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:
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.”)
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.