June DeLong was a twenty-four-year-old extra whose face had never been seen in any motion picture.
For the past couple of years, since 1932, June had been making a living as a hand double – a stand-in for leading ladies whose hands weren’t glamorous enough for close-ups. She put on rings, shuffled cards, unrolled stockings and struck matches, sharing the work with a clutch of other girls, each grateful for the money that their perfectly formed hands brought in and resentful of the fact that that was the only use the studios seemed to have for them.
June hadn't come to Hollywood to be a hand double. She wanted to be a star. But the closest she ever got to stardom was when she was the star witness for the prosecution in the trial that became one of the biggest Hollywood sex scandals of the thirties. It featured prostitution, conspiracy, outrages against public morals and a little brutal violence. But because it involved absolutely nobody famous, no one remembers it at all.
On 26 April, 1934, June's apartment was the scene of what the papers described as a “wild party”, which involved June, another extra and a man called Dave Allen, who happened to be the head of Central Casting. The party had reached an advanced stage when a friend of June’s, Pearl Owings, dropped by unannounced to pick up some photographs and was so shocked by the nature of the unorthodox activities she witnessed that she went straight to the police and swore out a complaint.
That’s one version of the story. There’s another, but we’ll come to that later.
The district attorney investigated Pearl Owings’ claims and promised June immunity from prosecution if she’d testify against the other two. She agreed, and the case was slated for the superior court of California that summer.
On July 13, June took the stand, swore an oath – raising one of what the press referred to throughout the trial as “the most beautiful hands in Hollywood” – and told her story.
She said she’d spent a dispiriting first year in Hollywood, fruitlessly calling studios and trying to register with Central Casting, which seemed impossible, as it already had more extras on its books than it had jobs for.
Her luck changed one night in 1932 when she went to a party and met Dave Allen, who made it clear that it wasn’t at all impossible for June to get on in Hollywood, as long as she was willing to sleep with the right people - in this case, Dave Allen.
June signed with Central Casting, and soon began to procure other ambitious girls for Allen. When the deputy district attorney asked her whether she found that she had to have affairs with men in order to get work in pictures, she replied, “Oh yes. That’s about the only way.” Lots of girls had done what she had, she explained. “If certain policemen wanted a beautiful girl that was registered with Central Casting, Mr Allen would give her work if she went out with them.”
June was glad of whatever hand-double work Allen sent her way as his part of the deal, but it wasn’t quite good enough. She’d come to Hollywood to act, to see herself on the screen, to become someone important, but as she entered her mid-twenties, she was beginning to doubt that she was going about it the right way. She asked Dave Allen why she didn’t get more work in movies. He told her, “The studios don’t want whores.”
June told the court that, on the day of the wild party, Dave Allen had called her to his office and told her to get another girl round to her apartment that afternoon – he had plans for both of them.
After calling various girls who weren’t available – “They wouldn’t come unless they were first given steady work; they were wiser than I was” – June got in touch with her friend, Gloria Marsh, another extra with no screen credits.
Dave Allen arrived at June’s apartment, followed by Gloria. Allen said, “Hurry up, I’ve got to get back to the office.” He was a busy man.
The newspapers were unable to print details of what followed, but they reported that June’s testimony was heard in absolute silence, broken only by occasional shocked gasps as she described certain acts. She said that, during one such act, Dave Allen paused for a moment to reflect on the situation he was in and remarked, “I think this is a beautiful thing.” The deputy district attorney asked how long that particular activity went on for, and June cast down her eyes, pursed her lips and folded and unfolded her hands before replying, “About ten minutes.”
The party came to an end when Dave Allen looked up and saw Pearl Owings standing in the doorway. June said, “Mr Allen jumped up. I heard him shout, ‘What is this, a frame-up?’”
June and Gloria ran into the dressing room and pulled on their clothes as Allen and Pearl Owings argued. Then Allen flashed some sort of badge, pulled out various identification cards, offered them $200 to keep quiet and stormed out of the apartment.
That was June’s story. Naturally, Dave Allen’s was different.
“This is the most diabolical plot ever devised,” he told reporters when he was charged. “In my position, I am always a target for heartless, aspiring men and women seeking to entrap me in order to ensure their jobs in the films, but this is the first time in twenty years they have progressed so far as to have me formally accused.”
Dave Allen had been appointed head of the Central Casting Bureau when it was established in 1926, having previously run an independent casting agency of his own. Before that, he had been a producer, a cameraman and even a bit-part actor in silent films (although there are no records of his roles). As head of Central Casting, he had near-absolute power over the fortunes of the worst paid and least secure movie performers. Unless an extra had a personal connection with a studio, they got work only through Central Casting. Allen stressed the impartial nature of his office’s selection and work-allocation processes, but everyone in court knew that it paid to be a friend of Dave’s.
Allen told the court that he’d never met June DeLong before the morning of 26 April, when she’d arrived at his office and told him that a girl friend of hers had important information about a plot against him. He told June to bring the girl to see him, but June said she was too afraid to come, so Allen arranged to drop by June’s apartment that afternoon.
When he got there, June was alone, but assured him that her friend would be right over. They sat talking about motion pictures while June had a drink. When the friend arrived, she was introduced to Allen as “Miss Gloria”. Allen said, “The two girls went into the dressing room and when they returned, June was nude, apart from an open slip, or kimono. Gloria Marsh was fully dressed. When I saw the way Miss DeLong was dressed, I knew instantly that something was wrong. I was petrified. I was so scared. Then I heard a voice from the kitchen say, ‘Well, isn’t this nice?’”
He turned around and saw Pearl Owings, who had been in the kitchen the whole time, and realised he’d been set up. Owings said, “I know two people who are going to get all the motion picture work they want from now on.”
Allen knew Owings. She was the wife of Pat Harmon, a middle-aged ex-prizefighter turned bit-part player who had quarrelled with everyone at Central Casting about the amount of work he’d been getting. Allen told the court that, in recent months, Harmon had accused Allen of keeping work from him by cancelling studio employment calls, and that he’d threatened to break Allen’s neck. One afternoon, just after Allen received a phone call from Harmon telling him he was “on the spot”, a hearse pulled up outside Central Casting and an undertaker came up to the office to ask for his body. A few minutes later, a florist arrived with a funeral wreath.
After that, Allen began to avoid Harmon, crossing the street or ducking into shops if he saw him coming.
Strangely, Pat Harmon doesn’t seem to have had much difficulty getting work at that point. He’d had at least 17 decent bit-parts in the previous year, which is much more than a lot of extras were getting, and was almost double the amount of work he’d been getting each year since he’d started working as an extra in the twenties, when he’d appeared in B-westerns like The Back Trail (1924)
(he's on the left) and major features like My Best Girl (1927)
(he's the cop).
One version of the events was true, but which – the wild party or the frame-up?
June DeLong’s vivid testimony had been convincing, but Dave Allen’s account seemed plausible, too. When the court adjourned on July 13, it seemed that the case might turn on how well June fared under cross-examination by Allen’s attorney the next day.
It was going to be rough. June had a previous arrest for prostitution, and it was likely that that would be brought up. Even if it wasn't, she was still going to be portrayed as a blackmailer and a back-stabber who was trying to send her friend, the innocent Gloria Marsh, to jail and ruin the reputation of a respected family man.
That might be why she decided to kill herself that morning.
Click here to continue to part 2.Sources: Syndicated AP news stories, printed between May 1934 and November 1935 in, among others, the Fresno Bee, San Mateo Times, Montana Standard, New Castle News, Brownsville Herald, etc; and coverage in the Los Angeles Times.