Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Sordid Arbuckle Tragedy -- September 5, 2021

Sunset, May, 1915

100 years ago today, on 05-September-1921, actor Roscoe Arbuckle and some of his friends had a Labor Day party at the Saint Francis Hotel. Guest Virginia Rappe, an actress, became sick and had to be hospitalized. On 09-September-1921, she died because of a ruptured bladder which became infected. Stories began to circulate that Arbuckle had assaulted Rappe. Tried for manslaughter three times, he was acquitted. Virginia Rappe was 26 when she died. Arbuckle's career was ruined. The newspapers sold a lot of copies. Many people who tried to defend Arbuckle said some nasty and unfounded things about Virginia Rappe.

Moving Picture World, 10-September-1921

At the beginning of September, 1921, Roscoe Arbuckle was doing well. Several of his movies, features and shorts, were in release. He made many personal appearances. And once in a while he liked to take a drive up to San Francisco for the weekend.

Indiana Daily Times, 07-September-1921

He did some product endorsements. I like this one. "Good nature is evident in the way Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle holds his OMAR."

Moving Picture World, 03-September-1921

Moving Picture World, 10-September-1921

Moving Picture World, 24-September-1921

Moving Picture World, 17-September-1921

Illustrator and puppet animator Tony Sarg made this poster for Gasoline Gus.

Arizona Republican, 04-April-1920

At the beginning of September, 1921, Virginia Rappe's career was still active, although she did not play leads. She may have been engaged to comedy producer Pathé Lehrman, but she went to Roscoe's party at the Saint Francis. She became ill during the party, was hospitalized, and died in a hospital on 09-September-1921.

Moving Picture World, 24-September-1921

Newspapers and magazines quickly turned on Roscoe.
Exhibitors Withdraw Arbuckle Comedies,
Awaiting Court Action on Murder Charge

WHILE Roscoe ('Fatty') Arbuckle languishes in the San Francisco prison under an indictment for manslaughter, with the police still endeavoring to prove a case of murder against him, in connection with the death of Virginia Rappe, an actress, who died of peritonitis four days after a 'drinking' party in the comedian’s suite at the Hotel St. Francis on the afternoon of September 10, exhibitors in some parts of the country are cancelling contracts on Arbuckle pictures and withdrawing them during showings.

The New York Theatre Owners Chamber of Commerce, representing about 500 picture houses, has gone on record against the exhibition at present of Arbuckle pictures. Members assert that the films and the advertising and lobby displays are being hissed. Several theatres in Albany, Troy and Schenectady have banned the pictures. These include, the Proctor, Pearl and Happy Hour in Schenectady.

Members of the Motion Picture Theatre Owners of Southern California have adopted a resolution favoring the withdrawal of the films. This action was taken after Sid Grauman withdrew "Gasoline Gus," Arbuckle's latest comedy, from his Los Angeles theatre. Secretary Glenn Harper is quoted as saying that California people are bitter over the undesirable notoriety the state has received.

The Western Pennsylvania, Missouri and Kansas organizations have voted against exhibiting the pictures at present. Kansas women politicials have asked the state censors to bar Arbuckle films because a large crowd in a Topeka theatre cheered when the comedian was shown on the screen after his arrest.

L. J. Dittmar has stopped an Arbuckle film in Louisville, Ky.

S. R. Kent, general manager of Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, announced:
"There is nothing that we can say. We are awaiting the outcome of Arbuckle's troubles. A few exhibitors have requested changes of the booking of the Arbuckle pictures and in those cases we have bowed to their wishes in the matter."

The original stories told by guests at Arbuckle's party led the San Francisco authorities to formally charge him with murder. They said they entertained little doubt but that the grand jury would immediately indict him under that charge. But when Sadie Reiss, known in films as Zey Privon, reversed, it is alleged, the story she told the police, the grand jury declined to indict and adjourned subject to the call of the prosecutor.

District Attorney Matthew Brady immediately charged that powerful interests were at work to influence the witnesses and said he might charge the Privon woman with perjury. The defense also got a setback when Mrs. Maude Delmont, an actress and another guest at the party, testified. She had sworn out the warrant charging Arbuckle with murder, but before the grand jury she testified that she had had about ten drinks of whiskey and that Miss Rappe went into Arbuckle's room of her own accord.

"They were in there an hour," she testified. "I heard her screaming. I phoned the manager. Arbuckle heard the telephone call and came out. He had on Miss Rappe's hat.

"Miss Rappe, when I went in to her, cried out: 'I'm hurt, I'm dying. He did it.'

"I took off her clothing and we put her in a cold bath. Yes, she was pretty fully clothed -- had on shirtwaist, stockings and everything. She commenced to tear at her clothes."

The rest of Mrs. Delmont's testimony described Miss Rappe's nervous condition. During the examination Dr. Leland asked her if she felt sleepy.

"Oh, no," she replied. "I had a hypodermic this morning and I'm all right."

Arbuckle Silent

The known witnesses examined so far include Al Semnacher, Los Angeler, Miss Rappe's manager; Zey Privon, actress; Alice Blake, San Francisco entertainer; Lowell Sherman, actor; Fred Fischback, director; Joyce and Dollie Clark, actresses; Ira G. Fortlius, New York salesman, all of whom are said to have been at the party; Mrs. Jean Jameson, Miss Martha Hamilton and Miss Vera Cumberland, nurses; half a dozen physicians and the detectives. Arbuckle has steadfastly refused to make any statements, being thus advised by his lawyers. Betty Campbell is said to have disappeared.

The prohibition enforcement authorities are endeavoring to learn where Arbuckle got his liquor, as the hotel suite is reported to have been full of it.

Post-Mortem Statement

The following post-mortem statement on Miss Rappe's death was given by Dr. William Ophuls:

"The post-mortem examination showed a ruptured bladder, the rupture being clue to natural causes. There were no marks of violence on the body. There were absolutely no evidence of a criminal assault, no signs that the girl had been attacked."

Dr. W. E. Rumwell told of attending Miss Rappe and admitted making a post-mortem examination with another doctor without official authority. She said he was curious to know the cause of the peritonitis that caused her death. He said he found the rupture of an important organ, resulting in death.

Weighed 16 Pounds at Birth

Arbuckle was born in Smith Center, Kansas, in 1887. His weight at birth was sixteen pounds. He is recalled by the townspeople as a fat, overgrown, mischievous lad, with a natural bent for acting. He got his first stage job when 8 years old in Santa Ana, Cal., as a pickaninny in a stock company for 50 cents a night. His first regular job came ten years later when Sid Grauman hired him at $17.50 a week to sing popular songs in his San Jose vaudeville house. Chris Brown hired Arbuckle to sing at the Star Theatre, Portland, Ore., and Leon Errol took him into one of his companies. At one time he was a soft shoe dancer in Oakland. He entered pictures at $3 a day as an extra for Keystone.

Minta Durfee, Arbuckle’s wife, from whom he separated about five years ago, is on her way to San Francisco with the avowed purpose of helping him. To New York newspapermen she characterized her husband as "just a great big, lovable, pleasure-loving, overgrown boy whose success and prosperity have been a little too much for him." They were married in 1908. She said they parted friends and that Arbuckle has been generous in his allowance to her. Last February he gave her an automobile.

Arbuckle’s only sister, Mrs. Nora Arbuckle St. John, mother of Al St. John, the comedian, and Arbuckle’s two brothers, Harry and Arthur, are already in San Francisco, having left Los Angeles.

Henry Lehrman has been heavily interviewed by New York newspapers and seized the calcium by announcing he was Miss Rappe’s "fiancé" and that Arbuckle "would have to answer to him" if "justice" wasn’t done. Others in the industry have leaped into publicity in the case and the newspapers of the country are playing the story sensationally.

Moving Picture World, 24-September-1921
The Sordid Arbuckle Tragedy

WE do not propose to judge the guilt or innocence of Roscoe Arbuckle, accused of causing the death of Virginia Rappe in San Francisco. The machinery of law has been put into motion and in the course of time a decision will be reached and made public.

The culpability of Roscoe Arbuckle will not be established until then, but in the weeks that will intervene the entire moving picture business will suffer from the sensational retailing in the daily newspapers of all the sickening details of the death and the causes which led to it.

Already the newspaper bureaus have been asked by their newspaper customers for every scrap and morsel of information in this case and in other cases (fortunately a very few) where moving picture people have been involved in smirching situations.

Of course, the moving picture business is not responsible for the drinking party nor for the tragedy, any more than the reverend clergy were responsible for the minister of the gospel who, in cold blood, murdered a young woman of his parish in Boston not so long ago, nor any more than the banking business was responsible for the notorious marital infelicities of Mr. Stillman, the head of one of the greatest banks in the world. But the public's love for a sensation, especially a sensation in which a man known to the millions is the central figure, creates a morbid demand which the newspapers find nothing unprofessional in supplying.

In our opinion, Mr. Arbuckle's screen career is at an end. Earlier in the short history of our business a popular star became known as a wife-beater and his popularity disappeared over night. Later a man who stood at the very top of the wave crest of popular favor was divorced by his wife and immediately he became a cipher as a screen attraction. No matter what the verdict of the courts, the action of the Grand Jury, or the recommendations of the district attorney of San Francisco, the public, fed to the full with stories of a drunken debauch in which women were so lightly held, will turn against Roscoe Arbuckle. He scarcely can rise from the ruin that has crashed down about his head. The public and the moving picture industry will not tolerate a smirched figure on the screen.

In cases of this kind, in whatever business or in whatever walk of life their principals happen to be moving, the innocent suffer with the guilty, and so the moving picture industry may be prepared at all censorship hearings, or in all the reformers' railings, to have the Arbuckle case flung into its face for years to come.

We have no sympathy for those in our business who seek to use the case as a vehicle for bringing publicity to themselves, or for those business rivals of Roscoe Arbuckle who see a temporary advantage for themselves in the miserable plight in which he finds himself. They must indeed be short of vision if they do not realize the damage which all of our industry innocently sustains from this unhappy and wholly sordid tragedy.

Our business is peopled with men and women of high character, of sincere motives, of honest and faithful endeavor. They are husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, sons and daughters, as clean of mind and conduct as can be found in any business, in any social stratum and in any endeavor in the world. It is this great majority that suffers most in these pitiful and tragic circumstances.

It is to be hoped that the law's investigation will be swift, just and complete, so that the facts once established can be, with the immediate principals of the seamy cast, put behind us.

Mav this be the last of the sensations furnished by the "movies."


Moving Picture World, 24-September-1921


It Is Not for Us to Pass Judgment on
Roscoe Arbuckle, Says M. P. T. O. A.

THE following statement on the Arbuckle case has been made by the Committee on Public Welfare, Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America:
"While the Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America is cognizant of the charges made against Roscoe Arbuckle, yet the apparent reflection which seems to be cast upon the entire motion picture industry because of these charges demands that this organization at this time and in terms as emphatic as it is capable of, declare that it has lost none of the sublime confidence it has always manifested in the laws of our government and the integrity of its various prosecuting officers.

"This organization knows that Roscoe Arbuckle will be prosecuted, as he should be, by the same methods and under the same laws that the humblest citizen in California would be dealt with, and if a jury of his peers, decides that he is guilty of the crime as charged, not only will this organization refuse to sympathize with him but will ring loudest in its condemnation.

"However, we believe that it is not for us to pass judgment on him, nor any other in similar circumstances, but to withhold our judgment until the jury shall return a verdict, and to be guided by that alone.

"Exact Analogies."

"However, we keenly resent the indictment hastily and unthinkingly made against the entire motion picture industry because of this most unfortunate occurrence. Not so long since, when a minister of the gospel was charged with a heinous crime, no one ever thought, and very properly so, that it cast a reflection upon all those distinguished gentlemen of the cloth, nor yet when one of America's foremost bankers played an important part in a sensational domestic controversy did the public look with suspicion upon the entire banking interests. And so we might recount instances in every profession and every industry known to the civilized world and find exact analogies.

"Our motion picture theatre owners are modest, industrious family men of the highest type of citizenship in this coun- try, which is evidenced even in the smallest hamlet by the respect in which they are held. The industry at large is made up of the best executive minds, the greatest artists and the best mechanics, and it is high time they were accorded that same fairness and justice that is so freely given to men in every other walk of life.

Against Reissue Showing Victim

"This organization respectfully submits that of the hundreds of thousands of men and women earning a livelihood in the motion picture industry, there has been but a mere handful who do not enjoy an enviable reputation for industry, citizenship and morality.

"This organization, formed for the protection of the motion picture going public, has never swerved from its original intention and is determined to remain steadfast as long as its exists. We will never, in so far as we can prevent it, permit any one to capitalize crime or indecency, nor to use our screens for the purpose of morbid notoriety. Upon this, we assure the public, they can absolutely depend.

"While various state and local associations have already declared that they will not show Roscoe Arbuckle pictures until he shall have purged himself of this charge, no more so shall we tolerate the showing on our screens of any picture of the unfortunate Virginia Rappe. We make this observation because our notice has been called to the fact that a certain distributing company has decided to reissue an old comedy picture showing Miss Rappe, who appears in a very minor and inconspicuous part, and we want the people to know that they will never turn morbidity into dollars with our assistance."

First National Withholds Virginia Rappe Films

UNDER date of August 14, Sydney S. Cohen, national president of the M. P. T. O. A., has written Associated First National Pictures, Inc., that he has been informed its exchanges are "extensively exploiting and reissuing films in which Miss Virginia Rappe plays a minor and inconspicuous part." He writes that if this is true, the M. P. T. O. A. will look upon it "with positive disfavor."

J. D. Williams, manager of the circuit, replied immediately, expressing great surprise and saying that he has no record of any such bookings made since September 11. He presented a copy of a telegram sent all exchanges, to the effect that no bookings will be countenanced on "The Punch of the Irish," "Wet and Warmer," "Kick in High Life," "Twilight Baby," and "Game Lady," all pictures in which Miss Rappe played. The telegram asks for reports on any instances where exhibitors recently playing any of these pictures may have ignored the posters and press sheets, in which Miss Rappe's name does not appear, and instead used "special matter printed locally and featuring her."

Moving Picture World, 24-September-1921

And finally, this was added to a little item about promoting one of Roscoe's movies:
In this issue we offer a number of exploitation stunts on Roscoe Arbuckle, prepared before the recent developments. As these all have a distinct exploitation value apart from the star, they are offered here for the general information of the exhibitor-exploiter.

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