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Fatty Arbuckle-Virginia Rappe Trial: Q&A with Researcher Joan Myers

Roscoe ’Fatty’ Arbuckle Scandal Headline

Roscoe Roscoe ’Fatty’ ArbuckleFilm researcher Joan Myers has been working on a book project that will present the Roscoe ’Fatty’ Arbuckle manslaughter trial in a different light.

What trial? Fatty who?

What trial? Well, only the biggest Hollywood scandal of the 1920s — along with the unsolved murder of director William Desmond Taylor. (See Time magazine’s top 25 crimes of the 20th century.)

Fatty who? Well, only a top — perhaps the top — Famous Players-Lasky (later renamed Paramount) star of the late 1910s; a comedian just about as popular in his day as Charles Chaplin was.

Until it all came crashing down following a “wild party” at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco on Labor Day 1921. A party guest, actress and model Virginia Rappe, suffered some sort of — as yet unexplained — trauma, felt ill, and shortly afterward died. The official cause of death: A ruptured bladder, complicated by acute peritonitis.

(According to Myers, “most newspaper editors seemed disinclined to publish medical details — they either didn’t understand them or felt that the whole subject was vulgar and not suited for publication.”)

The scandal began.

Remember, puritans ruled then (as now) and Prohibition was the Law of the Land. The sensationalistic press (just like today’s media) made the most — and the worst — of the combination of alcohol, celebrity, money, pretty women, and sex. (Add drugs to the mix, and you get the same sort of morbid exploitation that was recently engendered by Anna Nicole Smith’s death.)

Roscoe Roscoe ’Fatty’ Arbuckle and Mabel NormandSo, did our Fatty actually rape Virginia Rappe? Did he really jump on the young actress, thus causing her bladder to explode? How could he? The star of Fatty’s Plucky Pup and Fatty’s Faithful Fido? The same cute Roscoe ’Fatty’ Arbuckle who had made love to perky Mabel Normand in Fatty and Mabel Adrift and Fatty and Mabel at the San Diego Exposition?

Much of the U.S. filmgoing public felt they’d been grossly betrayed by their idol. (Ironically, one of Arbuckle’s last star vehicles was called Life of the Party.) Censors were called to Hollywood to ensure that film people and their creations wouldn’t stray from the straight and narrow.

After two hung juries — and about two gazillion articles on the case — Arbuckle was finally acquitted. His film career a thing of the past, the beloved comedian-turned-despised pariah had to hide behind the camera — under the pseudonym William Goodrich — to direct mostly minor fare for other performers. Curiously, his biggest directorial project was the Marion Davies vehicle The Red Mill; Davies’ lover was William Randolph Hearst, whose newspapers had helped to turn Arbuckle’s trial into a circus fire for the enjoyment of the bloodthirsty masses.

As for Virginia Rappe, she became not only the victim of a ruptured bladder but also of malicious stories. At the time of the trial, rumors began circulating that her death had actually been caused by a botched abortion, while other tales portrayed her as the carrier of every sort of venereal disease known to humankind.

I’ve asked Joan Myers to answer a few questions about her research, and I thank her for taking part in this q&a. Joan is still working on her book, and would like to hear from anyone who can offer any substantive information on those involved in the Arbuckle trial. She can be reached at missmerrivale at yahoo dot com.

See also Myers’ essays “The Case of the Vanishing Juror” and “Minta Durfee and the Last of the Terrible Men.” And listen to Myers’ audio interview “Joan Myers and the Search for Virginia Rappe in Film History.”

Harold Lockwood, Virginia Rappe in Paradise Garden
Popular leading man Harold Lockwood (later a fatal victim of the Spanish flu) and Virginia Rappe in Paradise Garden (1917). © Joan Myers Collection

Why did you decide to write a book about the Roscoe ’Fatty’ Arbuckle-Virginia Rappe trial case? Hasn’t that been done before? How would your book be different than the others?

I did not start out with the intention of writing a new book about the case. Like everyone else, I felt that waterfront had been thoroughly covered and I was just as happy as everyone else was with the explanations provided. I’d never been satisfied with the way Virginia Rappe had been depicted, though. All of our knowledge about her was unsubstantiated and looked suspiciously familiar — it’s pretty much the traditional rhetoric trotted out as a defense in any rape case.

Although to give the rhetoric its due, it had aged like a fine wine and grown astoundingly venomous. It was also absurd. So one day I decided to see if I could find out anything about her. I didn’t have anything in mind at the time other than some unfocused digging, maybe ending up as an exceptionally vague article for Classic Images. I didn’t expect to find much of anything. How many young women went to Hollywood looking for careers in the movies? How many still do?

So you can imagine my surprise when I did start finding information on Virginia Rappe. In fact, I have more information on her pre-Hollywood career than I do on the Hollywood portion of her life. Color me bemused.

Of course, I couldn’t really research Virginia Rappe without looking into the trials, since much of our knowledge of her life derives from trial testimony. So, almost tangentially I started digging away in that gravel pit and found that the information I was turning up didn’t support the previous work in the case. In fact, I ended up with what I refer to as The Elephant in the Parlor — it’s huge and it doesn’t fit anywhere. The only way to get rid of the elephant and get my comfy chair back was to put it all down on paper and shoo it out the door.

Roscoe ’Fatty’ Arbuckle smilingRoscoe Roscoe ’Fatty’ Arbuckle arrested

The Arbuckle trial was probably the biggest Hollywood scandal of the silent era. Could you tell us who was Roscoe ’Fatty’ Arbuckle?

No. If there is one person who is conspicuously absent from his own scandal it’s Roscoe ’Fatty’ Arbuckle. He became a MacGuffin at his own trials. After four years of research into this case the person I know least is Roscoe ’Fatty’ Arbuckle.

From the moment Arbuckle’s attorneys got involved, which was late on the night Virginia died, Arbuckle becomes a sock puppet. He’s acting a part and reading from a script, and he isn’t allowed to deviate from it for one minute. Everything he says, every move he makes, what he wears, what he eats, the expressions on his face, every word he utters — everything was scripted for him by his defense attorneys. He probably didn’t want to deviate from it, I would imagine he was scared out of his wits. I sure would be. It was the performance of his life, but it was a performance. The real Arbuckle is not there.

Virgnia Rappe in A Twilight BabyAnd who was Virginia Rappe?

Exactly who she said she was. A model and a clothing designer who had a successful career and a relatively high profile one given the development of the fashion industry at the time. If we must make a cheese whiz modern comparison we could say she was the Cindy Crawford or the Linda Evangelista of her day. That’s not really valid, however, because the fashion industry was in its infancy and functioned differently than it does today, but it will serve as a starting point.

Was Arbuckle accused of raping Virginia Rappe?

He was initially accused of rape, during which attack her bladder ruptured. He was charged under section 189 of the California criminal code, which defined a death caused during a rape (or other attack) as murder. The Grand Jury, Coroner’s Inquest, and later Preliminary Hearing dropped the charge to manslaughter, as there was absolutely no physical evidence of rape.

The difference, then as now, is that murder is defined as “wilful” whereas no intent needs to be proven for manslaughter. Even though he was charged with manslaughter, I think that rape was still uppermost in everyone’s mind. Even today if you mention his name to people they usually vaguely think he was tried for rape.

What actually happened to Virginia Rappe?

She suffered a trauma. How the trauma occurred and what it was is something I don’t know and never will. But bladders don’t rupture due to illness. There has to be a goodly amount of force involved.

Have you discovered anything new about the case? I understand you will present your findings when the book comes out, but is there anything at all you can tell us about your discoveries?

The short answer is “yes.” I have a lot of new information about the case and the people involved in it. And now, on to the longer, more waffly portion of the answer:

History is never really finished, is it? Since the last histories of this case were written we’ve seen a real explosion in the availability of primary source materials. Digitized newspaper databases make it possible to do longitudinal searches for information, searches we couldn’t have done before. Genealogists are particularly active on the internet and are a very chatty and helpful bunch. Many vital records databases are now online, finding aids for archival collections are online, blah, blah, blah. Those sources weren’t readily available [whether online or not] even 15 years ago.

That said, I’ve still spent so much time at library microfilm readers that I’ve developed a large square eye in the middle of my forehead and my floor is covered with various flavors of vital records. You can’t do it all through the internet. You still have to do a lot of old-fashioned excavation.

My approach to the material is also different. I’m taking a — I guess you’d call it “multi-disciplinary” or “global” approach to the story. I was very curious about all the people involved in the case and wanted to know more about them. Who were they? How did they get involved in the case? How did it affect them? What happened to them afterward?

Much of what I’ve found could have been found before. And frankly, it should have been found before. It wasn’t hiding, it was just laying there waiting to be picked up. The first step in any historical inquiry is to look. Conversely a lot of information is irretrievably lost — because no one was looking for it.

Also — as corollary to the looking part — a good rule of thumb is just because some old actress told you something, that doesn’t mean it’s true.

What happened to Arbuckle after the trial?

I’m not even close to being an expert on Arbuckle’s career and I’ve confined myself to the period of the trials, so there are probably better people around to answer that question. In general terms, his film career ended as a result of the scandal, although he worked occasionally behind the scenes. He went back to stage and vaudeville work, and was extremely successful in those ventures. He married Doris Deane, a marriage that failed. He then he married Addie McPhail, who was as cute as a bug’s ear. I don’t know why bug’s ears are considered the avatar of cute, but whatever, she was bug-ear cute. He had just signed a contract with Warners when he died suddenly in 1933.

And finally, do you personally believe that justice was made?

Absolutely not. Everyone involved in the case was damaged by it. Except the lawyers, [Arbuckle’s first wife] Minta Durfee, and [Hollywood columnist] Adela Rogers St. Johns. They did OK.

Arbuckle’s lawyers, of course, made scads of money. Everyone was very cagey about how much they were paid. I’ve never seen a reliable figure quoted, but I think we can err on the safe side and say “Lots.”

Adela Rogers St. JohnsA lot of people dined out for years on knowing the “inside scoop.” You know that. How many completely untrue but firmly believed stories did you have to wade through while doing your bio of Ramon Novarro? If you believe Adela Rogers St. Johns [left], she knew everything about everybody because she was sitting in people’s laps during all these famous (and yet mythical) moments. Have you ever tried to tease a fact out of one of her little stories? A date, a time, something verifiable? She was a reporter, for heaven’s sake, she knew exactly what she was doing. She’s entertaining as all get-out, right up there with Kenneth Anger as a Dealer in Fabulous Dish. But I’d sooner trot out Winnie-the-Pooh as a source.

Minta Durfee made a career out of being Mrs. Roscoe ’Fatty’ Arbuckle. It was a saleable commodity for her, and if you don’t believe me check her contracts file at the [Academy’s] Herrick Library. She was lying relentlessly and grandiosely, of course, but what the heck, it sold. There are more ways to pay for something than with money, though; I think Minta liked the attention.

That doesn’t mean she wasn’t loyal to Arbuckle in her own way, or that she wasn’t fond of him — unless the picture she was presenting of him conflicted with the picture she was presenting of herself. When that happened, she deep-sixed him every time. In The Gospel According to Minta, Arbuckle was a genial but half-witted saint who couldn’t find his own way out the door in the morning. I don’t believe that. I don’t think he could have risen from his rat-poor beginnings and accomplished what he accomplished without being a pretty bright boy.

[Roscoe ’Fatty’ Arbuckle and Minta Durfee were divorced in 1925. Arbuckle died of a heart attack at age 46 on the night of June 29, 1933. Earlier that day, he had signed a contract with Warner Bros. to make a feature film for the studio.]

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70 Comments to Fatty Arbuckle-Virginia Rappe Trial: Q&A with Researcher Joan Myers

  1. Mari

    randleland,

    You might want to look on ancestry.com for Jean “Dolly” Clark. There is a selection of photographs and documents including a newspaper article stating she was to testify in the fatty arbuckle/virginia rappe trial.

    She is under the name ” Esther Jean “Dolly” Lockett”

  2. Barb

    I don t know back in those days if you we’re big in Hollywood it seemed you got away with anything…something strange about the whole situation and howitzer was handled oh well it is in the past

  3. silentfan

    Greg Merritt’s ROOM 1219:The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood was published in October, 2013. It is a well written, dispassionate chronicle of possibly went on, at that party.
    Its main weakness is its paucity of photographs; they are described, not shown.
    He has a new theory of what probably happened in room 1219, which sounds reasonable enough considering the evidence.
    And yes, chronic cystitis can cause a rupture of the bladder.

  4. Steven Hulbert

    Worked in lintell analysis and I wanted to know more about Maude Delmont. She had an extensive criminal history and who told her to go to the party? If the prosecutor was trying to get elected he had motive to get her to get gossip to destroy Arbuckle

  5. Steven Hulbert

    Arbuckle’s admission that he didn’t invite people leaves many questions. Who told Maude Delmont about the party and why did she go? I was trying to look up Delmont’s history but no articles available. She had an extensive criminal history and somebody told her to go to the party who had a motive, who was it? Having worked in law enforcement I usually follow the motives and see who gains.

  6. miriam

    Would love to read this book when it comes out, even if it’s only published online. Virginia Rappe has fallen prey to classic victim blaming tautology over the decades, with very little discussion of her personality or her career, and way too much focus on allegations that were common in the Hollywood of the era (just swept under the rug better than now). While there is the rare exception, the vast majority of bladder ruptures are caused by external forces, and this seems to be the case here as well.

    I have no idea what culpability, if any, that Arbuckle had in regards to Rappe’s injuries, but it’s likely that he or someone else at the party knew exactly what occurred to her. The fact that someone didn’t mean to cause her death doesn’t mean they can not be held legally responsible for it. For all of his talents, Arbuckle was far more of a complex personality than the jolly, buffoonish, party animal antics stage persona that he portrayed.

  7. Noelani

    Bladders can rupture from illness, if the illness prevents the person from being able to urinate, or from acute intoxication. I read somewhere that Virginia had been catheterized because of being unable to urinate.

    The peritoneum is the space between the abdominal organs. Peritonitis is an inflammation or infection in that space, and it is deadly. Something starts it, though. A ruptured appendix is a classic example. A ruptured bladder can cause it, or a perforation of various organs. I wonder if a modern doctor has ever looked at what has been said about the case and the medical information from the time that is available. I was married to one, but am not any more.

    I seems to me that medical facts played little or no part in the trial or anything else. I think its a very sad story, on many levels.

    Incidentally, I just did a search on Geneology,com on Virginia. The 1920 census shows her listed as a boarder in the Los Angeles home of Henry Lehrman. The item that surprises me is that she is on a passenger list for a ship having departed from Liverpool, England and arriving in New York on 10 January 1914. I would think that it was another woman with the same name, but the birth date given is 7 July 1894. I can’t help but wonder why the 19 YO Virginia would have been to England and back.

    I’ve been interested in Virginia for many years. She just seems like a young lady who really needed a mother. I think she was talented, not just in the fashion industry, but to some extent in acting, too.

  8. Marc

    Does anyone know where I could obtain transcripts of the trials?

  9. randleland

    Ms. Myers,
    Can you tell us, please, where the police/court records are now archived?
    We are in the process of reconstructing the details of the life of party guest Jean ‘Dolly’ Clark who appears to have been our grandmother. Thank you, for all your efforts and Best Wishes for successful publication!

  10. I just started a concept album which is out now, in english and french starting from the life of Virginia rappe and her wonderful and sad story. Everything is more up to date, and it gives you the feeling things haven’t changed regarding fame, fortune and fans.

  11. fascinated

    Now, how is that book going? It’s been a while………………………

  12. Fascinated

    You can’t validate a book can you?

  13. Dave

    Interesting story. Don’t worry about poblishers. It’s good on Internet~

  14. Sandy

    I hate to inform this author, but she’s quite wrong about ruptured bladders. Many women are presenting at ERs these days with ruptured bladders. Caused by overindulging in alcoholic beverages, which 1) causes one to have to urinate more frequently, combined with 2) numbing of the nervous system, which signals the brain when one needs to urinate. Ruptured bladder used to be thought to be a male condition, but with more women drinking these days (much as flappers did during the Prohibition ’20s) it’s becoming more prevalent in women. Peritonitis is associated with ruptured bladder.

    Therefore, I believe that it’s possible that Ms. Rappe had a ruptured bladder and was never raped at all. Sad that Mr. Arbuckle had to pay such a price for doctors with shallow knowledge of anatomy.

  15. Tony D

    When is the book coming out??

  16. w

    @ fascinated: maude delmont (as it says above i think, or i read it someplace else) was a known ‘madam’ and extortionist. her initial accusation of fatty as she put it was going to be used for testimony, but they might have found holes in the storys timeline, or she kept changing it…anyway, she was found to be an unreliable witness and excluded from the trial. so any kind of evidence presented by her would be basically baseless and purported to be made up by fattys lawyer. i hope this answers your question.

  17. Fascinated

    Morphine Sulphate and a ruptured bladder somehow don’t seem to go together. Now if she went into respiratory failure and into the arms of Morphia, that’s a different kettle of fish.

  18. Chihiro

    Ms. Myer,

    I read that a doctor gave drunken Rappe two shots of morphine for two days at the hotel. Could it contribute cause of her death somehow?

  19. For years, I tried to locate court transcripts from the Arbuckle trials and could never track them down. It seems as thought David Yallop had access to them when he wrote his book. Has anyone actually come across the official transcripts?

  20. fascinated

    Now how is that book coming along. I try to imagine tap dancing taking ages. But this is like extracting teeth.

  21. Interested

    Which Virginia Rappe movies are not lost. Isle of Love, I know. Any others? Also I think she was in Photoplay. Does anyone know which issue?

  22. Fasinated

    That should be wish. Oops, sorry.

  23. Fasinated

    Hi. I would like to take this opportunaty to with everyone a safe and Happy Easter,

  24. fascinated

    So why was Maude Delmont not called to give evidence at any of the three trials, since she was the one who went to the Police and made the allegation?

  25. Joan Myers

    Clearly this issue is of concern to you, but I think we’ve about hashed it out. This is San Francisco 1921, not CSI San Francisco 2010. Dr. Rumwell had been treating Virginia Rappe for four days by the time she died. He could legally have signed a death certificate stating she had died of a hangnail if he wanted to. He did not have to do a rather expensive forensic procedure to cover up anything. Again–the reason that autopsies are performed is to determine cause of death and that is the reason the autopsy in this case was performed.

  26. Fascinated

    Mystery death takes actress. That is enough to get a Coronor involved. If the death had been expected the Coronor may or may not get involved.
    Since Miss Rappe died at such a young age and having been in the hospital for less than 24 hours, that constitutes the Coronors’ input.

  27. Joan Myers

    1. Would not external evidence have been evident if there had been an external force to rupture a bladder?

    Not necessarily.

    2. The initial autopsy was not done by the Coroner. Why? What was there to hide?

    Most autopsies are performed without Coroners/Medical Examiners being involved. The reason autopsies are performed is to determine cause of death.

  28. fascinated

    I do not agree with werewolves and Vampires

  29. fascinated

    The initial autopsy was not done by the Coroner. Why? What was there to hide?
    External trauma= shot gun wound? No. Knife wound? No. Kick in the gut? No as there was no corroberating external evidence.Car accident? No. Fall? Where is the external evidence that surely would have been evident to cause so much internal damage.

  30. fascinated

    Would not external evidence have been evident if there had been an external force to rupture a bladder? Admittedly there was bruising on an arm and on a thigh, but this seems hardly evidence of an extreme force to rupture a bladder.

    Now the doctors are said to know what they are talking about. That there was no sign of rape. Now if she had been ground to pulp by by a large but strong man, surely there would have been external evidence of same. Bruising? Signs of haemorrage.

    Just say for fancy he did do it. O.K. he is guilty, but then so is Bambina Delmont for negligence in not taking that poor girl to a hospital, instead of sitting in a Hotel for days and then crying poor mouth. Explain that to me like I am a 4 year old.

  31. Joan Myers

    (Backs away.)

  32. Alison

    *vampires

  33. Alison

    Lets face it, in the 1920′s you could get away with anything, especially if you were famous for making people laugh. Before that it was blamed on werewolves and vimpires… Also it is too easy to kill another human being, but we do like to see the truth eventually. But there are those who are lazy and do not want to bother looking. They take the money, but do not complete their commission, or even seek situations where they can make money out of such things, but it almost always backfires.

  34. Alison

    My Mother remembers this case from the mouthes of her elders, she wasn’t born until 1941. So I am afraid she can’t help.

  35. Alison

    I wonder if the uterus and anus showed signs of also being crushed?

  36. Alison

    In reference to ‘Fatty Arbuckle and the Death of Virginia Rappe’, by Denise Noe.

    1. How can fingerprints be faked?
    2. Why did Prevon leave the entire USA?
    3. Why were the victims utarus and anus removed?
    4. Doctors and nurses found a lot of hand shaped bruises on her (ref: Nurses testify to bruises on Virginia Rappe, NYTimes 1921).

    There was also something about a hotel room key that Fatty tried to buy from the attendant, some months previous to the death of Rappe.

    Roscoe Arbuckles childhood would also fit the profile of a killer.

    I think Rappe taunted Arbuckle, and he wasn’t taking that from her and decided to throw her to the ground after he confronted her, where he would show her who was boss by laying on top of her and grinding her to pulp with his large but strong body. She couldn’t cry out because the weight of him forced all air out of her chest, and causing her bladder to rupture. After which the agony would prevent her from speaking normally, while he enjoyed his frotage and her humilliation. At first he tormented her by telling her that he was a big name in comedy and no one would believe a ‘Bum’ like her anyway, then later felt guilty, but not enough to confess everything.

  37. Joan Myers

    I am the world’s slowest writer, so right now I can’t say. I’m dancing as fast as I can!

    You can try to change the wikipedia entry. You might want to start a pool on how quickly someone removes your changes, there’s quick money in it.

  38. Bryan

    Joan,
    Thanks for sharing your research..Any sign of a book deal yet?

    Wiki fans
    Does anyone know that anyone can sign on and edit wikipedia? So if you find a error you can fix it.

  39. Joan Myers

    I’ve responded to questions in the last comment below.

    > What happened to Ms Rappes’ uterus?

    Miss Rappe’s bladder, uterus, and rectum were removed at autopsy, placed in a specimen jar, and presented into evidence at all the legal proceedings. After that it was probably discarded as medical waste.

    > Why wasn’t she taken to an acute hospital instead of a Maternity Hospital known for abortions?

    Wakefield Hospital was an “acute hospital” that was “known for abortions” only by Minta Durfee and Adela Rogers St. Johns. Wakefield specialized in high-risk births, births which often culminated in caesarians; as it had two complete operating rooms, emergency patients of both genders were sometimes treated there, bed space permitting. The most likely reason Miss Rappe was taken to Wakefield is that it was located at 1065 Sutter Street, about 1/2 mile from the St. Francis Hotel, and was the closest hospital at which her attending physician had staff privileges. The building is now Raphael House, a shelter for homeless families:
    http://www.raphaelhouse.org/).

    >
    > Why was the autopsy performed by a doctor there and not by a Forensics expert?

    Autopsies are often performed at hospitals and the autopsy at Wakefield *was* performed by a forensics expert, Dr. William Ophuls. I might add that Dr. Ophuls was not just any old expert, he was one of the most respected pathologists on the west coast. Google establishes his bona fides; you can read more about him here:
    http://elane.stanford.edu/wilson/html/photoalbum/index.html#id=portraits&num=14

    Since Rappe’s attending physician, Dr. Melville Rumwell, was as Assistant Professor of Surgery at Stanford Medical School (and the head of Stanford’s outpatient clinic), I’m sure you can see that Dr. Ophuls participation in the autopsy is readily explained.

  40. Fasinated

    What happened to Ms Rappes’ uterus? Why wasn’t she taken to an acute hospital instead of a Maternity Hospital known for abortions. Why was the autopsy performed by a doctor there and not by a Forensics expert?

  41. Angel

    I agree with Tyrone Harney. The Wikipedia article is overly defensive of Arbuckle and presents a very one-sided picture. That is why I continued searching and stumbled upon this fascinating interview and subsequent discussion. I would love to read that book.

  42. Tyrone Harney

    Hi all - I totally just stumbled on this story from a website I dont even know how I got here - but if anyone with more knowledge on this crime has the time and knowledge, well someone needs to fix the Wikipedia article on this - it TOTALLY is made out to sound like Mr Arbuckle is an innocent victim and that Ms. Rappe kinda was a ho’. I mean, I didnt even know this had happened 20 minutes ago, and stumbled on the story, ended up reading the wiki article, and - well, someone with more knowledge on this crime REALLY needs to read the article and maybe get it fixed cause, I think. Thanks for listening 8^)

  43. randleland

    Our family is looking for ANY information about JEANNE “Dolly” CLARK, who was publicized as having attended the party (a ‘show girl,’ from Kansas City, MO). She might be our biological grandmother. Thanks, for any help you can lend.

  44. Joan Myers

    Mr. Semnacher was not the first person to make that claim (nor was he the last). This was not, however, a claim he made at either the Coroner’s Inquest or the Preliminary Hearing, testimony also given under oath.

    Witnesses Alice Blake and Zey Prevost did not say that they saw Rappe rip her clothing off. They said that when they entered the bedroom they saw Rappe pulling at the clothing at her waist. This behavior might have been the precursor to one of those incidents for which Rappe is well known–or perhaps she was trying to loosen the clothing around her waist because one of her major organs had just exploded and her abdomen had distended suddenly and painfully.

    In any event, a propensity for ripping clothing after drinking does not satisfactorily explain a bladder rupture. Although it does argue phenomenal upper body strength.

  45. Greg

    Joan Myers wrote: “As to the clothes-tearing story…the main source for that information is the spectacularly unreliable Adela Rogers St. Johns.”

    I agree about St. Johns’ unreliability. However, the first person to make the claim was Rappe’s own manager who testified under oath to her propensity for tearing off her clothes at parties. See New York Times, Nov. 22, 1921.

  46. Nancy

    You might develop some discretionary thinking and learn to tell fact from fiction.

  47. adrian lee

    right thank you for that.I’d better start reading “I, Coke Bottle” then,it looks good.

  48. Nancy

    No.
    It is fiction.

    Read a biography of Arbuckle. He never told anything to a ‘manservant’.

    Jerry Stahl based his book on the biographies and newspaper accounts but added a lot of material. It’s called ‘dramatic license’.

  49. adrian lee

    but even though “I fatty” is a “fictionalised” account,isnt it supposed to be taken from the manuscript with all the gumff that Fatty told his Manservant—-i didnt just think it was Jerry Stahl just writing for the hell of it.The book is giving the impression that it is taken from true spoken statements from Fatty.I thought that was the whole point.

  50. adrian lee

    oh well that answers that then.;-]

  51. Nancy

    Dear Adrian,

    “I, Fatty” is a novel. It is fiction. Arbuckle wrote nothing about the case.

  52. adrian lee

    I have been following the Arbuckle story for years now,and I was pretty sure that Arbuckle was innocent,but reading what you have written, has cast doubt again, and also the other thing I relised whilst reading about the case in general,is according to Fatty’s statement he mentions “at no time was I alone with Miss Rappe”.
    But according to Jerry Stahl’s book “I Fatty”[which I know was not actually written by Fatty himself,but it is still supposed to have been dialogue said by him in the late 20s/early 30s]in the Chapter “That sinking Feeling”,Fatty does talk about trying to revive Virginia Rappe himself,on his own, with a coke bottle and ice on her Vulva,and “felt reeling desire”.If the book,which seems to have been accepted as Fatty in his own words and “what really happened” that night,then this account and his statement do not match.Am I right to think that something does not add up,or is there a simple answer.Even though I do not think that Fatty Raped or murdered the girl,I think that the combination of drink,Miss Rappe at her loosest,and Fatty’s “reeling desire”,and what I have read above,I still have a feeling that “something” did happen.

  53. Jerry

    Interesting topic, looking forward to your book. Are the “He hurt me” & “Get Roscoe” (on her deathbed) quotes reliable? It seems somewhat unlikely Arbuckle would punch an apparently well known party guest that hard. Especially in light of his recent lucrative contract signing.

  54. Nancy

    Will your book be published any time soon? Thanks.

  55. Joan Myers

    Yes, Rappe’s bladder probably ruptured due to external force to the abdomen. I make absolutely no claims to knowing how that external force was created (only two people on the planet knew that; both of them are dead). A fall can create an enormous amount of force and is certainly a possibility.

    However, injury by catheter can almost certainly be ruled out. Catheterization took place at about 4:00 am the morning of September 6, about twelve hours after Rappe began giving abundant evidence that something was radically wrong. According to medical testimony catheterization was effected without incident; the catheter itself was submitted into evidence. None of the physicians who testified (this includes doctors who treated her when she was alive, those who were present at autopsy, those who performed the later pathological exam of her bladder ordered by the court, and both prosecution *and defense* expert witnesses) ever suggested that a catheterization mishap was responsible for the bladder rupture.

    Arbuckle’s attorneys never questioned the fact that Rappe’s bladder ruptured during the time when she was behind closed (and locked) doors with Arbuckle. Their position was that absolutely no accident of any kind took place and that Rappe’s bladder ruptured spontaneously due to her allegedly diseased state.

    As to the allegation of quackery (and I assume you derive that idea from Edmonds book?), all I can say is that Edmonds’ definition of quack is different from mine. All the doctors involved in her care were well respected; many were prominent. I can list their extensive qualifications if anyone is interested.

    Why was Rappe not taken to a hospital immediately? I don’t know. All I can do is speculate based upon available evidence. But I will point out that the time of hospitalization isn’t germane to the cause of the bladder rupture.

    As for Edmonds’ story about the knee in the gut; Edmonds states she was told this story by comic Joe Rock, and that Rock claimed that he got that version of events directly from Arbuckle. The story is a little strange. It is not in the least exculpatory and neither Rock nor Edmonds thought the scenario through to its logical conclusion. If Arbuckle did, in fact, accidentally knee Rappe in the abdomen, he never said a word about it to anyone at the time, including the doctors. If Rappe died as the result of that alleged blow, his silence constituted manifest negligence, and ergo, he would be guilty of manslaughter. And since Arbuckle never mentioned this incident while on the witness stand, Edmonds is implying that he lied under oath–which is perjury. I think that Mr. Rock was yanking someone’s chain.

    As to the clothes-tearing story…the main source for that information is the spectacularly unreliable Adela Rogers St. Johns. YMMV.

  56. Mindy

    I am not trying to be pornographic or making false accusations. I am simply saying that nobody knows what happened. I also know that what happened to me is not a joke and should be taken serious. The size of a man’s penis can cause damage, serious damage. I almost lost my life and until anybody can come up with a reasonable explanation for Virginia’s bladder exploding, I think all options should be kept open.

  57. Anotherone

    Or, as you state, she could have fallen down. The reports I’ve read say that she was found lying on the bathroom floor when Arbuckle went to use the toilet; he picked her up and laid her on the bed fully clothed; she tore off most of her own clothes (and there were plenty of people who could state that she had a habit of doing this when intoxicated), then fell on the floor.

    The drinking and the fall could have done it. There was also one report that Arbuckle accidentally kneed the girl in the abdomen when she tickled him (FRAMED! by Andy Edmonds.)

    There were several ways her bladder could have ruptured; the girl was also catheterized by some quack doctors. I would like to know more than anything why she wasn’t taken to a hospital when she showed obvious signs of a surgical abdomen (hardness, thick blood in urine.)

  58. Joan Myers

    Goodness, what a story. More cynical people than I might almost suspect it of not being true. Whatever. I suppose anything is possible, but the medical literature doesn’t turn up even one instance of an intraperitoneal bladder rupture occurring for that quite interesting reason. You can search yourself, here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez

    Forensic evidence definitely ruled out rape (and any kind of previous surgery), but an autopsy performed four days after the event would not necessarily produce evidence of consensual sex. Arbuckle, however, entered room 1219 anywhere from 20 minutes to a half an hour after Rappe did, so if he was consumed with overwhelming lust it took him a while to figure it out. Pathological exam on Rappe’s bladder showed evidence of cystitic inflammation, so the reason she entered room 1219 is because she really, really wanted to pee. It’s not the most erotic scenario…unless you are *very* strange, and if you are Andre will just yank your response, so don’t bother. But I think we can safely conclude that neither party entered the room to get frisky.

    You can read about bladder ruptures here: http://www.emedicine.com/med/topic2856.htm

    From that article: “Frequency of bladder rupture varies according to the following mechanisms of injury:

    External trauma (82%) (car accident, fall, kicked in the gut, shot, or stabbed)
    Iatrogenic (14%) (surgical or other medical screwup)
    Intoxication (2.9%) (usually means the drunk doesn’t remember the blunt force trauma)
    Spontaneous (<1%) (bladder just explodes for hell of it, statistically insignificant or not bloody likely, pal)

    Of all bladder injuries, 60-85% are from blunt trauma and 15-40% are from a penetrating injury. The most common mechanisms of blunt trauma are motor vehicle accidents (87%), falls (7%), and assaults (6%). In penetrating traumas, the most frequent culprit is gunshot wounds (85%), followed by stabbings (15%).

    We can rule out the car accident, gunshot, stabbing, and surgical screwup. In other words, while there might be other explanations, the overwhelmingly likely reason that Rappe’s bladder ruptured is that she somehow got clocked in the abdomen.

  59. Renee Simooms

    That is not only far-fetched, it is nothing more than a pornographic fantasy. You have no proof and are making statements without any foundation.

  60. Mindy

    This may be far-fetched, but maybe Fatty’s penis was abnormally large. From personal experience, a penis can cause serious damage. My cervix ripped during sex and I almost bled to death. Thinking of this, couldn’t such force in Virginia’s case cause the bladder to explode?

  61. Joan Myers

    At this point, the answers to your questions are:

    1: Dunno, working on it! No publisher yet.
    2. Yes.

  62. Nancy

    Point taken about the principals being dead…I should have phrased this better. I meant that no one who witnessed the events at the San Francisco party–or who admitted to being there– is alive now.
    I look forward to reading this book. When will it be published, and by whom?
    And were you able to contact any descendants of anyone who was involved?

  63. Joan Myers

    Yes, all of the Arbuckle case principals are dead now, but that doesn’t mean a history of the case cannot be done. Everyone who knew George Washington, Napoleon, and Henry II are dead, too.

    I have found not a shred of evidence that Matthew Brady prosecuted the case because of his gubernatorial ambitions; as we have excellent, if tiresome, reasons to know, nothing is more visible than political ambitions. The next California gubernatorial election was in November 1922; Republican Friend Richardson was elected to the office. Matthew Brady did not run for governor then, nor did he ever; he remained District Attorney of the city and county of San Francisco for 24 years. There is also no evidence that the prosecution ever considered the case a capital one, nor did they give any indications they were seeking the death penalty.

    The coke bottle rumor developed long after the actual events occurred; no mention of a bottle of any type occurs in any of the news reports, including the legendary Hearst coverage. And only the third trial jury handed down an acquittal; the first two ended in hung juries.

  64. Nancy

    All of the principals are dead now. I’d take newspaper coverage of the Arbuckle case with a very large grain of salt–there was a political subtext (San Francisco’s D.A. wanted to be governor, and thought that sending Arbuckle to the chair would guarantee him the job. W.R Hearst wanted to sell newspapers and printed sensationalist stories, including the canard of the Coke bottle rape.)
    Three trial juries acquitted Roscoe Arbuckle of murder.
    I would be genuinely interested in reading more about Virginia Rappe, who has never been treated as anything more than a venal victim in earlier studies of this case.

  65. Andre

    I don’t know the details about the Arbuckle case, though I do know that all sorts of wild — and unfounded — rumors circulated at the time.

    Joan Myers’ book should be coming out in the next couple of years.

  66. Mike Moore

    I happen to be dating the grand daughter of
    Virginia Rappe.
    My friend, who is now 60, tells me that Fatty
    supposedly stuffed a large foreign object into Rappe’s vagina causing severe damage and death.
    Any evidence to this which is contrary to her
    bladder exploding?
    Thanks,in advance.
    Mike, Phoenix

  67. Donna

    This is a fascinating interview. Like the other commentators, I’m awaiting this forthcoming book with a great deal of enthusiasm. Like the William Desmond Taylor case in 1922, this is a case that has needed a serious re-examination. After all it’s been 30 years since David Yallop’s book, and based on what I’ve seen in this inetrview, there is much more to learn about this case and the people affected by it.

  68. Fascinating information! I am very excited that there is more to look at about the Roscoe Arbuckle case. I am also glad that finally, someone is focusing on who Virginia Rappe was as a person. I will definitely buy the book when it is available. Thanks so much for your efforts, Ms. Myers!

  69. James

    What a wonderfully entertaining yet very informative interview. Very much looking forward to Ms. Myers’ book.

  70. Allan Ellenberger

    The Arbuckle-Rappe case has always been an intriguing subject and Ms. Rappe’s grave is still a popular stop at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. To revisit this provocative story from Ms. Myers well-researched perspective — I’m sure — will make a definitive read for everyone.







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