The Death of Ted Healy — Part 11

Dec. 25, 1937, Los Angeles Examiner

Dec. 25, 1937: Ted Healy “never learned to save money.” (Los Angeles Examiner)

In case you just tuned in, we are nearing the end of a long journey that began in April, when I stumbled across a Wikipedia entry claiming that Wallace Beery was involved in beating Ted Healy to death in the parking lot of the Cafe Trocadero in December 1937.

Wikipedia: Murder and Myth: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17| Part 18

In our last installment, we looked at Healy’s final bender and his death. Now we are going to look at the aftermath.

The Death of Ted Healy: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

It is the job of the Los Angeles County coroner’s office to identify the dead and determine why they died.

This is no longer true, but in the historic period, if the manner of death appeared to be a crime, an inquest was held in which witnesses (usually a relative to identify the deceased, the last person to see the victim, the investigating officers and the medical examiner) gave testimony. After hearing the testimony, a coroner’s jury determined whether the individual died at the hands of another.

If there was no question about someone’s death, and a doctor agreed to sign a death certificate, the body was released to a mortuary.

Healy’s body was taken to Noice, Smith & Salisbury mortuary in Culver City and embalmed. In some of the news coverage there was a question about why the body was embalmed before an autopsy was conducted. It was later reported that the mortuary had been told that Healy died a natural death, and therefore it acted appropriately in embalming him.

Note to conspiracy buffs: The same thing occurred the previous month in the sensational but now forgotten case of Paul A. Wright, who shot his wife, Evelyn, and his friend John Kimmel, on Nov. 9, 1937, after catching them in what we will delicately call a romantic moment.  (Daily News, Dec, 22, 1937).

According to the Daily News (Dec. 22, 1937), Dr. Wyant Lamont, who treated Healy at his home, wanted to attend an autopsy and “said vomiting spells frequently follow a skull fracture or cerebral hemorrhage, but declined to comment on injuries Healy is said to have suffered in the cafe row.”

Los Angeles County Coroner Frank A. Nance was “indignant at first,” but “later exonerated the mortuary of any blame, declaring the mortician had been notified that Healy died of natural causes. He said the mortician had not been told of the possibility of an autopsy.” (Daily News, Dec. 22, 1937)

The Daily News (Dec. 22, 1937) also said:

“The autopsy was postponed until today to allow the embalming fluid to “set,” as the fluid would interfere with chemical tests for alcoholism, it was explained. This is was considered advisable — as Dr. Lamont  was reported to have told police there was a possibility Healy died of alcoholism.

On Dec. 22, 1937, the Herald-Express reported:

Dr. A.F. Wagner, county autopsy surgeon, performed the autopsy at the county morgue today with Coroner Frank Nance and Detective Lts. Joe Filkas and William H. Baker as witnesses.

Dr. Wagner said Healy’s lungs were congested and that the 41-year-old comedian had suffered from a serious kidney condition. Wagner also added that the “celebrating” that Healy had been reportedly doing since the birth of a son to his wife last Friday might have been a “contributory factor in the death.”

“I have found that the cuts and bruises on Mr. Healy’s face and head were entirely superficial in nature and did not cause or contribute to death,” Dr. Wagner declared.

The Los Angeles Examiner reported (Dec. 23, 1937):

Dr. Wagner found: That Healy died of acute toxic nephritis caused by acute and chronic alcoholism, which weakened the heart, kidneys and liver.

He declared no injury to the skull or brain had been caused by the blow which resulted in the laceration. There were no blood clots on the brain and there was no evidence of cerebral hemorrhage.

And except for Betty Braun Healy, everyone accepted this decision, even Dr. Lamont, who is assigned the role of skeptic in the “Wallace Beery beat Ted Healy to death” yarn.

As the Los Angeles Examiner reported on Dec. 29, 1937:

The family physician, Dr. Wyant Lamont, stated by telephone that he was in precise accord with the autopsy surgeon.

Update: Because the autopsy determined that Healy died of natural causes, there was no need for an inquest and none was held.

To be continued.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1937, Film, Hollywood and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Death of Ted Healy — Part 11

  1. Cory Franklin says:

    One thing about the story intrigues me.
    According to the research, Healy was treated for seizures by a doctor before dying on his way to the hospital. The doctor apparently administered a sedative. I’m speculating that in Healy’s weakened condition the sedative may have caused him to stop breathing (basically what happened to Michael Jackson – different condition, different drug, same outcome). This is not a rare side effect in someone who is treated for alcohol withdrawal and in those days it would have been hard to monitor the correct dose of medication to give someone in Healy’s condition. Moreover without a toxicology analysis, which I doubt they did or even had back then, there would be no obvious cause of fairly sudden death except for signs of chronic alcoholism and minor trauma..
    So my thought is maybe the death of Ted Healy was caused inadvertently by his doctor.


    • lmharnisch says:

      Except that’s not what occurred.

      Healy was treated at his home and was never taken to a hospital. The nurse, the doctor (Dr. Wyant Lamont) and the heart specialist (Dr. John Ruddock) all came to Healy’s house.

      According to news accounts, Lamont administered a sedative at some point on Monday, Healy lapsed into a coma about 3 a.m. Tuesday (still breathing) and died at 11:30 a.m., 8 1/2 hours after going into the coma. It’s hard to imagine the effects of any sedative lasting that long.

      Given the presence of a nurse, Lamont and Ruddock, I have no reason to believe that Healy received anything other than the best of care as it existed in 1937 under those circumstances (treating him at home rather than at a hospital). Obviously, he would be treated far differently today and his life may well have been saved.

      Because we don’t know what sedative he was given, or the dosage, I’m uncomfortable speculating to any great degree about what might have occurred because you have nothing to go on but thin air and possibly a nebulous desire not to accept the official findings.

      These men were medical experts of the day. They treated Healy and conducted the autopsy. I don’t see any reason to second-guess them, given the lack of specifics.


  2. Richard Wegescheide says:

    They list in the article that Frank Orsatti is an ‘agent’. Didn’t he own Orsatti’s Italian Restaurant in LA and was brother to Ernie Orsatti, the Saint Louis Cardinal center-fielder and Warner Brothers stuntman?


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