Clara explained repeatedly under questioning that she had authorized De Voe only to draw checks for her own salary and for household expenses.
At one point Clara leaned forward in the witness box and remarked to De Voe:
“Go ahead and sneer, Daisy, that’s all right.”
Because Daisy had taken many of Clara’s personal papers, including love letters and telegrams, the items were entered into evidence. And of course some of the telegrams, particularly the most personal of them, were read aloud in court. There was a telegram dated September 8, 1930, from Rex Bell to Clara while she was staying at Tahoe, and it read: “Dearest sweetheart, darling baby, I do miss you, and this is only the beginning. Rex.”
Local newspapers printed as much as they could of Clara’s personal correspondence, which had to have been excruciating for the actress. The papers also printed excerpts from Daisy’s confession to the D.A., and they spoke volumes about Daisy’s character — or lack thereof.
Daisy had come to L.A. in 1923 after graduating from a St. Louis beauty college. She was employed in two beauty parlors before transferring to the Paramount studio where she eventually met Clara Bow. Clara hired Daisy in 1929. The former hairdresser had taken every opportunity to defame Clara in her confession.
In one part Daisy said that she had overheard a conversation between Clara and Rex Bell, in which Bell said he thought Daisy ought to be fired. When she was asked what she did with that information, she said that she decided to go quietly because “…Miss Bow was drunk and if I had gotten into any argument with her, she would have tried to kill me because she had tried to once before…”
Daisy continued: “I think it would be better to walk out and later on straighten out her affairs. I wanted to get her things settled as quietly as possible, and keep Clara out of the papers, because one more slam in the papers and Clara is through in pictures.”
Her confession revealed her attempt to extort money from Clara by threatening to use her personal papers to expose her to public ridicule. For her silence, Daisy told the D.A.’s investigators that she’d asked for $125,000. She said: “I think it would be to her advantage to keep my mouth shut.”
When her extortion plan failed and she was busted for grand theft, De Voe’s attorney, Nathan O. Freedman, used Clara’s private correspondence to humiliate her in open court—and it was all legal. The stolen papers had been submitted as evidence. It was a nightmare for Clara.
Nearly three weeks into the trial Judge Doran finally banned the rampant mudslinging, which was coming primarily from Daisy’s corner. It was about damned time.
Clara hadn’t done anything but misjudged Daisy’s character, and yet her reputation had been tarnished. Daisy’s venomous attacks even had a deleterious effect on Clara’s career. The Riverside Board of Censorship barred one of Clara’s films “because of the notoriety” given the actress in the trial of her former secretary. The chair of the board, Mrs. Jessie Joslyn, self-righteously announced: “Our action in barring the film was taken because of the notoriety given the actress in the Los Angeles trial. Besides, the picture is not of a type we want shown.”
Meanwhile, Daisy’s jury came back deadlocked. They seemed to be confused by one of the judge’s instructions to them regarding “intent to permanently deprive the owner of property.” They found Daisy De Voe guilty on only one of the over thirty counts of grand theft.
The misery of having her private life made food for public consumption was finally too much for Clara who, in May 1931, was admitted to the Glendale Sanatorium. Paramount studio executives denied that Bow’s illness would terminate her career, but Clara decided to retire from the film business and live a quiet life out of the public eye. Her contract with Paramount was “terminated by mutual consent” and she moved to Rex Bell’s Nevada ranch.
Joan Renner is a writer, lecturer, and social historian with an expert knowledge of Los Angeles-based murders, corruption, and scandals. A version of this story originally appeared on her Web site, Deranged L.A. Crimes.