OLD NEWS: Chilling details of Hollywood’s first major sex scandal fascinate Little Rock newspapers in 1921



A hundred years ago, the Arkansans stood speechless as a shining star of delicious silent films was accused of a crime so vile it was nearly impossible to describe in writing. And yet the newspapers have succeeded.

His name was Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle, and he was found not guilty of crushing a starlet’s bladder during rape at a drunken orgy at a San Francisco hotel. But in the Arkansas newspapers published in September 1921, he looked guilty.

Reader friend probably knows the story of “Fatty” Arbuckle (1887-1933) better than I do, but due diligence always forces me to claim that readers know very little. So here are some basics gleaned from the Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette reviews, an actor bio on IMDb, and a story article I like, which was written by Gerald. King for Smithsonian Magazine and uploaded November 8, 2011 (see arkansasonline.com/913fatty).


The talented and charming Arbuckle is said to have weighed 13 pounds at birth. He was one of nine children born to a couple from Kansas who moved to California at the age of 2. At the age of 8 he was a stage artist.

According to IMDb, at 20, he was an acrobat, clown, singer, director and had toured with a theater company that had performed “The Mikado” in China and Japan. He worked for Mack Sennett’s Keystone production studio, playing mostly cops in single-reel comedies. He starred alongside Charlie Chaplin and had started directing his own films in 1914, doing cute comedies with Mabel Normand (she was famous).

By 1917 he had a production company with Joseph M. Schenck and was earning over $ 1,000 a week. He was the producer who hired the future great comic book genius Buster Keaton.

Paramount Pictures paid Arbuckle $ 3 million to star in 18 silent films, and in 1921 he signed another $ 1 million contract. “Crazy to Marry”, his latest comedy, was playing everywhere last September, including in theaters of Little Rock.

Gallery: Fatty Arbuckle in the News

[Photo gallery not showing up above? Click here » arkansasonline.com/920arbuckle/]

“So,” as King explains in the Smithsonian article, “his friend Fred Fischbach threw a big party to celebrate, a three-day Labor Day at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. But Arbuckle almost didn’t attend because his butt had been burned earlier in the week: he had sat on an acid-soaked rag in a garage where his car, a Pierce-Arrow, was being serviced.

Fischbach found him a rubber cushion to sit on for the ride up the California coast to the hotel, where he had booked connecting rooms and a suite.

Among the random people who showed up at what the newspapers called “the alcoholic night” were Virginia Rappe, 25, and an unreliable witness by the name of Maude Delmont, who used to blackmail artists. . Writing for the Smithsonian, King says that when Arbuckle woke up on Labor Day and, still in his pajamas, robe and slippers, saw these women, he told friends he wanted them to go. He feared their sordid reputation would attract the police.

But there was alcohol and music, and Arbuckle quickly forgot about his problems, King writes. Four days later, Rappe passed away.

A Grand Jury indictment charged Arbuckle with manslaughter. But the alleged crime had occurred during the commission of a documented crime – alcohol – so the prosecutor also charged him with first degree murder.

In Little Rock, the Gazette was in turmoil, collecting rumors daily from its national news services, which were Hearst newspapers. Hearst reporters stuck with Hollywood’s first major scandal like ticks on a dog, producing a confusing jumble of hearsay stories.

The Democrat, who got his national and national news from The Associated Press, ran fewer and generally shorter articles, some raising doubts about the veracity of Arbuckle’s accusers. But he looked very, very bad in the Democrat too.

Readers were treated to interviews or stories about witnesses – real, suspected or missing – as well as industry gossip. An alleged widely cited insider was across New York County when the alleged crime occurred.

Witnesses came and went in the press, changing their tone. Some of these people have described the 266-pound actor and director as a sybaritic predator. Others said he was a very kind man and a loyal friend. His ex-wife stood up for him and supported him through his ordeal – which included three trials and the loss of his fortune.

Women’s empowerment groups saw him as a culprit and stood out for all trials and to be cited.

Rappe had stayed at the San Francisco home of director Henry Lehrman, who was in New York. He described her as a sweet young woman who “has never been intoxicated in her life. She didn’t like drinking. It made her sick. She was never promiscuous. …

“For a year and a half, I was the manager of Arbuckle. He’s just a beast. He bragged about ripping off the clothes of a girl who sought to repel his attentions and raping her. idols and millionaires among the people you take down the gutter. Arbuckle was a spittoon cleaner in a bar when he entered the movies nine years ago. He was a bar boy – not a bartender – cleaning glasses and spittoons. “

Lehrman explained that he got his information directly from Maude Delmont over the phone, and that is what she told him:

“After we got into the suite and had a few drinks, Arbuckle got up and grabbed Miss Rappe. He carried her into another room and locked the door. I heard her struggle. and knock on the door.

“They had been in the room for a quarter of an hour when we heard a terrible scream. I threatened to call the hotel office and he opened the door. I discovered that Miss Rappe’s clothes had been torn to shreds and was unconscious. “

By Arbuckle’s third trial, in April 1922, it was evident that nothing of the sort had happened.

Rappe got sick at the party, and Arbuckle and others found him a room and suggested he take a bath. They called the hotel doctor who decided she was intoxicated and gave her morphine.

She suffered from chronic urinary tract infections. She had peritonitis.

“But,” writes King, “at the end of the week, Fatty Arbuckle was sitting in cell # 12 in the” felony row “of the San Francisco Hall of Justice, being held without bail for the murder of a man of 25-year-old actress named Virginia Rappe. “

Here’s that assessment of how Arbuckle handled his sudden fall from grace, published by The Democrat on September 18, 1921. The anonymous press service reporter paints a startling portrait despite looking like a horrible cat:

“Arbuckle’s appearance as he sat in Judge Harold Louderback’s courtroom this morning had a touch of ailing cattle. He is perhaps a more pathetic figure than a more pathetic type of man. nervous or mental. This is not a philosophical suffering, but a stunned and troubled surprise. Despite his personal recollection of a record that resembles experience, it is likely that Arbuckle is not at all sophisticated. …

“As he sat and listened to the formalities of his manslaughter arraignment, he looked like a child, too big to cry, who stepped on one end of a plank and was hit by the other end. . ‘Fatty’ did this very thing in pictures. Now he does it for a living. “

Friend reader, I’m sorry to have to pretend that you don’t know what happened next because this story is far from being told. But I’m running out of time. Let’s take a break for now, and I’ll finish pretending to enlighten you next week (September 27).




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