Part 2 of the Patricia Douglas story.
Patty Douglas did not seek medical aid in the days following her assault. ‘I would’ve been too embarrassed. Someone would’ve seen me naked’, she said. No-one, not even her mother, had seen her naked body since she was a little girl. Consequently, her ordeal and the subsequent examination at the hospital had been extremely traumatic for her. She could not undergo another medical examination. She just couldn’t.
But she did go to the Roach Studios and told them what had happened. She was given her $7.50 like everyone else, then sent on her way. Nobody seemed the least bit interested or concerned for her. Her assailant was already home scot-free in Chicago. Patty was well aware that no-one ever accused a studio or linked one to a sexual assault. Not if they expected to keep working in this town. Anyone rash enough to do so would be blackballed by every studio, big or small. Another woman might have pressured MGM for money to keep quiet about the whole thing, but Patty Douglas had no intention of doing that. She only wanted vindication; someone to acknowledge what had happened to her and to, hopefully, guarantee it would not happen to anyone else.
A parking lot attendant named Clement Soth witnessed the rape and identified Ross fleeing the scene. By the time he was called to testify before a grand jury, however, he had a complete change of heart, stating categorically that Ross was not the attacker. Decades later, Soth’s middle-aged daughter tearfully admitted on camera that her father had perjured himself in exchange for lifetime employment as a driver at MGM. As Budd Schulberg recalled, ‘The power MGM had is unimaginable today. They owned everyone – the D.A., the L.A.P.D. They ran this place.’ When the D.A. ignored her letters, Patty went to the papers, but even there the cards were stacked against her. While the studio involved was not named, her name, address and photograph were all published! The majority of the public viewed her as a promiscuous ‘fallen woman’, a liar and a drunkard.
MGM employed the Pinkerton Detective Agency to track down every one of the 120 girls on the ‘party list’ and pressured them to tell the papers that there was no orgy – ‘just a jolly affair, with lots of good clean fun’, as 19 year-old Virginia Lee was happy to confide. Another girl, Grace Downs, described Patty as an ‘unrefined lush’ who had ‘swigged scotch from a quart bottle all night’. Sugar Geise said she saw Douglas ‘passed out’ in the Knickerbocker Hotel Bar. Her mother was a close friend of Buron Fitts, the corrupt D.A. A Roach Studio memo stated that Patty ‘must have propositioned’ many men who could testify to her solicitations. Unfortunately for MGM, the Pinkertons could only discover that, prior to the rape, she was ‘a tea-totalling virgin’. Roach Studio memos still exist today that discuss how perjurers were rewarded with work at the studio in exchange for telling lies to the grand jury. ‘It is highly imperative that we keep these people in good humor, and get them some kind of work’, wrote Roach attorney Victor Ford Collins. ‘May I again say – it is really important!’
Photographers snapped Ross confronting his victim at the
Outside the courtroom the press photographers literally ‘shoved’ Patty at her assailant, forcing them to look at each other as photographs were taken. One of these shots is reproduced here. The distraught girl was visibly upset by her treatment and ran from the room. She even contemplated throwing herself from a nearby window, but was restrained in time. The grand jury did not indict Ross, but if he and MGM thought that was the end of the issue they were in for a shock. Patricia Douglas was a lot tougher than she looked. She filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court a month later, this time accusing Ross, MGM ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix, and Hal Roach of conspiring to ‘defile, debauch and seduce’ her ‘for the immoral and sensual gratification of male guests.’ She asked for $500,000 in damages. When her case was dismissed she immediately filed suit in federal court on the grounds that the rape ‘violated her civil rights’. But she was fighting a losing battle. Her mother, having already demonstrated her lack of maternal interest in her daughter, appears to have been paid to go away by MGM’s lawyers whilst she was acting as Patricia’s legal guardian. Her lawyer may also have struck some kind of deal, for he failed to turn up at court on three occasions. Ultimately, Patty gave up the ghost and she and Mildred moved to Bakersfield and into obscurity.
MGM fixer Eddie Mannix died in 1963. Six years earlier LB Mayer had succumbed to leukemia. Sleazy D.A. Fitts did the world a favour by blowing his brains out a decade after Mannix shuffled off. As for the repulsive Mr. Ross, the unconvicted rapist of Patricia Douglas, he had the misfortune to die ravaged by rectal cancer about 10 months before Mayer’s demise. Patty lived through three marriages and divorces before passing away in 2003 at the age of 86. She never did fully recover from that day at the Roach Studio’s Wild West party all those years ago. After the collapse of her federal case she fell by the wayside. ‘I went from ‘Little Miss Innocent’ to a tramp’, she said just before her death. ‘I did it to demean myself. I was worthless, a ‘fallen woman’. Married three times in five years, two of her husbands were later exposed as bigamists. ‘I have never been in love’, she flatly stated. At 37 she was ‘all washed up with fellas’, and abstained from sex for the remainder of her life, nearly 50 years. ‘I was frigid’. When David Stenn found her in 2003, shortly before her death, Patsy (as she preferred to be called) had not even told her family about what had happened to her 66 years earlier. He convinced her that her story was important, that she was important, and that there was still time for the world to know the truth about her ordeal and the studio’s abominable cover-up. ‘Now I have something to live for’, she told him. ‘And for the first time I’m proud of myself.’ As for her taking on the MGM lion, she allowed herself a small pat on the back. ‘Pretty gutsy, wasn’t I?’
Patty at 86 shortly before her death in 2003
Today, in a studio film vault in Hollywood, there exists a one-reel short commemorating the 1937 Culver City Convention of 1937. It even shows LB Mayer himself announcing the festivities, as well as a few star cameos. And right there, seated at a table laden with booze and food, is the rapist of Patricia Douglas – one David Ross. The MGM heads had virtually expunged every newspaper story and record of the rape ever happening. But for this one small film Patty Douglas’s story might be deemed a figment of her imagination. It exists as a reminder of studio power, greed and corruption at its height.