The early 1900’s in Hollywood, found stars of the silent movie screens, such as Theda Bara, Clara Bow, Lillian Gish, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Rudolph Valentino. But many actors graced the silent screen, some actors had such fascinating lives that they not only graced the movie screens, but their infamy would bleed over onto the front pages of the newspapers as well. One silent actor who was famous in Hollywood before tragedy made him a pariah, is Fatty Arbuckle.
Rosco Conkling “Fatty” Arbuckle was born in 1887, in Smith Center, KS. At a young age his family moved to Santa Ana, CA, and he began performing at the age of 8. His mother passed away at the age of 11. Ever since his birth, his father had treated him badly as he felt that Roscoe was illegitimate due to being over 13 pounds at birth. As his parents were both of slim build, William Goodrich Arbuckle, named him after Senator Roscoe Conkling who was a notorious philanderer at the time, and a person that William despised.
After his mother passed away, his father refused to support him, so at the age of 11, he began to do odd jobs to support himself. When working, he would often sing, and it was during this time that a professional singer heard him and encouraged him to try out at an amateur talent show. Fearing he was going to be pulled off stage, Fatty somersaulted into the orchestra pit, and caused the audience to scream with laughter. He won the talent show and started a career in Vaudeville.
During his career, Fatty tipped the scales at 300 pounds, gaining his moniker that would follow him forever. He was very agile, and acrobatic despite his size. Being extremely successful earning over $1000 per day (unheard of at the time) Roscoe mentored actors such as Charlie Chaplin, discovered Buster Keaton and Bob Hope. Life was looking very good for Roscoe Arbuckle.
Taking a break, Roscoe and two friends drove to San Francisco and got three rooms, one designated the party room, and the other two for the three of them to sleep in. September 5, 1921; a young actress by the name of Virginia Rappe, was carousing with the men and several other women. She eventually became ill and a doctor was summoned to room 1219, the same room that Roscoe shared with a friend. The doctor determined she was suffering from being intoxicated and prescribed her morphine to calm her. She wasn’t hospitalized until two days later.
At the hospital Virginia’s friend, Bambina Maude Delmont, told doctors that her friend had been raped by Roscoe Arbuckle. The doctor examined Virginia but found no evidence of rape. She was not pregnant nor had she had an abortion. What Virginia did have was frequent urinary tract infections, a condition that was irritated when she drank liquor. Virginia Rappe died of peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder. It was speculated that Roscoe had caused the injuries to Virginia simply by having his overweight body on top of hers. Bambina accused Roscoe of the rape and death of Virgina. Roscoe vehemently denied any wrong doing.
Because of the resulting scandal, and media circus. His friends in Hollywood all followed the leadership of the studios and did not speak out in support of Roscoe. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton both stated that they believed Roscoe to be innocent as they had known him for many years and he wouldn’t hurt a fly. They also stated that Roscoe was rather shy around women. Unfortunately his personal and professional lives were in ruins.
Roscoe went on trial, not once, not twice, but three times. The first two trials ended in a mistrial, the third trial lasted 31 days, and it took the jury only 6 minutes to return a verdict.
They felt that Roscoe Arbuckle was not guilty and exonerated him of all wrongdoing.
Even though he was not guilty, the damage had been done. He was eventually allowed to work in Hollywood again, but he wouldn’t see success like he had before 1921. In 1933, Roscoe passed away at the age of 46 in New York City, he had suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep.
Since it may never really be known if her rendezvous with Roscoe was really the catalyst to her death, what do you think really caused the death of Virginia Rappe?
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