Saturday, August 2, 2014

Arbuckle: Hollywood’s First Scandal, Part lll

Roscoe Arbuckle

After a Labor Day party in San Francisco Roscoe Arbuckle who had just signed a lucrative contract with Paramount Studios to make feature films for one million dollars a year found himself the center of Hollywood’s first scandal.

This talented gentle giant found the public that once adored him now hated him. He now was spat upon when he ventured out in public.

Before he could even present his side of the story everyone believed he was a monster that raped and killed a young “innocent” starlet by the name of Virginia Rappe.

Fuel to Fire

After Rappe’s death on Friday September 9th lies and rumors spread quickly.

Within a short period of time newspapers most prominently William Randolph Hearst’s were filled with reports that Arbuckle had sexually assaulted Rappe, which resulted in her death.

Hearst was later to state that the Arbuckle scandal sold more papers for him then the sinking of the Lusitania, which turned America against Germany before entering WWl.

Hearst’s papers also were responsible for highlighting the disgusting rumors that Roscoe had raped Rappe with a Cocoa-Cola or champagne bottle, which was never taken seriously or brought up in the subsequent trials.

A headline on one of Hearst's' papers.

A Chance for Fame and Fortune

If it wasn’t for Delmont’s lies and an opportunistic San Francisco District Attorney named Mathew Brady, Roscoe Arbuckle probably would never have been accused of murder.

Brady felt the high profile case would make his career--he had political ambitions. He conducted many interviews with Maude Delmont each time she changed her story. He knew she wasn’t a credible witness and never put her on the stand.

But Brady was out to make a name for himself. When he brought Arbuckle before the grand jury, he threatened Zey Prevon an actress that attended the party with prosecution for perjury unless she agreed with a police statement alleging that a dying Rappe had said, “Roscoe hurt me.”

Three Trials

By the time the case was tried the charge against Arbuckle was reduced to manslaughter--which meant a prison term, not death.

Brady was the prosecuting attorney during Roscoe’s first trial. The defense lawyer Gavin McNab often defended celebrities.

During the trial Betty Campbell a model who had attended the party testified that she had seen Arbuckle relaxing and enjoying himself an hour after the rape. Brady was trying to point out to the jury that Arbuckle was neither remorseful nor concerned about Rappe’s condition.

Under McNab’s cross-examination Campbell dropped a bombshell. Despite Brady’s frenzied objections, she told the court that the prosecution had threatened her with imprisonment if she didn’t testify against Arbuckle.

McNab then presented 2 other affidavits from Zey Prevon and another actress Alice Blake to the judge that backed up Campbell’s claims of intimidation by the prosecution.

Prevon testified that she made the statement where Rappe had claimed, “He killed me” under duress. Blake testified to similar pressure on the witness stand.

It was also discovered that Brady had faked fingerprints he put into evidence. He wanted to prove that Arbuckle and Rappe had struggled. He stated that Rappe’s fingerprints were found on a bedroom door because she had tried to escape but Arbuckle slammed the door shut.

McNab found a hotel maid who testified to the fact she had dusted the door several times before it was sealed and examined by the District Attorney.

Minty at trail
Roscoe's estranged wife Minty believed in his innocent and she sat in the court every day to show her support. Roscoe took the stand and gave compelling testimony in his own defense.

The jury ended in a deadlock 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal. One jurist who was a holdout, Helen Hubbard told her fellow jurors that she would never change her mind. She knew Arbuckle was guilty as soon as he was arrested.

In Arbuckle’s second trial the defense took a different tact they decided to attack Rappe’s character. This had not been done in the first trial to Arbuckle’s credit for he had refused to let his attorneys do this.

This attack on the deceased Rappe did not play well. Mentioning her drinking, erratic ways, and her multi-sex partners put a bad taste in the jurors’ mouths.

This, plus the fact they didn’t have Arbuckle testify and the general feeling that they didn’t have to fight what they considered was a “weak” prosecution was also a mistake.

This time the jury came back deadlocked 10 to 2 for conviction.

During the third trial, the defense once more put Arbuckle on the stand to testify. This time the defense once more went all out.

It worked for the jury came back with a quick acquittal. They also issued on their own initiative an apology where they stated Arbuckle had been wronged. They felt that there had not been any “evidence” or “slightest proof” he had committed this crime.

Roscoe Arbuckle in court

In Part lV of Roscoe Arbuckle: Hollywood’s First Scandal I share information about what might actually have caused Rappe’s death, Roscoe’s life post-trial and Virginia Rappe’s ghost.

Here is a brief overview of this story:

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