Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
Here's the Confidential magazine article about Maureen O'Hara that prompted her lawsuit and the testimony about the alleged tryst at Grauman's Chinese Theater. From the March 1957 issue. (Note: O'Hara successfully proved that she was out of the country when this alleged incident took place).
Aug. 18, 1957
Maureen O'Hara says through her lawyer that it was impossible for her to have engaged in the alleged tryst at Grauman's Chinese Theater because at the time it supposedly occurred she was out of the country filming "Fire Over Africa," also known as "Malaga."
In baseball, it's "Take two and hit to the right."
In football, it's "Hit 'em low, hit 'em hard, when they get up, hit 'em again."
But in the narcotics pushing trade, they've got their own credo:
"I see the dough; then you see the stuff."
No matter how individual pushers paraphrase it, the "law" is the same: No buyer gets his hooks on the dope until his account is paid in full.
Because a man supporting a habit isn't a good credit risk.
No rule, of course, is complete without an exception.
And today's tale deals with a local undercover narcotics agent who gambled that he could be exactly that.
With $3.65 in his pocket, he walked into a pusher's home to make a $175 purchase.
It started when the agent was formally introduced to the pusher as a prospective buyer. The go-between was one of those modern-day rarities: an ex-user who kicked the habit and decided to throw in with the law.
The pusher was also somewhat of a rarity. He was a young man who came from a good family with a good home in a "good" community where bad things like narcotics just didn't exist.
He'd been peddling, the agent figured, for about a year and a half.
At the first meeting, the subject swung casually to girls.
And the agent observed that the young pusher's interest suddenly perked.
So he threw in the remark that he just happened to have a couple of young ladies "working" for him.
"I'll bring them around sometime," he promised.
"You really will?" asked the pusher.
"Maybe," said the agent, "I can even work you in on the deal."
Then the talk switched back to the purpose of the meeting.
The agent told his needs and the pusher set his price--$175.
The pusher was living with his parents, so a time was set when they wouldn't be home. He gave the agent his address.
"If you'd like," said the agent, "I can bring the girls along."
Immediately, the pusher agreed that it would be a fine idea.
After they parted, the agent concluded that while the young pusher might be long on experience in narcotics, his experience was short with the opposite sex.
So when the agreed hour arrive, the agent went to the peddler's home--alone.
When the peddler answered, there was obvious disappointment in his expression.
"No girls?" he asked.
The agent smiled. "Later."
They walked into a back room where the "buy" was ready in a paper sack.
"The money?" asked the pusher.
"The girls got it. At the drive-in. I thought it would be better if they didn't come here, so I told them we'd meet 'em."
The pusher started to object, but the agent interrupted.
"I got you fixed up, buddy. You DO want to meet them, don't you?"
He did. He handed over the paper bag--"drugstore stuff"--10 or 11 bottles, from morphine to cocaine.
They walked out and the agent locked the bag in the trunk of his car. "Let's go," he said.
In five minutes they were at the drive-in.
And 30 seconds later, two other agents had moved in for the arrest. The accommodating pusher even carried an additional narcotic supply on his person.
It was that simple.
The agent's lone regret is that they all aren't.
BY JACK SMITH
Actress Maureen O'Hara's alleged love scene with a Latin in three rear seats of Grauman's Chinese Theater was re-enacted before a spellbound audience here yesterday at the Confidential libel trial.
A witness and a buxom newspaperwoman, who volunteered her services, entwined themselves in three courtroom seats while judge, jury and spectators watched in fascination.
Opposing counsel hovered beside the players, giving conflicting directions.
"Her feet are on the floor!" protested one.
"We never said her feet were off the floor!" exclaimed the other.
Miss Lee Belser (at right in 1958 photo with Otto the clown), a blond reporter for a wire service, played the part of the flaming-haired actress, cuddling into the arms of the witness, James Craig, a former assistant manager of the Chinese Theater.
Superior Judge Herbert V. Walker glowered sternly over the courtroom, his ears attuned to the titters, ready to rap down with his gavel. He had warned that he would let the show go on, but let no one think it was a comedy.
Charges of blackmail, an emotional outburst by a defendant, and an eyewitness account of Miss O'Hara's alleged night of skylarking in the theater brought the slow-starting trial to a racy pitch earlier yesterday.
As the conflict shifted from the prosecution to the defense, the multiple conspiracy trial was enlivened by a series of surprises.
Craig, flown here from London to testify for the defense, admitted he told the O'Hara story to a Confidential agent for a mere 70 pounds (about $200) [$1,433.06 USD 2006].
Hollywood producer Paul Gregory, appearing as a final and surprise witness for the state, leveled a charge of blackmail against one of the defendants, Mrs. Marjorie Meade, alleged queen of Confidential magazine's Hollywood scandal mill.
Red-haired Mrs. Meade broke up the proceedings with a convulsion of tears and sobbing, but after a two-hour rest swept serenely back to take the stand as first witness for the defense.
"I have never seen Mr. Paul Gregory before in my life," she testified.
"I have never had a conversation with Mr. Paul Gregory in my life," she concluded and then stepped down.
This attempt to impeach the producer's testimony out of the way, defense attorney Arthur J. Crowley showed his pattern of strategy by setting about to prove the truth of one of Confidential magazine's most sensational yarns.
The witness was Craig, neat and crisp of manner after a long air trip from London. Craig left Hollywood in 1954 to return to his native England.
Craig said he was on duty at the Chinese Theater on a November night in 1953 when the green-eyed Miss O'Hara, according to Confidential, "heated up the rear of the theater" with a Latino whose name remains unknown.
Craig said he investigated and found Miss O'Hara "leaning across three seats" in the Latin's arms.
"She looked to be very disheveled, very untidy. I didn't want to be indiscreet," Craig recalled, so he got his flashlight and walked up and down the aisle. Miss O'Hara then "took her own seat" he said, and he assumed the incident was over.
At the usher's second appeal, Craig said, he went forth again and found "the gentleman sitting in a seat and Miss O'Hara sitting in his lap."
"I told them I thought it was best if they left the theater. The gentleman said they were leaving anyway."
Miss O'Hara soon came out alone to the foyer, Craig said, and asked to borrow his flashlight, explaining that her friend had lost a cuff link. Craig said he returned and found the missing article.
"It was definitely a diamond cuff link," he recalled.
Craig said he told the story to an old friend, Michael M. Smith, Confidential's London agent, and after its publication, received a check for 70 pounds.
On cross-examination, Deputy Dist. Atty. William Ritzi assaulted Craig's version of the O'Hara story piecemeal. Perhaps never has a bout of spooning been so thoroughly dissected four years after its occurrence.
Ritzi even asked the witness to take chalk and draw a diagram of the part of the theater which allegedly was the arena of the episode and prosecutor and witness jousted back and forth in effort to place each arm, leg, trunk and foot in its proper place according to Craig's memory.
At one point, the exasperated prosecutor--a Sunday school teacher--blurted out:
"To put it bluntly, sir, where was her rear end?"
"Her rear end," the solemn witness answered, "was on the edge of Seat No. 2."
Also present as a witness for the defense was Smith, to whom Craig gave his story. Smith was flown in from London with Craig.
Until Craig entered with his recitation of the O'Hara incident, Mrs. Meade and Gregory had played front and center in the trial, the producer naming her as the woman who kept a rendezvous with him two years ago and offered to kill a scandalous story for $800 to $1,000.
He said she told him the proposed story was "scandalously injurious" and could be ruinous to him and his associates, including Charles Laughton and Laughton's wife, Elsa Lanchester.
The prominent producer was brought forth at the last moment as a surprise witness of the state in the jury trial of Confidential and Whisper magazines and Mrs. Meade and her husband, Fred.
Shortly after Gregory stepped down from the witness stand in the courtroom, the state rested.
Then Mrs. Meade collapsed. Tears gushed from her wide eyes and sobs filled the courtroom as Judge Walker left the bench and strode to his chambers.
The red-haired defendant stood, stumbled and fell back into her chair as her strapping husband rushed forward to her aid. Her weeping apparently uncontrollable, she was led into an anteroom by her husband and a bailiff.
A medical attendant, summoned from the County Jail Hospital in the Hall of Justice, examined Mrs. Meade and said she was "emotionally upset."
When the 15-minute recess ended, defense attorney Crowley advised Judge Walker his client was unable to appear. Judge Walker then recessed the morning session.
Mrs. Meade earlier had expressed outrage and disbelief when Gregory gazed at her and said he was "absolutely positive" she was the woman who called herself "Mrs. Dee" and offered to stop publication of a Confidential story if he would pay the "author's commitment" of $800 to $1,000.
Gregory said he told "Mrs. Dee" he regarded it as "character assassination and blackmail" she was up to and refused to go along with her. Nevertheless, he testified, the threatened story never appeared.
The producer said the woman known to him as Mrs. Dee first made contact with him, by telephone on Aug. 22, 1955. He flipped the pages of a large red leather date book for a page that had a note of the date.
He said the woman proposed a meeting with him which could help him "avoid injurious scandal to me and my associates." He was then associated in a producing venture with Laughton, he added.
Asked by prosecutor Ritzi if he later met the woman whose voice he heard on the telephone, Gregory answered that he had, and that woman, he said evenly, "was Mrs. Meade."
At this Mrs. Meade whipped off her horn-rimmed spectacles and registered horror.
Gregory went on to testify that Mrs. Dee telephoned again on Sept. 16 and he agreed to meet her in a Beverly Hills cafe at 2:15 p.m. that day.
When he entered the cafe he saw a man and two women sitting in a booth, Gregory testified.
"A woman approached me and said, 'Are you Paul Gregory?' I said I was and she said, 'I'm Miss Dee.' "
"Now," asked the prosecutor, "do you recognize here in this court the woman who introduced herself to you as Miss Dee?"
Gregory fixed steely eyes on the red-haired woman at the counsel table.
"Absolutely," he said.
"Mrs. Meade?" asked the prosecutor.
"It is indeed," said Gregory.
He and the woman then sat apart from her friends in another booth, the producer said, and after he declined a drink he asked her to get on with her business.
"She said she could stop this story if I would pay the author's commitment. I asked how much that involved and she said $800 to $1,000.
"I asked her what the story was about. She said it was scandalously injurious and could very well put me out of business if it were allowed to be published."
It was then, Gregory said, that he accused Mrs. Meade of character assassination and blackmail and terminated the interview.
Gregory also testified that before his contact with Mrs. Dee his secretary was harassed by numerous telephone calls from a "Miss Ann Smith" who warned that "something terrible was going to happen to my business associates if I didn't do certain things."
Gregory said he finally had a recorder plugged into his telephone and made a recording of one of Miss Smith's calls. It was placed in the hands of the court yesterday. Gregory said he was certain, however, that Miss Smith was not the same woman as Miss Dee.
Attorney Crowley struck back bitingly when he took the producer on cross-examination, trying to shake his identification of Mrs. Meade and impeach his testimony as a product of bias.
Pointing to Mrs. Meade, the attorney asked Gregory if he were "positive" she was the same woman he met in the restaurant Sept. 16.
"I am most assuredly positive," said the witness.
"You don't like Confidential magazine, do you?" the lawyer demanded in an earlier attack.
"Oh," answered Gregory, "I don't dislike it."
Crowley took up a copy of the magazine, opened it to a splashy spread titled "The Lowdown on Paul Gregory," Yes, Gregory said, he had read the story.
"Is one of the reasons you are testifying here because of this article?" demanded Crowley.
"Not at all, sir."
Under cross-examination, Gregory also explained that the story mentioned by Miss Dee was not one already listed in the trial record as "The Robert Mitchum Story."
It was in this Confidential tale that Mitchum allegedly masqueraded as a hamburger--naked and catsup drenched--at a dinner party given by Gregory. Laughton also was among those present.
The story had already been published, he explained, when he met Mrs. Dee. Outside the courtroom, however, Gregory took the opportunity to brand the earlier story a complete fiction.
"No such thing ever happened," he said. "There were 10 guests who will come down here and testify to that."
The trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
Aug. 17, 1957
The "five swaggering gang members" who were arrested in the killing of John Edwards were released after being cleared by two witnesses. The slaying was never solved.
We will never know what really happened on the night ad executive Guy F. Roberts was shot to death in a Santa Monica motel room because everyone involved was lying to cover up the truth and--except for the detectives who coerced a phony confession--wildly drunk.
The newspapers finally published an account that was fairly factual, but only years after a young man was wrongly convicted in the killing. I would like to think that at least some good came out of all the injustice.
The main characters are:
- Nina C. Miles, who at the age of 37 was about to make Roberts her seventh husband. She and Roberts were living in the motel at 2801 Santa Monica Blvd. where the killing occurred. Nina had moved in with the victim two weeks earlier after living for several years with one of his friends, William "Billy" Miles. Between the killing and the trial, she and William got married in Tijuana.
- Charles L. Guy III, Nina's son by her first husband, who had already served time for drunk driving. Although his mother had moved out, Charles was still living with William at 419 Hill St., Ocean Park.
- Charles L. Guy Jr., Nina's first husband, a prosecutor in Dunn, N.C., who had been estranged from his son for many years.
- An unidentified investigator with the Santa Monica Police Department, most likely Detective Ward Bell or Robert Holborow, who obtained a coerced confession.
Here's what happened: Although she has been living with Roberts for two weeks and plans to marry him, Nina and Charles conclude an evening of bar-hopping by going to the cocktail lounge where William plays the piano, having left Roberts asleep in the motel room.
Charles and William argue and Charles leaves in Roberts' car. When William finishes his set at 12:30 a.m., he and Nina go to his home and have more drinks. Nina finally leaves by taxi but stops along the way to have another drink.
About 2 a.m. she finally returns to the motel room and gets some money off the top of the dresser to pay the cabdriver. She comes back, sits down on the bed and only then notices that the room has been ransacked, that there's blood everywhere and that Roberts has been killed with a shotgun blast that tore away the left side of his face.
"Men's and women's clothing was strewn about the room," the Mirror said. "Bureau drawers were opened and their contents scattered, indicating that they had been ransacked. Blood was spattered about the room. A trail of it led to the bathroom where an attempt had been made by the murderer to clean up. Tooth powder was spilled on the floor and wash basin."
"Detectives said there was 'considerable evidence' of a drinking party. Beer cans and a whiskey bottle and glasses were found in the rubbish can and sink."
Santa Monica police obtained a confession from Charles by warning him that if he didn't admit killing Roberts, they would charge his mother.
"I went back to the motel and had a couple more drinks," Charles said in confessing to the crime. "Roberts was still sleeping. The next thing I knew I went out to get a shotgun from the car. Then all I can remember is I saw blood on Roberts. I don't actually remember any shooting, but it must have been me.
"I respected Roberts more than my real father. Roberts and I were the best of friends and I was all for his marrying my mother. The reason I went with my mother was to protect her from Miles. He had broken her nose once and I didn't know what he would do when she told him she was going to marry Roberts."
According to Santa Monica Police Detective Ward Bell, Charles said: "I don't know why I did it. I was very fond of him."
According to Santa Monica Police Detective Robert Holborow, Charles said: "I don't understand why I killed him. It should have been [William] Miles."
Because it doesn't make much sense for anybody to kill someone they respect rather than someone they dislike, Nina offered incriminating testimony about her son:
According to Nina, Charles said: "Gee, mom, I'm sorry. I don't know why I did it." She also told reporters: "It all adds up. I know who did it. But I can't say. I think Sonny [her son] had something to do with it. He's all fouled up."
Charles' father was granted permission to come to Los Angeles to handle his son's defense. After two days of arguments, the judge had ruled that Charles' coerced confession was inadmissible, but even so, Detective Holborow testified that during a police interrogation, Charles had admitted killing Roberts. The judge declared a mistrial.
In his second trial, Charles said he left the bar after arguing with William because he was upset with his mother for continuing to see her old boyfriend while she planned to marry Roberts.
"She would write on the mirror at Mr. Miles' house, 'I love you' and then she'd go up to Mr. Roberts' place and write the same thing on the mirror. It was a mess," Charles testified. William had repeatedly rambled on about "teaching Roberts a lesson," Charles said, adding that William claimed Roberts had also "tried to steal one of his former wives."
Jurors found Charles guilty of involuntary manslaughter in December 1957. While conceding that his son would probably serve prison time, Charles Guy Jr. said he hoped to gain custody of his son upon his release and planned to take him back to North Carolina.
"That's fine with me, Dad," Charles said. "That's the day I'll be looking forward to."
Although she was the main witness for the prosecution, Nina did not attend the reading of the verdict against her son. She told reporters: "I'm heartbroken. I know Sonny is guilty but I know he wasn't in his right mind. I don't blame Sonny for what he said [about her] during the trial. I know he had to do it."
In 1963, Paul Coates wrote about what Nina told him as he was covering the trials:
Before the case went to court, she told me a curious, rather chilling thing.
"I'd like to help my son," she said, "But I can't do it. I don't dare."
I asked her what she meant.
"After it happened," she explained, "I talked to my family in North Carolina. I was warned that if the family name was dragged into the trial, I'd have my conscience to live with for the rest of my life.
"I'm too afraid of my father to cross him," Mrs. Miles added. "Even if it would help my own son. It's always been that way."
"God willing, you someday will come home here. People will welcome you and you can make the kind of name that when you marry will be carried proudly by your children, just as I am proud that you carry my name. I will never be ashamed that you are my son and that I named you after myself and your grandfather. He said you would come back someday to the people who really love you. And believe me, you will."
While he was being held at Vacaville, Charles recorded some songs. They were released by Capitol Records on the album "The Prisoner's Dream."
Time magazine said he had the power "of a young, white Leadbelly."
Charles was released from prison in 1963 and returned to North Carolina. Aside from a single, he apparently never made any more recordings. Long out of print, reissues of "The Prisoner's Dream" are available from specialty houses.
Nina C. Miles, who attempted suicide in 1958, died May 2, 1977, at the age of 57.
The family name was presumably protected to her father's satisfaction.
Aug. 15, 1957
John Emmett Edwards,* 17, 243 E. 137th St., is on a double date at the Roadium, a drive-in theater at 2500 Redondo Beach Blvd., Torrance, with his girlfriend, Frances Clemens**, 16; her brother, Leo, 22; and his date, Frances Hill, 20.
Edwards excuses himself to go to the restroom. They never see him again.
Hazel Lizon, 20, says: "I was telephoning from a booth near the restroom entrance when I saw four or five men try to pick a fight with a young boy. He tried to get away, but one of the men knocked him down. Then they went in the restroom and a minute later the Edwards boy went in. I could hear a terrific fight going on in there. Then the men ran out and within two minutes the Edwards boy came out, bent over and groaning.
"I said to him: 'Why don't you call the cops?' but he just groaned, took two steps and fell face down."
Edwards was stabbed in the chest with a weapon that had a thin, narrow blade, investigators say. Near the body is a "cheap straw hat" with the name "George" written on it.
Roadium manager Einar Petersen, 40, calls police, who barricade the exits and search about 100 cars at the theater.
Three of them are asleep, the Mirror says. Officers also find a jug of wine, a screwdriver with a sharpened blade and a 3-inch nail punch.
Police arrest Johnny C. Washington, 21, 1632 E. 101st St.; Bennie C. Myers, 27, 11626 Willowbrook Ave.; James C. Rucker, 28, 2124 E. 122nd St.; Philip B. Rucker, 25, 1929 E. 117th St.; and Robert R. Richards, 29, 10944 Hickory St., Watts. Although the men deny any role in the killing, the sharpened screwdriver and the nail punch are tested for blood. Philip Rucker's pants are bloodstained, police say.
Lizon identifies Washington as one of the men who followed Edwards into the restroom.
Did they kill Edwards?
To be continued.
Bonus fact: The theater was showing "Dragstrip Girl" and "Rock All Night."
*Also identified as John Nelson Edwards.
**Also spelled Clemons.