Saturday, August 2, 2014

Arbuckle: Hollywood’s First Scandal, Part ll

At San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis Hotel guests still ask to see where the infamous Labor Day party took place over 90 years ago.

Weston St, Francis Hotel

The management is happy to oblige if the suite is unoccupied. But no one knows what really happened.

Only one thing is known for sure, and that is one afternoon in September of 1921 Virginia Rappe was screaming in agony on one bed in this suite.

Later that week she died.

The man charged with her death was Roscoe Arbuckle--Hollywood’s first one million dollar star.

I Can’t Go

It was Labor Day weekend and Roscoe’s friend and director Fred Fischbach convinced him to take a 3-day vacation. Roscoe tried to back out because he had burned himself and was in pain.

He had taken his luxury Pierce-Arrow to a garage to have it checked out. He sat on a crate to wait for the mechanic’s opinion. He did not see the acid-soaked rag and ended up with 2nd degree burns on his bottom.

Fischbach who really wanted to go convinced Roscoe to change his mind. Roscoe, Fischbach and actor Lowell Sherman rented 3 adjourning rooms at the St. Francis--suite’s 1219, 1220, and 1221.

It was supposed to be a relaxing weekend. The three men threw a party for friends.

Uninvited Guests

Virginia Rappe
One uninvited guest at this party was Virginia Rappe. Rappe’s former boyfriend director Henry Pathe Lehrman had a long-running feud with Roscoe.

Rappe who had a tumultuous on and off again relationship with Lehreman had given an earlier scathing interview about Roscoe to a movie magazine. She called him “disgusting and crude…vulgar and disrespectful.”

Her comments contrasted with most reports given by the women that actually knew the comedian. They all considered Arbuckle to be dapper and a polite gentleman--including his estranged wife, Minty.

Minta "Minty" Durfee
At the time Rappe traveled to San Francisco it was believed that she was pregnant with Lehrman’s child and was seeking an abortion.

An Extortionist

Rappe brought two other uninvited guests with her. Her manager Al Semnacher and a woman she had just met on the trip up the coast, Bambina Maude Delmont.

Bambina Maude Delmont
It is speculated that Delmont arranged for Rappe to get the abortion before they reached San Francisco.

Delmont had a history of many run-ins with the police. She had been charged with extortion, bigamy, fraud, and racketeering.

She was known to be “a professional correspondent: a woman hired to provide compromising pictures to use in divorce cases or for illegal purposes such as blackmail.”

Among these cases were celebrities whom she had threatened to release condemning evidence about if they did not pay her.

She was the one who accused Arbuckle of raping and murdering Virginia Rappe.

The Party

Seeing Rappe and Delmont at the party, Roscoe voiced his concerns to his friends. He expressed that their “bad reputations” might cause the police to raid the party. This was a concern for they were serving bootleg alcohol--in 1921 Prohibition was being enforced.

After most of the partygoers left Rappe and Delmont remained. Roscoe went to his bedroom to change clothes so he could drive a friend, Mae Traub into town.

What happened next is hotly debated but most researchers who have tried to find the truth agree that Roscoe found Rappe in a dead faint on the bathroom floor.

Roscoe then carried Rappe to a nearby bed. Rappe requested water, so Roscoe got her a glass. When he returned, she had rolled off the bed and was on the floor moaning. He assisted her back into the bed and went to get an ice bucket.

Arbuckle felt the ice would help calm Rappe down--it did not work. Delmont entered the room and discussed Rappe’s distress with Roscoe, they both, came to the conclusion that Rappe was merely drunk.

A Turn for the Worse

Suddenly, Rappe screamed, she then tore at her clothes. According to Delmont, she said hysterically, “Stay away from me! I don’t want you near me!”

Then she supposedly turned to Delmont and said the words that later condemned the comedian. “What did he do to me, Maude? Roscoe did this to me.”

After this, the bathtub was filled with cold water, and Rappe was placed in the tub--this finally calmed her down. Fishbach and Roscoe helped her out and escorted her to room 1227.

Roscoe arranged for the hotel manager to call the hotel doctor. He was not available, so another doctor was called in. His diagnosis was she was merely drunk. The party continued and Roscoe drove Traub home.

When he returned the hotel physician, Dr. Arthur Beardslee arrived to take a look at Rappe. He gave her morphine, and she drifted off to sleep.

He returned the next day and again treated Rappe with morphine. Delmont told him that she had not urinated in hours.

Delmont them called in a Dr. Melville Rumwell, a man she knew well enough to call “Rummy.” When he arrived Delmont told him that Rappe had taken sick and that a drunken Roscoe had dragged her into a room and raped her--or had at least tried to.

Runwell found no evidence of rape and treated Rappe for pain and trouble urinating. Delmont had previously told Dr. Beardslee a similar story.

On Tuesday afternoon Roscoe checked out of the hotel--not aware of Delmont’s statements.

A couple of days later a feverish Rappe was taken to a hospital. She died there on Friday, September 9th. The cause was noted as an infection caused by a ruptured bladder.

In Part lll of Roscoe Arbuckle: Hollywood’s First Scandal I share information about the lies, rumors, and Arbuckle’s three trials. 

No comments: