- Introduction -
Helen Abbott, Vallejo, March 2000

An Introduction

to the Jack London Family 
by Helen Abbott
copyright August, 2000

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Hello. Welcome to the Jack London Family. I am the matriarch of this family.
I would like to introduce the descendants of Jack London and his first wife, Bessie Maddern London.

I am Helen Darcy Abbott, daughter-in-law of Joan London, their first child. Joan was born January 15, 1901, married Park Abbott, born 1900. Their son, Bart Abbott, was born October 12, 1921. Imagine! Jack London, had he lived 5 years more, would have been only 45 years of age when that first grandchild was born. Bess London (known as Becky), born October 20, 1902, married Percy Fleming. One daughter, Jean Wellman Knight, one son, Guy Fleming.

These three named children of Joan and Becky London, i.e. Bart Abbott, Jean Wellman, and Guy Fleming, are direct descendants, grandchildren of Jack and Bessie London. From this line of descent there are eight great-grandchildren. Bart Abbott was Joan's only child. He and his first wife, Lee Pence, had two daughters, Julie and Jill Abbott; Bart had three more daughters by his second wife (myself); they are Darcy, Chaney, and Tarnel Abbott. These are Joan's grandchildren.

Jean Wellman and her husband, Charles Knight, had two sons, Charles Gene and Bruce Knight. These are Becky's grandsons. Guy Fleming and his wife Winona had one daughter, Sandra; Becky's grand-daughter, making eight great-grandchildren of Jack and Bessie London.

There is of course another generation, seventeen great-great grandchildren! Unless some one wants to keep a genealogy chart I think all the above should suffice for now. However these descendants, like the acorn, did not fall far from the tree. You may have an interest in the lives of some of these offspring of Jack and Bessie London; so I will start with Joan and Becky London and warn you that my perceptions of these two women are very personal and biased in their favor.

To begin; I had no idea that I would marry into the London family. And I almost bolted when I first learned that I would become Jack London's grand-daughter-in-law...it was a case of worshiping at the feet of the idol. And so it happened: I met Joan, my mother-in-law-to-be, in 1946 in her home in Berkeley, California near the Claremont Hotel. She was an awesome, majestic figure coming down a broad carpeted staircase in that stately, large, brown-shingled house at 17 El Camino Real.
I was to be the second wife of her only child and I was almost numbed by the dynamic force of this incredibly stunning woman who welcomed me with "arms around", as her father would have said. That same week Bart took me to meet his grandmother, Bessie Maddern London, who I was told, had suffered a stroke, and was a patient in THE KING'S DAUGHTERS HOME on Broadway in Oakland, California.
This visit, this introduction to Jack London's first wife, the mother of his only living children, was almost beyond belief; too shocking. She died the following year; the beloved "Nana" who lovingly cared for those three young grandchildren, Bart, Jean, and Guy while their mothers worked outside the home.

Joan had a variety of jobs which led to a more interesting and exciting lifestyle with a great amount of newspaper publicity which might not have met with husband approval. She was married five times, twice to the same man. Her marriage to Charles Lortz Miller, her high school sweetheart and Oakland's Tri-athelete Champion (Indian Miller), lasted for 23 years until his death in 1970. She followed him in death less than a year later, and was in turn joined by her first husband, Park Abbott, ten days apart...all three had been high school friends and maintained a life-long friendship. Joan was truly her father's daughter, a warrior for the California Farm Workers, and worked tirelessly with labor leaders on just about every cause for benefit of the workers. She was a true socialist. She had worked practically all her life, was self-supporting, shared child support expenses with her divorced husband, the father of Bart, and even shared the raising of their child with equal time, which usually worked out for the best interest of all.
During this period of shared care, Joan became a professional speaker, travelling frequently from California to New York and cities in between giving talks on her father to gatherings of Jack London fans who hired her through an agency. During the Depression she worked for the W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration). It's impossible for me to document all the kinds of jobs; some took her to Hollywood...She worked as advisor on a William Wellman film of THE CALL OF THE WILD; wrote short stories, wrote her first biography of her father; JACK LONDON AND HIS TIMES, traveled in Russia with her second husband, Charles Malamuth, and E.E. Cummings, who wrote a book about her.
She continued her own writing in between jobs; "So Shall Ye Reap", the story of the California migrant farm workers, co-authored with Henry Anderson; wrote her first memoir of life as a child of a bitter divorce but did not publish it. It is at the Huntington Library, entitled "Visiting Rights Only". In the last years of her life she wrote a tender memoir, JACK LONDON AND HIS DAUGHTERS, offered it to the University of Washington Press, half finished but with a synopsis and Afterward. The press had reissued a second edition of JACK LONDON AND HIS TIMES and held this last book under contract. Bart continued the contract as he had promised his mother as she lay dying.

After eight years the press was unable to obtain needed permission to publish. Bart recovered the ms. and the book was published by Malcolm Margolin of Heyday Press, Berkeley. After Joan's death, the California State Legislature voted unanimously to honor her for her 20 years work with the State Federation of Labor and her devotion to worker's causes. They sent Bart a beautifully bound, gold embossed document which will be copied for you to read.
Joan and her sister Becky were of opposite personalities. This difference in personality when analyzed by historians would be a joke if it were not for the damage it causes; not just to the two women but to some others of the family, and even to their forebears. Joan was my mother-in-law from 1946 until her death in 1971.

She was the homemaker as well as a career woman commuting every day by train from Pleasant Hill to San Francisco; a gourmet cook, a gardener, an author, a knitter of socks, a seamstress of dresses, pajamas, and robes for her grandchildren, a lover of cats and dogs and exotic fish, the savior of wounded birds...the person most ready to help you when your luck ran out. Do you believe you know this woman? These two women were sisters. You never sat with them in a house or garden, overhearing their chatter their poignant memories of "Daddy".
Neither were they saints, they both hen-pecked their husbands. Both were voracious readers. Joan was an up-front, in-your-face challenger of bigots. She was mostly serious, thoughtful.

Becky was a chatterer, flighty, mercurial. She took the name "Becky" after seeing the stage play of Becky Sharp. And just to give you something to think about, she became Becky Sharp, and with her sense of comedy she gave the Jack London fans a run for their money. Her life story might be better told by the two grandsons, whom she loved. I had fondness for Becky. When I married her nephew Bart, she made me a photo album of Bart's childhood. She kept with her all her life a sea-scape I painted for her. She hides her good deeds, and the hurts. She spent years translating all of her father's books into Braile. She was self-employed in the card shop she and her husband ran and I'd bet it bored her frantic.

Continue with Part II 

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