Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

 The spinning of negative press stories has been with us a long, long time.  One of my favorite examples is how Bebe Daniels and  the Realart Pictures movie studio, turned her disregard for the traffic laws to their benefit with the help of a press agent. 

Rick Levinson wrote in 2003 in a rather interesting blog in which he writes that Bebe Daniels was traveling 72 mph while she and her mother, Phyllis Daniels and the boxing champion, Jack Dempsey, drove through Orange County, California in a 35 mph zone. According to the court records and newspaper accounts it was 56.25 mph but it is a small error compared to the Wilipedia tale, that she was arrested for speeding 15 mph in a 10 mph zone. What! 

She was sentenced to 10 days in the county jail but Wilipedia reports it as 5 days.  Levinson writes that it was Abe Lyman and his Coconut Grove Orchestra that serenade Bebe outside her jail cell but I found a copy of a photo of the Sunset Inn Jazz Orchestra, Abe Lyman, Gus Arnheim, Bill Diamond, Roy Fox, Jess Stafford, Charles Pierce, Henry Halstead and Jake Garcia; outside the jail window and in the Los Angeles Time of April 20, 1921 ran the story that Abe Lyman’s band was the Sunset Inn Jazz Band again not a Coconut Grove Orchestra.  I have added a number of Los Angeles Times newspaper article (I even transcribed them) that William M. Drew sent me when I started to research this article.




By Marilyn Slater

August 1, 2009



So what do I think happened?  Travel with me back to January 11, 1921, the pretty and high spirited Bebe Daniels, a star of the cinema is behind the wheel of her high-powered speedster, flying through Tustin, roaring at over 50 mph, she enters one of the notorious speed-traps in Orange County; Bebe already has a reputation for lead-footedness. In the car are her mother and her pal, Jack Dempsey, a friend of the family and the heavyweight champion of the world. 


As Bebe speeds through the boondocks on her way to the civilized world of Hollywood, she is spotted by Motorcycle Officer “Shorty” Myers on Irvine Boulevard, which is later to become the Santa Ana Freeway.  Shorty pulls her over and then the foolishness begins.  Bebe had a vast collection of unpaid tickets in Los Angeles County; she wasn’t troubled, after all she was a Movie Star, the usual laws didn’t apply but Orange County was not impressed with her celebrity, I mean Shorty wasn’t impressed.


Bebe demanded a jury trial and her day in court was set for March 28, 1921.  “She Couldn’t Help It” her latest film was premiered at the Yost Theatre in Santa Ana; the sideshow to the run-up to the trial had begun.  Within the 60 days before Bebe was brought to trial in the courtroom of Judge John Belshazzar Cox, she did a benefit in the city of Fullerton in Orange County wearing a scanty costume and singing something she called “Judge Cox Blues.”  Among the flowers she received after the performance was a bouquet from Judge Cox. How all this effected the potential jury pool is hard to determined but it was a continued subject of gossip and her press agent worked his magic to keep it in the national press.


By the time the court was called to order it was estimated that over 600 visitors were wedged into the courtroom waiting for the next act in the Bebe Daniel’s show.  Shorty explained that how he figured out the speed Bebe was traveling by using a rather complex mathematical formula.  Bebe told the jury she had to go fast because her radiator was leaking and she wanted to get her car to a garage.  The District Attorney said Bebe of braking the Commandment of “thou shalt not kill” by endangering the lives of people by speeding.  He even said that because she had a faulty automobile she didn’t have the right to break the law. In answer, Bebe’s attorney, Gilbert augured that Shorty’s math might be wrong. 


After five minutes the jury made up primarily of retired farmers found her guilty on their first ballot and Judge Cox pronounced sentence – 10 days in county jail - to quote the judge: “That which is about to be done is hard for this court to do; Bebe Daniels, it is the judgment of the court that you be confined in the Orange County Jail for a period of ten days.”


In response Bebe told the press , “Oh well, I suppose if you live in a small town you get like that,” “I bet 56 points 5 miles an hour sounds awfully fast if you’ve never driven anything faster than a plow.”   


Since she had to go to jail, Bebe wanted to take a few personal things with her and asked for a piano in her cell.  She didn’t get it.  Her press agent went back to work he managed to turn her into a martyr, a victim of cold inflexible circumstances and the cruel unfeeling judicial system...


Finally the third act began on April 15, when Bebe appeared at the jail with an entourage – press agent included – carrying suitcases, hatboxes and associated chocolates with more to arrive the next day.  She wanted to know if her head would be shaved and if she had to be handcuffed.  The first night in jail, her mother was allowed to spend the night with her in her cell.  A furniture store delivered a bedroom suite the next morning, to her cell and set it up, a local restaurant catered all her meals, the studio hairdresser came every morning to do her tresses, Orange County, girls brought 30 kittens to the jail to keep Bebe company; the jailer won’t let her keep them.  Mabel Normand sent her about a million dollars worth of flowers, a Victrola and 150 records were delivered “to while away her long lonely nights.”


Abe Lyman, of the Santa Monica, Sunset Inn Jazz Band brought the boys of his orchestra to serenade Bebe.  The wicked old jailer won’t let them bring a piano into the jail so Abe Lyman, Gus Arnheim, Bill Diamond, Roy Fox, Jess Stafford, Charles Pierce, Henry Halstead and Jake Garcia stood outside her cell window and played for her.  Abe Lyman (Lymon/Syman) opened at the Coconut Grove in The Ambassador Hotel, April 1, 1922 a year after Bebe got out of jail.  She recived hundreds of telegrams, Roscoe Arbuckle sent one of love and offered assistance.  The telegram read: “Dear Bebe, Houdini is in town.  Can we help? Love.” 


Bebe jailhouse guest book listed nearly 800 names, among those who visited Bebe were Harold Lloyd, Bob Lee, Marie Mosquini, Max Linder, M. Jocin and Miss Ethel Lynn.  Bebe asked the jailer to tell her guests that she was out but the poor, unfortunate man told her that he just couldn’t tell anyone that.


She was released on April 24 after 9 days getting one day off for 'good behavior' and she promised “I’ll never speed again as long as I live”, and left to start her new film; called, you guessed it, “The Speed Girl”  for Realart Pictures based on her personal drama. Aside for the circus zaniness that surrounded Bebe Daniels stay in jail there was a rather significant point buried under all of the nonsense; she was the first woman ever to be convicted of speeding in Orange County.. And yes, women became equal before the law…kinda…Should I thank "Shorty", I need to think about it...




1921, January 14, Los Angeles Times, Will Bebe Vamp Justice Cox

1921, March 29, Los Angeles Times, Comedy Queen is Sentenced

1921, April 18, Los Angeles Times, Bebe Daniels Has Busy Day

1921, April 20, Los Angeles Times, Grace Kingsley, Flashes: Bebe Daniels Plans for Days O’ Freedom

1921, May 29, The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, “Lost in the Woods No Press Agent Yarn”

1921, Photoplay, covers

1985 Orange Coast Magazine, Patrick Mott, Out of the Past, Film Star Nabbed in Orange County

Golden Images, Eve Golden, Bebe Daniels, page 19


Good Little Bad Girl, The, website of Rick Levinson


Nice People, movie poster “There is one social type, to whom scandal is as welcome as cream to a cat”

Santa Ana Public Library, Archive, Abe Syman (Lymon/Lyman) 1921, Orange County Jail

Speed Girl, The, movie poster

Wilipedia, Bebe Daniels  

The Speed Girl (1921)

The plot of “The Speed Girl” (Realart 1921)

At 20, Betty Lee has become famous for movie stunts with airplanes and highpower roadsters. While horseback riding, she allows Ensign Tom Manley to believe that he has saved her from a runaway; then at the studio he meets her suitor, Carl D'Arcy. Betty evades Carl's marriage proposal and accepts Tom's luncheon invitation. Through a trick, she delays him in meeting his ship, and at the last minute, Betty, along with Tom and her press agent, Soapy Taylor, burn up the road to San Diego. Through Carl's plotting, the police arrest Betty for speeding and sentence her to 10 days in jail, although she manages to deliver Tom on time. Carl, trailed by revenue officers, shifts blame to Hilda, a chambermaid whom he has deceived, and she meets Betty in jail. Soapy plans a jail wedding for Carl and Betty as a publicity stunt, but Tom exposes Carl and wins the hand of Betty.



Additional Thoughts

A note from William M. Drew has made me think that this escapade had more of an effect of Bebe than I first thought.  In actuality, Bebe was genuinely witty and William is not sure if her jail time was a picnic in all respects.  In her late-in-life recollection of the incident,

  Bebe wrote:

  "But I shall never forget the ominous sound of locks being turned and iron gates clanking behind me, and the sound of my cell door being locked on my mother and myself.  Despite the lavish furnishings and the flowers and the excellent food that would be served by the best restaurant in town, I was really very miserable.  It was a terrible feeling to be locked in one room, even though it was beautifully decorated and my mother was with me.  However, I was so furious with Judge Cox that I would not allow myself to cry."

   Bebe said that as there was no exercise period, she would use the bars of her cell window to pull herself up and down to keep fit: "One of the things one has to fight in a locked cell is the inclination to pace up and down like an animal trapped in a cage.  So some form of exercise was vital."  She said she had to fight constantly looking at the time since when she first did so, it only made the time drag interminably.  When the last of her visitors had gone each afternoon, she recalled that she had "a pretty bad let-down feeling.  It was like waving goodbye to friends going off on a trip and you are left standing on a platform as the train steams away.  You don't quite know what to do with yourself."

   Bebe remembered the wonderful evening dinners furnished by the restaurant in what she said "must have been the strangest jail sentence ever."  Yet, for all these advantages she enjoyed, "each night I had the recurring feeling of how awful it was to be locked in a cell."  She was given one day off for good behavior and described her nine days in jail as "the longest nine days I have ever spent in my life

1921 03 29 LA Times






II 1,

Transcribed by Marilyn Slater

July 31, 2009



Terror of Speeders Insensible to Beauty of Actress.

Cinema Star Fails to Vamp Orange County Judge.

Hard-Hearted Jury Decides Guilt in Seven Minutes.

Huge Crowd Jams Courthouse at Santa Ana Event.


Justice Cox hated to do it, but - - - He sentenced Bebe Daniels yesterday to serve ten days in jail.  Even as Mary, Queen of Scots, so courageously received the stroke of death from a swarthy headsman of Elizabethan days, so did Miss Daniels display a brave little smile as the Santa Ana judge lopped ten days of liberty from her fair young life.


The trial of Bebe Daniels shall ring through future years as the greatest day of many in Orange county history.  It packed the Courthouse; it drew into the county seat scores of ranchers who, had Bebe Daniels not been in town, would have been tilling their soil; it brought forth some of the most eloquent bits of oratory that ever rang through the Orange county halls of justice; and it brought one of the speediest verdicts of guilty ever returned by an Orange county jury.


And all because Bebe Daniels was captured by a motorcycle cop at the moment she was speeding 56.25 miles per hour on the Irvine Boulevard.  She wanted a jury trial and she got it.  And when it was over at the close of day, wearily she turned homeward, fatigued, reclining in her glistening limousine and eating peanuts.



Miss Daniels, a cinema star, was arrested on January 8 by Motorcycle Officer “Shorty” Myers.  The burst of excessive speed, she said, had been urged by a leaking radiator.  The “leaking radiator” during the trial provided the intent for the 56.25 per.  It was the theme of hours of silver-tongue oratory – the leaking radiator.


Back-fence gossips and curbstone debates had argued that if Justice Cox failed to give her ten days in jail, his reputation would be ruined.  Never had the “eat’em up” judge failed before to send speeders to jail, who had been caught going faster than fifty miles per hour.  Other guilty ones had appealed to the higher courts, but in every case the decisions of Justice Cox had been upheld.


Then arose the question: “Would Bebe vamp the judge?”




Justice Cox admitted that he feared she would try to vamp him.  Again the back-fence gossips remarked that if he released her on probation or only imposed a fine it was proof that she had vamped him.

Miss Daniels with her mother, Mrs. Phyllis Daniels, and several friends, arrived early at the Santa Ana Courthouse.  They found it packed an hour before the opening of the trial.  Nearly two hours were consumed in selecting the jury.


During the selection of the jury Miss Daniels was extremely nervous.  She kept herself occupied tugging at the skirt hem that enveloped her silken-clad ankles.



The jury, made up of elderly men, most of whom were retired ranchers and real estate dealers – was chosen and Shorty Myers was called as the first witness.  He said he caught Miss Daniels in a “speed trap.”  She had traveled 380 feet in 4 seconds – 83 feet in 1 second, or 56.25 miles per hour.  With those figures as a basis, the trial developed into a scientific mathematical research of figures, trigonometry, hypotenuses, corollaries and unsolved triangles.


Attorney Gilbert attempted to establish the “leaking radiator” as cause for intent, but not as a criminal intent.  Arrayed on the side of the prosecution were Dist.-Atty. Nelson and Dep. Dist. - Atty. Mosely.  Mr. Monely declared that a faulty automobile was no cause for exceeding speed limits.




I have a car – I mean a Ford – but because my car has a rattle in it, it does not permit me to exceed the speed limit every day in the year.  If I did I would be a constant violator, for that darned car of mine is never in good condition.”


The testimony of Miss Daniels was brief.  She said she did not realize how fast she was going until the office stopped her; that she had only been in a hurry to get to San Juan Capistrano to have the radiator fixed.


When Miss Daniels took the witness stand the level of the crowd swelled with craning necks and a buzz of muffled whispers arose.


She oughta get ten years,” quote one bewhiskered gent.


Poor thing, it’ll be a pity to send her to jail.” quote a woman with a babe in her arms, “She’s such a sweet little thing.”


Dep. Dist.-Atty. Mosely in his argument contended that the law prohibiting autoists from driving in excess of thirty-five miles per hour was simply an amendment to the commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill!


Attorney Gilbert’s argument consisted chiefly of an endeavor to prove that Miss Daniels was either not exceeding the speed-limit or the testimony of the officer was faulty – that he was wrong in his mathematical statements.




Miss Daniels displayed extreme nervousness.  Her big eyes were turned toward the District Attorney.  He gazed at her for awhile.  Miss Daniels continued to gaze at him.  The District Attorney turned, stood on one foot and looked at his wife.  Mrs. Nelson look at Miss Daniels turned to her husband - and winked.


The jurors flied out.  Seven minutes later they returned and e. B. Covington, the foreman, read the verdict, “guilty as charged.”  Only one ballot had been taken.


Mr. Gilbert moved for a new trial.  The motion was overruled.  Mr. Gilbert than waived time of pronouncing the sentence.  Then quote the judge:

“That which is about to be done is hard for this court to do  Bebe Daniels, it is the judgment of the court that you be confined in the Orange County Jail for a period of ten days.”


Miss Daniels swayed.


Her mother and her friends cried.


Then Miss Daniels smiled at the judge; her first smile of the day. 


Attorney Gilbert filed notice of an appeal to the Superior Court.  Ball was set at $100, which Miss Daniels promptly paid.  The notice must be in the custody of the Superior Court within fifteen days.  The Superior Court will only review the case and return its verdict to Judge Cox.  If it upholds Judge Cox’s decision, Miss Daniels must eat her meals in the Orange County Jail for awhile.


Miss Daniels left the courtroom smiling.  Neither the judge nor the jury had been vamped, and the judge’s precedent had not been shattered.  Outside the Courthouse, the fair speeder’s car refused to budge.  Then did the populace of Santa Ana show their love for her when a large percentage of the population pushed Miss Daniel’s car for two blocks.

But what did the District Attorney’s wife mean by that one conspicuous wink?




1921 04 18 LA Times



Los Angeles Times, page II 5,

April 18, 1921

Transcribed by Marilyn Slater

July 31, 2009


Roscoe Arbuckle Wires Love;

Also Reminds Actress Houdini is in Town.


Bebe Daniels spent a strenuous day yesterday in her cell at the Orange County Jail at Santa Ana, where she is serving a ten-day sentence for speeding.


About thirty friends visited her at the jail, hundreds of bouquets and more than fifty telegrams were received and the hairdresser of the Realart studio called to arrange the tresses of the incarcerated actress.


Among those who visited Miss Daniels yesterday were Harold Lloyd, Bob Lee, Marie Mosquini, Max Linder, M. Jocin and Miss Ethel Lynn.


Roscoe Arbuckle sent a telegram of love and offered assistance.  The telegram read: “Dear Bebe, Houdini is in town.  Can we help? Love.”


1921 04 20 LA Times





Pages II 14 – Grace Kingsley

April 20, 1921


Transcribed by Marilyn Slater

July 31, 2009

Already Bebe Daniels is planning for her days of freedom, soon to arrive.  Her term of sentence in the Santa Ana jail for speeding will expire Sunday night, and her friends will give a big party for her at Sunset Inn, it is said.


She is not at once to go to work at the close of her tern, says her mother, Mrs.  Phyllis Daniels, but is to take a vacation of a few days in the mountains.  Though a jail is supposed to be a very secluded spot, Miss Daniels has received so very many visitors, a perfect stream from morning until night that she is entirely worn out, in addition to which, due to nervousness, she does not sleep at night, but reads until the dawn comes.  She has been reading a serious work called “Heroines of Hi.” lent to her by another prisoner in the jail.


Miss Daniels declares that when she gets her liberty she is going to make a study of prison reform.  Not, she hastened to add, that the Santa Ana jail needs reforming, but simply that she is now able to see from the position of one inside looking out.


Among the presents Miss Daniels received yesterday, which she was of course not permitted to keep; thirty kittens have been offered her by school children, who gather just outside the jail every afternoon, and call, to her to come and talk with them.


Perhaps it is merciful for Miss Daniels, as well as for the kittens, that prisoners are not permitted to have pets, at least any pets except the traditional mouse, and Miss Daniels hasn’t yet found it possible to bring herself to adopt this sort. 


Miss Daniels has to reverse the usual order of things, and get out of jail in order to get a chance to be lonesome.


She very nearly had a serenade yesterday, when the Sunset Inn Jazz Band went down to Santa Ana, carrying a piano with them.  The jailer would not permit the piano to be brought in, and Messrs. Abe Lyman, Gus Arnheim, Bill Diamond, Roy Fox, Jess Stafford, Charles Pierce, Henry Halstead and Jake Garcia, who had planned to do the serenading, had to be content with merely saying how-do-you-do to the young star.


Scores of telegrams are being received daily by Miss Daniels, beside flowers and other gifts.  Roscoe Arbuckle yesterday sent her a beautiful gilded basket of fruit and Mabel Normand about $1,000,000 worth of roses.