Academic journal article Arthuriana

William Dudley Pelley, an American Nazi in King Arthur's Court

Academic journal article Arthuriana

William Dudley Pelley, an American Nazi in King Arthur's Court

Article excerpt

The names of King Arthur and his knights have been invoked by many, perhaps none more infamous in twentieth-century American history than William Dudley Pelley, author of the screenplay for an important 1922 American silent film about the Grail, founder in the early 1930s of Galahad College and Galahad Press, but also a rabid anti-Semite, convicted-swindler, and racketeer, and Nazi sympathizer before, and traitor to America during, the Second World War. (KJH)

William Dudley Pelley is not a name readily recognizable today to the general public, and even to Arthurian scholars or enthusiasts, despite his having written the screenplay for an important early silent Grail film released in 1922 and his having set up Galahad Press and having founded Galahad College, both in the early 1930s. So Pelley's Arthurian connections, like those of many others buried in the past of Arthuriana, would seem, at first, to be impressive and important, but for the fact that Pelley was also among America's most despicable and infamous charlatans, swindlers, phony spiritualists, anti-Semitic fascist extremists, demagogues, Nazi sympathizers, and traitors during the Second World War.

Although it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction in detailing Pelley's life and several careers-given his penchant for exaggeration, if not for outright mendacity-Pelley was born in 1895 in Lynn, Massachusetts, and died in 1965 in Noblesville, Indiana, while awaiting sentencing after he had been convicted of securities fraud.1 Pelley first worked variously as a journalist and missionary, and was sent by the YMCA on a fact-finding tour of Russia just as the anti-Tsarist revolution broke out in 1917. His experiences in Russia during the early days of that revolution led to a life-long fervent linking of Communism with Judaism. In Pelley's reading of the events of the revolution, the Communists were all Jewish extremists bent on destroying Christianity in the persons of the Romanovs and all the good for which they stood.

It was Edmund Buke who first uttered the asininity that one could not indict a whole people. But I demand to know what the Jewish people are doing, of their own racial volition, to put an end to such apostate leadership as precipitated the horrors I witnessed in red Russia! On that basis at present, I sweepingly indict the Jews of the world.2

Returning to the United States, Pelley landed in the greater New York area and began publishing non-fiction pieces and short stories, and writing screenplays. When one of his stories, 'White Faith,' was optioned for film, Pelley was also commissioned to write the screenplay. The resulting film, director Clarence Brown's 1922 The Light in the Dark,3 starred Hope Hampton,4 already a marquis draw for stage, opera, and screen audiences (perhaps in no small part because she was married to the producer and impresario Jules Brulator5), and an up-and-coming Lon Chaney, Sr., who would soon move west, as did Pelley and much of the movie industry, to California. Pelley would continue to work in what he would eventually deem 'the Hollywood fleshpots'6 for about seven years, where he remained friendly with Chaney, for whom he wrote several screenplays, and where he enjoyed a modest degree of financial and artistic success.7

The Light in the Dark was one of the more artistically successful silent Grail films.8 In the film, the dog of a wealthy New York playboy, J. Warburton Ashe (E.K. Lincoln), finds the Sacred Cup of the Last Supper in the ruins of an English abbey, which a film title and a close-up of a newspaper headline refer to as 'Tennyson's Grail,' and brings it back to New York where it mysteriously and glowingly appears several times to heal the playboy's critically ill, nowjilted fiancée (played by Hampton) and to reform Chaney's down-on-his luck, but good-hearted, ne'er-do-well, Tony Pantelli. The film's title plays off of the cup's luminous quality. Interestingly, the jilted fiancée's name, Elaine, is ripe with Arthurian associations. …

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