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Alexander Pantages Trials: 1929

Schoolgirl Versus "slinky"

Defendant: Alexander Pantages
Crime Charged: Rape
Chief Defense Lawyers: Earl M. Daniels, W. J. Ford, Jerry Giiesler, and W. I. Gilbert
Chief Prosecutors: Burton Fitts, and Robert P. Stewart
Judge: Charles Fricke
Place: Los Angeles, California
Dates of Trials: First: October 4-27, 1929; Second: November 3-27, 1931
Verdict: First trial: Guilty; Second trial: Not guilty
Sentence: First trial: 50 years imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: The Alexander Pantages case marked a turning point in California law as the state's Supreme Court ruled on appeal that, where rape was alleged, if the girl was under 18, evidence of her previous sexual activity was admissible to discredit her testimony that she had been criminally attacked. The case also established a national reputation for defense attorney Jerry Giesler, who went on to handle many Hollywood cases.

By 1929, 54-year-old Alexander Pantages, a Greek immigrant who had never learned to read or write any language, had put together a chain of 60 vaudeville-and-movie palaces across the western half of the United States. Those in the know thought him worth $30 million.

On August 9, 17-year-old Eunice Irene Pringle, a well-trained dancer hoping to book her act on the Pantages circuit, appeared at Pantages' Los Angeles, California office, insisting, despite several previous turn-downs, on an interview with "Alexander the Great," as he was known in Hollywood. Reluctantly, he agreed and showed her into his private office on the mezzanine level of his theater.

Shortly, matinee moviegoers saw Eunice Pringle, her clothing disarranged, running into the street, screaming that she had been raped. Within days, a preliminary hearing produced an indictment and the press made Pantages the nation's best-known "wealthy old goat" in a sordid scandal.

Pantages' defense was that the young woman had thrown herself at him like a tigress, tearing at his shirt, suspenders, and trousers, and screaming at him. It had taken all his strength to push the athletic young dancer from his office.

As the trial began, Hollywood law partners W.J. Ford and W.I. Gilbert asked bright junior attorney Jerry Giesler to cross-examine. He led Pringle back and forth through her story several times. Then he asked, "Did your studies in dramatic school include a course in memory training?"

"Yes."

"Were you taught to express your emotions dramatically?"

"Yes."

Giesler's thought, he said later, was that although Miss Pringle had told her pitiful tale several times to the press and to the law, she had scarcely varied a comma each time.… I pointed out that her story seemed rehearsed as only a girl who was studying acting would have rehearsed it."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940