbroken mother remembered.

-oOo-

In 1943, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, 18-year-old Eulah Marie Jones was in for a shock. A family friend disclosed to her that she had been a foster child, that the woman who had raised her was not the grandmother that Eulah Marie had always thought she was. Confronting her grandmother and the man she had always known as her father, she was told that when her “parents” had lived in Salt Lake City, Eulah Marie’s mother had “given” her to them. They had eventually come back to their home in Oklahoma, divorcing soon after. Neither had wanted the child they had picked up, so they gave her to her “father’s” mother, who had raised her as a granddaughter. He wasn’t sure of the name of Eulah Marie’s mother and had no idea how to find her. With great difficulty, Eulah Marie tracked down her “foster mother,” but she had little to add; Eulah Marie’s mother wasn’t from Salt Lake, she said, but had come from somewhere else – from somewhere north, she thought. But that was all.

For the next 13 years, Eulah Marie made occasional attempts to find her family by writing to police departments and newspapers in Utah and Idaho, but nothing ever came of her searches. Either her letters weren’t answered, or else the condition of paper records in dusty file rooms was such that no one recognized her story – especially since she was unsure even of the names of her parents. Eulah Marie married, and she and her husband began adopting children – legally.

On July 15, 1955, Eulah Marie was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her status as a disconnected, unnamed person hit her hard when she filled out the forms for her baptism and was unable to put anything in the spaces reserved for her parents’ names. She was also told that she would be ineligible to go to the temple for her endowment because she could not at the same time be sealed to anyone as her parents. (Whether this was actually Church policy at the time, or whether she was misinformed by a local leader, I do not yet know.) Eulah Marie felt a new urgency to solve the mystery of her origins.

It was a member of her Sunday School genealogy class who first suggested to Eulah Marie that she go on that new television program, “Queen for a Day,” and ask for help finding her parents. Corny as it sounds, that actually was not a bad idea – it was a very popular show, and the class member had stumbled onto the secret of national publicity that we take for granted in solving missing persons cases today.

So in July 1956, Eulah Marie set out on the long drive to California where the show was broadcast, not knowing beforehand what one did to be selected as a contestant or whether she could even be a part of the show’s audience. She stopped in Mesa, Arizona, to visit one of the missionaries who had taught her the gospel, and that missionary arranged for the patriarch of the Maricopa Stake to give Eulah Marie her patriarchal blessing. That blessing said, in part,

Inasmuch as you are seeking your relatives, the Lord will assist you in this matter, and will open up the way for you, that you may be able to receive the necessary information in this regard.

Eulah Marie traveled on to Hollywood, found the studio from which “Queen for a Day” was broadcast, and every day for a week she stood in line hoping for a ticket. Her persistence finally paid off, and she was admitted to the studio. Along with dozens of other hopeful contestants, she filled out a card explaining why she wanted to appear on the show:

What I want most is a birth certificate. My reason is, I want to find my parents. I was told my mother gave me away in Salt Lake City. The couple didn’t stay together very long after they got me. I was left with an elderly lady who raised me. The unusual part of my life is, I’m a foster child, and my children are adopted.

It was enough; she won her appearance on the show, and while she didn’t win the “fabulous prizes” awarded to that day’s Queen, she did have the chance to tell her story and ask for help.

The studio telephone began to ring as soon as the program ended. One very excited woman said, “My daughter-in-law is your sister, I think; and I know where your mother is!” Another voice came on the line, and a young woman told her that her mother had had a little girl kidnaped when the baby was just two years old – her name had been Eulah Marie Jewett, and she had the same birthday as Eulah Marie Jones.

Soon after, Eulah Marie received separate calls from an uncle and an aunt, and a cousin, all of whom confirmed the story of Eulah Marie’s kidnaping and telling her how and where to find her mother … and her seven younger brothers and sisters, born after her mother’s remarriage  a few years after Eulah Marie’s disappearance.

Eulah Marie very quickly had her reunion with her family – and was surprised, and delighted, to learn that except for one of her siblings, her entire family had joined the church just as she had. Eulah Marie and her family were invited back to the set of “Queen for a Day,” where Eulah Marie sat on the queen’s throne, surrounded by her new-found family, as the show’s master of ceremonies presented her with a copy of her Oregon birth certificate.

Mother and daughter maintained their relationship until Bertha died in 1965. Eulah Marie passed away in 1982. J.M. Jones — or Johnston — was never prosecuted for kidnaping.



24 Comments »

  1. Amazing. Simply amazing!

    I remember watching that awful show–I think I’ve mentioned it in comments elsewhere in the bloggernacle, or in emails to my long-suffering correspondents. (I found a site that said the show also ran on ABC from 1960 to 1964–which is when I would have seen it.)

    The one important fact about the show you left out: after the three (is that the right number?) contestants had told their sad stories, the audience was asked to applaud for each of them in turn, and the loudness of the applause, measured by an “Applause Meter”–no telling whether it was actually measuring the loudness of the applause or if some guy under the stage was manipulating it–would determine the winner. And the lady would be crowned with Elgars “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background–the part Anne would recognize as the music to “Land of Hope and Glory”–here’s a recording–the relevant part begins at about 1:50.

    But one wonderful story like Eulah Marie’s may be enough to outweigh all the opprobrium otherwise deserved by the producers of the show.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 15, 2010 @ 8:37 am

  2. The whole premise of the show gives me the willies. But that is a wonderful story.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 15, 2010 @ 10:15 am

  3. Ardis,

    Sometime in the 1940s, Katherine Taylor, the mother of Stephen’s son Joshua’s wife, Michele Taylor Taylor, left Utah for Hollywood. Although she was a stunningly beautiful woman who might have become a movie starlet, Katherine instead sought secretarial work and landed a position as Jack Bailey’s secretary and assistant for “Queen for a Day,” eventually becoming Jack Bailey’s right-hand man. She was responsible for many of the backstage details, including selecting the “Queen’s” wardrobe and prizes. Katherine was a sweet and lovely woman, with a strong testimony. It would not surprise me to learn that it was she who was responsible for selecting Eulah, a woman with Salt Lake ties, to appear on the show. Katherine very well may have been the instrument through which the promise made in Eulah’s patriarchal blessing – to have the way opened to receive the information necessary to find her family – was fulfilled. While living in California, Katherine met and married Robert C. Taylor, who later became the founding director of the BYU Travel Study Broad program. Katherine traveled with her husband to each study abroad site as it opened, including the BYU Jerusalem Center. She lived in Provo until she died just a few years ago.

    Comment by Tracy Taylor — January 15, 2010 @ 10:30 am

  4. Wow, Ardis! Another in a series of amazing stories, written up beautifully. You should publish these!

    Comment by Researcher — January 15, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

  5. Like Mark, I remember watching some of these shows as a kid. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but now, it does seem to trade on the misfortune of these folks, even if one of them did go home with the prizes. However, Eulah’s story justifies the whole thing. Great find.

    Comment by kevinf — January 15, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

  6. A book, Ardis! A book! :-) (Nag, nag, nag…)

    Comment by bfwebster — January 15, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

  7. I never saw the show, but the description reminds me of modern trash-talk shows Jerry Springer, Sally Jesse Raphael, etc, and even Oprah pre-reformation.

    Comment by Bookslinger — January 15, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

  8. What should we call the book? Keepa Kollected? 101 Mormons in Song, Story, and Cartoon? Stuff They Wouldn’t Believe If We Made It Up?

    Seriously, when you say you want a book, do you mean you’d like some of this material from Keepa on paper and bound? Or are you asking for a book of a hundred new stories? (‘Cause if you want new ones, you don’t have any idea of how fast I have to run to stay ahead of Keepa one story at a time, and I don’t see how I’d ever be able to get ahead. Unless, of course, you know, someone wanted to pay my living expenses while I researched and wrote. No?)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 15, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

  9. A book would be nice—a Keepa collection of best loved posts?

    But what this entry really made me think of was This American Life. I’m sure its because I recently listened to an old episode about family mysteries—babies switched at birth and a family story about an ancestor’s “kidnapping,” that turned out to be quite different when researched, etc. There have been several Keepa posts which would play well in another media, even one devoid of visuals like radio or podcast…

    Comment by Mina — January 15, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

  10. A Keepa Kollection could be easily realized via an online publishing venue like Lulu.com which publishes volumes only as they are ordered. It would be a quick way of getting a nice collection to the loyal ninnies who want one.

    Ultimately, though, a collection of your historical essays would made an interesting and solid “real” book and I hope you have something like that planned for the future…

    Comment by Mina — January 15, 2010 @ 2:25 pm

  11. Wow — an interesting story. And this:

    Eulah Marie very quickly had her reunion with her family – and was surprised, and delighted, to learn that except for one of her siblings, her entire family had joined the church just as she had.

    Double wow!

    Comment by Hunter — January 15, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

  12. I think it is interesting that the foster family did not change Eulah Marie’s name to one they wanted, which would have made the reunion next to impossible to achieve. As it is, this is a very incredible story.

    Comment by Maurine — January 15, 2010 @ 4:55 pm

  13. Wow.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — January 17, 2010 @ 5:03 am

  14. One more really interesting article, Ardis.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — January 17, 2010 @ 11:05 pm

  15. Awesome! Thanks for sharing Eulah Marie’s compelling and miraculous story. Truly amazing.

    Comment by Mormon Soprano — January 18, 2010 @ 9:41 am

  16. My father’s mother was adopted from the Catholic orphanage on 21st South that was a parochial school the last time I was in town. Her birth mother tried to kidnap her at least once. In later life, she visited with her birth mother on a friendly basis, but her birth mother still kept a secret all her life from the daughter she had abandoned. Shortly before her own death, my grandmother was contacted by two women who said they were her neices, the daughters of a younger brother that her birth mother had never spoken of. He had grown up in Orem in a Mormon family and had just passed away. In going through his papers, his daughters discovered his adoption and birth mother, and in checking the records discovered the sister he had never known about.

    In contemplating this story and the one in your blog post, what strikes me is how much children used to be treated more like pets than people. The importance of maintaining the human connections between parent and child, and among siblings, seemed to be little appreciated by some people, parents and otherwise.

    Comment by Raymond Takashi Swenson — January 18, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

  17. Katherine Taylor was actually a model on the show. I recently found a DVD on line of Queen For a Day with her in it.

    Comment by Michele Taylor — February 7, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

  18. Eulah is my great-great cousin, My grandmother has told me this story several times as a child. My family was elated to have her home and with us again and so glad she decided to take her friends advice. Her story is truly amazing and one that shows strength in family ties. I myself would want to know who I truly was if I was in her shoes. She has been a treasure to our family and we were blessed to have her back.

    Comment by R. Hoyt — February 2, 2012 @ 6:33 pm

  19. So nice to hear from you, R. This is one of my favorite stories, and I’m so glad she found her way back home to a family who wanted her.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 2, 2012 @ 6:38 pm

  20. Eulah Marie Jewitt-Jones-Hoppock was my G-ma. It is so wonderful to see that she is still remembered, so many years after her passing. She was a beautiful, wonderful lady with a kind-hearted soul. I was blessed to have her in my life. Even more so, to be named after her.

    Comment by Ullajean — August 25, 2012 @ 7:21 pm

  21. Great story, Ardis, and well told.

    Comment by Morris Thurston — August 28, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

  22. Eulah was my grandma and is one of the driving forces in my understanding of the church and why I was born and raised an LDS member. She was vary devout in her beliefs and was our local church librarian in Bartlesville Oklahoma for about as long as I could remember. She was very interested in Genealogy and did an amazing amount of work tracking down living relatives and those that have passed away. Her work made it much easier for my mother and now our work in building our family tree.

    It is amazing reading the letters and stories of her life and the many others before us that have paved the way for our lineage. It is great to see this post and others that have been touched by Eulah’s amazing story. Thanks David Turnbull.

    Comment by David Turnbull — April 2, 2013 @ 10:21 pm

  23. This is my grandma Hoppock <3 i never got to meet her, she died the year i was born. I enjoyed so much reading this wonderful story…i have always heard what a great woman she was. I love you grandma

    Comment by Onalea Turnbull — April 3, 2013 @ 1:46 am

  24. Eula was my Grandma, and although I don’t remember much of her besides a kind face, the scarves she used to wear, and the way she smelled…I know she was an amazing woman. Her kindness has stood the test of time. I’ve never heard anything but good that came from her. I’m so glad I was able to see this story, and am grateful for whomever did the research to put this together.

    Comment by Sulaine — July 8, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

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