Virginia Rappe’s dog

One of the last photographs taken of Virginia Rappe before she left for San Francisco in September 1921 was with her dog “Jeff.” Like Roscoe Arbuckle’s dog “Luke,” Jeff was a Staffordshire bull terrier. The difference between the two was that Jeff had a brindle coat and, like Rappe, hadn’t made it big in pictures.

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Rappe and Jeff, 1921 (Calisphere)

Jeff was from a large menagerie of animals acquired by Rappe’s boyfriend, the comedy director Henry Lehrman, when he was in charge of Fox Studio’s Sunshine Comedy Co.

The menagerie also included: “Joe,” a monkey; “Theodore,” a cat; “Billy,” a goat; “Bum,” a bulldog; “Rats,” a terrier; “Ludwig,” a dachshund; as well as three unnamed white mice and four canaries.[1] Lehrman also had ostriches, ducks, chickens, a small herd of elephants, and a pair of lions.

Jeff’s first performance may have been this studio photograph with Virginia Rappe (below). He sits on a telephone stand while Rappe poses in a summer suit and Panama hat.[2]

Jeff and Virginia Rappe, about 1917 (Library of Congress)

The puppy bonded with her over time, due in part to her stepping in to comfort him when she thought his trainer was abusive.

Jeff was evidently indifferent about movie stardom, having once wandered away from a shoot in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park in August 1918, and found only after Lehrman was forced to offer a reward.

Eventually, Jeff became Rappe’s charge after he began routinely waiting at her car in the parking lot of Lehrman’s Culver City before she left for home. After refusing to recognize any other master, Rappe was allowed to keep Jeff as her own. But given Lehrman’s penchant for dangerous stunts, Jeff may have been easy to part with, having already lost an eye, which spoiled his appearance and ended his brief career.

[1] “Who Said Monkey Dinner?” Los Angeles Times, 29 July 1917, III:2.

[2] See “Lost Dog Star, Not Sirius, But Lehrman’s Jess [sic],” Los Angeles Herald, 10 August 1918, II:3; and “Aunt, Pet Mourn Death of Miss Rappe,” San Francisco Call, 16 September 1921, 2.

One thought on “Virginia Rappe’s dog

  1. Hello,
    As improbable as this sounds, my mother was witness Josephine Rafferty Roth’s youngest daughter. She never had a birth certificate, but she always said she was born in 1913. Because we were told that my grandmother (who I never met) owned a “home for unwed mothers,” we always wondered if my mother was adopted. My mother spoke very little about her childhood, though my aunt (my mother’s half-sister, Bernice Cecil Rafferty Elger) supposedly harbored a secret about my mother’s birth. The two were estranged for about 35 years but united at the end of Bernice’s life, when my mother went to care for her in Florida. My sister believed that Bernice told my mother the secret, but my mother never shared it with us. After my mother died in 1988, my sister tried to solve the mystery for many years before she passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2009, writing to any and all surviving family friends who might know something, contacting churches and schools my mother attended, and even traveling to the BYU Family History Library and Chicago to dig through public records.

    After reading a story recently about an unmarried and pregnant teen, I was reminded of my grandmother and, on a lark, I googled Josephine’s name and discovered two Google books that refer to her in the Arbuckle case, and now your blog. I am stunned to see her name in print and find anything at all after so many years, but even more so because of her connection to the Arbuckle case, which I had read about in the book Hollywood Babylon when I was a teenager (one of the few books in my parents’ home, which is odd in and of itself) and again recently in the New Yorker, making this connection even more shocking.

    Your testimony from John Bates kept me up all night, and although unlikely, I am wondering if my mother might have been Virginia Rappe’s abandoned daughter. I don’t know as much as my sister did about my mother’s childhood – she was 42 when I was born – but she used to say that Charlie Chaplin visited her mother (Josephine) at home, which is much more interesting given this new information. I assumed this to be the home they had on N Sedgewick in Chicago, but it may have been a different home on Indiana St in Chicago (I discovered this address in my sister’s documents). Needless to say, I am reeling from these random connections, wondering where to go from here, and hoping you might know something more that could possibly help me solve this longstanding family puzzle. It seems that any and all leads would have been followed at the time of Bates’ testimony, but given how hard it has been for us to uncover any documents that prove who my mother was, it seems someone took great pains to keep her identity hidden. I hope you can see why this all feels connected.

    I am heartbroken that my sister who worked so hard on this with near obsession for years is not here to experience this stunning find with me. Thanks for any information you might be able to share.

    Debbi Mercado


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