100 years ago today: How to make Virginia Rappe’s favorite cocktail on the stand

Mrs. Winifred M. Burkholder appeared as a prosecution witness on April 6, 1922, during the final Arbuckle trial. After the defense announced that it had closed its case, she took the stand to rebut the parade of witnesses who testified in support of the defense contention that Rappe had suffered from a chronic ailment that compromised the structural integrity of her bladder such that it could burst spontaneously. The primary target of her rebuttal was, Virginia Warren, a Chicago nurse who claimed that Rappe gave birth to a child in 1908—the year that followed Rappe’s appearance in the Chicago Tribune as a rising young art model much in demand.

Like Rappe, Burkholder was a model but older and from an entirely different background. She had abandoned her husband and young son in rural Minnesota a in 1908 or ’09 to study fashion design and illustration in Chicago. During this time she reinvented herself and likely met Rappe either taking the same classes or working the same fashion shows.

Burkholder also managed models and led a troupe of young women on a tour of various department stores in the Midwest and South in 1913. Rappe was one of her stars in the traveling “Promenade des Toilettes” and garnered much attention for the “tango skirt” with its risqué slit up the front.

Burkholder kept in touch with Rappe as late as 1914, another year in which the defense found a doctor who claimed to have delivered another of Rappe’s purported progeny. Since his deposition was tossed out, Gavin McNab, Arbuckle’s chief counsel, concentrated on trying to shake other aspects of Burkholder’s rebuttal, especially in regard to her dates.

Rappe’s guardian, Katherine Fox, testified that Virginia was in San Francisco in the late summer of 1914. But Burkholder insisted that Rappe was in New York City visiting relatives, a family with the surname of Gallagher.[1]

During the course of asserting that Rappe had never been seriously ill or pregnant to her knowledge,  Burkholder disclosed Rappe’s favorite drink.

Mrs. Burkholder said that she frequently went to cafes with Miss Rappe and that the girl, though not in the habit of drinking extensively, would order a Bronx cocktail before dinner and a French liqueur afterward. This brought the question from Gavin McNab, chief defense counsel:

“How is a Bronx made?”

“Of gin and orange juice, I believe,” the witness responded, “and Virginia had hers made mostly of orange juice, as she did not like the taste of gin.”[2]

She got the basic ingredients right but for a really good Bronx cocktail the bartender should add a little dry vermouth and a dash of orange bitters.

The great irony here is that a Bronx was Arbuckle’s favorite cocktail for his traditional late breakfasts according to Merritt in Room 1219. But it must be said that Arbuckle liked the sweet vermouth variant, also call an “orange blossom.”

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[1] “Gallagher” is the maiden name found on the death certificate of Rappe’s grandmother. But that surname doesn’t agree with the correlative information on the death certificate of Rappe’s mother, Mabel Rapp. This is why, in the closing arguments, McNab was incredulous about the woman buried as being Rappe’s true grandmother. For us, it’s still an intriguing clue that might shed light on Rappe’s paternity, which, for her, was a man in New York.

[2] A.P. Night Wire, “Defense Is Contradicted,” Los Angeles Times, 7 April 1922, 1.

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