Friday, May 30, 2014

Paul Kelly -- Slide, Kelly, Slide (Part II)

On April 20, 1927, a grand jury indicted Paul Kelly for the first-degree murder of Ray Raymond.  In between fainting spells, Dorothy Mackaye testified she precipitated the fatal meeting between the two men by informing Kelly her husband had accused them of adultery.  Continuing to insist that their relationship was purely "platonic," Kelly had angrily phoned the man and stormed over to the house on Cheremoya Drive.  The next day, a coroner's inquest sought to fix responsibility for Raymond's death and, more importantly, determine whether Dr. Sullivan and Mackaye had made attempts to conceal the true facts of the case.  The doctor insisted that in the absence of information regarding the fight between the two men, he told the autopsy surgeon A.F. Wagner that the bruises on the dead man's body had been the result of a drunken fall from his bed.  Days later, Sullivan and Mackaye were indicted by a county grand jury on charges of "compounding a felony" and with being "accessories after the fact" in an alleged plot to cover-up the details surrounding the beating death of Ray Raymond.  The jury interpreted the doctor's "rather high" fee of $500 paid by the grieving widow as an attempt to conceal Raymond's condition and cause of death.  Both remained free on $5,000 cash bond each while the L.A. District Attorney's office built a murder case against Paul Kelly.

Jury selection began in Los Angeles on May 5, 1927, with eight women and four men seated to determine the young actor's fate.  When the court was not in session, the jury was "locked down" in a downtown motel to prevent possible intimidation.  Although Kelly maintained his innocence (insisting Raymond died of acute alcoholism, not the beating), he faced an uphill battle against a mountain of damning evidence.  Autopsy surgeon A.F. Wagner testified Raymond died of a subdural hemorrhage caused by nothing else than the result of a violent kick or blows, not the drunken fall suggested by the defense.  Charlotte Ethel Lee, the prosecution's star witness, was unshakeable in describing Kelly as the aggressor in his confrontation with the "almost helpless" song-and-dance man.  Further, during the time Raymond was on the road touring Mackaye spent many nights away from the house.  According to Lee, she often located her absent employer by phoning Kelly's apartment the next morning.  In riveting testimony, Dorothy Mackaye continued to assert her relationship with Kelly was chaste and platonic.  Though present at Kelly's apartment at the time he placed a phone call, Mackaye insisted she did not know it was to her husband, nor did she have any idea where the actor went when he angrily left his apartment.  The prosecution next produced its "trump" evidence -- love letters and telegrams from Kelly to Mackaye to establish a motive for the premeditated attack.  In the letters, Kelly often referred to Mackaye as "my wife" while others were written in a lover's code deciphered by the embarrassed actress for the jury.  In one letter dated March 20, 1927, Kelly wrote to Mackaye:  "Darling Mine:  Oh, I am so terribly in love with you -- so terribly -- I am miserable here without you -- I love you -- love you -- love you."  While Mackaye admitted to often speaking of marriage with Kelly while her husband was on the road, she did so only in a "kidding way."  The final nail in the defense's case came when Kelly's Japanese houseboy, Teno Yobu, was called by the prosecution to corroborate parts of Charlotte Ethel Lee's testimony.  Known as "Jungles," Yobu stated he served gin drinks on at least half a dozen occasions to Mackaye and Kelly in the actor's apartment,  Mackaye sometimes spent the night there and Jungles saw them together in Kelly's bedroom in the morning.  When the houseboy was present, the pair often resorted to a "love language" (perhaps Pig Latin) to disguise what they were saying.  According to Yobu, Kelly had at least two gin drinks prior to leaving the apartment to confront Raymond.  Kelly's appearance on the stand was almost anti-climactic.  The actor admitted to slapping Raymond twice for vilely insinuating that he had an improper relationship with Mackaye and was forced to defend himself when the smaller entertainer unexpectedly attacked him.

On May 25, 1927, the jury returned after two days of deliberation to find Kelly guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter.  Sentenced to 1 to 10 years in prison, the actor initially vowed to appeal, but soon told his attorney he would "take his punishment like a man and then begin life anew when society's debt had been paid."  Transported to San Quentin on July 2, 1927, to serve his posted 5 year sentence, Inmate No. 43,814 became a trusty in the prison library and took voice culture lessons to prepare for a post-prison career in talking pictures.  His lover, Dorothy Mackaye, and Dr. Walter Sullivan still faced separate trials for covering up the facts of Raymond's death.  On June 29, 1927, a jury needed less than three hours to find the actress guilty.  Mackaye was sentenced to a year in San Quentin, her lover's new address.  Her appeal denied, Mackaye did her time operating a sewing machine.  She was released for "good behavior" on January 1, 1929, after serving only 8 months.  The actress drew on her time in prison to co-write with Carlton Miles the play Women in Prison.  The play served as the basis for the 1933 Warner Bros. film, Ladies They Talk About, starring Barbara Stanwyck.  The studio remade the film as Lady Gangster in 1942 with Faye Emerson in the title role.  And what of Dr. Sullivan?  He was the only "winner" in the ordeal.  On October 28, 1927, the case against the Hollywood physician was dismissed after the D.A.'s office determined the evidence against him was "too thin" to win a conviction.

 On the strength of his "excellent behavior," Paul Kelly won parole from San Quentin on August 2, 1929, after serving two years and one month of his manslaughter conviction.  "I'm going straight to New York," Kelly told reporters.  "I'm headed straight for the comeback trail.  I've got a job with the New Century Play Company in New York and I'm going to hit it hard."  The job, apparently, was as a clerk for the company.  On Broadway, however, Kelly earned the dubious distinction of being the lowest-salaried leading man ever to appear in a show on the Great White Way.  As a parolee, the actor was limited under California law to earn no more than $30 a week, the salary he was paid in February 1930 to work in the Nine Fifteen Revue.  On a happier note, Paul Kelly and Dorothy Mackaye married in February 1931 and remained together until she was killed in a car crash near their Northridge, California ranch in 1940.  The actor returned to an uncharacteristically forgiving Hollywood in 1932 and worked nonstop amassing credits in some 88 films often in supporting roles in "A" and "B" features as well as the occasional lead in programmers.  Kelly's post-conviction films include Broadway Thru a Keyhole (1933), The Song and Dance Man (1936), The Roaring Twenties (1939), Not a Ladies' Man (1942), The Glass Alibi (1946), Crossfire (1947), The Painted Hills (1951), The Square Jungle (1956), and his final film, Curfew Breakers (1957).  In a filmic act of self-expiation smacking of gimmick casting, Kelly appeared as Warden Clinton D. Duffy in the 1954 production of Duffy of San Quentin, a chronicle of the maximum security prison where the actor spent 25 months of his life in the late 1920s.  Kelly also found time to appear onstage (winning a Tony Award as Best Actor in 1948 for Command Decision) and in television series guest shots.  On November 6, 1956, the 57-year-old actor suffered a fatal heart attack in his Los Angeles home at 1148 Club View Drive shortly after returning from casting his vote at the polls.  The "actor Hollywood forgave" is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

Photo by A.J. Marik

 Recommended Reading

"Kelly, Guilty, Asks New Trial."  Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1927, sec. A, p. 1.

"Kelly is Indicted for Raymond Death."  The New York Times, April 21, 1927, p. 29.

"Platonic Friendship Given Blame for Tragedy in Hollywood."  Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1927, sec. A, p. 2.

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