Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, October 16, 2008


Page 11



Dramatics Mark Trial of Action Against McPherson’s Lawyer




The 1937 trial of the Los Angeles Superior Court slander action by the daughter of evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson against the attorney for McPherson’s church, Willedd Andrews, drew throngs of spectators and journalists, and the dramatic value of the performances was high.

Among the players was attorney Joseph Scott. An April 23 Associated Press report tells of one bit of theatrics by him in a dispatch that starts out:

“White-haired Joseph Scott, defense attorney for Aimee Semple McPherson, today declared the evangelist wanted her daughter, Roberta Semple, “to return to the arms of her mother.”

The circumstances of her leaving the church, which was beset with internal discord,  were detailed here last week. Her action for defamation were based on this press comment by Andrews Oct. 1, 1936:

“Mrs. McPherson has been intimidated, threatened and blackmailed for the last time. This time she is prepared to fight to the finish. While she regrets that the war will be with her own flesh and blood—with her own daughter—the only course ahead of her is protection from destruction of the organization which has consumed the best years of her life.”

Although there was no jury, McPherson engaged in dramatics in the extreme. At one point, a witness recited that McPherson had been termed a “liar” by an assistant pastor. The United Press account of the proceedings on April 15, 1937 says:

“The word was too much for Sister Aimee and she fainted as she left the courtroom, looked around for a bailiff and then swooned in his arms. Upon reviving with a fluttering of eyelids, she politely presented the bailiff with a big smile and longstemmed rose, plucked from her corsage. It was her first and only swoon of the day.”

The Associated Press’ rendition says that “McPherson stepped down and promptly fainted for the second time in three days” and when caught by the bailiff, sighed:

“I’m horribly tired and sick. I can’t stand much more of this.”

The April 24 issue of the Los Angeles Times describes McPherson’s condition the day before:

“Overcome by emotion, weeping and hysterical, she was half-carried from the room during the morning recess and given first-aid treatment in a nearby courtroom.”

That afternoon, Judge Clarence L. Kincaid awarded a judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of $2,000. She had sued for $150,000.

The jurist counseled:

“A repetition or continuance of the internecine warfare between those responsible for the building, maintenance and future well being of Angelus temple can only result in its eventual collapse and disintegration.”

Kincaid’s “advice was not heeded,” the May 3 issue of Time Magazine says, continuing:

“This week Sister Aimee…was to appear again in court. This time she is defendant in a $1,080,000 slander suit brought by Sister Rheba. Since the line-up of witnesses will be about the same, the anti-Aimee faction took hope from Daughter Roberta’s victory last week. But Sister Aimee exhibited little chagrin. With a substantial number of her Temple addicts still loyal, she put on a garment of white chiffon which could be swished out behind her like a pair of wings, and preached a stirring sermon about her Cause. Into a ‘defense pot’ Four Square [Church] Gospelers tossed money, jewelry, gold bridgework.”

Perhaps Kincaid did make a difference. A May 10 AP dispatch says that Scott and the attorney for Rheba Crawford Splivalo, former assistant pastor at McPherson’s Angelus Temple, had reached a late-night settlement. The story notes the basis for the slander action:

“Aimee accused her of being unfit to stand in the Angelus Temple pulpit, compared her to gangsters Al Capone and John Dillinger, called her a ‘Jezebel and a Judas,’ accused her of being the mistress of a high state official, and circulated a report that she conspired to kill her.”

(The “high state official” was supposedly Gov. James Rolph, by then deceased.)

The judgment in favor of Semple was appealed. However, with so little money at stake, McPherson apparently wanted to go the cheapest route. Although Scott, as well as Andrews, represented Andrews on the appeal, no reporter’s transcript of the 10-day proceeding was prepared. The ground for the appeal was that the court should have sustained a demurrer, presumably without leave to amend. This response from the Court of Appeal to the token appeal came on June 22, 1938:

“It is manifest that any alleged uncertainty or ambiguity in the complaint cannot be considered prejudicial error after a full and complete trial on the merits…, particularly when, as here, none of the evidence is brought before us.”

Semple went on to marry the man who was to create the CBS game show “Name That Tune” in 1953 and had the task of picking potential contestants from the 20,000-or-so who applied each week by mail. She died last year at 96.

Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company

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