Document Dump #6: Did Gouverneur Morris side with Arbuckle?

We first became aware of Gouverneur Morris’s interest in the Arbuckle case in Greg Merritt’s Room 1219 (p. 208). He refers to the following “open letter.” Our take is this: the letter was likely written before Gouverneur Morris began to turn in his editorials about the Arbuckle case and trial to the San Francisco Call (see Document Dump #5). These pieces were intended to be daily and were syndicated by the editor of Screenland, Myron Zobel.[1] He appears to be the “recipient” of this letter. For such copy to be published in time for the November 1921 issue of Screenland, where it appears on page nine next to a drawing of Mary Pickford, Morris would have been commissioned in late September or October—weeks before the actual trial, which isn’t referenced in this letter. The murder charge, which Brady sought in September 1921, is the giveaway here as to when this letter was actually composed. And one can see this as well by reviewing Morris’s copy for the Call. In the piece published on November 14, 1921, the first day of jury selection, Morris once more endorsed Matthew Brady, calling the district attorney “honest and big hearted, who has a greater faith in probation than prison.” The other pieces that Morris turned in are soberly written and don’t really take sides. Indeed, the writing for the Call differs so much from the Screenland letter that what you will read here was likely ghost-written by someone else with a different agenda.

An open letter to the Editor of Screenland

By Gouverneur Morris

In presenting Mr. Morris’ letter, the Editors of Screenland are thoroughly cognizant of the prudish caution that would argue suppression of such a daringly frank arraignment. Mr. Morris, however, is not only one of the leaders of American contemporary fiction, but he is a student of criminology, as expressed in many of his fiction works. This distinguishes Mr. Morris’ contribution from any mere morbid analysis of the Arbuckle case and removes any hesitancy Screenland might feel in presenting such a discussion before its readers.

Editor, Screenland Magazine
Hollywood, California

Dear Sir—[2]

In the Arbuckle matter Los Angeles seems to have butchered herself pretty thoroughly to make a San Francisco holiday. That the church should lead in howling down a man innocent of any crime in the eyes of the law has to have been expected, but that experienced editors and the man in the street, and the man in the studios should have so lost their heads, and their Americanism, is deplorable and a little surprising.

Los Angeles has a big chance to be big, open-minded and just. Instead, she listened to the pleading of a San Francisco district attorney and went crazy. Even a Mayor, in a frenzy of righteousness agreed that it is deplorable to raise people from the “lower orders” and make millionaires of them.[3] What does the Mayor of an American city mean by the “lower orders”? And what is American for if it is not to furnish equal opportunities to all men? And men are not raised. They raise themselves. And God knows it is finer to rise upon the love and laughter of children, as Arbuckle rose, than upon the back of any mercenary campaign—even if one rises all the way up from the “lower orders,” whatever they are.

It looks to me as if the Prosecution aspired to raise itself from whatever order is theirs, to positions of prominence in California, and believes that a hanged Arbuckle (guilty or not guilty) would be of immense political advantage to them. They will be able to “point with pride,” etc., etc.

Before jumping so hard on Arbuckle, decent-minded people not carried away by hysteria would like to know a little more about the woman who is said to be the victim of his crime, and of the drunken woman who alleges that the crime was committed.

It may be that Virginia Rappe was afflicted before she went to the famous part, and that Arbuckle is no more responsible for her death than the policeman who arrested him.

I for one would like to know more about her “sacred” love affair with this fellow whose bombastic telegrams and excruciatingly vulgar funeral arrangements have been the most sickening part of the whole business.[4]

And what sort of person is our chief witness for the prosecution? Is Delmonte her real name? If not, what is? What has been her vocation or avocation? How drunk was she? And after she has sobered up does she remember well what has happened while she was in liquor?

But it is not too late for the Los Angeles [people] to demand fair play for the victim of the San Francisco cabala and to accord it. Suppose we remember how much the kiddies love “Fatty” and give him the benefit of every doubt, and ask to have his pictures shown on Broadway, until there is no doubt of his guilt and well—and tell those in San Francisco to go to the Devil, and behave like regular men and women.

I do know Arbuckle, but, because of the laughs he has given my kiddies and me, I am his friend until there are better reasons (than now exist) for believing that no man should be his friend.[5] And surely it can’t be so bad as that.

Gouverneur Morris

We wish to thank for providing this image for our research.

[1] Not to be confused the other Myron “Global” Zobel, the travelogue filmmaker.

[2] I.e., Myron Zobel

[3] I.e., George E. Cryer,

[4] I.e., Henry Lehrman.

[5] Morris had two teenage daughters.

Document Dump #5: Gouverneur Morris’ on S.F. District Attorney Matthew Brady

Gouverneur Morris IV (1876–1953), the author of novels, short stories, and screenplays as well as a freelance journalist. To call him a “pulp” novelist is probably an injustice, for his work hardly anticipates or resembles Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Morris, at least during the first half of his career, dealt with bad characters of another kind, like men who took advantage of women in his 1914 short story “When My Ship Comes In,” about Broadway, with illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson. His screenplay for the Wallace Beery vehicle A Tale of Two Worlds (1921) follows the life of a white child raised by Chinese foster parents who is sold as a sex slave by Beery’s tong gang leader.

Morris covered the first Arbuckle trial in November–December 1921 for the San Francisco Call and his articles leading up to the trial didn’t take sides per se. Here he writes perhaps the only published profile of District Attorney Matthew Brady.

Gouverneur Morris, ca. 1920 (Library of Congress)


Gouverneur Morris, celebrated author, who will write a daily description of the Arbuckle trial exclusively for The Call, gives his impression of District Attorney Matthew Brady in the following thumb nail sketch:

The newspapers do not give me the same impression of San Francisco’s district attorney that the man himself does. That’s because one newspaper quotes him and another misquotes him and none attempts to describe him or to say what he is like, though all probably did plenty of that better than I can when he was being elected to his present high office. But that was a long time ago and readers may have forgotten.


From the quotations and misquotations I derived the erroneous impression that Brady is no longer an Irish name, and that it usually belongs to a man who is lean and savage, and, who if he is in the public service is a persecutor rather than a prosecutor. I got the idea that Mr. Brady was one of those district attorneys who believes that the end and the aim of public service is convictions. Now if Mr. Brady is that kind of a district attorney, then in the conversation which I had with him today, he deceived me grossly. For most certainly he gave me the impression in his dealings with the sins of mankind his inclination is to be tolerant and humane, to get at the truth rather than to garble it for glamour’s sake, and on the whole to be very much relieved whenever the truth warrants a jury bringing in a verdict of “not guilty.”


He himself, for any other district attorney with humane, and tolerant impulses. would make an ideal defendant. It would be difficult to convict him, and I not a pleasure. He has the broad and strong body which so often is kept going by a kind heart; white hair, rosy checks, a voice at once manly and beguiling; large but not loud.

Upon one point his friends and his enemies are united. And I have talked with no man in San Francisco who does not say with all his heart that Mr. Brady is an honest man. And I would have taken it upon myself to say that I thought that of him, even if a lot of others had said the opposite. Certainly, he rings true and honest.


Mr. Brady has no intention of letting the prosecution of Roscoe Arbuckle turn into a persecution. He believes that he has a case, or else, of course, he could not prosecute, and he believes that case is stronger than any defense that can be made. Nevertheless, if the defense has I something up its sleeve which has not been foreseen by the prosecution or known to exist, and which would cause the case of the prosecution to fall to the ground like a house of cards, I am inclined to believe that Mr. Brady would be more glad than sorry, for to him a prisoner at the bar of justice or behind the bars of a prison, whatever his alleged or proven wickedness may be, is also a human being in trouble.

But this can only be a thumbnail. Impressionistic sketch. I believe that San Francisco is going to be proud of the figure which Matthew P. Brady will cut at the Arbuckle trial.

Source: San Francisco Call, 12 November 1921, 1.

Matthew Brady (Calisphere)