Silent-Film Star Said a Mouthful About O.C. Justice

February 27, 2000, By Steve Emmons, L.A. Times

The outrageously hokey photo, taken outside the Orange County Jail in 1921, was part of the publicity surrounding Orange County's first celebrity courtroom circus, the conviction of silent-film star Bebe Daniels for speeding.

On Jan. 11, she had been clocked doing 56.5 mph in her Marmon on U.S. 101 heading for San Juan Capistrano, and her trial was scheduled two months later before Judge John Belshazzar Cox in Santa Ana.

Much happened in the interim. The Yost Theatre in Santa Ana debuted her latest film, "She Couldn't Help It." Daniels herself appeared in a very revealing gown at a benefit in Fullerton and sang "The Judge Cox Blues."

In a courtroom jammed with spectators, her lawyer demanded mercy for "this poor little girl who has been subjected to so much." The jury deliberated five minutes. Guilty. "Oh well," she told reporters, "I suppose if you live in a small town you get like that. I bet 56.5 miles an hour sounds awfully fast if you've never driven anything faster than a plow."

Cox sentenced her to 10 days in jail. If he had done so today, the accommodations would have been rather stark, such as the cell in the present women's jail.

But arriving in 1921 with a press agent, suitcases, hatboxes and a supply of chocolates, Daniels spent her time in easy surroundings.

Local merchants provided a bedroom suite and three hot meals a day. A fan provided a phonograph and 150 records. The Abe Syman Orchestra serenaded her each night. When it came time to leave, her guest book had been signed by 792 visitors, including Cox, who had also sent flowers.

Did Bebe's brush with the law ruin her career? Hardly. She immediately started work on her next film, "The Speed Girl."

copyright 2000

Read a biography of Bebe Daniels!

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