Wikipedia: Murder and Myth — Part 2

Wikipedia -- Wallace Beery

In case you just tuned in, I’m using the alleged beating of Ted Healy by Wallace Beery et al to examine Wikipedia’s accuracy. So far, it hasn’t been good. Yesterday, I looked at the eight different accounts in Wikipedia and noted their inconsistencies – make that contradictions. A disaster for an encyclopedia, but to be expected for a fan-based site created by “citizen scholars.”

Today, let’s see if we can backtrack the story to its origins.

A search of Google books reveals nothing linking Beery to Ted Healy’s death from 1937 to 1960, from 1960 to 1980 and from 1980 to 2000.

Then we find two books that mention the alleged incident: E.J. Fleming’s “The Fixers,”  published in November 2004, and  Jeff and Tom Forrester’s “The Three Stooges.” According to Amazon, The Foresters’ book was published Nov. 29, 2004, but Worldcat gives it a 2002 date, which seems more likely as it’s cited in “The Fixers.”

Both books deal with this story. But for now, because none of the Wikipedia entries cites the Forresters’ book (or didn’t at the precise moment I checked them; remember that Wikipedia entries can be changed at any time), let’s put it aside and concentrate on “The Fixers.”

Note that E.J. Fleming’s “The Fixers” received absolutely zero reviews from any reputable publication. Not the Los Angeles Times, not the New York Times, not the New York Review of Books, not Publishers Weekly. Nowhere. The book’s Amazon page uses one word –  “interesting” – from Communication Booknotes Quarterly. Not the kind of credentials one would like to see on source material for an encyclopedia – especially when accusing conveniently dead people in a killing – but perfectly acceptable for Wikipedia.

“The Fixers” says, Page 175:

The Fixers, Page 175
Notice that there is a footnote here. Let’s see where it leads. One of our mottos at the Daily Mirror is: “Who said so and how do they know?”

image

Footnote No. 195 says “Barney Oldfield, interview with the author.”

Presumably, Oldfield was a main informant on this incident. But who can tell what was actually said by the now conveniently dead source (d. 2003, before publication of the book), who appears to be a troubling informant at that? (Notice the citation listing the Forresters’ book – it refers to a quote from Moe Howard, describing Healy – rather than the alleged incident with Beery.)

Who was Arthur “Barney” Oldfield, known as Col. Barney Oldfield in later years?   IMDB refers to him as Arthur Dale Oldfield and as a rule of thumb, when you find discrepancies  on a person’s name, prepare for more trouble ahead. According to findagrave, which has a picture of his tombstone (inscribed A. Barney Oldfield), his name was Arthur Barney Oldfield, born Dec. 18, 1909, and died April 26, 2003, so at least that question is presumably settled.

Based on what I have found in newspaper clips and online obituaries, Oldfield was an individual whose long career as a public information officer in the military is well-documented, but whose Hollywood connections are unclear.

This earliest mention of Oldfield I can find in The Times clips is a June 12, 1951, story that identifies him as an Air Force public relations officer. On Dec. 31, 1952, he is mentioned in a Hedda Hopper column. In a Feb. 19, 1962, story, he is identified as chief of information services of the North American Air Defense Command, Colorado Springs. A Nov. 22, 1975, letter to the editor by Col. Barney Oldfield, USAF retired says he is living in Beverly Hills. A Nov. 27, 1980,  story identifies him as the author of the novel “Operation Narcissus.”

A March 14, 1983, piece by the late Charles Hillinger says  Tom Rhone and Oldfield wrote a book about German pilots learning to fly in Arizona. And a May 1, 1983, story identifies him as a consultant to Litton Industries.

So far, from 1951 to 1983, there is no trace of any Hollywood credentials in The Times clips. So let’s keep digging.

A Dec. 22, 1989, Times story describes Oldfield as “a Beverly Hills author, publicist and consultant on Soviet affairs to the Litton Corp.” A May 22, 1994, profile by Linda Feldman says he was in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” because he saw every movie that came out from late 1936 to late 1937.

Here’s more: A Sept. 17, 2000, Associated Press profile identifies him as a Nebraska native born in 1909, and a graduate of the University of Nebraska who worked as a reporter in Lincoln, Neb., and was “Variety magazine’s first Nebraska correspondent in 1930.” (I will refrain from making a snide comment here).

During World War II, he was an Army reservist, the profile says, who went to England to “recruit other journalists willing to accompany American paratroopers on the Normandy invasion.” On D-day, he wrote Allied communiques from England.

After the war, according to this version at least, he worked as a Warner Bros. publicist, “acting as press agent for stars like Errol Flynn, Elizabeth Taylor and Ronald Reagan.” Oldfield went back into the military and then did public relations for Litton Industries, this biography says.

Do you see anything that places him in Hollywood for any length of time in 1937, or to indicate that he had firsthand knowledge of the incident?

Oho! What’s this? Looks like in 1937 he was reviewing movies for the Nebraska State Journal and judging by the photos on his IMDB page, he got occasional junkets to Hollywood. These appear to be the generic publicity shots for the folks back home of Oldfield with Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Lucille Ball, Lana Turner, Tyrone Power, Cary Grant, Maureen O’Sullivan, Mickey Rooney, Sonja Henie and an amazingly young Bob Hope. One photo with Ronald Reagan appears to be from the late 1940s, otherwise they all appear to be from the mid-1930s.   (At least that’s better than Scotty Bowers, who did not produce a single photograph to bolster his claims in “Full Service.”)

He also had a radio show called “Hollywood Highlights” up to about 1940 on Nebraska radio station KFOR, according to his Variety obituary.  Here’s some information on his radio career in Nebraska.

An obituary on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln website shows no Hollywood connection after 1940. Instead it’s a career of military service in the Army and then in the Air Force as of 1949. After all that digging, I am unable to confirm claims that he was in Hollywood after the war, representing various Warner Bros. stars, raising serious questions about his reliability as a source.  I may seem unduly skeptical, but I have encountered far, far too many fabricated stories about old Hollywood not to check them thoroughly.

Here’s the bottom line: There is nothing in the clips or in online obituaries or profiles to show that Oldfield was at the Trocadero on the night in question, or that he was even in Los Angeles. It’s more than likely he was in Nebraska at the time and that he picked up the story someplace at a later date – but when? And from whom? Friends, this isn’t good enough.

To be continued.

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I work at the Los Angeles Times
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11 Responses to Wikipedia: Murder and Myth — Part 2

  1. Eve says:

    Well, now, bending over backwards to be fair, it is POSSIBLE that Oldfield was at the Troc or at least in Hollywood at the time. Assuming that he really did tell Fleming about this fight, the question is, how reliable is the information? Was he there? Did he hear about it second-hand? If you are using only one source on such an important item as a killing, it is best to preface it with “according to an unsubstantiated story from Barney Oldfield . . .” Fleming certainly should have fleshed this out in the interview and in the book.

  2. Dick Morris says:

    Here is some additional information that I was able to glean from Ancestry.com on Barney Oldfield –

    1936 and 1938 Lincoln, Nebraska directories list Barney Oldfield as a Reporter.

    The Lincoln, Nebraska Evening State Journal for April 30, 1937 said, “Mr. and Mrs. Arthur “Barney” Oldfield will leave Saturday for Hollywood, Calif., where they will spend two weeks visiting the studios. Mr. Oldfield will also write several feature stories for the Journal.” I didn’t have the patience to read the columns and articles to see who he claimed to have actually interviewed.

    Barney Oldfield had a byline on the Theater Topics column in the Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star from about 1937 until 1940. He was apparently a bit of a celebrity in Lincoln during the late 1930s.

    30 year old Arthur B. Oldfield shows up in Lincoln in the 1940 census as a commentator in the newspaper and radio industry.

    In August of 1940 he wrote several articles about the national guard, apparently while he was in training.

    The (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal for November 27, 1940 says several reservists were ordered to duty, including Capt. Arthur B. Oldfield for one year with the Third infantry at Fort Crook. The (Lincoln) Nebraska State Journal on that date announced that he reported for duty in Omaha.

    The Theater Topics column from December, 1940 through mid-1943 was bylined “By BARNEY OLDFIELD’s Stand-in.

    In February, 1944 he was identified as “former Journal movie editor” and was serving with General Eisenhower’s staff in England. He continued to write for the paper and received regular mention.

    A March 10, 1946 article in the The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) says he is coming back as a regular feature, but, “Instead of writing the column from Lincoln, depending on his friends in Hollywood keeping him informed, he will be writing it from Hollywood.” his reason for being in Hollywood was “a special project for the Publicity Department of the Warner Brother Studio . . .” It appears that this arrangement terminated at the end of 1946. This article also said his wife had been his stand-in until she also joined the Army in 1943.

    Col. Barney Oldfield arrived in Montreal, Canada from Kelavic in 1951.

    In several 1955-1960 Colorado Springs directories the Barney Oldfield listing shows him as in the Air Force.

    Arthur Barney Oldfield got a 30-day tourist visa to visit Brazil in 1962.

    It appears that his full name when born may have been Arthur Dale Oldfield.

  3. Dick Morris says:

    By the way, even though I like Findagrave and have contributed a number of entries, it is another user created product and has the same potential for misinformation as Wikipedia.

  4. Stacia says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing where this ends up! I gotta admit, I’m shocked Oldfield had Hollywood connections at all.

  5. has this been posted to Wikipedia?

    • lmharnisch says:

      Michael: I have written about this elsewhere. I was an early adopter of Wikipedia, but it’s so overrun with wingnuts — especially on the Black Dahlia case — that I have given up. Trying to correct a mistake in Wikipedia is like trying to hold back the ocean with your hands. I don’t post anything to Wikipedia anymore and I know many knowledgeable people who have had the same experience. Nothing but trolls and crackpots.

  6. I was being facetious. I know, I know, it’s hard to do facetious in six words or less.

  7. Harry Ovecoat says:

    Tip of the cap for your excellent blog. I understand your doubt when it comes to Wikipedia, pretty much useless, but in this case I heard this story from several places as a kid, long before any of these books were published. My pop worked for Fox and MGM starting right after WWII in various admin VP jobs. I was a big James Bond fan as a kid and I distinctly remember my pop saying to my mom “Ya know Cubby Broccoli killed a man.” The other one he liked to tell was about John Houseman being convicted or tried for manslaughter after a bar brawl. Anyway, anecdotal for sure, but I am sure I heard this story as a kid.

    C.

    • lmharnisch says:

      Thanks for sharing. I’m sure you heard this story as a kid and it’s not hard to imagine how it got kicked around the Hollywood watering holes and backlots to liven up the conversation while waiting for the director of photography to finish setting the lights or the makeup artist to redo someone’s face. But when you try to backtrack this story to a source, you find it’s just folklore. Stay tuned for more from the pages of the Examiner, Herald-Express, Daily News and The Times.

  8. Pingback: Playground to the Stars » What Really Happened the Night Ted Healy Was Beaten at Cafe Trocadero?

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