New York actress Ethel La Deaux left exactly one trace in the history of her profession, or indeed in any kind of history. I don’t know anything she was in, I can’t show you her picture and I have no idea what she looked like, beyond the reasonable assumption that she must have been pretty. It’s also a fair inference that she was ambitious, and that her agent was gullible. Her sole claim to fame is that, in February 1928, this combination of factors got her spanked.
It happened when she was sent for an audition at the George M. Cohan Theatre on Broadway; her agency, Wales Winter, told her that the choreographer Russell Markert had phoned up looking for an actress to feature in two new sketches to be inserted into the successful Shubert touring revue A Night in Spain, which was then playing the winter season in Chicago.
Markert wasn’t there when she got to the Cohan: she was told that he was setting up a show at another theater five blocks away. She proceeded to traipse from theater to theater around Manhattan, until a man came up to her in the street and introduced himself as Russell Markert. After interviewing her in a public room at one of the theaters, he told her she was hired and to report for rehearsal at Bryant Hall the next day.
Her first task on arrival was to get into abbreviated rehearsal clothes; he waited outside while she changed, then ran through the two sketches with her. In the first, he played an eastern Sultan, and she was a slave girl pleading with him and falling on her hands and knees. He kept her doing this until she was black and blue. Then it was time for the second sketch, in which she was to play a flapper who came in late and was caught by her father, with the usual consequences for stopout flappers.
In the course of the rehearsal, he was considerate enough to ask if he was spanking her too hard. She replied that, yes, the full-on spanking could wait until she was actually onstage in the show.
When the session was over and she was on her way out of Bryant Hall, she was taken aside by someone who wanted to give her two important pieces of information: first, Russell Markert had nothing to do with the production of A Night in Spain, and therefore wasn’t hiring actresses for the show; second, the man she had been rehearsing with, and spanked by, was not Russell Markert.
Ethel went straight to the police, who told her to get in touch next time she was called to ‘rehearsal’ so that the imposter could be picked up. She also went to Variety, the US theatrical trade paper, which ran the story under the headline:
There’s no record of whether the man was ever caught; probably he wasn’t dumb enough to try it again, certainly not with the same woman and surely not with anyone at all after the February 15 edition of Variety put the entertainment world on its guard. It’s also unlikely that he moved to Youngstown, Ohio, and started his tricks again 21 years later – but that’s our next port of call.
In December 1949, a young Youngstown housewife received a telephone call purporting to be from a local radio station. They were running a competition with a grand prize of $100 (worth ten times as much today). Participants were asked for suggestions about ‘how to tame your wife’. The housewife replied without hesitation:
‘Why, a spanking, of course.’
The caller then told her that the $100 bill would be hers if her husband would spank her then and there, loud enough to be heard over the phone (and therefore on air). Slight problem: hubby wasn’t at home. So the lady popped next door and asked a neighbor to come round and do the honors.
Soundly and loudly spanked, all she now had to do was call in at the radio station to collect the cash. But when she did so, she was told that there was no such competition, nor any such program, and that there was certainly no $100 due to her. She had been well and truly hoaxed!
Associated Press got hold of the story and, since there was no discernible personality at the other end of the phone, what got into the morning papers across America on December 20 was a wry tale of the nameless housewife’s greed and gullibility. In contrast, our next case, from London in 1960, more or less stayed out of the press and only emerged decades later in the authorized biography of the film producer Peter Rogers.
Rogers, the man responsible for the Carry On series of film comedies, was unexpectedly summoned to a meeting at Equity, the actors’ union. He was expecting to be carpeted for paying less than union rates, but in fact he was being investigated over complaints by a number of young actresses. They had gone to his private apartment to attend an audition for a Carry On film, specifically for a spanking scene, and presumably weren’t happy with the outcome.
In fact, Rogers didn’t own any such apartment, only held auditions at Pinewood Studios and didn’t at that time have a Carry On film at the casting stage, with or without a spanking scene: the hopeful actresses were being scammed (and spanked) by someone posing as him. But he still felt obliged to take out a full-page advert in The Stage, the British equivalent of Variety, in an effort to save his reputation and scotch the accusations, albeit without directly referring to them.
Ten years later, in September 1970, as students were arriving on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to start the new academic year, the student newspaper, the Daily Northwestern, carried an advertisement that offered some of them the chance to supplement their income. Female students aged between 18 and 26 were invited to present themselves at a local hotel to participate in what was described as a ‘research discussion group’, offering a fee of $15 per half-hour session. Over a hundred girls turned up, and met a goatee-wearing man who gave his name as Joe and explained that he was conducting experimental research for an outfit called G & S Love Industries. The subject of the investigation was the relationship between sexuality and spanking.
Most of the applicants were unsuccessful, and some may have backed out of their own accord after hearing what was required, but Joe selected thirteen girls to be spanked. Each was asked to tell him something they had done wrong recently, and he would then take her across his knee and spank her, the severity depending on the seriousness of the admitted misdemeanor; afterwards they were to tell him whether they had found it sexually stimulating.
It seems that some did; others said it just hurt. But all thirteen turned up for a second session, and then a third, meaning Joe got to administer 39 spankings, committed nearly 20 hours of his time to the project and racked up a total financial liability of $585, not including the cost of the hotel room and the original ad.
Some of the girls became suspicious when they noticed a lack of scientific detachment in Joe’s approach to his work: he was unprofessionally enthusiastic, and also indiscreet enough to tell one of them,
‘I like to spank girls. That was terribly erotic.’
They should also have been suspicious when Joe insisted that they were not to discuss the project with outsiders, adding that doing so was classed as ‘a 20-spank offense’ (which, I guess, implies that most of the spankings he gave were shorter than that). But what really hacked them off was that, when he paid them after the third session, each and every one of the $45 checks bounced.
The girls went to the university security office, which mounted an investigation. It emerged that there was no such firm as G & S Love Industries, and that Goatee Joe had been arrested more than a few times, for such various crimes as burglary, forgery, armed robbery and possession of stolen goods, though strangely all that had never led to a conviction. The state attorney became involved, and Joe agreed to settle matters by paying each girl double what he owed her. This time the checks were honored.
He got off lightly. The girls were given the chance to press criminal charges, but none of them wanted to: they were all too embarrassed, both at being fooled and being spanked. And so, as it said in the story released by United Press International the following March, they had learned one thing from the experience:
‘Spanking can make you red on both ends.’
The version syndicated by Associated Press, incidentally, differed in a few details and came with a cartoon:
There’s a long history of these spanking confidence tricksters getting away with it, which ended in April 1982 with the conviction of the wretched Stephen Davidson, an IRS tax inspector from New York.
He too targeted college coeds, posing as a film producer and posting casting notices on the bulletin boards of at least four university drama departments. Would-be movie stars were invited to present themselves for auditions at a rented studio on West 56th Street, where they were asked to screen test. One of the films he was supposedly casting was entitled Professor No (though it’s not clear whether that was a play on the title of the first James Bond film or should instead be punctuated Professor, No!, the words of a naughty coed about to meet her doom…) Another was School Days, School Days, said to be about a sorority traveling to Bermuda with a football team, accompanied by a strict teacher, played in the tests by Davidson himself.
A costume was provided for the auditions, a schoolgirl outfit including a micro-miniskirt, straw boater and Peter Pan collar, but each girl presumably retained her own underwear. Once she had changed, Davidson would put her across his knee, raise her short skirt and spank her on her panties, reportedly giving between 25 and 50 slaps.
Afterwards he always asked the girl whether she had found it sexually gratifying, and told her the filmed test was to be sent to California for evaluation.
The students should have realized something was amiss when he offered to pay them for the auditions, with proposed fees ranging from $500 to $3,000. Whoever heard of anyone being paid for a job interview? You only get paid for doing the job itself, if you get it – which strongly indicated that the spankings were an end in themselves, not something that might lead to paid employment and Hollywood stardom.
But it seems no rats were smelt until much later, when the spanked girls never heard back, and never got their money. The whole scheme seems to have been wildly successful, running for at least the period from January 1979 to October 1981, when Davidson was arrested; one report said he had been at it for six years and had spanked thousands of girls, who presumably never gossiped about their experiences or disappointment.
His downfall came when one girl went to the Assistant DA and told her story. She was asked to go back and be spanked again, after detectives had installed a hidden camera to tape the session and serve for evidence. She did – and reportedly gave ‘an Academy Award performance with her screams’. The police also found lists of the girls he had ‘auditioned’, and set about tracing them and taking statements. Ten of them agreed to give evidence.
Davidson was charged with fraud, criminal impersonation and forgery, which collectively carried a maximum sentence of twelve years served consecutively, or seven concurrently. In the end, the fraud and forgery charges were dropped and he pleaded guilty on the remaining count, the least serious, for which he got three years’ probation. Three things persuaded the prosecution to accept what seems to have been a plea-bargain: he had shown contrition, his motivation was ‘a personal problem, not greed’ and the girls remained ‘partially clothed’ when they were spanked. In other words, if he’d pulled down their panties, he’d have gone to jail!
There are two striking things about these unedifying cases. One is what crime was reckoned to have been committed. Nowadays you would expect the charge to be sexual assault, and it’s true that most of the stories acknowledge a sexual dimension to the case: in 1928, the New York police told Miss La Deaux that her spanker had a ‘queer complex’ (meaning queer peculiar, not queer gay), and in 1981 the Sex Crimes Unit was involved in the investigation. But usually the women’s main complaint wasn’t what you might expect. The chief investigator in the Davidson case found one thing surprising:
‘Would you believe the irony in this whole thing is that none of the girls had anything bad to say about Davidson for the spankings he gave them? They were merely angry because he didn’t pay them.’
And that’s true in most of the other cases: the women were affronted not that they had been spanked (to which, after all, they had agreed), but that they had been denied the money and opportunities that they expected the spankings would bring them. That’s why Davidson was actually charged with crimes involving his dishonesty, not his sexual misbehavior.
The other interesting thing has a wider implication. None of the women concerned thought there was anything fishy about the spankings: the Ohio housewife in 1949 even brought up the subject herself, albeit in response to a question that was obviously designed to elicit it. The Peter Rogers biography (Mr Carry On, by Morris Bright and Robert Ross) affects to find the ‘spanking audition’ scam implausible because his films ‘didn’t go in for that sort of action’, but in fact, as well as the Carry On series, Rogers was also the producer of The Iron Maiden, which of course included this scene:
This was a world in which it was completely plausible that an actress might be spanked in a revue sketch or a movie, and might therefore reasonably be asked to be spanked in an audition or rehearsal. It was a world in which spanking was mainstream and normal. And that is a matter we shall consider next time.
Picture Credits/Context: The illustration for 1928 was originally part of a 1925 American Weekly article about a husband/wife spanking; it was later syndicated in many US newspapers. The one for 1949 originally illustrated the short story ‘Love is Least Expected’, syndicated in the US press in 1942. The one for 1970 shows the Mexican actors Juan Miranda and Jacqueline Andere, probably in a magazine photostory (or perhaps a telenovela or stage play). The others are of unknown origin.