Friday, November 7, 2008
Joseph Scott Continues Fight Against Charlie Chaplin
By ROGER M. GRACE
“I have just begun to fight.”
Those words—reminiscent of the response attributed to John Paul Jones when queried if he was prepared to surrender his ship to the British (“I have not yet begun to fight”)—were uttered by Los Angeles attorney Joseph Scott after the jury had reported it was hopelessly deadlocked at the first trial of a paternity action against actor Charlie Chaplin and a mistrial was declared. Scott’s response is quoted in an Associated Press dispatch on the day the jurors threw up their arms, Jan. 5, 1945.
Fight, Scott had. His summation, as related here last week, was an invective-filled harangue against the silent film star, a notorious rake. The lawyer—a leader of the Catholic laity and a high-level Republican advisor—was probably as much spurred to action against Chaplin by virtue of the defendant’s far-left wing politics as he was by the actor’s nonchalant immorality.
Fight, Scott would. At 77, his energies were high, his commitment to winning that case keen.
Even great actors and actresses—including Helen Hayes—have suffered from stage fright. Chaplin developed “witness box fright.”
Joyce Milton, in her 1998 book, “Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin,” notes:
“Joe Scott’s cross-examination upset Chaplin deeply, [son] Charles junior believed that his father was never really the same afterward.”
She writes that he “could not bring himself to go through the ordeal of being cross-examined by Joe Scott again”—and errantly says he didn’t testify.
He did, but clearly did not want to.
The April 10, 1945 issue of the Los Angeles Times reports that Scott, the previous day, advised Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Clarence L. Kincaid that when his investigator located Chaplin on the tennis court of his home and tried to serve him with a subpoena to testify, the comedian “ran like a scared jack rabbit” into the house. The investigator was then told, according to Scott, that Chaplin wasn’t at home.
“With gestures and intonation suggestive of his screen roles,” an Associated Press dispatch on April 12 reports, Chaplin testified. He had spurned actress Joan Berry’s demand—at a time when she was pregnant—for a $150,000 pay-off…on penalty of his being named the father if he did not acquiesce, according to the account of Chaplin’s testimony. The actor portrayed himself as brave, resisting in the face of the prospect of adverse publicity, knowing that “95 per cent of the press” was against him based on his political views.
Do you remember on “Perry Mason,” the defense lawyer questioned witnesses while hovering before them, right in front of the witness box? It seemed to defy reality. Yet, the April 13, 1945 issue of the Times shows Scott so close to Chaplin that if either had garlic on his breath, the other would know it. Scott has his hand on the witness box, a few inches from Chaplin’s fingers.
According to the accompanying article:
“Most of the 55-year-old comedian’s answers were confined to “I did not,’ ‘I don’t remember’ and emphatic ‘certainly nots’ in replying to questions linking him with intimacies with Miss Berry, his former dramatics protege.”
Scott worked a miracle at that trial. Notwithstanding that Chaplin absolutely was not the father, the verdict was against him. The truth was that the mother had type A blood; the child, 14-month-old Carol Ann Berry, had type B blood. That meant the true father had type AB or type B blood—not type O, which Chaplin had.
There was appellate action ahead. Scott, who had taken on the case with no agreement by the unmonied unwed mother to compensate him, would get court-ordered payment from Chaplin…a Court of Appeal justice (who went on to serve on the California Supreme Court) would revile at the result in light of the blood test results…a statute would be enacted to prevent future findings of paternity contrary to uncontradicted scientific findings.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company