Red Herrings and Scandal
This is our 17th episode, it's Season 2 Episode 4. “Red Herrings and Scandal”.
We have a different format for you this time. We sat down with our friend Amoreena to chat about another famous person who was charged with the Mann Act, aka White Slavery Act. This is the charge that basically brought down Kid Cann in the 1960s.
Amoreena is the friend who has done some wonderful artwork for us and when I asked her to do the artwork for the Marilyn Tollefson episode, she said, “Oh the Mann Act, that’s what they tried to get Charlie Chaplin for!” It sounded like an interesting story so I asked her to join us for an episode to tell us what she knows. What resulted was a fun discussion about old Hollywood and the gossip machine. By the way, the woman who was at the center of the charge was Joan Barry.
Volsteadland is a podcast about the seedy underworld of the 1920s and 30s and even beyond, in Minneapolis (and also beyond…Hollywood, this time). In each episode, we chose a story from that era to present to you.
Hosts: Amy and Heather
Theme Music: "The Last Prayer (to Isadore Blumenfeld)" by Paolo For Lee
Background Music: "The Velvets" (instrumental version) by Cannelle
If you or your parents, grandparents, etc. have any stories, folklore, or anything really, on the gangster mobster life in Minneapolis in the 1920s through 1960s, please let me know. We’d love to get in touch and chat about it or use your story in the podcast. Anonymous of course, unless you want credit!
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Trailer: The Cat’s Meow (2001) https://youtu.be/jy9SS59oQFQ
The Great Dictator (1940) https://youtu.be/2vOacn2ZcOs
Trailer: Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2018) https://youtu.be/1qn6HxTJp0k
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Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars
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Amy: Okay. So we are here with our friend, Amoreena …
Amy: Yes. Welcome. Welcome to Volsteadland. We had a little brunch. and some Mimosas and screwdrivers, and that sounds like we had a lot. Coffee. Yeah, so. when I was releasing the episode about Marilyn Tollefson I had asked Amoreena if she wanted to do artwork for it. And in order for her to come up with some artwork, I had to tell her what it was about. I told her it was about the woman who basically took down Kid Cann via The Mann Act; and she said, “oh, I know all about the Mann Act” So…
Amoreena: Yeah, you had explained Yeah basically taking you to know this woman. state lines So I'm like, oh yeah, like I know the Mann Act. Oh, yeah. That's what they tried to stick Chaplin with.
Amy: And I didn't know any of that. So. I said, Hey, you want to come on and talk about it. So, she agreed. So here we are. Oh, and she did do the artwork for that episode, by the way. And it's awesome. It's amazing. I love it. Yeah. So tell us about maybe Chaplin, start with that.
Amoreena: So this was. 30 years ago. but I took a course in college. It was a summer course, was kind of more of a freshmen Studies English thing that they offered.
You know, several artists and the one that I picked was Charlie Chaplin so it was basically a semester learning about the life and work of Charlie Chaplin.
It was a fascinating character because you can really split it can do all this study about his work and how influential he was in not only Comedy but cinema all of that. But of this other part, which is equally as fascinating, got equally as much into, basically, it was his personal life.
And I mean, this was really kind of the start of the paparazzi and the gossip machine. And who do you piss off as far as you know, that we're seeing we're seeing to this day,
Heather: So what year would would that have been.
Amoreena: So as far as them. Trying to stick him with the Mann Act. I want to say that would have been about 41, or 42. And kind of in preparation to speak with you two today I actually went back and watched a “Chaplin”, the Richard Attenborough movie, which is based off of Chaplin's book, “My Autobiography”. Which in the summer course that I took that was our text, too, was “My Autobiography”. And as I was saying that, you know, I don't know if really the movie holds up the acting is great. It's a great story.
Amy: That's Robert Downey Jr.
Amoreena: It is Robert Downey Jr., James Woods. Is in it, actually he plays the lawyer I think. So in the…Not to get too ahead of myself, but. But to answer your question, Heather, it was, yeah, it was like 1941-42. And he had. taken up with a woman who may or may not have been mentally… had issues.
And there's a, there was a paternity suit. And she was trying to, to get money from him.
And the feds were basically had wanted him for a long time because
I really think just…being older, and kind of looking at the story again, I really think they were after him because he wasn't paying taxes.
Amoreena: He wasn't a US citizen. Wasn't paying…
Amy: He wasn't a us citizen?
Amoreena: He never became a US citizen.
Amy: Where was he from?
Amoreena: He was from England. And he came over here. in probably 1910-ish.
Amoreena: He started out in vaudeville and then came over here. Then
Hooked up with Mack Sennett and DW. Griffith and basically at the beginning of the film industry. Him and Mary Pickford and Doug Fairbanks broke off and formed their own studio, United Artists. The problem with Chaplin is he liked 16-year-olds. He liked 16-year-olds when he was 20, when he was 30, and when he was 40.
And ultimately, he married Oona O'Neill when he was. 54. I think she was like 17. They ended up, yeah, oh they stayed together for like until his death in the seventies and they had like eight kids.
Amy: Oh my.
Heather: Oh Wow.
Amoreena: His first wife was 16, Mildred Harris and the thing is, is when you watch this movie Chaplin and it is based off of the book, “My Autobiography”. And you're kind of wondering; “Are they making some of those up?” And I do think they make things kind of, you know, embellished a lot of it because in “My Autobiography” Chaplin really doesn't talk about any of this. And in fact, at one point in the film, Anthony Hopkins plays his Biographer. About his second marriage, to Lita Grey, he says in the movie, “Well, you only devote three pages in your book about her.” And I believe, in Chaplin, Robert Downey Jr. says, “well, It's cause she was a bitch.”
Well, so he married Mildred Harris. I don't think that lasted very long, like a
year. And then when he was filming The Gold Rush, one of the extras was, her name was Lita Grey, or Dolita I believe is what they called her in the Hollywood Babylon book. But yeah, she was like 16, 17, and well, Yeah.
Amy: Just his age.
Amoreena: He accidentally knocked her up. So they got married and she ended up having two kids with him. But their divorce, their divorce was huge as far as like how sensational it was. Like they were selling the divorce proceedings, like on the street corner for like a quarter because I mean, I guess comparatively speaking, you know, Kim and Kanye right now. Or Johnny Depp and Amber Heard I mean, the stuff that was going on, like in their marriage was so salacious.
And by today's standards is probably pretty tame Like, threesomes or, you know, oral sex, or something like…
Amoreena: So yeah, it was huge, this divorce. So then he married a third time. Paulette Goddard, it was her name. And I think when you and I were talking Amy and I'm like I'm like, oh yeah, that's what they tried to stick Chaplin for. Actually, I think that was his wife. No, it wasn't his wife.
So his third wife. She was actually more age-appropriate. And it sounds like they had a really kind of a good professional relationship.
Amy: She’s an actress too. Wasn't she? I know her name.
Amoreena: Yeah. Played by…shoot! I can't remember who played her in the movie. But he ended up getting divorced. It ended up amicably. So then he met this other woman and of course, now I can't. think of her name (Joan Barry). And of course, you know, him controlling the narrative probably.
In the movie that totally she totally sounds like she's looney tunes and it does sound like that. She had some issues, but it sounds like the feds got ahold of her.
That ‘here's a willing…” which very, very similar in, in the case with, with Cann's friend. The “let's use her for her own means”.
And again, to backtrack to what I was saying I think it was really because he wasn't paying taxes, but it was, it was part of The Red Scare.
And they kind of insinuated in the movie that you know he pissed Hoover off because he made a film that was making fun of the immigration folks.
Then, then there was, you know, the whole, you know when he made The Great Dictator. I mean, he was expressing a very unpopular opinion at the time. I mean, we were still pretty pro-Nazi in 1932 when he made this movie.
So it's whether or not, you know, it was a McCarthyism, Hoover was after him, or wasn't paying taxes.
So, yeah, so they try to, stick him, with this Mann Act of basically you are transporting a woman across state lines.
Which, like a lot of these laws, it has nothing to do with, you know, protecting women. I mean, The Mann Act was about, you know, they didn't want black men hooking up with white women. So, that law really wasn't used very often, except for Interracial couples.
So when they were pulling it out for big things like Chaplin or Kid Cann you know, It was really, it's like, they're trying to throw things at the wall to see
Amy: It's a smokescreen for something else.
Amoreena: Yep They're trying to get it to stick. And what ultimately happened with Chaplin he had left. Again, still, never became a citizen. Left for Switzerland and they wouldn't let him back in.
Amoreena: And so he basically is exiled in Switzerland for the rest of his life. And then in the movie, kind of how the movie opens and closes is they give him a lifetime Oscar Award in like 1972 I think and so it shows that.
Amy: Interesting. I mean. Switzerland's not a bad place to, you know…
Amoreena: live in exile?
Amoreena: There's also another, a book that I read a long time ago and it was by his kid. Michael Chaplin one of his kids with Oona O'Neill.
Called "I Couldn't Smoke the Grass on My Father's Lawn". And it's about, you know, growing up being you know, a drugged-out hippy with Charlie Chaplin is your father in Switzerland.
Amy: I bet that's good. Interesting. That's all the stuff I didn't know about him. I guess. Yeah.
Amoreena: Yeah. And it's just like, you know, like I said, there's this whole. I like to keep it separate because this whole paparazzi machine. I mean, you read other stories about Hollywood. Like there's the book that Scotty Bowers had a couple years…
Amoreena: made the documentary about it has all these salacious.
things that are going
Amy: Gas station.
Amoreena: But no one ever really talked about it. It seemed to really only come out in in paparazzi. like, if you pissed off Hearst or you know, you really had to anger, somebody, I mean, Hearst had his own gossip machine with you know, Hedda Hopper and then there was Luella Parsons. And so really, he was part of that whole Hollywood gossip and its heyday. And, you know, some of it really wasn't tame by today's standards but a lot of it kind of was.
Amy: Especially people that had a reputation for being sweet, and kind and whatever. And if those people did anything that, that was not fitting of there persona that they had portrayed then. Then that gets dug up and run through the mud.
Amoreena: But yeah No. Chaplin definitely would have been me-too-ed the hell out of there at some point.
Heather: Oh, I'm sure.
Amoreena: He was also hung like a horse that was the rumor that went around Hollywood
Amy: Good for him.
Amoreena: Yeah. He was only like five foot four but…
Heather: Makes sense.
Amoreena: He was a good-looking. If you took all the paint off.
Amy: Oh, I have to see a picture. I think I have seen a picture, but I don't call anymore what he looked like. Oh, well,
Amoreena: But, you know, we're all too old. So.
Heather: Well for him for Chaplain.
Amy: Yeah. Oh funny. So is there anybody else that you know of that was charged with...
Amoreena: Nothing like quite as notorious as that. Again, my understanding is it really was just to, like pretty much a lot of, you know, law enforcement. in history has, you know, racist origins in enforcement.
Amoreena: You know, I was kind of thinking about this morning, too. And I could see that you know, having that in their back pocket as something to use say, you know, ‘Oh, you took your girlfriend across state lines to go get an abortion.’ Which They actually I, there are states that are starting to talk about legislating going across state lines for having a medical procedure. Not just abortions, but you know gender-affirming or… But. I don't know if you want to go down this, but…
Amy: Yeah. Interesting. It's so it sounds like in Charlie Chaplin's story, the woman was not. a victim. She was a willing participant. Although you said she maybe had mental issues and maybe. Maybe it was a vulnerable adult or something and couldn't…
Amoreena: I don't know. I wouldn't want, if I would go so far as to say, vulnerable. So much as in consent per se but. You know what? I don't ...It's the crazy ex-girlfriend trope, is they hooked up and you know, she kind of stalked him And then so that she was you know that she was pregnant and. then. It was his kid. And, you know, the I think the feds. were just looking for something to stick him with.
Amy: Because yeah, with the Kid Cann story. Marilyn was not a victim. She was, she went along with it. You know, she loved having sex.
And she was paid.
she was paid very well.
Amy: And it was only when she wanted to keep getting paid and they were done with her that she got mad and turned them in. You know, so. They, they make it sound like she was this poor girl that he corrupted or whatever. I mean, She was younger when they met, she was 19 and he was 50. But,
Amoreena: And I think That's kind of what they're trying to make you know this this poor vulnerable woman that. But again, I think about to even just stories about, you know, like Lindsay Lohan about, and now we find out, well, no, she actually was having some problems and everyone just kind of shit on her.
Amoreena: Who knows? Because who was controlling the narrative, you've got the federal prosecutors say that she was this poor woman that he took advantage of. You know, he's saying in his narrative that she was, you know, don't stick your dick in crazy. And there's somewhere in the middle is... I think are you know, so. I think that I think the Feds probably really took advantage of this woman. We used her as a oh, you know, Was she a willing pawn?
Heather: Can we title this episode Don't Stick Your Dick in Crazy?
Amoreena: Oh, I can do the artwork.
Amy: Oh, yes. Oh, definitely. I. We need to do the artwork for this one. Oh, God, I can see it already. That's awesome. Okay. So, is there anything else we need to go over or what we could go over? Shoot the shit about something else.
Amoreena: I would say another good movie Is called “The Cat's Meow” and it involves Chaplin and William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies and Gloria Swanson It is a retelling of real-life story of the murder of William (Thomas) Ince and who did it?
Amoreena: it came out, it was from 2002 or three. And Eddie Izzard plays Charlie Chaplin.
Heather: Eddie Izzard!
Amoreena: And it's it's it's, it's quite good, but it's, based on a true story
Heather: And it's called “The Cat's Meow”
Amy: And when, when did that come out about,
Amoreena: I want to say. 2002, 2003.
Amy: Okay. Cool.
Amoreena: And then again, there's Charlie Chaplin “My Autobiography”, and then the movie “Chaplin”, which that was based off of and then the book, that I was actually trying to find this weekend and couldn't find it, which is weird. Cause I don't throw anything out. But it …
Amy: You and my mom.
Amoreena: Yeah. Well Especially books. I really don't purge books. But it was I want to say the book was called something like, you know, The United States versus Charlie Chaplin. And it was basically. His basically his whole career was Hoover And McCarthy. Trying to go after him. I still think it's because of taxes. Because It's usually, always about the money. but
Amy: Yeah. Yeah. well, And sometimes taxes - going after someone for taxes is how they get them for doing something else. They couldn't get them for. The bootleggers and stuff. Were almost always going down for taxes and part of the reason that they wanted to get Kid Cann for something was because then that would allow that the FBI to get ahold of his financial records. And that was, then they could get them for that too.
Amoreena: Well, you know, like, you know, Ms. Scarlet said in “Clue” you know, communism is just a red herring. I think a lot of you know the whole Red Scare and blackballing Hollywood I think was all about, just money.
Heather: I looked it up. The Cat's Meow was 2001. And it is available to stream for free, on Tubi and IMDB TV.
Amy: Oh, good.
Heather: Or to purchase for 3 99 on. Apple TV.
Heather: Oh, and it's got Kirsten Dunst in it.
Amoreena: Yes. She plays Marion Davies. Now, Marion Davies was Hearst's longtime girlfriend. She was not a very good actor. However, she had a long line of credits because of Hearst put her in everything. And so she was, she was also having an affair with Chaplin Well chaplain was sleeping around. with everyone.
Amy: It sounds like he couldn't keep it in his pants.
Amoreena: it's old-school Hollywood gossip. It's so much fun.
Amy: I love that stuff. Yeah. Scotty Bowers. I just came across that, the film, I haven't seen that yet.
Amoreena: Yeah I saw the documentary a couple of years ago. And then I guess, too, as far as like references. Now there's, there's been much argument about the validity and I would take everything you read in it with a grain of salt, but Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon. There's two volumes. Is just fun. Just fun stupid. You know National Enquirer read.
Heather: Do You follow the Hollywood Babylon Facebook page?
Amoreena: I do.
Heather: Just A lot of people.
Amy: I do too but I haven't …
Heather: posting Hollywood stuff
Amoreena: Well, you know, talking about gossip and Hollywood gossip, and I've always just been all over it. And with the advent of the internet and gossip, blogs And I really don't follow much of that anymore because I don't know if you guys have noticed but those comments section has gotten like, it's all Q quarter stuff It's really…
Amy: Oh, yeah. I have noticed that, especially on Crazy Days and Nights. It's gotten. Yeah. I don't even go to that
Amoreena: but like even like Delisted, sometimes in the comments. I see total Q stuff.
Amy: That's so weird Yeah. Oh they'll get in anywhere where they think there's a lot of people and they're going to get seen.
Amoreena: But I just, you know, I just think it's funny. talking about you know with this Hollywood cabal of eating babies. In the basements. of Pizza Huts. But then you just hear about the stories that happen in old Hollywood. And it's like, Yeah, it was it was Sodom and Gomorrah back then too! I don't know about baby-eating, but…
Amy: Well now they're going after politicians instead of the movie stars. I mean, they're gone after the movie stars too, but.
Amoreena: Yeah. So I think that's I'm trying to think if there's any other sort of like reference that would be fun to…
Heather: I'm going to check out some Chaplin.
Amy: Yeah. I should probably watch the movie “Chaplin”. I've never seen
Heather: And that's available on HBO
Amy: Okay good. We have HBO. Yeah, and I love Robert Downey Jr.
Amoreena: And you know, check out his work. I mean, “The Great Dictator” especially right now it's a good watch.
Amy: Okay. okay. I haven't seen that either.
Amoreena: And another law that was Coogan's Law was for Jackie Coogan who starred with Charlie Chaplin in “The Kid”.
Heather: And what was that law about?
Amoreena: his parents took his money!
Heather: Oh, okay.
Amoreena: Parents took all his money. And so Coogan's law was named for Jackie Coogan the child actor from 1921. The Kid. Yeah. That a certain amount of money has to be put in a trust. But Jackie Coogan went on to play Uncle Fester on the Addams family.
Amy: oh, really? Oh my God. I had no idea that was him.
Heather: And that's still, obviously there are child actors benefiting from that to this day.
Amoreena: Yup. Yup. Coogan's law is very, still a thing. And you know Paul Peterson? He was a child actor from the Donna Reed show, but he was always like a huge child star advocate.
Amoreena: And I really know about that stuff because of. Nick-at-Nite.
Amy: oh, the old stuff is so fun. Do you have you guys heard the podcast, You Must Remember This.”?
Amy: She covers a lot of really good stuff. Really interesting stories. Especially the old like Thelma Todd. You know, how did she really die and all that stuff. Anything that has like a true crime bent to it and it's always fun for me anyway.
Amoreena: Well, yeah, there was it Jean Harlow's husband that….Yeah, there's just, there's crazy stories. And now that there really isn't anyone around to tell the tale. anymore which I guess was why Scotty Bowers Put his book out. It was like, well, they're all dead now.
Amy: Yeah. Yeah
Amoreena: I think he passed away
Amy: I think. He did fairly recently. Yeah. I think so.
Amoreena: But Yeah. No That is such a great read.
Amy: It's a wild ride, man. I lent it to everybody. I knew. Who hadn't…
Amoreena: how much he loved his work. He loved it.
Amoreena: Like he took genuine joy in hooking people up.
Amy: Yeah. Yeah. You know, doing the Lord's work.
Amoreena: right? Because back then with you and especially back then you still had the moral codes. You know, God forbid you were seen with a woman let alone you know maybe someone, a man. It just, so keeping in on the down-low..
Amy: Yeah. Cool. All. All right. Anything else we should cover?
Heather: I think we're good. This was very interesting. Thank you Amoreena.
Amy: Yes. Thank you.
Heather: I've got some movies to watch, books..
Amy: Yeah, we've got a list.
Heather: To read.
Amy: Yeah. Yeah. Cool. Cool. Alright, thank you.
Amoreena: Well, thank you.