Image via Wikipedia
In 1921, a bootleg-booze-soused party took place in room 1219 at San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis Hotel. As a result of this party, an actress named Virginia Rappe ended up dead.
The man charged with her death was Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Hollywood‘s first one-million-dollar star.
Arbuckle had ended up at a party in a luxury suite on the twelfth floor of the St. Francis during a break from a hectic filming schedule. Among the guests was Virginia Rappe, a thirty-year-old struggling actress.
Arbuckle and Rappe ended up together in a bedroom. A few minutes later, others heard her screams. Guests rushed in to find Rappe, fully dressed, writhing in pain on the bed.
Arbuckle said he had gone to the bathroom and found Rappe passed out on the floor. He insisted that he had carried her to the bed, and she had fallen off it. Rappe said, “He did this to me.”
When Arbuckle left, the other guests assumed the actress was just drunk, but her condition worsened until her friend took her to the hospital three days later and told the doctor Arbuckle raped Rappe. A medical examination found no evidence of sexual assault.
Nonetheless, a day later, Rappe died from peritonitis caused by a ruptured bladder. Arbuckle was charged with first-degree murder. Morality groups demanded he face the death penalty.
Arbuckle was never tried for sexual assault, but the notion that he raped Rappe endured because of the way the trial was reported. The star was portrayed as a fat brute who had pinned down his prey, rupturing her bladder. The actor faced trial three times. The first two trials ended in hung juries.
After a third trial in 1922, the jury took just a few minutes to acquit Arbuckle. “Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle,” the jury said in a written apology. “A grave injustice has been done.”
Roscoe Arbuckle spent more than a decade trying to make a comeback after being blacklisted from Hollywood. In 1927, he discovered Bob Hope in Cleveland.
Finally, in 1933, he was offered a feature-film contract. He said it was the best day of his life. That night, he died of a heart attack at age 46.