When he told his 19-year-old stenographer that they would both be arrested within 15 minutes, she believed him. She got in his car and they fled to Yuma, Ariz. There was no reason to doubt him. Paul Bourgeois was “America’s greatest animal trainer,” a pioneer cinematographer in the Dutch film industry, the inventor of a new “iceless ice,” the promoter of Los Angeles’ first full-size skating rink — and her boss.

In Yuma, Joyce Burns got a telegram from her mother, who told her to come home: It was only Bourgeois who was wanted by police.

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“He admitted he had told me I was in danger so that I would come with him,” Burns told The Times after she got back to the city Aug. 22, 1916, a few days after absconding. “He told me he loved me and wanted to marry me.”

But on returning to L.A., Burns began to learn things about Bourgeois. He had stolen the car and another woman’s heart (as well as her money). He had stolen more than that. And he had never explained to anyone how his iceless ice was going to work.

Bourgeois wasn’t even his real name: It was Paul Sablon.

His accomplishments in European cinema had earned him a place in early film history, and his Hollywood pictures were hailed in the American press. But from 1916 until his death in 1940,…

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