To theorists Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes, photos of individuals have a spectral quality where it’s the photograph that is looking at us from a fixed moment in the past. A photo of Virginia Rappe with two of her friends provides a good example of that quality.
The more prominent of the two is the actress Louise Glaum, who, when The Picture Show published the photo in November 1919, had just made or was making such motion pictures as The Lone Wolf’s Daughter (1919), Sex (1919) and Love (1920). These and other films made Glaum Theda Bara’s rival for the title of Hollywood’s leading vamp.
During this time, too, Glaum, was also seen around Los Angeles in Rappe’s company. That they were friends is known from the reporting of the first Arbuckle trial, when prosecutors tried to get “Miss Glaum“ to testify to Rappe’s health and wellbeing. This required Glaum that come from New York, where she had retired to enjoy her private life and file lawsuits against her former studio.
What she might have said as a rebuttal witness will never be known. But it is not hard to guess. She likely would have told the jury that in all the time she spent with Rappe, she hadn’t seen her drink alcoholic beverages, fall into hysterical fits, tear her clothes off, and the like. Glaum, too, who enjoyed hiking in the Hollywood Hills like Rappe, would have said that Rappe’s physical health was robust.
Being a rebuttal witness, however, would have required subjecting Glaum to cross examination by Gavin McNab or, more likely, Milton Cohen among Arbuckle’s battery of lawyers. This would have exposed her personal life to some degree. Glaum was single, having divorced at an early age. Her nickname was “Weirdy” among the other women in the studio. The lawyers would also probe the depth of her friendship with Rappe. It may have been so casual as to make Glaum out to be a weak witness who really wouldn’t know about Rappe’s wellbeing. Or Rappe may have been closer, like a “lady-in-waiting” in Glaum’s entourage. (Glaum could have known her in Chicago, where Glaum was a stage actress around 1909–11 and Rappe was both a model and aspiring actress herself.) Or Glaum and Rappe may have been—and this is more likely—equal partners in whatever acquaintance they had.
One thing they did have in common were dogs. Glaum had rescued a Boston terrier that she named “Runtie” and Rappe had “Jeff,” her brindle Staffordshire, rescued from director Henry Lehrman’s studio menagerie. In the photo, Rappe’s dog is the center of attention with Rappe flanked by Glaum and the former actress Jean Darnell.
Darnell, too, could have made a good rebuttal witness. She was an actor-turned-gossip-columnist and privy to many Hollywood lives and secrets. Unfortunately for the work of biographers and historians, her own life was kept private. At the time of Rappe’s death, she had already returned to her native Texas as an “exploitation” agent for Goldwyn.