Maude Delmont Takes the Blame, September 10, 1921

As we posted last week, during the second Arbuckle trial,  the defense asserted that Maude Delmont had been the first to sign a statement that accused Roscoe Arbuckle of assaulting Virginia Rappe and dragging her into room 1219—not Alice Blake and Zey Prevost. But the prosecutors insisted that Blake and Prevost had done so, hence their primacy as star witnesses. They, not Delmont, had provided enough to justify Arbuckle’s arrest—not Delmont. Delmont’s statement had come after the comedian’s arrest. Her purpose, if that is true, was only to sign a murder complaint, which the other two women likely refused to do.

When Delmont failed as a viable witness during a preliminary investigation conducted by the San Francisco coroner, she was sidelined but always kept either in reserve. She was even offered to the defense lawyers as a witness. But despite their seeming eagerness to see her on the stand, refused to call her as their own witness.

The following is the earliest statement by Delmont to the press—probably to San Francisco Call reporter Ernestine Black, during the morning of September 10. (Black bylined more than one profile of Delmont, whom she found to be a tragic if not intriguing figure in the Arbuckle case See Ernestine Black on Maude Delmont.) What is important to see here is the probably reason for the delay in Delmont making a statement to the District Attorney: she couldn’t under her doctor’s orders.


IT’S MY FAULT. BEAD ACTRESS’ GIRL CHUM CRIES[1]

A year ago Virginia Rappe and Maude Del Mont were fellow members in the cast of the glad play, Maeterlinck’s “Blue Bird.”[2] Today the former lies dead under tragic circumstances and her chum is in a state of collapse, under the care of two doctors, in her room at the Hotel St Francis.

Maude Del Mont Is haggard and frantic, finding herself only in the administrations of a trained nurse as a result of the hectic merriment in the suite of Roscoe Arbuckle which led to the death of Virginia Rappe.

“How can I get over this? It’s my fault! It’s more than I can bear.”

Such were the words she uttered today, with a frantic clasp of the hand, when a personal friend was admitted to her room.[3]

STRICKEN BY GRIEF

She lay distraught, the grief and remorse pictured on her face contrasting with the gayety of a kimono twisted about her shoulders.

In bits and snatches this is what she said:

It’s my fault. I took her there. We were pals. She was like a sister to me.

We’d been close friends for so long.[4]

What will my aunt say?[5] How can I explain this? It’s more than I can live through.

I should have been more careful. I know this—there was no better girl than Virginia and I’m ready to say it no matter what comes.[6]

I’d rather it was I who died than Virginia.

IN GRIP OF REMORSE

Her desire to express her remorse to a friend was keen, but fulfillment of it was cut short by Dr. W. P. Read, who is attending her with Dr. F. W. Callisan.[7]

Dr. Read, entering while she was talking, reiterated his order that no interviews be granted by her and said that discussion by her would only aggravate her condition. She persisted for a moment, but the physician declared he must be obeyed if he was responsible for her condition, and the friend to whom she had uttered her grief for the first time departed.

Hollywood tried to make a film adaptation of The Blue Bird a second time with Shirley Temple was the heroine. It was her last childhood role and least popular film.

[1] San Francisco Call, 10 September 1921, 2.

[2] Delmont doesn’t mean the 1918 film version directed by Maurice Tourneur. It had been filmed at Ft. Lee, not Los Angeles, and the credits for the film are fairly well documented. She means a stage production of the 1908 play, which required elaborate props and costumes if not professional actors—and there wasn’t one documented for Southern California in 1920. That said, in the first months of 1920, Maurice Maeterlinck spent a good deal of time in Los Angeles and was courted by motion picture executives to write screenplays. Among the many honors afforded to the 1911 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, the annual Orange Festival in Orange County did have a “blue bird” theme to attract the famous man. Thus, Delmont told a “white lie” to provide the missing depth to her longtime “chum.”

[3] According to his own statement to the police, Ira Fortlouis paid Maude Delmont a visit at the St. Francis during the first twenty-four hours after Rappe’s death.

[4] Delmont had only met Rappe a week earlier in Los Angeles before setting out for Selma, California, and then on to San Francisco.

[5] Delmont had no fixed address at the time. She either lived with friends in the Fresno area or with an aunt in Los Angeles.

[6] Delmont, we believe, had yet to give a full statement to the District Attorney of San Francisco. That is she wasn’t the first. How she was convinced to “willingly” sign a murder complaint against Arbuckle is a mystery. Our book does present a hypothesis.

[7] Dr. Read was a personal friend of Delmont. He taught at Stanford University’s medical school and was consulted about the feasibility of performing surgery on Virginia Rappe in a heroic effort to save her life.

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