Welcome to part two of our story about Clara Bow’s relationship with secretary, Daisy DeVoe…
Despite the items in the safety deposit box, the threats of blackmail and the financial questions, Daisy DeVoe now began looking for answers regards why she had been fired from Clara’s employ. When she did not receive any, she poured out her heart to a group of newspaper reporters. “For two years I have pulled Clara out of plenty of messes and saved her plenty of money,” she told them. She claimed the actress owed thousands of pounds at Nevada gambling joints and that she suffered from insomnia. The latter, DeVoe said, meant that she had to work twenty-four hours a day whether she wanted to or not. “If there were forty-eight hours in a day I would have worked forty-eight . . . I could never leave her alone at any time,” she said.
Clara issued a short statement of her own. “The more I talk the worse it gets,” she said, “so I’m not saying much. If I cannot let go a secretary without a lot of fuss why should I talk? I fired Daisy for a personal reason and this reason is nobody’s business but my own. So that’s that.”
Daisy hired attorney Nathan O. Freedman, and instructed him to file a suit against District Attorney Buron Fitts and Bow herself. The reason, she claimed, was to retrieve personal items that had been taken by the investigators. “I have returned everything that belonged to Clara,” she said. “I also gave her back her fur coat, but why do they keep my cash and jewels and insurance papers? My attorney has made demand for them and they will not return them. We are going to sue.”
The sheer bloody-mindedness of Daisy DeVoe inevitably led not to a lawsuit against Bow and Fitts, but to the arrest and prosecution of the secretary herself. She was accused of thirty-seven counts of grand theft, adding up to $16,000 in total, and a trial was set for January 1931.
From the very beginning, the trial threatened to reveal more about Clara’s personal life than she ever wanted to show. Her finances were dissected and it was claimed that in the space of just twenty months, the actress had spent $350,000 on her social life and living expenses. Clara’s lawyers retaliated by claiming that some of the money was not spent by Bow herself, but by Daisy DeVoe. The woman had even ordered gifts for herself out of Clara’s money, and had showed no remorse for the liberties she’d taken.
On the first day, Clara arrived at court wearing dark glasses, and suffering from a cold. DeVoe, meanwhile, seemed to be gloating and smiling her way through the proceedings. Clara saw what was going on and suddenly shot forward in her chair. “Go ahead and sneer Daisy, that’s all right,” she shouted from across the court. The press loved it, but the District Attorney did not. Jumping to his feet, he ordered Bow to sit down and cautioned her for interrupting the court.
Clara’s turn on the stand was something everybody was waiting for. During her time there, she was asked if she had ever authorized cheques to be written by Daisy DeVoe. “Did you give permission for whisky purchases,” she was asked.
“I authorized Miss DeVoe to spend whatever was necessary to maintain the household,” she replied. “I trusted her. If she wanted to buy whisky, why I supposed she made out the checks and signed them.” Did she ever check the books, DeVoe’s attorney demanded to know. “No, that’s why I was so silly. I trusted her.”
When asked about the birthday present she had apparently (and unknowingly) herself, along with the gifts DeVoe had bought for her own use, Clara broke down in tears. Then more embarrassment came when the telegrams from various beaus were introduced into evidence and read aloud in court. A document was also revealed that apparently showed Daisy DeVoe being asked how much of Clara’s money she had appropriated for her own use. “About $35,000. I can’t tell exactly,” she replied. She had begun to collect the money, she said, around September or October 1929.
The reason she took the cash seemed to be in a fit of anger and spite. “It’s so hard to see a girl like Clara with everything and no respect for anything,” she said. “It was her fault.” She then tried to convince the court that the reason why a diamond-studded vanity case had been found in DeVoe’s safety deposit box, was because Clara had showed no respect for the object to the point of letting her dogs play with it. When asked why she had withdrawn $22,000 from the “Special Account,” she was equally dismissive. It was because she didn’t want Clara to give it to boyfriend Rex Bell, she said.
Then there came a string of claims that caused Clara’s world to turn upside down. Her former secretary told the court that Bow gambled six nights a week, drank to extremes, bought vast amounts of gifts for boyfriends, and lavished married lover Earl Pearson, with a $4,000 watch. It was all too much for the actress, and she retired from the court and took straight to her bed. “The strain of her trial was telling on me. Never would I have been able to go through with it had it not been for the unswerving loyalty of the man who is now my husband,” she later said.
On 23 January 1931, all evidence had been given and the jury were ready to give their verdict. Ralph H. Boynton, foreman of the jury, stood up to speak.
“Have you reached a verdict?” asked the judge.
“Yes sir, we have, your Honour,” replied Boynton.
As the judge read the outcome to himself, the strains of the case finally took their toll on DeVoe. She laid her head on the table and sobbed uncontrollably to herself; aware that her fate now lay in the hands of the judge and jury. Finally the judge spoke. Daisy, he said, was not guilty of most of the counts brought against her, but was guilty of one: having bought herself a fur coat with money Clara believed was to pay her income tax bill. The jury pleaded for a recommendation of leniency, and unbelievably, Clara did too. “Even a note I sent to the judge in all sincerity had failed to sway the verdict of the court. And Daisy was convicted.”
As she did before the trial, DeVoe refused to go quietly and shouted about the unfairness of it all to everyone in court. “If they were going to convict me at all why didn’t they convict me of everything?” she screamed. “I’m just as guilty on all counts as I am on one… I can’t stand it; I can’t stand it,” she cried, as she was finally led to jail.
In Beverly Hills, Clara was still ill as a result of flu and stress. Contacted by reporters, her statement was short and sweet: “I harbour no ill will against Miss DeVoe,” she said. “For Daisy’s sake, I hope the court will be lenient.”
Daisy DeVoe tried to obtain her release from prison for some time after the court decision, and was actually let out on bond at one point, only to be taken back when she failed to win an appeal. Meanwhile Clara was still ill, and had begun hearing things whispered about her that made her think her worries were only just beginning. “When I was approached on the matter of paying money to keep statements about me from appearing in print, I was dumbfounded. What in the world could be said about me that already had not been printed? I had done nothing. I knew the statements to be entire fabrications. But what could I do?”
The statements Clara spoke about were made by publisher Frederick Girnau, who had been arrested for sending an obscene article about Clara through the US mail service. The story was full of hate and lies, though this did not stop people from being interested and lapping up every juicy detail. Clara was still very ill, both mentally and physically. The strain of the DeVoe trial was still fresh in her mind, and she began to buckle. “There was only one thing I could do and retain my self-respect,” she later said. “That was – fight. I gave my decision from a sick bed. This, I thought, is the end. I shall vindicate myself, then forget Hollywood forever. At times, Hollywood had been like a godmother, giving me joy and happiness. At other times it had turned like a vicious old hag, threatening to claw me apart, body and soul. It isn’t worth it, I thought.”
When Clara started to hint that she would not be in Hollywood much longer, studio boss B. P. Schulberg pretended not to be too worried. The actress had said she would quit on numerous occasions before, and nothing ever came of it. He sat back and watched the drama unfold, happily oblivious to the sheer mental devastation that his star was going through. “The following weeks were torture,” Clara said. “Newsboys went through the streets of Los Angeles and Hollywood shouting their messages that in their arms was the “true” version of my inner life. They stormed the various studios with their story which, even though unfounded and grossly malicious, was bound to poison the minds of many readers. Those were very trying days.”
Her health continued to suffer. “I dared not expose myself in the daytime. I could not sleep at night. Why, I asked myself time and again, does this sort of thing have to happen to me? How can anybody think of such lies, and furthermore, why should they wish to wreck my whole life with such slander?”
For now, Clara had to ride the storm and see her life ripped apart in a string of tall tales and scandal. Before long, however, the strain of the past few years proved too much, and the twenty-five year old actress was admitted to a sanatorium.
I hope you have enjoyed reading the articles about Clara Bow and Daisy DeVoe! If you would like to find out more about Clara Bow, there is a wonderful biography by David Stenn, entitled Runnin’ Wild. You can also visit the fantastic Media History Digital Library, for articles written in Clara’s lifetime. Many of the quotes and photos for this article were found there. You can find the website, here.
Until next time,