What Really Happened the Night Ted Healy Was Beaten at Cafe Trocadero?

Larry Harnisch at The Daily Mirror looks at claims that a beating by Wallace Beery led to Healy’s death

Left: Ted Healy (in hat) with the Three Stooges; top right: Wallace Beery; bottom: Pat DiCicco

The premise of The Fixers: Eiddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine, by E. J. Fleming, is that in the days when the movie studios dominated the Los Angeles economy studio executives used their influence with city officials, including law enforcement, to protect their stars — the studios’ biggest assets — when the stars got into trouble. The “fixers” were studio executives who were charged with cleaning up these messes, even if the clean-up involved tampering with evidence, as is believed to have happened in numerous sensational cases, including the murder of director William Desmond Taylor and the purported suicides both of Jean Harlow’s husband Paul Bern, a studio executive himself, and Thelma Todd, the comedic actress and nightclub entrepreneur, just to name a few.

Fleming covers these and many other famous Hollywood crimes and scandals, focusing on how MGM fixers Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling interfered with investigations and engineered coverups. Most of the incidents he covers are familiar stories in the Hollywood hagiography, even if the coverups and skullduggery behind them are not. One that is not as well known, however, is the story of the death in December 1937 of comedian Ted Healy, a vaudevillian and successful supporting player in movies who earned a place in the slapstick comedy hall of fame by  inventing of the Three Stooges.

A few days before he passed away, Healy was involved in a drunken altercation at Cafe Trocadero on the Sunset Strip. Fleming asserts that Healy was attacked by three men — future James Bond producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli; Pat DiCicco, a mob-adjacent figure who was Broccoli’s cousin as well as the former husband of Thelma Todd and the future husband of Gloria Vanderbilt; and Wallace Beery, a burly character actor who was one of MGM’s most popular stars — and that wounds from this beating caused him to die.

In The Fixers, Fleming says MGM covered up Wallace Beery’s role in Healy’s death, asserting that by 1937 Healy was down on his luck, all but bankrupt and drinking heavily. He had recently married a much younger woman, who, on Dec. 17, gave birth to his first child, a son. Three nights later — on Dec. 21, according to Fleming — Healy went out to celebrate, drinking alone in a series of bars before ending up at Cafe Trocadero, where he got into a row with Broccoli, DiCicco and Beery that proved to be fatal.

“After words were exchanged at the bar,” Fleming writes, “Beery punched Healy in the head in the presence of other patrons and was challenged by Healy to ‘step outside,’ where he said he’d beat each man ‘one at a time.’ But Broccoli had snuck outside, and when Healy walked through the door jumped him and held him while the other two beat Healy. They left him unconscious, sprawled in a pool of blood, and returned to the bar loudly toasting their victory.” Fleming says Healy was collected from the Trocadero parking lot and taken home, where he died the next day from “very apparent” head wounds.

The Times reported that Healy had gotten into a fight with Albert Broccoli, 29, whom the paper described as “a wealthy New Yorker.” However, the coroner’s examination ascribed Healy’s death, not to a fight, but to natural causes related to alcoholism. Fleming says the coroner’s cause of death was bogus — bought and paid for by MGM.

The next order of business for Mannix and Strickling, Fleming writes, was to get Wallace Beery out of Hollywood. According to Fleming, “Beery and his family left on a hastily arranged month-long trip to Europe. They left for New York later the next day. Studio photographers recorded their departure, smiling and waving as MGM’s biggest star left for a holiday vacation.”

With Beery safely out of town, Mannix and Strickling continued their mop-up by ensuring that the Trocadero staff, most of whom, Fleming says, “were already on Strickling’s payroll,” would remember nothing about Healy arguing with Beery, DiCicco and Broccoli. They also planted a story among the Trocadero’s staff that “survives to this day” — that it was “three drunk college boys” who had beaten Healy that night.

The Fixers was published in 2005, and since then the story that Ted Healy died after being beaten by Wallace Beery, Pat DiCicco and Cubby Broccoli has gained currency — in no small part because Fleming’s version of Healy’s death has been cited in Wikipedia entries for Ted Healy, the Trocadero and elsewhere.

*

I have been researching crime and scandals on the Sunset Strip since 2007, so when I came upon the story of Healy’s death, its connection to Cafe Trocadero caught my eye. From my perspective, it was potentially a twofer: a Sunset Strip crime and scandal all rolled up in one. (I had no clue who Ted Healy was, however.)

Later, after I’d read The Fixers, I did a quick delve into the Los Angeles Times’ contemporaneous coverage of Healy’s death. I found no real red flags — but assuming MGM had “fixed” the story, I took nothing for granted. What bugged me, though, was the human factor. It seems unlikely that a random selection of the Troc’s patrons and staff would have kept quiet about what they’d seen that night. Nothing spreads faster through Hollywood than celebrity-on-celebrity barroom brawls.

On the other hand, maybe the bar was relatively quiet on the evening of Dec. 21. Maybe Mannix and Strickling only had to pay off one or two people.  I checked and found that Dec. 21, 1937, was indeed a Tuesday, likely one of the slowest nights of the week, and with Christmas four days away, in one of the slowest weeks of the year.

Recently I saw a notice on Facebook that Larry Harnisch, the editor The Daily Mirror, a blog about Los Angeles history that focuses on crime, was researching Fleming’s account of Healy’s death and blogging about it on his site.

Harnisch is a copy editor for the Times and an expert on the Black Dahlia murder. I first encountered his work when he eviscerated Black Dahlia Avenger, Steve Hodel’s book about the murder of the Dahlia, whose real name was Elizabeth Short. In the book, Hodel, a retired LAPD detective, made the case that Short was murdered by his father, Dr. George Hodel.

For the past six weeks or so, Harnisch has been giving Fleming’s version of Healy’s death a similar airing. His reporting has also revealed how easy it is to publish unsubstantiated facts on Wikipedia. As I write this, he has presented his research on Healy’s death and the key players in it in 28 blog posts in two series: “The Death of Ted Healy” and “Wikipedia: Murder and Myth.”

The blogging format makes the narrative a bit hard to follow, but here is where to start:

  • Part 1 of “The Death of Ted Healy.”
  • Part 1 of the “Wikipedia” series.

A key error Harnisch uncovered was the fact that the altercation involving Healy did not occur on Tuesday, Dec. 21. It happened two nights earlier, on Sunday, Dec. 19. The Trocadero often had new-talent nights and other promotions on Sunday nights — just a few months earlier, for example, Mary Martin had been discovered during a Sunday night talent show there — so it’s as likely as not the bar was busy. If a sizable crowd had witnessed Wallace Beery hitting Ted Healy, or anyone, in the Trocadero’s bar that night, nothing, no amount of money, muscle or other persuasion, could have kept it quiet all these years.

The most damning counter-evidence Harnisch found, however, was that, contrary to Fleming’s account, Wallace Beery did not go to Europe in December 1937. “He couldn’t,” writes Harnisch. “He was filming ‘Madelon’ (released as ‘Port of Seven Seas’), as reported in The Times, Dec. 19, 1937.” Harnisch also found a news account of Beery’s participation in a live radio broadcast on Dec. 30, as well as an item noting that Beery’s wife, who was supposed to have accompanied him to Europe, was a guest at a luncheon on Jan. 7, 1938. Harnisch did find a notice in the Times on Jan. 24 announcing that the Beerys were planning to visit Europe in March.

Harnisch also examined Fleming’s sourcing on the incident, which includes The Three Stooges, by Jeff and Tom Forrester. The Forresters provided an eyewitness account by Sammy Wolfe, who had worked with Healy on stage years before. “Wallace Beery was sitting at the bar with Pat DiCicco,” Wolfe said, according to the Forresters. “Beery was making a lot of noise. Ted told Beery to be quiet. Beery said, ‘I won’t be quiet.’ It went back and forth. Then Beery got up and punched Ted right in the side of the head, right there in the bar. So Ted says, ‘Let’s go outside, and I’ll take care of both of you!’ I guess Beery and DiCicco went out into the parking lot, but there was already another guy out there. And he jumped Ted, and then the other two guys jumped in and beat him up.”

So what really happened that night? Harnisch provides a timeline based on various news accounts:

Sunday, Dec. 19, 1937: Healy is ill and spends most of the day in bed, according to manager Jack Marcus, who was with Healy for nearly all of the day. Marcus leaves that evening, telling bodyguard Hymie Marx “not to let Ted out of his sight.” (Examiner, Dec. 22, 1937)

11 p.m. Healy eludes Marx and calls a taxi to take him to the Club [sic] Trocadero, 8610 Sunset Blvd.

Sometime after 11 p.m. Healy arrives at the Trocadero, but he is already so drunk that the management refuses to serve him liquor. (Examiner, Dec. 23, 1937)

Healy encounters Albert Broccoli, 29, who is standing at the bar. (Examiner, Dec. 23, 1937) Broccoli says he congratulated Healy as he entered. Healy asks an attendant “who is this fellow?” and punches Broccoli in the nose, then in the mouth and finally gives him a stiff uppercut “which nearly knocked me out,” Broccoli says.

Broccoli says he shoved Healy away because he didn’t want to hurt him and the attendants led Healy to an anteroom.

They come back and say Healy wants to see Broccoli. “I walked in and shook hands,” Broccoli says. “Then Ted went out and got in a taxicab and that’s the last I saw of him. As I recall, he wasn’t marked up when I last saw him.” (Examiner, Dec. 23, 1937)

Sometime later: Healy, “through a ruse,” returns to the Trocadero. (Examiner, Dec. 23, 1937)

Second version: After the Broccoli incident, Healy goes to a table at which two men and two women are seated. “One of the men objected to Healy’s remarks. Healy apparently was very drunk.” An attendant “observed the disturbance” and “led Healy out.” (Examiner, Dec. 25, 1937)

One of the men at the table follows. He “was gone for a few minutes” then returns and tells his companions that he “took a poke” at Healy and “knocked him down but he got back up smiling and we shook hands and said he was sorry for what happened and asked if we were still friends. I told him sure.” (Examiner, Dec. 25, 1937)

This individual is described in the Dec. 26, 1936, Los Angeles Examiner as “a well-known Hollywood figure.” This individual says: “I didn’t hurt him – just knocked him down, but another fellow IS BEATING HIM UP – GIVING HIM A WHALE OF A BEATING.” (Examiner, Dec. 25, 1937)

Later: Healy takes a cab to Ray Haller’s Seven Seas and borrows $50, Marcus says. [The Seven Seas was a favorite Hollywood watering hole in the 1930s but I haven’t been able to locate an address yet.]* (Examiner, Dec. 22, 1937)

Was the “well-known Hollywood figure” Wallace Beery? “Giving him a whale of beating” sure sounds like something he would say. And was the fellow whaling at Healy Pat DiCicco? We will probably never know.

For that reason, the suspicious circumstances around what happened that night make the death of Ted Healy yet another Hollywood legend.

*The address of the Seven Seas is 6904 Hollywood Blvd., directly opposite Grauman’s Chinese, according to an ad in the June 4, 1938, Times.

30 Comments

  1. I am currently reading The Fixers by Fleming and have been wondering about the veracity of the stories. He makes it seem as if everyone in Hollywood was either gay, bi-sexual, a nymphomaniac or hard core womanizer. Unfortunately there seems to be a dearth of material on Strickling and Mannix besides this book.

  2. The Seven Seas was on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, as I recall hearing from locals. Done in a high kitsch nautical South Pacific Tiki theme… I think that’s right!

  3. Oh I see you have 7Seas on Hollywood Blvd. Never mind.

  4. There’s a rather extensive and coherent examination of Healy’s death in the book Mousie Garner: Autobiography of a Vaudeville Stooge, by Paul Garner, one of Healy’s “replacement” stooges. Garner names DiCicco and Broccoli but Beery is only “a big Hollywood figure.”

    Beery did indeed go to Europe after Healy’s death, returning on the Isle de France in April, 1938. Whether this trip had anything to do with Healy’s death is, of course, a matter of speculation.

  5. I HAVENT YET READ “THE FIXERS”. BUT I HAVE READ BOOKS THAT PORTRAYED EVERYONE AS BEING A DEGINERANT. HOWEVER, THE CONNECTION BETWEEN, BROCOLLI, DICICO AND, WALLACE BEERY, WAS KNOWN PRETTY WELL. DICICO, HAD A MOTIVE, AND BEERY WAS ALREADY MAD, BECAUSE HE FELT THAT HE HAD BEEN UPSTAGED BY HEALY IN A PREVIOUS PICTURE.

  6. Hello Mr. Ponder, After reading your article on the night Ted Healy was beaten at the Cafe Trocadero, I noticed that one of the alleged assailants ,Pat DiCicco was married to Thelma Todd for less than 2 years between 1932 and 1934. I went to Widipedia and saw that on the night of Dec 14, 1935 Ms. Todd was at a party at the Trocadero when she ran into her ex and had a brief but unpleasant exchange with him. Two days later, she was found dead in a garaged car from carbon monoxide poisoning. This occurred nearly 2 years to the day that Ted Healy was beaten to death. Aside from the Trocadero being Mr. DiCicco’s hangout, he doesn’t pass the smell test. He was identified as a local mobbed up thug. Sincerely Yours, Tom McKenna

    • Healy also had a small thing with Todd which was more likely than not the reason the fight took place as it was well known around town that DiCicco was a vicious thug…

  7. Thanks, Tom. That’s very true, and there certainly may have been a cover up related to Thelma Todd’s death.

  8. When I see the name Eddie Mannix I think of his wife Toni,
    and the late actor George Reeves.

  9. May Farrington

    April 1, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    It ought to be very easy to prove whether the Beerys went to Europe following Healy’s death or in April of 1938. Simply go to Ancestry.com and look up the ship manifests. They will be reproduced there no matter what dates they’re from. If this is an important clue, why trust to publicity stories, supposed tales of filming or radio shows, etc etc? Stuff like that CAN be planted. The ship manifests do not lie. If the Beerys were on a ship, any ship, no matter the dates, you can find out for sure.

    I have used ship manifests to prove/disprove stories before this, in my own (not yet published) work.

  10. +Roy Rogers Oldenkamp – The place you wrongly mentioned that was on Rodeo Dr. – B.H. was “The Luau” Restaurant/Bar. Fabulous place owned by the well known restauranteurs Steven Crane and Al Mathes. It was a Polynesian style decor. The place to go in the 60’s to see and be seen, and the food/drinks & atmosphere/decor were wonderful.
    (Note: I just noticed you sent the posts above in 2013, so I expect no return comment. This is for those who were wondering the name of the place Roy (wrongly) thought it was).

  11. Wikipedia? Really? Anybody can post anything on there, that doesn’t make it credible.

    • Wikipedia can be edited, this is true, however there are many who monitor the site and if the information is not credible or there are disagreements as to the facts, the 1st thing you will read is, This article needs X or is X
      and in need of X, so if the facts remain posted without anyone correcting it, I feel safe in believing the data.

  12. I suggest everyone that is interesting in the real story about the death of Ted Healy read the boob Nobody’s Stooge by Bill Cassara.

  13. I am trying to find out if The Three Stooges performed in the vaudeville theaters in small towns. Or did they only play in larger cities? Did they perform anywhere between Chicago and Detroit?

  14. Ted Healy was one most famous comedians of his time. It’s a shame he’s not remembered better. Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Milton Berle all praised him. He also gave a young Jimmy Stewart a break. He is credited with creating the Three Stooges but also tried to destroy them when they broke up with him. We will never know who murdered him. He went out to celebrate the birth of his son and was beaten to death. He never saw the son who’s birth he was celebrating.

  15. Jon,

    Great site. I arrived here after looking up the names of vaudeville entertainers found in Kliph Nesteroff’s terrific book “The Comedians”.
    I’m finding this site an excellent resource for exploring those topics that could easily be pushed into the shadows of history and potentially forgotten. Thanks for all the hard work.

  16. James Shemansky

    March 6, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    Involvement by Wallace Beery in the beating of Ted Healy is in dispute. It was a logical conclusion since Healy and Beery had a rivalry because Healy got better reviews in the movies. I talked with Betty Braun’s nephew Kurt Braun years ago on the phone. Betty Braun was Ted Healy’s first wife and vaudeville partner. Kurt said Broccoli and DiCicco were involved but the third man involved in the fight with Healy was none other than Errol Flynn. Flynn was a friend of DiCicco and Broccoli and a regular drinking buddy. DiCicco and Broccoli were cousins. This is what Kurt was told by his aunt. Flynn was an upcoming Star doing “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. He was also a boxer. Don’t you think the studios paid to keep that quiet about Flynn? Later on take a look at the photo from the marriage of Pat DiCicco and Gloria Vanderbilt, who stands up for him Broccoli and Flynn.
    Ted Healy had the flu, had nephritis from his drinking, got stinking drunk and got the shit beat out of him. There is also a story that Healy’s friend Joe Frisco and Man Mountain Dean took Healy to a Doctor Feelgood to get some drugs to make him feel better. No wonder Healy died.
    Healy had an affair with Thelma Todd, so Healy was not liked by DiCicco anyway. Pat DiCicco was the right hand man to Lucky Luciano, planted to determine where Luciano could get in to Hollywood to promote his influence. Luciano wanted to put gambling in the bar that Thelma Todd owned, she refused and ended up dead. DiCicco was a violent thug that got his way. He would go on to be an executive of United Artists.
    The books by Forrester and the Fixer book use “creative literary license” to spin their yarns. Go to Nobody’s Stooge: Ted Healy by Bill Cassara for your Ted Healy fix!

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  18. William Morrison

    September 8, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    Wow. What the hell went on back in those old holywood days.

    • Absolute power and absolute corruption. Beery and the others involved proved thst absolute power corrupts absolutely and no one ever wanted the facade of perfect Hollywood stars to ever be tarnsihed. Now we’re much wiser, and I hope for peace for Ted Healys spirit and family.

  19. I totally agree with you.
    I personally think
    Bully’s of every kind should be stopped somehow. Put away, rehabbed before being released.
    My youngest Son Randy was attacked similarly to Healy, except in our own home at a young highschool age. Two boys from class knocked at our front door at home, then when Randy answered he was hit in the face knocking him down. He got up, they ganged up on him kicking, punching him to the ground leaving him unconscious. Ended a concussion and 3weeks of amnesia. The two boys from class, had a history of beating other kids up, put in juvenile jail and let back out. Nothing was ever done to them.
    My son was done with school at that point. I sent him off the mountain to H.B. where he excelled from D’s/Fs to A’s and B’s…🤗
    Though he has faced many challenges since that day, Thank God he lived and didn’t end like Healy
    I personally think all Bully’s of Any -age should be put away,as not to harm anyone else again and made to make restitution to their injured victims.
    People should always stand up for Justice and stop the Social-pathics before they turn into Psycho-pathics.
    Like the old saying if you don’t stop them and turn your head, then you have already joined them.
    Yes fear that speaking up may cause more trauma, because they will be released and you may never know when or where their at, until your surprised. But that’s when trusting in God and calling on Him will help you. He is the reason why we are still alive. No matter how bad it gets.

    • My god I am so sorry about what your son went through. I hope he is okay now. My heart goes out to you, friend. You are absolutely right that turning a blind eye makes a person a part of tge problem. Wallace Beery and the others involved in killing poor Ted Healy were known to be bullies and out and out trash. Hollywood contracts don’t make a person a hero or above the law, and this bullying continues today, including hostile work environments like on the Ellen show. Back then they wielded all thr power and got away with it on earth, but karma catches up to us all. I hope Ted Healys spirit rests in peace while the others rot in hell. Beery too. No wonder his dead body was transported off the Queen Mary and shipped back to LA sp the Queen Mary people don’t get bad publicity. Beery found out just how corrupt Hollywood and others can be first hand. When bullies like him and the others involved cover things up back then no one dared to speak out of fear of them and their coward mob cohortd. Nowadays we have cellphone videos and proof that these things happen. Poor Ted Healy. My heart goes out to him and his family. 💔❤️💓

  20. Of course it was the beating that took Healy out. DiCicco being involved wouldn’t have been a surprise. He was know hoodlum hanging around with Lucky Luciano and, as a wife beater, the lowest kind of scum. A cowardly little rat like that is always ready to fight a man when he’s backed up by a couple of pals fighting a falling down drunk. He only beat up women on his own. He was also, most likely, the reason his ex-wife Thelma Todd met her untimely end. Beery being involved would not surprising either. And anybody who believes the ridiculous coroners reports or the corrupt law enforcement in LA at that time is living in a dream world.

  21. Ted Healy 💔 I hope his spirit has found peace despite the probability of a cover-up by corrupt Holywood officionados and brutish stars like Beery who were able to get away with these things. Ted Healy deserves the truth to be found out and told, but in the meantime I hope God is holding him in his loving arms. Ted Healy Rest in Peace sweetie ❤️ My heart truly aches for this man. ❣️

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