It’s 1951, 27 years after Creighton Hale starred in a short film in which he has sex with a goat. Or so we’re told. Creighton appears for a few seconds in The Enforcer as a clerk in a music store whose PA system Humphrey Bogart commandeers so he can warn a young girl somewhere in the busy street that she’s in danger of being murdered. He’s the old man on the left:
Creighton’s only line is, "I beg your pardon?" To that degree, it’s similar to every role he’d had for the past 20 years.
Things hadn’t always been that way. When Creighton was younger he’d been a leading man, playing romantic action heroes first on Broadway and then in big Hollywood productions, most notably the 1927 silent movie, The Cat and the Canary:
And why not? After all, he had been called “the handsomest man on the stage or screen of England or America”.(1) Tastes were different then, of course:
However, 1927 also saw the release of the first feature-length talkie -- The Jazz Singer. Sound cinema ruined the careers of many household names, and Creighton fared no better than most. When silent film production collapsed, he was in his late 40s -- even without the demands of a new style of filmmaking, he would have been heading towards the end of his career as a leading man, which means that he was almost certainly viewed as being too old to make the transition to sound. The studios took the opportunity to get rid of a lot of old baggage, and within a few short years, Creighton was taking bit parts in B-movies like Death From a Distance (1935). He’s the man sitting on the left, in the back row:
Creighton’s round glasses were one of his trademarks, which contributed to his dismissal by some writers as “the poor man’s Harold Lloyd”.(2) However, for this early bit part, he isn’t wearing them. Obviously, no one involved in the film -- least of all Creighton -- wanted anyone to recognise him in such a minor role.
Born Patrick Creighton Hale Fitzgerald in Cork, Ireland, Creighton came to America with a troupe of actors in the early years of the 20th century, and quickly established himself as a leading man on Broadway. In 1914, he made his first trip out west, where he became a featured player in The Exploits of Elaine, a weekly serial that turned out to be one of the biggest hits of the year.
The Hollywood way of working was strange and exciting to Creighton, who would boast in later years of how the cast and crew would pile into two cars and drive off into the wilderness for a week, performing a script that would be written on the spot, with a plot that was dictated by the locations they happened upon.(3)
At first, he divided his time between serious theatre acting and acting in movies, but by the 1920s, just after he turned 40, he quit the stage for good. Hollywood offered not only a greater chance of nationwide fame and an opportunity to work in a groundbreaking new medium; it also allowed him to have an established home for the first time. Until then, as a stage actor, he had lived out of trunks, constantly moving from town to town.
As a contented movie star, under contract to D W Griffith and with a good record of starring roles behind him, he told the press in 1924: “I never want to go back to the stage or to leave Hollywood. Cafes and shows hold no allurement for my wife and I whatever. It’s home cooking and my feet under my own dining table for me. My own babies on my own knees by my own fireside are Paradise enow. I even hate to be away from home overnight when I’m on location, and if I wasn’t within telephone call of those babies, well, I jolly well wouldn’t accept the role!”(4)
It seems that not a word of that was true, however, as was revealed later that year when Creighton’s wife sued him for divorce. “Creighton Hale may look like the Prince of Wales on the stage but he does not carry this polish to his home,” declared the press, reporting that, “Mrs Victoria L Hale filed suit in the Los Angeles courts, charging the screen hero with cruel and inhuman treatment, calling her names and alleging that on one occasion he fired a gun at her.”(5)
Creighton’s behaviour didn’t improve greatly after the divorce. He stopped visiting his two children, neglecting them to the extent of failing to send them birthday or Christmas presents, and was unreliable with his child support payments. In 1932, his ex-wife asked the courts to allow the children to be adopted by her new husband, character actor John Miljan (who, like Creighton, had struggled to find good roles in the talkies, but had eventually negotiated the changeover by switching types from debonair romantic hero to oily villain). “Mr Hale outfitted the boys with clothes once,” Creighton’s ex-wife told the judge, “And had the bill sent to their stepfather.”(6)
The bad publicity can only have added to the studios' reluctance to employ this fading star, and the shady atmosphere that it created around him might have added credibility to the persistent rumours over the past few decades about his appearance in the goat sex film. Made in 1924, and known variously as The Goat Man, Getting His Goat or On the Beach, the film concerns a young man who spies on three naked girls and coerces them into having sex with him through a hole in a fence. The joke’s on him, though, as the girls manage to trick him into having sex with a goat instead. “That’s the best girl I ever had in my life!” he blithely tells them afterwards.
The film surfaces on YouTube from time to time, but appears to be quickly taken down by the management.
Creighton’s name has ended up attached to the film in academic books and essays and in his filmographies on the internet -- indeed, it seems to be his chief claim to fame -- but the truth is that the actor isn’t him, as the pictures below clearly show. The top picture shows the young man from the goat film and the bottom picture shows Creighton in Seven Footsteps to Satan, released only a few years later, in 1929:
Almost everything about the two actors is different; only their glasses are the same. Hollywood’s favourite fantasist, Kenneth Anger -- whose "Hollywood Babylon" books are behind much of the well-known but completely untrue salacious gossip about old movie stars -- appears to be to be the source of the misidentification; everyone else followed his lead, too pleased with the story to bother to check it.(7) Compared to many of Anger’s other libels, such as the accidental deaths that he reports as suicides or his unfounded allegations of incest and rape, the inclusion of The Goat Man in Creighton’s body of work is quite harmless. It’s a pity, though, that Creighton should have ended up being remembered -- to the extent that anyone remembers him at all -- for a smutty short film in which he didn't appear.
Creighton died in 1965, in a home for retired actors in Pasadena, having appeared as an extra in more than 200 films. He was 83.
Sources: (1)Oakland Tribune, Aug 24, 1922; (2)"Fleshpot", Jack Stevenson, Headpress, 2000; (3)Lowell Sun, Jun 22, 1940; (4)Sunday State Journal, Nebraska, May 25, 1924; (5)Oakland Tribune, May 17 and Sep 12, 1924; (6)Oakland Tribune, July 13, 1932; (7)Anger is credited with identifying Creighton in The Goat Man in "Fleshpot", Jack Stevenson, Headpress, 2000.