Virginia Rappe was a silent film actress who had a prominent role in "Paradise Garden" in 1917. She was just as well known for her sensationalized and mysterious death. Her death marked one of Hollywood’s first scandals when one of its biggest stars Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was charged in connection to it. Just that year he was paid $3 million by Paramount Pictures to star in more movies. That’s a lot of money for 2018; just imagine how far that went in 1917!
On Labor Day, 1921 Arbuckle and Rappe partied together in a luxury suite on the 12th floor of the St Francis in San Francisco. At some point during the three-day long party, Arbuckle and Rappe went to a bedroom together. A few minutes later, guests could hear the starlet screaming in pain from inside the bedroom.
According to the BBC, guests rushed in. They discovered Rappe on a bed and fully-clothed. She was visibly in agony. Rappe allegedly said, "He did this to me,” referring to Arbuckle. He claimed he didn't hurt her. He said he carried her to the bed, and she fell off it.
Three days later, Rappe went to a hospital for treatment. There, her friend Bambina Maude Delmont told a doctor that Arbuckle raped Rappe. However, a medical evidence did not reportedly show any physical evidence of sexual assault.
Rappe, then 30, died a day later from peritonitis, which was caused by a ruptured bladder.
The death appeared to tarnish the tinsel-coated vision of Hollywood at the time. The public’s perception of Arbuckle was shattered.
"This was the guy who discovered Buster Keaton; who helped mentor Charlie Chaplin," Arbuckle biographer Stuart Oderman told the BBC. "He had magical comic timing. He was one of the all-time greats."
Arbuckle was never convicted. Initially, he was arrested on first-degree murder charges, which were eventually downgraded to manslaughter charges. He was tried three times with the first two trials ending in hung juries. During his third trial in 1922, he was acquitted after being found guilty only of drinking a bit of bootleg booze.
The case against Arbuckle was not perfect. For one, Rappe’s friend Bambina Maude Delmont admitted to scheming. She said she was planning to extort money from Arbuckle. She also had a criminal history. During the highly publicized trial, it was revealed that the prosecution used intimidation tactics to get witnesses to testify against the actor. Arbuckle has always maintained his innocence. As a result of the allegations, he was blacklisted from other Hollywood roles.
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