Bit Player #6: Betty Campbell on the meaning of a “rough party”

[In this sidebar adapted from our work-in-progress, Betty Campbell provides one of the few eyewitness accounts of what Arbuckle’s party was like for most of Labor Day 1921. The word “rough,” of course, was the 1920s euphemism for “sexual harassment” or abuse. Presumably, Virginia Rappe fell for some other variation of Sherman’s entrapment, that is, if she didn’t enter room 1219 with her consent. Incidentally, in Arbuckle first time taking the stand at his first trial, he claimed to have found Rappe in 1219’s bathroom.]

Neither the Grand Jury nor the Coroner’s Court heard Betty Campbell. San Francisco County District Attorney Matthew Brady knew that she had attended Roscoe Arbuckle’s Labor Day party late in the afternoon with her friend, the store model Dolly Clark. But he had shown more interest in Clark. Campbell though had a story too and while so many other witnesses were giving testimony, hers was published in the San Francisco Examiner.[1]

The youngest guest at the Labor Day party, Campbell was a chorus girl in the Ziegfeld Follies and Al Jolson’s traveling show. She wanted to be a motion picture actress and her photographs, taken by the Hartsook Studio, attested to that aspiration as did her being a guest at Arbuckle’s Labor Day party. Her description of the latter half of the party reveals that Rappe’s crisis in room 1219 was merely an interruption, which barely cast a pall over the rest of the afternoon. Her description also revealed the kind of activity that the press was calling an “orgy,” a “debauch,” or, simply “the weird affair” and what was meant by “rough” in the parlance of the 1920s, a word used by other Labor Day party witnesses.

Source: Newspapers.com

Despite her youth, Campbell was no ingenue and no stranger to courtrooms and being questioned by lawyers. That summer she was named as the correspondent in the divorce case between a Southern California millionaire, Guy Lewis, the so-called “Bean King of Ventura County,” and his wife. While she was caught “spooning” with a millionaire, Campbell was not so willing to do the same with just any man.

“Lowell Sherman, the actor, came over and sat by me,” she recalled, “and began to get rough in his speech and actions, so I got up and walked away. A little later he went into his bedroom, leaving the door open, and called: ‘Come in here—I want to talk to you.’”

“Like a fool, I went in,” Campbell said. “Sherman immediately closed the door

and locked it. I heard them laughing outside. I kept my head, and when Sherman stepped toward me, I said: “Wait a moment—I want to fix my hair,” and ran into the bathroom. Just as he had done, I slammed the door and locked it. He tried to get in for a time, but gave it up and went back into the parlor. I watched my chance and ran out through the bedroom. As I came through the door, Freddy Fischbach [sic] tried to push me back into the room again. I shut the door on him and a little later got out safely.

“If I hadn’t been quick and in full possession of my senses,” Campbell added, “the same thing would have happened to me that happened to Miss Rappe. Only it was not Arbuckle who tried it.” In regard to the comedian, he was a “gentleman.” Although he drank a “considerable” amount of liquor in Campbell’s presence as the afternoon wore on, he wasn’t intoxicated.

“He did little except dance,” she said, “make clownish remarks, and sit shrugging his shoulders in that funny way of his.” Campbell felt safe enough in his company to be his dance partner. She stayed at the party for supper, too, during which she overheard Arbuckle lament, “I’m not going to take any blame for anything that happened to that girl.”

“This was the only remark that indicated nervousness,” Campbell, said. Otherwise, Arbuckle was merry and showed no remorse or concern for Virginia Rappe, who, Campbell, learned from others at the party, had been in room 1219 alone with him.

The other revelation that Campbell made to reporters was that Arbuckle left the party when supper was served. He had to make an appearance at a local theater. She is the only source for this anomaly in his Labor Day schedule.

Assistant District Attorney Milton U’Ren, caught flatfooted on learning of Campbell’s newspaper story, told the press that he and his colleagues were “very anxious to locate Miss Campbell,” but she had “mysteriously disappeared.”


[1] The following is based on “Girl Tells of Revel at Arbuckle Party,” San Francisco Examiner, 13 September 1921, 1, 2; “Lewis Co-Respondent Also Arbuckle Flame,” Oxnard Daily Courier, 14 September 1921, 1; Universal Service, “Show Girl Who Told of Assault Attempt at Orgy Disappears,” [Pittsburgh] Gazette,14 September 1921, 2; and other corroborative sources.

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