Friday, August 9, 2019
Theatre Impresario Alexander Pantages Accused of Rape 1929
Alexander Pantages (1867 | Περικλῆς Ἀλέξανδρος Πανταζής | Periklis Alexandros Padazis;– February 17, 1936) was a Greek American vaudeville and early motion picture producer and impresario who created a large and powerful circuit of theatres across the western United States and Canada. At the height of his empire, he owned or operated 84 theatres across the United States and Canada. He was known as a tireless operator and a particularly ruthless one. In 1929 he was accused of raping a 17-year-old dancer named Eunice Alice Pringle; the negative publicity led to the selling of his operations and he ceased to be a force in exhibition or vaudeville ever again. Despite his pioneering spirit and promotion of the "movie palace" concept, he is largely forgotten today in historical accounts of the early development of motion pictures. He died in 1936 worth only a fraction of his previous net worth.
Move to Los Angeles
A ruthless but intensely hard-working businessman, Alexander Pantages invested his early theatrical profits into new outlets and eventually moved to Los Angeles. His showcase theatre at 7th and Hill Street in downtown L.A. also housed his offices.
In 1927, Kennedy and Sarnoff (RKO) approached Alexander Pantages with an offer to purchase his entire chain. Pantages rejected the offer.
In the midst of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Alexander Pantages was arrested and charged with the rape of 17-year-old California-born Eunice Pringle. Pringle, an aspiring vaudeville dancer, alleged that Pantages had attacked her in a small side-office of his downtown Los Angeles theater after she came to see him to discuss her audition.
Newspaper coverage of the trial, particularly by William Randolph Hearst's Los Angeles Examiner, was strongly antagonistic towards the Greek-accented Pantages while portraying Pringle as the innocent victim. In countless stories in the Examiner from the moment the case broke in the newspaper on Saturday, August 10, 1929, until the end of the trial, Pantages was portrayed variously as alone, aloof, cold, emotionless, effete, and 'European,' while the American-born Pringle was victimized through portraits with her family, emotional outbursts in court and lengthy interviews in the press, always with a sense of decorum and empathy. Pantages granted no interviews during the trial.
Pantages did, however, run into Kate Rockwell in the hallway outside the court one day, and they briefly exchanged greetings. She had been brought by the prosecution to court to testify against him, which she never did.
It surprised few that on October 27, 1929, Pantages was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison, despite his claim that he was "set up." The verdict came as a surprise to Pantages, who had hired very expensive New York lawyers to defend him, and he was subsequently jailed for several months. Despite the verdict against him, Pantages was successful in fending off a civil suit brought against him by Pringle.
Pantages then engaged attorney Jerry Giesler (later to become famous as a divorce lawyer) and San Francisco lawyer Jake Ehrlich to file an appeal on his behalf. Giesler successfully petitioned for a new trial with the California Supreme Court, basing his argument on the original trial judge's exclusion of testimony relating to Eunice Pringle's moral character.
Pantages was acquitted in the second trial in 1931, after Giesler portrayed Pringle as a woman of low morals; he also demonstrated how impractical a rape would have been in Pantages's broom closet and asked the court why the athletic, acrobatic Pringle, if the rape allegations were true, did not fight off the 5' 6.5", 126 lb., 62-year-old Pantages. The jury agreed and dismissed the case.
Although Pantages was acquitted, the trials ruined him financially. He sold the theatre chain to RKO for a lower sum than that originally offered—far less than what his "Pantages Greek" vaudeville palaces had cost him to build—and went into retirement. He owned and raced horses. Pantages died in 1936 and was interred in the Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Benediction, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
The rumor, begun at the second trial, that RKO and Kennedy paid Eunice Pringle to frame Alexander Pantages, was revived in Ronald Kessler's biography of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. "The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded" (New York: Warner Books, 1997). More than a rumor, it also plays a prominent role in "Hollywood and the Mob" by Tim Adler, who writes convincingly about the dubious role of Joseph Kennedy in the rape story.
1. "Alexander Pantages". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
2. Murray 1960, pp. 151–158
3. Tarrach, Arthur Dean 1973:4
4. Curti, Carlo (1967). Skouras, King of Fox Studios. Los Angeles: Holloway House Publishing Company, p. 51. This information comes from the biography of theater and movie mogul Spyros Skouras. The two of them, who were countrymen, met at some point whereupon Pantages made an offer and tried to take over the theater circuit of the Skouras Brothers. Skouras declined the offer but remembers the incident and recounts Pantages sobriquet.
5. Berger 1991, p. 88
6. Vancouver History website – "The Pantages in Vancouver"
7. "Mrs. Alexander Pantages. Widow of Theatre Owner Dies on Yacht off Catalina Island.", The New York Times, July 19, 1941
8. Dean, Arthur Tarrach (1972)
9. Lagos, Taso (May 2012). "Poor Greek to 'Scandalous Hollywood Mogul: Alexander Pantages and the Anti-Immigrant Narratives of William Randolph Hearst's Los Angeles Examiner". Journal of Modern Greek Studies. 30 (1): 45–74. doi:10.1353/mgs.2012.0006.
10. Giesler, Jerry; Martin, as told to Pete, The Jerry Giesler Story
11. Giesler, Jerry; Martin, as told to Pete (1960), The Jerry Giesler Story, p. 28
Tarrach, Dean A. (1972), Alexander Pantages: The Seattle Pantages and his Vaudeville Circuit, University of Washington
Murray, Morgan (1960), Skid Row: An Informal Portrait of Seattle, The Viking Press
Berner, Richard C. (1991), Seattle 1900–1920: From Boomtown, Urban Turbulence, to Restoration, Charles Press, ISBN 0-9629889-0-1