As longtime readers know, the L.A. Daily Mirror is usually a Wikipedia-free zone. I consider it a sinkhole of myth, mistakes, rumors and folklore that is created and maintained by “citizen scholars,” crackpots, coding tweakers, factoid zealots and folks in tinfoil hats. (There – that should get a rebuttal from the usual suspects).
Yes, it’s good for looking up “When was the War of 1812?” or “What color was the old gray mare?” and if you’re seeking a painfully detailed plot summary of every episode of “The Simpsons” or a lengthy biography of Eric Cartman, this place is for you. Otherwise, no.
However, I stumbled across this little jewel and when I managed to get my jaw off the floor, I thought it might be a good way to explore Wikipedia’s fundamental problems and at the same time delve into Hollywood myth. This is going to be a long, tedious examination of Wikipedia and the historical record on a molecular level. Stooge fans, I think you’re going to enjoy this.
Here’s the quote. Or at least here’s the quote as of April 14, 2013, at 8:40 a.m. In one of Wikipedia’s fundamental flaws, entries are prone to endless revisions, “revert wars” and general mayhem in which a page is blanked and replaced by something like “Jason is gay – ha ha.” What I see may not be what you see in a week, a month or even in the next five minutes.
According to E.J. Fleming’s book The Fixers (about MGM’s legendary “fixers” Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling), Beery, gangster Pat DiCicco, and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli (who was also DiCicco’s cousin and eventual producer of the James Bond films) allegedly beat comedian Ted Healy to death in the parking lot of the Trocadero nightclub in 1937. The book claims that Beery was sent to Europe by the studio for a few months, while a story was concocted that three college students had killed Healy. Immigration records confirm a four-month-long trip to Europe on Beery’s part immediately after Healy’s death, ending April 17, 1938. A pencil drawing of Beery survives that was done on a film set by Healy, an amateur artist as well as movie actor and the organizer and original leader of The Three Stooges.
To which I say: Oh really?
Interestingly enough, we find almost the identical wording in the entry on Thelma Todd. Someone has thoughtfully added the date of the beating as Dec. 21, 1937 – this being Wikipedia, it is, of course, the incorrect date, but we’ll leave that for later:
Similar language is used in the entry for “The Good Old Soak,” a 1937 film featuring Beery and Healy. Notice that the “pencil drawing” has become “a superb pencil drawing.” Wikipedia, you make this all too easy.
Let’s see where else we can find this tale:
Here’s the entry on Albert Broccoli, one of Beery’s alleged accomplices. Notice that in this version, Healy was killed in a barroom brawl, rather than in the parking lot.
In the entry on the Trocadero, Healy dies shortly after a fight in the parking lot, beaten by Wallace Beery and MGM studio executive Eddie Mannix. Yes, Mannix has gone from fixer to killer! Really, folks, shooting holes in Wikipedia is child’s play.
How about the Mannix entry?
This one says Healy was beaten to death in the parking lot.
And the Strickling entry?
It says Healy “died of injuries suffered in a brawl.”
And what do we find in the Ted Healy entry?
We have two competing versions, one mentioning “three college boys” and the other listing Beery, et al.
So we have a total of eight entries that mention this incident. Two of them are almost identical and the rest vary, in some cases tremendously. As far as I am concerned, the degree of conflicting information shows the fundamental flaws of Wikipedia – even without examining the purported source material. This would be intolerable in an actual encyclopedia. But in a fan-created and maintained website, it’s business as usual.
The question now is whether any of these entries have a factual basis. Nearly all of them cite E.J. Flemming’s “The Fixers” as a source. But who says that’s a reliable book in the first place?
To be continued.