Jean Clara Walters 001

A photo of Clarissa Gurnett (1832-1903), American actress who used the stage names of "Mrs. Clara Walters" and "Jean Clara Walters" was most likely born in Troy, New York to shoemaker John Gurnett (1809-). In 1849 she married Henry Van Warren "Jack" Masten (1828-1859). He died in 1859 from injuries sustained after being run over by a wagon at Fort Defiance, New Mexico. Much to the displeasure of her relatives she turned to the stage as a form of employment and married comedian Charles F. Walters (-1876) in about 1860. She was particularly popular in the provincial theaters of Leavenworth, Kansas and San Francisco, California. Her second husband Mr. Walters was at one time a popular "burnt cork" comedian, though his 1876 Colorado epitaph says that "whiskey became his master".

Jean Clara Walters continued to perform with various stock theater and touring companies from 1860 until 1900 when illness put an end to her long career. While appearing earlier in San Francisco, Clara discovered that she had a daughter, Mary Ann Masten (1850-1917) whom she was told had died in childhood. The daughter was now married to Dr. Andrew Fine (1841-1906) and had two sons. Mother and daughter eventually became estranged during Clara's final illness and she was cared for until her death by a friend, Mrs. Missouri T. Shumate (1847-1921). Clara died in Oakland, California 1903 aged 71.

additional information:

These photographs were taken by the Mathew Brady Studio in about 1860. If anyone has or can find other photographs of "Jean Clara Walters" it may help to provide further evidence regards her identity.
Date & Place:
1832 - 1903
Updated Nov 27, 2017

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Ancient Faces
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"Jean Clara Walters", actress, circa 1860. She isn't as glamorous as later actresses but you have to read about her life.
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Becky Kelly
Love this picture.
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Sheridan Fenwick
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Kathryn Donahue
Does "burnt cork" mean black-face?
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
That's what I got from what I googled but I've never heard that expression before. Anyone else have any insight? I'm assuming that performers used a burned cork to blacken their faces??
Nov 27, 2017 ·
Doris Krueger Buchmann
I think they used that in Vaudeville too.
Nov 27, 2017 ·
Chris Matthews
AncientFaces Yes, along the lines of Al Jolsen. My great great grandfather used it and a giant hook to scare the kids from jumping from the hay loft in the barn. I too admire her gloves.
Nov 27, 2017 ·
Margaret MacArthur
As a child I used a burnt cork to darken my face for a school play.
Nov 28, 2017 ·
Irma Koenhein-den Braven
Love it!
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Nancy Thompson
Love the gloves
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Lisa Downey Harris
I am curious about the buttons on her dress. Is this a Greek key design or are they letters of some sort?
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
I was wondering that too - and the "515" or "SIS" on her badge - anyone know?
Nov 27, 2017 ·
Vanna L. Peterson
Its also on the sleeves of her dress
Nov 27, 2017 ·
Gina Kingsbury
And those epaulets on the sleeves are weird, not very decorative... I haven't seen anything like them. Is it a uniform?
Nov 27, 2017 ·
Beth Nelson
Read her article. Twice widowed. Sad about her daughter. I'm confused about that. She was told child died. Who took the daughter? How did she find out about daughter?
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Catherine Oexman
Well...since it seems that the child was from her first marriage, perhaps the husband’s family took custody when Clara went into show business. And as it seems that they did not approve of her choice of career..... But you’re right, seems odd. And heartbreaking.
Nov 27, 2017 ·
Bill Buckner
The "burnt cork" or black face is what Al Jolson was known for. It was done in Minstrel shows. Also the when the men that did the voices for Amos and Andy were on stage for a live show, they may have used it.
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Bill Buckner
[external link]
Nov 27, 2017 ·
Leslie Tetaunt Beaird
I love you AncientFaces!! You make so many of my days with your history and stories AND of course, your photo’s!!

That picture is SO clear!!!! Beautiful!!
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Ree Young
236 favorites
Wow, to find out the daughter you had been told was dead actually lived and was a grown woman with husband and kids!! If her family wasn't happy with her choice of occupations after she was widowed the first time, I bet they told her the girl died because they didn't want to admit her mother was an actress. No doubt she had left the girl with her family while she traveled with the acting troupes.
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
That really caught my attention - it is amazing!
Nov 27, 2017 ·
Marci Sturgis
Omg she doesn’t look comfortable
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
KellieAnne Smith Foreman
Burnt cork is how they did black face for Vaudville
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Randy Bilderback
I believe a burnt cork comic , was someone who did there routine , in black face. think al jolson singing mammy.
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Linda Woody
Back in that era, a lot of Actors were scored as people of less than admirable social standing by the upper class folks in some places in the USA. I think it was not until the 1930s that this really changed. Yes, this person's corset was amazingly tight. Must have been uncomfortable to train into that as a youngster.
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Maggie Huffman
The minstrel show, or, Burnt cork comicalities - Smithsonian Libraries
[external link] › Books
The minstrel show, or, Burnt cork comicalities : a collection of comic songs, jokes, stump speeches, monologues, interludes, and afterpieces for minstrel ...
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Joan McCarty
such a sad life
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Jenna Fitzgerald
burnt cork...smh
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Leonor Balderrama
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Jean White
171 favorites
Article STATED " she was told her daughter died as an infant." Sadly, her life would make an extremely great movie.
Nov 27, 2017 · Reply
Dawn Price
Interesting story
Nov 28, 2017 · Reply
Terri Allen
Pretty lady.
Nov 28, 2017 · Reply
Frank Raniere
I have problems with people who insist they be trusted.
Nov 29, 2017 · Reply
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