Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Friday, March 21, 2014

Before She Accused Errol Flynn ...

Peggy Satterlee Was A Universal Starlet

Elyse Knox and Acquanetta Got
Billing in This Theatre Ad
Comes time to scratch the underbelly of Hollywood with account of star aspirant Peggy Satterlee and infamy rather than success that capped her pursuit of film fame. I'd not dredge sordid account but for discovery of images/data to show how, but for cruelty of chance, Peggy might have become a name at Universal rather than a footnote on police blotters. We know Miss Satterlee, if at all, as one of a pair (the other being Betty Hansen) to point underage fingers at Errol Flynn in third-quarter 1942, then testify to effect he'd raped them on/off his yacht earlier in that year. The charge was felony times three, Flynn standing good chance of career ruin and worse, an active sentence should he be convicted. Details of the nasty business can be found in EF bios and trial transcripts far/wide, so I'll not air them further here. What would come of the ordeal beyond Flynn's acquittal was disgrace and isolation for Peggy Satterlee. Poor gal couldn't get arrested once that jury went home.

Peggy Satterlee and Betty Hansen Have Their Day In Court

Peggy During Fateful Visit to Errol Flynn's Yacht
Like other seekers after fame, Peggy had begun with hope. She'd come from Texas, waited tables, wished for a break. Future director Richard Bare met her before either became known. In fact, his mother had tried to match them up on conviction that Peggy was such a "nice little girl." Bare ended up taking photos PS could submit to agents. In the meantime, she'd dance for nightclubs and make acquaintance of Errol Flynn. The big break Peggy caught was selection by producer Walter Wanger to play a "palace virgin" in Arabian Nights, his Technicolor'ed exotica for Universal 1942 release. She'd join ingénues picked "from thousands" to adorn the sultan's harem and be background to stars Maria Montez and Jon Hall. Make no mistake, this was close to a sun from which Peggy, indeed all the girls picked, could feel heat. Others of the group caught fire, if briefly and by then-standard, modestly, but a lot of us, including ones who grew up on Universal horrors, know well the names of Elyse Knox and Acquanetta, two who shared harem digs with Peggy Satterlee. But for trick of fate, we might have seen Peggy carried off eventually by Chaney's Mummy, or doing him dirt in an Inner Sanctum. Then it would have been "Scream Queen" Satterlee chased through the 80/90's by monster kids in quest of autograph/interviews.

Part of Parade Of Lovelies Seeking a Universal Contract

Arabian Nights was very much a Universal special. They'd spend nearly a million on it. That was top money for an outfit that generally dealt in half or less of such amount. Producing Walter Wanger had come aboard as an on-lot independent and the concept of Arabian Nights was his. The idea was to borrow notions from The Thief Of Bagdad, a recent success out of England, and sex them up. Maria Montez was a relative newcomer getting strong push, and Jon Hall had a name at least recognizable, thanks to The Hurricane from 1937. Further from Thief's trunk came Sabu, optioned for Arabian Nights and future variation on turbaned themes. Universal had developed a reliable formula they'd apply to all genres: construct a wall of character comedians around whatever story you told. The approach stood good to westerns, actioners, even horror pics, 1939's Destry Rides Again having paved ways for Seven Sinners, The Black Cat (1941), The Mad Doctor Of Market Street, and reams of Richard Arlen/Andy Devine two-fisters where comedy in the person of Devine lifted off support rolls to co-starring position. Arabian Nights would also be Universal's first three-color Technicolor production, poised for Christmas 1942 opening on 40% terms, a figure seldom asked, let alone gotten, for Uni product.

Sweating Out a Verdict, Flynn Sits at Defense Table with Attorneys

Advance Trade Ad Promises Much
Production had begun in June. Wanger got press for announcing his "sextette of virgins" for the sultan's harem. Of these, Elyse Knox was alone for having film experience, Peggy Satterlee identified as a "professional dancer" from Dallas. There'd been talk of going to Utah to shoot desert scenes, but economy obliged Universal to lease thirty-five adjoining acres over which "hundreds of tons of sand" would be poured. By September and Night's completion, a sure thing was known and follow-ups were planned. White Savage with Montez/Hall began rolling in October and Cobra Woman went on planning boards. Arabian Nights release was delayed till holidays because Technicolor prints couldn't be delivered sooner. Previews in the meantime confirmed that it would be a hit whatever the wait. Universal ran trade ads months in advance touting "torrid romance and slashing adventure." Walter Wanger had handed Universal more than a success; he'd given them a cycle that could be re-cycled for seasons to come (five more with Montez/Hall among these).

Off-The-Hook Errol Shakes Hands With Jurors

"Virgin" Peggy's Big Moment in Arabian Nights
Meanwhile, for Peggy Satterlee, the bubble was about to burst. Errol Flynn's arrest based on her charge took place in November and he'd be tried in January 1943, the very period during which Arabian Nights opened and had its initial success. This was something Peggy might have shared had she not been confined to a witness box, as Universal arranged for junkets nationwide to display Arabian Nights players and others on studio payroll. What follows is personal appearing list for Boston during the week that Peggy was giving testimony: Maria Montez, Sabu, Elyse Knox, Donald O' Connor, Peggy Ryan, Gloria Jean, and Nigel Bruce, all greeted by Massachusetts's governor. Did they discuss among themselves the scandal into which Peggy Satterlee had been plunged? Certainly the Flynn trial was Topic A on newspaper headlines nationwide. A couple of theatres playing Arabian Nights saw opportunity to trade on the mess and billed Peggy first in ads despite the fact her part was miniscule. Aftermath of all this would be grim for damaged Hollywood merchandise that was Peggy Satterlee. She made rounds of San Francisco vaudeville bookers but got nowhere, then with her sister tried and failed to get jobs at Douglas Aircraft in April of 1943. The press was done with Peggy other than squibs like one from columnist Dorothy Kilgallen in January 1945 that reported plans for a name change and new hair color toward re-entry to films. After that, the (news)paper trail ends. Question then, is this: Does Peggy Satterlee still walk among us? She'd be eighty-eight if that's the case. Her prosecuting co-witness Betty Hansen did re-surface and was interviewed some year's back, but no trace of Peggy. Does anyone know what finally became of her?


Blogger Muscato said...

You've sent me down a rabbit hole! I've found some things online about her family (including an article in an AP story that notes testimony at the Flynn trial from her 18-year old sister Mickey, already divorced from one of Ann Sheridan's husbands. Her mother died in '92 in California, but is buried in Dallas, for what that's worth. I'll keep digging...

12:05 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Elyse Knox was the daughter of Connecticut exhibitor Fred Kornbrath (her real name was Elsie Kornbrath).

2:59 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers the case of Peggy Satterlee and Errol Flynn:

This is a fascinating article.

The story of Errol Flynn's trial for rape is well known, of course, but only from his perspective. I confess that I'd never really given a thought to Peggy Satterlee and Betty Hansen, the young women involved, or as to what became of them when it was over. They were simply props in a little drama being played out between the wheelers and dealers of Hollywood of the time, in which Flynn himself was scarcely more than that, if a rather more prominent one. They were anonymous before and simply returned to that anonymity.

The photographs from the trial are also familiar. The Speed Graphic and flash gun were not very flattering to the women, depriving them of whatever grace or attractiveness they might have enjoyed. Flynn, on the contrary, seemed more handsome than ever, or at any rate, more appealing. Stripped of his Hollywood glamor, something very real and decent was revealed. Afterwards it seemed that nothing mattered to him, as though he understood that he was no more than his appetites and that they would always bring him to this point of dishonor and disgrace. He would be weighed in the balance and found wanting. The photographs, however, suggest a certain wounded dignity. If he could have but believed it, he was very much a man of his heart, just as his performances revealed that heart more than he cared to acknowledge.

But as you've also revealed, Peggy Satterlee, at least, was more than a name spoken in passing or a rude image most often seen in half tone reproductions. She wasn't a star, of course, but being selected for a showy bit part in a movie meant that her studio was at least aware of her. Possibly it would have led to other roles and even success of a kind. Who can know? Her career was opening up, however, and it was that as much as any malign fate which caused her path to cross with Errol Flynn's.

The photograph of her that afternoon, descending into the dingy beside Flynn's yacht, is astonishing. I had never seen it before. She was a very pretty girl indeed, slender and just emerging into her womanhood, and I can sense from it how thrilled she was to be there. She must have dreamt of coming to Hollywood and having movie stars for her friends, just like her friends back home in Texas, except in a life that was so much more glamorous and exciting. Now it was all coming true. There was probably an undercurrent of sexual tension as well between her and Flynn. Something was going to happen, and that, too, was thrilling.

The camera shutter opened at the very moment when all the contradictions that would attend her hopes and expectations, and the price she would pay for them, seemed to exist together, as if it is possible to have and have not. Such contradictions are always resolved, as surely as morning follows the night, but not just then. All she could have been aware of was how bright the sun was and how wonderful the rest of her life was going to be.


11:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Fantastic comments and article.

I feel great pity for Miss Satterlee as she later stated that she was threatened with a prison sentence by the crooks in the LA District Atty's office if she didn't 'cry rape.' From what we know she had no complaints from her time with the great Errol; far from it.

But the rats made her a deal she couldn't refuse. One of Errol's friends, a stunt man, stated that one of the girl's fathers had attempted to extort money from Flynn or he'd 'go to the cops and tell em you were with my underage daughter.'

In Flynn's autobiography he stated that he received a mysterious call one night; the caller wanted money to be dropped off or 'on Wednesday' Flynn could expect trouble.

Wednesday came and Flynn was arrested. And his nightmare began.

I have no doubt that this trial inflicted profound trauma upon Flynn. 50 years in San Quint?

Like the man we want him to be, Flynn stated that he would flee before taking a trumped up rap. And he had made plans.

I love that. Imagine if they'd convicted. He would have fled to Mexico. And there would have then been the fugitive Flynn.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Film dude 23 said...

Peggy Satterlee passed away at age 79 on November 5th 2005 per her IMDB page.

1:21 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022
  • June 2022
  • July 2022
  • August 2022
  • September 2022
  • October 2022
  • November 2022
  • December 2022
  • January 2023
  • February 2023
  • March 2023
  • April 2023
  • May 2023
  • June 2023
  • July 2023
  • August 2023
  • September 2023
  • October 2023
  • November 2023
  • December 2023
  • January 2024
  • February 2024
  • March 2024
  • April 2024
  • May 2024
  • June 2024