Dec. 24. 1937: Betty Braun Healy disputes the autopsy results in the death of Ted Healy.
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.
In the previous installment, we turned to the pages of the Los Angeles Examiner for a detailed account of Ted Healy’s funeral, the best of the reports published in four major Los Angeles daily papers. In contrast to the Examiner’s account that 300 people attended the funeral, the Daily News rather curiously said: “services were held in St. Augustine’s Catholic Church with only a handful of film stars in attendance.”
Now it’s time to look at the immediate aftermath of Healy’s death.
As we have seen in earlier posts, everyone endorsed the conclusion of the coroner, based on the autopsy, that Ted Healy died of natural causes. The coroner, the autopsy surgeon, the police, Healy’s widow, his sister, his manager and eventually Dist. Atty. Buron Fitts, all agreed that:
acute toxic nephritis was the major cause of demise and declared the cut and bruises were “only superficial and not contributory toward death.” (Los Angeles Herald-Express, Dec. 25, 1937)
That is, everyone except his ex-wife, Betty Braun Healy, who was extremely upset about everything. She didn’t believe that Healy died of natural causes, she didn’t believe that he was broke, she didn’t believe that he died without life insurance and she most certainly did not believe that he died without a will and left her nothing.
Which is, in fact, exactly what he did.
Not only did Betty Braun Healy get nothing when Healy died, she also lost her alimony of $150 a week or $2,509.33 in today’s money. And she was furious.
All the local papers said something about her complaints, but Herald-Express was especially interested and reported them in detail (Dec. 24, 1937):
“I’m convinced there was foul play in connection with the death of Ted Healy.”
So today declared Mrs. Betty B. Healy, the former wife of the film comedian, who died suddenly Tuesday at his home in West Los Angeles.
At the same time, she said he planned to go to Dist. Atty. Buron Fitts and ask an inquiry into the comedian’s death because of facts which she has uncovered in an investigation she has been making.
“I’ve found witnesses who saw Ted in two fights last Sunday night,” she said. “One of these was inside the Trocadero and the other outside.
“And there are a lot of questions that are certainly lacking answers.”
She [So?] declared the woman who was Healy’s former stage partner and wife until 193 , (sic) was in his Hollywood apartment. [This sentence is garbled in the original].
“I saw Ted Saturday night in the presence of other people. He told me that he had never felt better in his life; that he had been taking better care of himself and that he had not been drinking for at least six months. We were in a cafe discussing a business matter and Ted drank coffee and declared he’d never drink again as he did once upon a time.”
Mrs. Healy, whom Ted married in Indianapolis, Ind., in 1923, said she had been making an independent investigation of Ted’s death.
“I’m convinced that beating Ted got had a lot to do with it, and I don’t at all like the way I’ve been told by some people to ‘shut up’ about the affair,” she said.
“I simply can’t sit calmly and quietly by and see the husband of my girlhood and my partner of many years in the theater die beaten and battered without asking the ‘why’ of things that others seem so willing to pass over without question.
“Why can’t the police say openly who it was that beat Ted Healy so severely that he sobbed with pain when he was led to the doctor at the Plaza Hotel?
“Why wasn’t the man who admitted hitting Ted at the Troc bar questioned by the police instead of just giving his statement to a newspaper?
“Why were none of the witnesses that have come to me with their stories questioned by police?
“Why was I told to hush and to say nothing about the things that have been told me?
“Those are just some of the questions I want answered.
“Ted never looked better in the 16 years I’ve known him than he did Saturday night. He was filled with the joy of life and with plans for the future for his new baby. He told me of his real estate plans — he was planning to build nine houses on Vermont Avenue and wanted me to go look at the site and see what I thought of the idea. He also spoke of his new picture and said he hoped it brought him the success he thought it would.
“He said he expected to make a half-million dollars during the coming year. He expressed great interest in the story that I sent to Warner Brothers for consideration by them because it was written around the neighborhood where Ted’s youth was spent.
“In my estimation, the death of Teddy is just another of the Hollywood deaths that are so surrounded with mystery — whys no one seems to know.
“Why can’t everything be open and natural and frank? Why is someone always being covered up? Who is being protected in this death of my ex-husband — because I’m confident that SOMEONE IS being protected.
“I’m not afraid to tell what I know or to speak the name of the witnesses who have come to me with information which I know the police should have found if they made a real investigation into this death. I don’t care who this hits. I’m going to demand that all of these facts be investigated thoroughly.
“Ted Healy is dead, and as his wife for 10 years and his very close friend right to the time of his death I feel I have a right to have the questions I ask answered.
“It’s ridiculous to say Ted suffered with heart trouble. If he had, I’d have known it. I never heard of his kidneys being infected either.
The loud protests of Healy’s ex-wife drew angry responses from his sister and his widow. (Los Angeles Examiner, Dec. 26, 1937)
In the University Hospital at Culver City, where she is nursing her 8-day-old son, Mrs. Betty Hickman Healy, her eyes red from weeping, broke the silence she has maintained since the actor died.
WIFE MAKES STATEMENT
“I resent bitterly,” she said, “the attempts made by Ted’s former wife to inject mystery into the case. She has no right to do so. She had no right to demand an investigation. My family physician assures me there is no need for one. Ted had not been drinking for eight months until the baby was born. Then he took a few drinks to celebrate our happiness which has ended in such appalling tragedy. But he must have been in bad shape physically for a long time without letting me know it.”
At the same time, Marcia Healy, the sister, at the home of Mrs. Moe Howard, wife of one of the “Three Original Stooges,” who trouped to fame in vaudeville with Healy, voiced her disapproval of the first Mrs. Healy’s attitude. With her at the Howard home in Beverly Hills were Mrs. Curly Howard and Mrs. Larry Fine, wives of the other two “Stooges.”
“I had been with Ted constantly since Dec. 14,” said Miss Healy. “Last Sunday night I made the mistake of letting him slip away from home. He went to the Trocadero Cafe. At 3 a.m., he telephoned me and asked me to go to Clara Bow’s It Cafe in Hollywood and get him. He said he had two stitches in his head.
“I telephoned to Jack Marcus, his manager, and told him to go get Ted. Jack got him and took him to Ted’s home. I know because I followed in my car.
“Ted’s first wife is, in my opinion, seeking self-glory in demanding an investigation of Ted’s death. I am satisfied with the police investigation. If I thought he had been murdered I would be the first to demand an investigation. Until his baby was born he had not been drinking since our mother’s death last April.”
The Los Angeles Examiner reported on threats of blacklisting that Betty Braun Healy claimed to have received. (Dec. 29, 1937):
Telephoned threats to fix her so she would “never work again in Hollywood” if she persisted in her demand for an inquiry into Ted Healy’s death were revealed yesterday by the comedian’s first wife, Betty Braun Healy.
At the same time, Mrs. Healy, the actor’s vaudeville partner for many years, charged:
She believes Healy left a will providing for her as well as for his young widow, Betty Hickman Healy, and the infant son born only four days before his death Dec. 21.
And that she does not believe that Healy, as close friends said, died penniless. She knew, she declared, that Healy owned Los Feliz boulevard real estate, as well as valuable ranch property. She was told, she added, that he took out a $100,000 life insurance policy shortly before his death.
The first Mrs. Healy’s sensational declarations came as an aftermath to her conference with Dist. Atty. Buron Fitts, at which she had been prepared to demand an investigation into a beating at the Trocadero Cafe Healy was said to have been given 36 hours before he died.
But she admitted that Fitts had convinced her an inquiry was unnecessary.
To be continued.