Update on the work in progress

Someone who, a hundred years from now, falsely repeats something evil about me, injures me right now.

Immanuel Kant*

Spite Work: The Trials of Virginia Rappe and “Fatty” Arbuckle, a revisionist history by James Reidel and Christopher Lewis is a completed manuscript of 970 mspp. and presently being copyedited

The titles of the book’s parts reflect the “biblical length” of the endeavor.

  • The Introduction includes a review of literature, discussing the earlier works about the Arbuckle case and their treatment of the model and actress Virginia Rappe. This part also features a biographical essay about Roscoe C. Arbuckle from birth to about 1916.
  • 1 Virginia discusses Rappe’s origins and early life. There is even a “tortured” genealogy (she could have joined the D.A.R.).
  • 2 Virginia covers Rappe’s Hollywood period.
  • The Apocrypha of Maude focuses on Arbuckle’s Labor Day Party itself and her fatal injury in room 1219 of the St. Francis Hotel.
  • The Wisdom of Lazarus is a narrative based on the preliminary investigation of Rappe’s death as a criminal matter. As a result, a criminal trail followed. This part also includes an account of Rappe’s interment, which anticipated other fulsome Hollywood funerals to come.
  • 1 Judges through 3 Judges covers the trials in which Arbuckle wasn’t the only defendant. There was a liminal one as well: the changeable personhood of Rappe herself. We end with the aftermath of the third trial.
  • The Epilogue follows the fates of key figures in the Labor Day party and Arbuckle–Rappe trials.

Needless to say, COVID-19 impacted the research and writing of this book in good ways and bad. We had hoped to meet the centenary of the Arbuckle–Rappe case with a finished book. We were also in a race against declining interest, attention spans, and all the vicissitudes of publishers wanting to pass on just about everything that comes across their iPhone screens.

But there are other scholars at work, too. So, the “special taste” for books about events that took place a hundred years ago during the hoary Silent Era have company.

Our publication plans will be announced on some future date.

Virginia Rappe in an anticipatory pose with her favorite black obsidian ring in view, Photograph by Albert Witzel.

*The curious epigraph that prefaces the book.

The modern Sappho on the Arbuckle jury

[This entry is from our research, to trace how various individuals found their way into the Arbuckle case and how they fared afterward. Some end in tragedy. Some in ellipses, like Maude Delmont. But Irene Wilde was exceptional.]

Irene Wilde (1884–1964) was one of five women on the jury of the third Arbuckle trial jury (March–April 1922). She was a poet and writer, albeit described a “newspaperwoman” by the San Francisco Call. But this was an exaggeration not of her choosing, for Wilde had won the Call‘s a runner-up prize for “Jingle of the Month” (December 1921) and was awarded for best “Molly O Poem” the following month (January 1922). The latter contest asked for paeans to Molly O, the title character in a recent film starring Mabel Normand. Normand, of course, had been Arbuckle’s costar at Keystone Studio—and the clever Mrs. Wilde brought a touch of erudition to her verse with the use of the very Irish “mavoureen” [darling].

Another exaggeration, one, that wasn’t disclosed during the trial, was that she claimed her husband, Richard Wilde, was a relative of Oscar Wilde, albeit born in California and humbly employed as a timekeeper by the Pullman Car Company.[1] But Irene had her own accomplishments. Raised on a farm in North Carolina, she attended the Baptist College for Women (i.e., Meredith College) in Raleigh and the University of Chicago. During her student years, she took joy in seeing her name in print and published many of her first poems in newspapers as Maude Irene Haire. Eventually, she made her way west, teaching high school English in Goldfield, Nevada, before arriving in Berkeley in 1918, where she married her husband, her first and his third.

Unlike the businessmen and housewives who may have felt their lives had been interrupted by their jury assignments, Wilde probably saw her month off from walking the floor as a sales clerk in an art supply store as a boon to her writing. Not only did she write poems but authored a droll insider account for the Call about the vicissitudes of being a juror.[2] This she had ready for publication the day after the jury acquitted Arbuckle for the death of Virginia Rappe on April 12.

“We felt that there was absolutely no case against Arbuckle,” Wilde said to reporters. “It was nothing but conjecture and surmise. The facts were all on the other side.”[3]

Wilde, too, signed the jury’s unprecedented statement in which they wished Arbuckle success and urged the American public to see him “entirely innocent and free from all blame.”

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 17 March 1922

The twelve men and women left it implicit that they saw Virginia Rappe as culpable for, as one of Arbuckle’s lawyers put it, for being “the pitcher that went to the well too often”—and having lived a dissolute life with a diseased bladder that happened to burst after the comedian unwittingly followed Rappe into his bedroom.

However the national coverage of the scandal and the fact that a woman died were enough to convince Paramount mogul Adolph Zukor that the public would never again see Arbuckle films as family fare—so he discreetly directed Will Hays to keep the ban on Arbuckle pictures in place. The actor soon put his beloved Pierce-Arrow “palace” car up for sale to pay his legal costs. The wife who “stood by her husband” during the trial, Minta Durfee, left him to return to her single life across the country in New York City. And Irene Wilde? She was perhaps best situated and equipped to write a tell-all book about the third Arbuckle trial. She could have indicated why the comedian’s version of events trumped everything that the prosecution did to contradict him. But books that dished about sordid trials and scandals were not yet in vogue. Instead, Wilde kept her trial stories to herself and relocated to Los Angeles in 1923, and eventually found permanent employment as a high school librarian.

She published two books of verse, won twenty-six poetry contests, and had one poem in Poetry: The Magazine of Verse. She was called a “modern Sappho” by the Los Angeles Times and nominated to be the poet laureate of California by the League of American Penwomen and her many supporters in Southern California. (The women of the Chaparral Poetry Society named one of their chapters for her.)

Source: Los Angeles Times, 7 June 1936

Wilde also published a novel in her lifetime, The Red Turban (Liveright, 1943). According to its jacket copy, the story revealed “an enlightening and stimulating contrast between the ideals of and poetry of the East, and the speed of the flashing, brilliant life of the moving picture colony in California.”

[1] “Rites for Poet Irene Wilde Set,” Los Angeles Times, 3 September 1964, III:3.

[2] See Irene Wilde, “Trials of a Trial Jury,” San Francisco Call, 13 April 1922, 2.

[3] “Arbuckle Jurors Explain Action—Unanimous from Start, They Assert,” San Francisco Chronicle, 13 April 1922, 2.

The urodynamics of the Arbuckle case

Consideration and respect for the female is all but universal in the sexual relationships of the animals
below man; it is only at the furthest remove from the “brutes” among civilized men
that sexual
“brutality” is at all common.

Havelock Ellis

Bladder rupture, the most consequential event leading to the death of Virginia Rappe, is a rare occurrence when cystitis is the cause. Other variables are needed and cystitis is a wide and generic term. In cases of interstitial cystitis (IC), a type of bladder pain syndrome (BPS), the cause is still unknown. But for a rupture to occur there must be urine retention and bladder distention as well as reduced bladder capacity due to unknown etiology, and so on.[1]

When it happens, the rupture occurs at the vault or the junction of the superior and posterior walls—i.e., the site of Rappe’s injury. The defense in the Arbuckle trials hoped to convince the jury that hers was a rare case, an exotic bladder wall disease or a spontaneous rupture, that happened by chance on September 5, 1921, at a party given by Roscoe Arbuckle and his friends at the St. Francis Hotel. The defense didn’t need to be too exacting about how likely one of those scenarios was — they merely needed to introduce doubt about the theory that Roscoe Arbuckle contributed to the rupture. They also implied that Rappe was sexually promiscuous at an early age and had been pregnant in her early teens, subtly characterizing her as a “fallen woman,” and their client had simply happened upon her in his bedroom after the rupture had occurred due to natural causes. 

Arbuckle’s lawyers found physicians in San Francisco for authority and physicians in Chicago who would state for the record that they treated or may have treated Virginia Rappe between 1908 and 1914. Truly exotic conditions, such as tuberculous cystitis weren’t mentioned during the three trials. Because it was never mentioned in the trial transcripts or newspaper coverage, they almost certainly didn’t know that Rappe’s mother, Mabel Rappé[2], had died of tuberculous lymphadenitis (also known as tuberculous adenitis or by the traditional names scrofula and the “king’s evil”). Having mentioned such a thing would have either strengthened the defense’s argument or further confused jury members who were tasked with distilling a variety of anatomical descriptions and medical conditions in their effort to find the truth.

Tuberculous lymphadenitis is the most common form of the tuberculosis infection that appears outside the lungs, which presents as a swellings and ulcerations in neck from infected lymph glands. Virginia Rappe, as an adolescent, would have been exposed to TB. The third most common is genitourinary tuberculosis, which is often misdiagnosed as a urinary tract infection (UTI) or cystitis. both acute and chronic.

The physicians who examined Rappe’s bladder shortly after her death and later, preserved in formaldehyde for weeks, didn’t see the tell-tale ulceration caused by bladder TB. They only observed what appeared to be a mild form of acute cystitis and that Rappe’s bladder was smaller than a normal human female’s bladder. And, anatomically speaking the tear in her bladder, no wider than a penny, was where it would occur if the rupture was due to a distended bladder.

As one contemporary medical text put it, “Rupture of the bladder usually results from severe crushing accidents”—and this is what Arbuckle’s prosecutors saw as the crime for which they originally wanted Arbuckle tried for murder, not manslaughter. All 264 pounds of him was the murder weapon. He had forced himself on her without her consent and caused her bladder to pop like a balloon.

Occasionally, in the diseased bladder, the pressure of retained urine may cause rupture; rarely this occurs during labor. The initial symptoms are usually as if something gave way inside. If the bladder has been greatly distended, there may be a momentary feeling of relief. Pain in the whole abdominal cavity results. Shock is added, the patient is prostrated and unable to walk. Treatment by surgical means is imperative.[3]

The term “distended bladder” was rarely used by the Arbuckle’s lawyers and prosecutors—even though Rappe, having been locked out of one bathroom in Arbuckle’s three-room suite, had been observed hurriedly walking to the vacant bathroom in Arbuckle’s bedroom—room 1219. The word “urine” also seems to have been studiously avoided during the trials—as if a matter of decorum or to avoid confusion with one of Arbuckle’s prosecutors who bore the homophonic surname of U’Ren. But urine is the bodily fluid on which the Arbuckle case sets sail, so to speak. 

Once Rappe disappeared into 1219, Arbuckle followed and closed and locked the door.

In our narrative, we have to accept that the amount of time Rappe and Arbuckle were alone in 1219 is, well, fluid. Arbuckle’s lawyers pared the time down to ten minutes. The prosecution stretched it to as long as forty-five. If one accepts that Virginia Rappe went to 1219 to pee, she was unsuccessful in accomplishing that.

In Arbuckle’s “Good Samaritan” testimony of the first and third trials, he explained that he didn’t seek help for Rappe because she had only vomited, despite the lack of any reported evidence of this other bodily fluid in the room. In his testimony he also never mentions any sexual activity.

But it is implied by the prosecution that Arbuckle assaulted Rappe, that she resisted, and that his weight caused her bladder to rupture. And for that to happen, her bladder had to be nearly full.

Without saying it explicitly, the prosecution’s intention was to show that Arbuckle didn’t give Rappe a chance to use the bathroom—and if he did—nothing came out of her—or not enough. To the prosecution, any surplus of unaccounted-for time was left to the juror’s imagination. The prosecution made no inference that Rappe did anything with Arbuckle that was consensual. They only saw a clumsy rape attempt and a coverup.

In our narrative, we see the possibility for consensual sex, but also non-consensual, and something in between that we will call “business,” for which Rappe expected a quid pro quo in the form of a career boost, a source of income to replace what she lost after her breakup with the comedy director Henry Lehrman. (That he himself had nudged her in the direction of Arbuckle as a benefactor was discussed in the film colony if not in court.) And this brings us to the most indelicate question from the Arbuckle case that, if discussed openly in the lost trial transcripts, never made the family newspapers: Can the weight of a man during intercourse cause his willing or unwilling partner’s bladder to rupture?

One intrepid medical journal gave this question at least a terse but intriguing answer. The Urologic and Cutaneous Review 26, no. 4 (1922) featured a short piece that reacts to the outcome of first trial’s hung jury of ten to two for acquittal.

Bladder Injuries from Coitus

In a recent California manslaughter case, one of the issues raised was whether bladder rupture could result from a force applied external to the abdomen during coitus. At the first trial, the jury disagreed; a hysterical jurywoman [i.e., Mrs. Helen Hubbard] insisting despite every argument on a verdict of guilty. The bladder is so protected by the abdomen that rupture from any but extreme violence producing concussional effects is doubtful and the bladder must also be unhealthy. Concussional effects of this type would produce extreme discolorations. These were not present in this case. The question is a different one where injuries of the bladder by coitus within the vagina occur.* Cases of this type have been repeatedly reported. The evidence against internal violence was so great that external violence was insisted on by the prosecution. (p. 252)

*Medical Standard.

Where does this intriguing brief take us? What is the author saying?

He (or possibly she) sees the human urinary bladder as well protected by bone and surrounding tissue inside the pelvic cavity or arch. But this protection is lost when the organ overdistended. Furthermore, the author only considers “extreme violence,” which would result in extreme abdominal bruising (ecchymosis) if we are reading this correctly. But he seems to only consider the bruises to Rappe’s arm, not those found on her midriff, thighs, and calves. This is probably because the trial testimony didn’t put emphasis on the other discolorations.

Without a solid reference to the Medical Standard, we can’t investigate what is meant by “injuries of the bladder by coitus.”[4] We can only guess what is meant by the “evidence against internal violence.” (There is, indeed, a wealth of veterinary literature from this period about bladder ruptures in female livestock due to coitus that could lend itself to the human act.) The newspaper and extant court reportage are silent on any kind of sex acts performed on Rappe beyond Arbuckle allegedly slipping ice into her vagina to, as he put it, restore her to consciousness. The prosecution only focused on a rape attempt that they discreetly referred to as an “assault,” and used pioneering fingerprint evidence taken by Edward O. Heinrich to show that a struggle occurred as Rappe presumably tried to exit room 1219 through the hallway door.

While the author of the note acknowledges a body of evidence that supports the possibility that coitus can injure a bladder, the meaning of “internal violence” is left to the imagination and left out of the Arbuckle–Rappe paradigm. What he alludes to, however, isn’t the “honeymoon night” of normal, human coitus in 1921, that is, the ventral–ventral or “missionary” position with the requisite gentle massage that leads to, at least, the male climax. Hence, we must look elsewhere for a source of “internal violence” or a combination of external and internal violence or force or pressure. 

Rappe’s escort to the Arbuckle party, Maude Delmont, as well as another attendee, said that the party got “rough.” That is to say, some men began to force themselves on women. These men were inebriated and partially clad to facilitate sexual activity. The pornography of the day, if it accurately reflects the norms of the era, rarely shows a man completely undressed. They are even shown in their shoes, stockings, and garters as though they were off to work.

Arbuckle, given his size and assuming his intention was to have a discreet “quickie” without interruption, probably would have favored a dorsal–ventral position or, in other words, doggy-style. If he was considerate to Rappe—whether consensual or submissive to her host, a “good fellow” to use Delmont’s term—such a route would have been tolerable, a small mercy.

But haste and other factors must be considered, especially in regard to Arbuckle. He had been drinking. We know from his wife, Minta Durfee, that he suffered from periodic impotence, erectile dysfunction. Any kind of erection only had a certain duration. Courtship, “spooning,” and foreplay were out of the question given the need for immediate gratification. Thus, Rappe needed something to hang onto to brace herself for intercourse from behind, whether normally or Venus aversa. There was the pedestal sink in the bathroom and possibly the toilet bowl. Two brass beds were in room 1219—with sturdy brass rails to catch any fall as well as provide a bolster. The beds themselves had either bedsprings or box springs, which would have lacked the firmness of modern mattresses and were, of course, noisy. Given the presence of the revelers in room 1220 and the atmosphere of “merrymaking,” the rhythmic report of bedsprings would have invited unwanted interruptions to privacy and the concentration that Arbuckle might have needed. But, again, this presupposes that Arbuckle’s purpose for entering the room was something other than what he described under oath. 

The “concussional effects” spoken of above—the pounding, the crush on Rappe and the hard surface underneath her—could have come with sexual climax or the urgency to revive a flagging erection or, given the obstruction of Arbuckle’s paunch, to find and keep inside his “mate” for the duration.

Let’s not laugh at the double entendre here. This could be the real tragedy that Arbuckle’s defense and prosecution had to dance around, that the motion picture industry of 1921 surely didn’t want getting out of room 1219 alive, that had to be put behind them at any cost.

Screen Shot 2022-11-13 at 12.37.16 PM

[1] See, for example, Philip M. Hanno et al. (eds.), Interstitial Cystitis (London: Springer Verlag, 1990).

[2] Her 1905 death certificate reveals that she used this spelling.

[3] “Bladder, Diseases of,” Encyclopedia Americana (New York: Encyclopedia American Corporation, 1923), IV:50. Save for treatment, this article agrees with the medical literature of the early twentieth century and to this day.

[4] The Hathi Digital Library has an almost complete run of the Medical Standard, but we have yet to find what article is cited here.

Virginia Rappe’s “Pyjamarama” of 1915

Rappe in recumbent pose (Private collection)

Anyone who writes objectively about the manslaughter trials of Roscoe Arbuckle will notice that the image of Virginia Rappe, his alleged victim, fades from the press coverage of the three trials between November 1921 and April 1922. Immediately following her death on September 9, 1921 though there was a surfeit of Rappe photographs published. Many of these were purchased and licensed by Underwood & Underwood, a pioneer of modern press photography. Newspaper publishers and editors soon discontinued using images of Rappe in their coverage of the Arbuckle case and she was reduced to a name and sometimes just a label such as “beautiful young motion picture actress”.

Perhaps the disappearance of Rappe’s image was due to column space. Despite the improvements in photo reproduction, text-driven journalism had yet to cede column space to photojournalism. Perhaps, too, newspapers were in keeping with the ban on Rappe’s on-screen image.

During the second week of September 1921, like Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, motion picture executives placed a ban on any motion pictures in which Rappe appeared. In her case it wasn’t due to the public censure brought on by American clubwomen and clergymen. The mores of the time were applied differently to Rappe, for it was considered disrespectful but also distasteful to publish the image of a young woman who had died in such questionable circumstances. Details of her life and death revealed a world that was foreign to most and might influence impressionable young women or stir the more prurient desires of young men. And there was a precedent for this: Rappe’s contemporary, Olive Thomas, had died in Paris almost a year to the day before in 1920 and under suspicious circumstances—a botched suicide attempt, an overdose—due to the dangers posed by the fast lifestyle of Hollywood.

One suite of Underwood & Underwood photographs is particularly notable. It came from a fashion shoot taken in either Chicago or San Francisco in mid-1915. But none of these were published despite the quality and allure of Rappe’s poses. That is to say, we haven’t been able to locate any of these images in newspaper archives, which suggests that her mode of dress might have been considered too morbidly ironic to include in a story of a scandal where pajamas were a prominent image.

On the fated September 5, 1921, at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle wore his pajamas well into the day. He wore them when he followed Virginia into his bedroom and they became drenched in his sweat around the time of Rappe’s mortal injury. Her escort to the party, Maude Delmont, had donned the actor Lowell Sherman’s yellow silk pajamas because her street clothes made it too hot to dance in the twelfth floor suite. For his part, Sherman remained dishabille in his BVDs.

One image from the pajama shoot was published in another time and context: when Rappe was rumored to be engaged to an Argentine diplomat attached to his country’s pavilion during the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Indeed, it is likely that the outfit she’s wearing was also modeled at the exposition (The wire service image was distributed with the caption, save for where the editor could insert the name of his respective newspaper to make it seem as though Rappe was an in-house fashion designer. She was independent.)

Rappe in a 1915 newspaper (Newspapers.com)

The setting for these photographs appears to be a mansion or luxury hotel. The pajamas are ahead of their time, for such a one-piece, high-waisted garment is more typical of post-WW1 sleepwear illustrated in pattern magazines and department store advertisements. The sheer fabric could be voile, silk, or gorgette. The outfit also includes a sleeveless jacket and Chinese “frog” or “knot” buttons. The billowy, Pierrot-like trousers or “pantaloons,” were considered both daring and feminist for the time but still have such feminine features as the lower legs finished with gathered bloomer cuffs.

These pajamas were also intended for loungewear given the matching silk ballet slippers. And there’s no chance the flamboyant nightcap would survive a night in bed. It is really a headpiece with wide organza crown, almost like a halo, trimmed with a ribbon, and in keeping with Rappe’s eccentric millinery designs, such as the “spider hat” and “peace hat,” that appeared in U.S. newspapers during the spring and summer of 1915.

Rappe in natural lighting (Private collection)

Unfortunately, Rappe’s designs didn’t catch on in 1915 and this motivated her to pivot her career. In spring 1916, she relocated to Southern California where she succeeded in being cast in small roles such as a juvenile vamp or slapstick love interest in the films of her reputed boyfriend, comedy director Henry Lehrman.

Rappe in prize fighter pose (Private collection)

Rappe’s type was that of a film colony “society girl” and the “best-dressed girl in Hollywood.” These titles had more to do with the company she kept, especially her intimate friends among the more committed motion picture actresses. Rappe sometimes sketched clothes for them that were executed on the sewing machine of her adopted “Aunt Kate” Hardebeck. One of these friends, Mildred Harris—the first Mrs. Charlie Chaplin—regifted a gown so that Rappe could be buried in one of her own designs.

N.b. We don’t profess to be experts in women’s sleepwear from the 1910s. Thus, grateful acknowledgement is extended to “sister” WordPress blogs, namely witness2fashion and the Vintage Traveler.

NOLA: Zey handicaps the prosecution

The following passage from our work-in-progress is based on research for an earlier deprecated post and prefaces the third Arbuckle trial narrative.

“Burn it up,” said Frank Mayo, “The Hollywood film colony is a pernicious influence.[1] Scatter it, abolish it—something ought to be down. Burn it up—I say!” The young leading man had been quoted after attending the funeral of William Desmond Taylor, as he reacted to the other actors and actresses who filled the pews of St. Paul’s Protestant Cathedral to overflowing. 

Horse Races, Oriental Park

Horse Races, Oriental Park

He blamed the mind-numbing lack of culture in Los Angeles. “One thing wrong is that there are no outside diversions. The result is everyone is bored to death. All you hear is pictures, pictures, until you are almost frantic.” Although he didn’t mention Roscoe Arbuckle by name, Mayo alluded to those actors who brought so much opprobrium for their “immorality and degeneracy.”

“You forget that some of the biggest stars in the business are among the undesirables. They have been raised to positions for which they are not fitted. They receive enormous salaries. They haven’t the brains or desire to improve themselves and they spend their money like drunken sailors. They are trying always to buy new sensations, bored to death with Hollywood and themselves.

On the day of Taylor’s funeral, February 7, Arbuckle returned to Los Angeles and kept himself and his thoughts on the murder to himself. But lying lower than the comedian was the woman who had told much of the story of one of his diversions from Hollywood on Labor Day last.

Zey Prevost had gone missing after the second trial’s verdict—and District Attorney Matthew Brady had reason to suspect that the defense was behind it. Arbuckle’s attorney Gavin McNab later claimed he had telephoned his office in the hours after the completion of the second trial and requested that “every legal method be employed to prevent the girl leaving the state.” He told Brady that he was just as anxious to have her testify at the third trial as the prosecution—and Brady later challenged that assertion, knowing that McNab was simply inoculating the defense from any insinuation that they had a role in Prevost getting away.

McNab’s telephone call came twenty-four hours after Brady discovered that Prevost had left San Francisco on Monday, February 6,  after he had issued subpoenas for her and Alice Blake to be placed under bond to ensure their appearance at the third trial. Brady also wanted to open a Grand Jury investigation into Prevost and her allegations of coerced testimony—and to pursue charging her as a hostile witness if necessary. If neither young woman could be found, Brady promised to seek bench warrants for their arrest—as well as for anyone helping them to evade his subpoenas.

The same pair of detectives were dispatched to find Blake and Prevost. Thomas Regan and Griffith Kennedy knew their haunts, the people they associated with in San Francisco’s demimonde—but they went to see the mothers first.  Blake’s assured them that her daughter was still in San Francisco and, by Monday night, Alice Blake appeared at Brady’s office. Mrs. Reis said she didn’t know her daughter’s whereabouts.

By mid-week, Prevost was still missing and the search for her widened. “I will lay the case before Chief of Police O’Brien,” Brady told the press,

and request that every police official in California be asked to watch for the missing girl. While not ready to assert positively that she has absconded, I feel nevertheless that I have good reason to take these steps. Of course, should Zey Prevost leave the state, there would be no way to compel her to return. We then would have to resort to reading into the record the testimony which she has thus far given against Arbuckle.

Despite the resignation in the District Attorney’s statement, he was determined to find Prevost. Brady knew she feared being charged with perjury and that he wanted to subject her to a Grand Jury investigation to clear his own office of any wrongdoing in extracting her initial statement as well as keeping her under the watchful eye of “Mother” Duffy. Prevost from the beginning was considered a flight risk and the only star witness known to have been approached by Arbuckle’s lawyers in the forty-eight hours after Virginia Rappe’s death.

Had Brady pressed the pursuit of Prevost across state lines he might have succeeded in pressuring her to surrender and return to San Francisco. But more likely his actions were pro forma. To justify Prevost’s testimony being read into the record of the forthcoming third trial, he had to show the court that had made an effort to find her and bring her back legally.

Although Regan and Kennedy came up empty handed, they had learned from Prevost’s friends that she was in a “Southern city.” She had been seen boarding a train at the Southern Pacific’s depot at Third and Townsend streets and was believed to be “well supplied with money.” The clue meant that Prevost had a week’s head start and that she was probably bound for New Orleans, where she had relatives—and it was the city where she been her reportedly headed when she was suspected of attempting to flee San Francisco before her first Grand Jury appearance.

Brady dispatched his detectives to New Orleans and an Associated Press wire datelined Saturday, February 11, confirmed that Regan and Kennedy were heading in that direction. Quoting “Miss Tease Dowling,” a burlesque hall performer, whose artistry was implicit in her stage name, refused to say that Prevost was in the city. “But if Zey ever got to New Orleans, she’d hike right out to Cuba. She’s in Cuba by now. Sure ‘nuff.”

The next day Regan and Kennedy arrived and were tipped off by the local press and police that a pretty young woman in silk stockings and a new fur coat who answered to Prevost’s description had been located at the Chalmette Hotel registered under the name “Zaybelle Elruy.” When a newspaperman addressed her as Zey Prevost in the lobby, Miss Elruy hotly denied being the same person—and, according to guests, claimed to be en route to Cuba.

On Monday, February 13, while the young woman kept to her room on the third floor, Regan and Kennedy staked out the lobby along with a number of reporters. As the time passed, the two detectives began to realize something wasn’t right. They went up to the Elruy room and encountered two “toughs,” one older and one younger, barring their way. While a scuffle ensued between the four, Elruy lowered several suitcases on a rope and then herself into a courtyard and fled.

Eventually, the local police arrived and arrested her champions, Arthur J. Kleinmeyer, aged 52, and George J. Beckett, 23, for disorderly conduct and interfering with police business. Inside Elruy’s room, was a theatrical trunk that likely further confirmed her real identify. But Zey Prevost didn’t need to travel on to Miami, Florida, and set sail for Havana—by steamer or the new flying boat service.

Matthew Brady, after conferring with his assistants Milton U’Ren and Leo Friedman, withdrew the detectives. California law was clear. Prevost couldn’t be compelled against her will to return to California unless she faced a criminal charge. Obviously, her daring escape spoke for her. With his limited funds, Brady would have to read Prevost’s testimony into the record. There was no other option. But her further actions, in any event, indicated the influence of Arbuckle’s defense team.

With Mardi Gras only days away, Prevost remained securely ensconced in New Orleans—and Brady followed her there in private telegrams sent by such sources as the chief of police in New Orleans, Guy Molony. He asked Brady, “Do you want her? If so, wire this office at once, stating charge.” Molony also informed Brady that Prevost was enjoying the winter racing season at the Fair Grounds until it moved on to Oriental Park in Havana—hence her desire to travel to Cuba.

Not unlike her demand that the District Attorney pay her a witness fee before the second trial, Prevost’s chutzpah before the third became public in the San Francisco Chronicle in the waning days of February.

The lure of the ponies is the only reason for her continued sojourn in the Crescent city, frankly admits the young woman, who District Attorney Brady of San Francisco would like to see back on the coast. But for all Zey cares, Brady and the other prosecutors can paddle their own canoes in trying to convict the comedian. Although her testimony at former trials of Arbuckle as to certain details of the party was considered one of the main points on which the state based its hope for conviction, Zey now sings a different tune. Friday, when greeted on Canal Street by a Chronicle representative, Miss Prevost talked freely of the Arbuckle case. 

“If you followed the trial closely, big boy,” she said in a bantering tone, “you know they ain’t no case. The would-be reformers just want to ‘pop it’ to Roscoe, and so they painted him as black as they could.

“The truth about the whole thing is that ‘Fatty’ was just giving a little party like many other persons in the moving picture and theatrical world have been accustomed to give. Fact that Miss Rappe was taken seriously ill at this party and died shortly after naturally was considered to be a result of the party.”

“Personally, I think Arbuckle was absolutely innocent of any direct causes of her death. It is true a gay time was had by all, but I do not think the funmaking should have been construed as a wild orgy, for this certainly was not the case.

“Roscoe is more to be pitied than condemned. He was really a victim of circumstances. The fact that he was one of the most famous and most widely known comedians in the world naturally resulted in his being the center of publicity. Had the party been given by some lesser light in all probability little would have been said or written about it.” 

Crescent City Jockey Club/Fair Grounds Race Course, 1900s (Library of Congress)

[1] 000–000: Mildred Morris, “‘Burn It Down!’ Mayo’s Advice on Hollywood,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7 February 1922, 2; “Prevost Girl Enigma of Arbuckle’s Third Trial,” San Francisco Call, 25 February 1922, 3; “Prevost Is Center of New Arbuckle Row,” San Francisco Call, 10 March 1922, 1; Oscar H. Fernbach, “Zey Prevost Again Cited,” San Francisco Examiner, 5 February 1922, 16; “Two Arbuckle Girls Missing; S.F. Hunt On,” San Francisco Examiner, 6 February 1922, 13; Oscar H.

Fernbach, “Zey Prevost Flees, Brady Starts Hunt,” San Francisco Examiner, 7 February 1922, 13; “Zey Prevost Flees State,” San Francisco Examiner, 10 February 1922, 6; “Trace Zey Prevost,” Birmingham News, 11 February 1922, 1; Associated Press, “Zey Prevost in 3 Floor Drop Evades Sleuths,” San Francisco Call, 13 February 1922, 1; “Zey Prevost Is Traced to New Orleans,” San Francisco Examiner, 14 February 1922, 1; “Arbuckle Case Witness Hides; Charge Needed for Return,” San Francisco Call, 24 February 1922, 3; “Arbuckle to Be Pitied, Says Zey Prevost,” San Francisco Chronicle, 25 February 1922, 13; “Brady Planning to Use Girl’s Testimony,” San Francisco Chronicle, 25 February 1922, 13; “Prevost Girl’s Return Asked,” San Francisco Chronicle, 25 February 1922, 7.

Maude Delmont’s unrealized disambiguation

The following is an interpolation from our work-in-progress that allows for a segue between the second and first Arbuckle trials.

The day after second Arbuckle trial ended in a hung jury, the San Francisco’s newspaper announced the possible engagements of the two women who were present when Virginia Rappe passed away in September.[*]

Sidi Spreckels, the widow of the late John Spreckels Jr., had been linked to Art Hickman, the musician, composer, and leader of what is now considered the first real big band: the orchestra at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. But until recently, he had been the house bandleader at the St. Francis.

“Well,” said Hickman when approached by reporters, “we are great friends and have been for a long time. Many people have asked me about this rumored engagement. I cannot say a thing.”

Three days later, her attorney, Gavin McNab’s brother John, issued a terse denial that read in part that Mrs. Spreckels “isn’t contemplating matrimony at this time” and that “her rumored engagement is only gossip.” Maude Delmont’s rumored engagement was of a longer duration and contingent on her willingness to walk on stage.

On February 1, Bambina Maude Delmont became front-page news in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska. Newspapers in those cities profiled her and with whatever scant information she gave them, tried to make up for what little was known of her—that she grew up in Lincoln and spent two years running a beauty shop in Omaha. But when the local reporters and editors tried to search their files for anything about her, they came up empty handed. This allowed Delmont to fill a void of two decades after she arrived in Lincoln on January 31 and registered at a downtown hotel under the name “Mrs. J. C. Hopper.”

But the presence of the “Avenger” was no secret. Reporters were waiting for her when she got off her train as it arrived from Los Angeles at 1:20 on Tuesday afternoon. The young woman who had left twenty years ago on a career that was no less an adventure in fiction—the kind Willa Cather could not have experienced or written—had come home a celebrity. But just what kind eluded the press. They called her an actress, but she had only performed at Keystone Studio but had nothing to share about working with “Fatty” or the “Little Tramp.” She only mentioned that she had appeared with Minta Durfee, whom, despite everything, was “right charming” years ago—and she wasn’t “permanently reconciled” with her husband. But Delmont did want to talk about him and the role “money and influence” had played in his troubles.

“I’d might glad if Fatty could convince me personally that he is innocent,” she said. “But I was the first one to enter the room where Miss Rappe lay ill, and Fatty, I’m afraid, never could clear himself in my eyes.” As to what happened on Labor Day 1921, Arbuckle’s predicament had temporarily drawn her to his side.

When the asked if she believed Arbuckle would be acquitted, Delmont said she was certain that he would. What made her so certain? With an ironic smile, Delmont shrugged her shoulders and simply answered, “Money.”

Her impromptu press conference continued. Delmont described meeting met Rappe (“I fell in love with the girl at first sight.”) just two days before the party in Arbuckle’s suite at the St. Francis Hotel. She mentioned the 500-mile drive from Los Angeles with Semnacher and other incidents at the party.

Delmont enjoyed the attention she got—of being the person her high school teachers called “Maudie”—just as Rappe had been allowed to call her. On her first day in Lincoln, she was recognized by one admirer after another, including Robert Druesedow, a state representative, who saw her in the hotel dining room.

“I knew her when she was a girl,” he said of Delmont, whose hair was now described as totally gray. Other diners also recognized her as well as she spoke to a reporter from the Omaha Daily Bee. “Arbuckle could never convince me of his innocence,” she said. “I was the one who told the truth at the trial. Highly paid lawyers tried to sacrifice my reputation in an effort to protect their client, Arbuckle. I am trying to forget the tragic death of my friend, Virginia.”

Delmont also intimated that she would soon stop in Omaha and continue on to New York City. She also openly discussed being a convicted “bigamist.”

That, she said, was a technical charge that cost her a total of two weeks in jail. But how she left California without violating her probation was something that she didn’t have to explain. She was in Lincoln on legal business. She had come as a representative of her mother, sister, and herself “to dispose of some modest real estate holdings” that belonged to her grandmother, a Mrs. Catherine Stone. That Delmont had no such blood relative wasn’t explained either—but there was a deceased person with that name, the widow of a small-town clothier, who had passed away on January 28 in nearby Central City, Nebraska. Her obituary had appeared in the newspapers of that city, Grand Island, and elsewhere—making it easy to borrow the late Mrs. Stone to make a better story for Delmont’s real purpose in Lincoln: her deliberate rendezvous with an old boyfriend, Lawrence T. Johnston.


Lawrence T. Johnston, late 1910s (Ancestry.com)

The son of a prominent Nebraska lawyer, Johnston had served as a bailiff in Lincoln n the 1890s and early 1900s and later as a judge in Idaho. His real ambition, however, was in vaudeville. He studied ventriloquism and by 1920 had performed all over the United States and as far away as Australia. When he and Delmont were reunited, he was still an itinerant judge in Idaho as well as the “King of Ventriloquists,” who boasted a dummy that cried “real” tears.

Delmont and Johnston had been engaged several times before in their youth. “The last time,” however, he said, “she married a Cincinnati millionaire.” But after hearing about the death of Delmont’s grandmother and her coming to Lincoln, Johnston claimed that he left an engagement in Sioux City, Iowa to be reunited with his old flame—and to make her a star. He told the press that he was now vice president of a motion picture corporation and that his company intended soon to star Delmont. “We feel that she will be a great asset to us,” Johnston said. In the interim, however, he convinced Delmont to cash in on her notoriety.

The couple left Lincoln on Friday, February 3—the day the second Arbuckle trial ended in a hung jury—for Kansas City, Missouri. There Johnston was to appear at the Globe Theater and Delmont intended to rest due to ill health.

Once more she was met by newspapermen—but this time they wanted her reaction to the majority vote for conviction. “Politics,” Delmont said, “is playing a part in the handling of the case. I am very much surprised that the second jury stood ten for conviction and two for acquittal—surprised that the prosecution did that well.”

“Why, nobody ever thought it would be that strong,” she continued. “Everyone on the coast expected an acquittal when I left there. Arbuckle is being tried on the murder complaint to which I swore—and yet my testimony is not good enough to be introduced into the trial. They wanted to get me out of the way and they succeeded.”

Delmont also spoke of the “intrigue” that was woven throughout the affair, apparently in reference to Zey Prevost and Alice Blake, who had eclipsed her as a witness.

“Yes,” she said, “I received an offer or was ‘approached’ in connection with my testimony of the death of Miss Rappe.”

Delmont refused to answer any more questions about who had tried to get her to change or withhold her statement to San Francisco’s district attorney. But she had a reason to withhold such details, for she had been approached in another way, perhaps en route by a theater promoter, to give a lecture during the couple’s layover in Kansas City. Regarding this new opportunity, Delmont could only say that she wanted to discuss “the woman’s side of the affair”—and that many young girls who went to Hollywood so as to “get into the movies” were exploited.

Delmont’s lecture was announced in the Saturday morning Kansas City Times of February 4. The venue was Kansas City’s Empress Theater on McGee Street. Although no times were given, the tickets for her “$5,000 act” would be “at pre-war prices,” that is, ten, twenty—and thirty cents for balcony and front-row seats. The advertisement promised that Maud “Bambina” Delmont would appear as “Herself / The Woman Who Signed the Murder Charge Against Arbuckle / The Most Sensational Act on the American Stage.”

Presumably in character as the “Complaining Witness in the Arbuckle Trial,” Delmont was to “tell of the famous Arbuckle-Rappe murder case” and “rip wide the screen which hides Hollywood and the movie colony. Hers is a story for Every Father and Mother, every Young Man and Young Woman in Kansas City.”

But if she ever took the stage was left in doubt. The San Francisco Call reprinted the lone Kansas City advertisement ten days later and could only speculate that Delmont’s run at the Empress had been abortive, based on a letter that she had written to a friend in San Francisco.

Mrs. Delmont’s gray negligee with henna trimming and black hair streaked with gray, minus the usual henna trimming, is making the same hit in Kansas City that it did here when first she received representatives of the press and gave her version of the fatal party. But evidently the stage is not making much of a hit with her—or else she is not making much of a hit on the stage—for she expects to sign a contract in Chicago to appear before the women’s clubs of that country.

What is known is that Delmont had a falling out with Lawrence Johnston and the couple parted ways. Delmont traveled on to Chicago and Johnston returned to the vaudeville circuit, realizing, perhaps, that it was easier to make money with his dummy doing the talking than Maude Delmont, who turned out to be a source of disappointment for him once more. Months later, Johnston emphatically told a stage gossip columnist in Portland, Oregon, that when he reached Lincoln, he had “something to say in the matter” and that he and Maude “never were, are not and never will be married.”


[*] pp. 000–000: “Mrs. Spreckels to Wed Again?” San Francisco Examiner, 4 February 1922, 5; “Engagement Denied by Mrs. Spreckels,” San Francisco Examiner, 7 February 1922, 11; “Bambina Delmont Returns to Lincoln in Estate Case,” Morning World-Herald, 1 February 1922, 1; “Mrs. Maude Delmont Arrives in Lincoln,” Lincoln Journal Star, 1 February 1922, 4; “Longtime Romance Buds: Mrs. Delmont and Lawrence Johnston Engaged,” Nebraska State Journal, 3 February 1922, 1; “Arbuckle Witness Coming to Omaha,” Omaha Daily Bee, 2 February 1922, 2; United Press, “10 to 2 Jury Surpise to Maude Delmont,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 5, 1922, 8; “Politics Playing Part in Arbuckle Case, Woman Says: Bambina Delmont Hints at Deep-laid Intrigue,” Springfield Leader and Press, 5 February 1922, 1; “Arbuckle’s Accuser is Here Mrs. Delmont,” Kansas City Star, 5 February 1922, 10; E.C.B., “Stage Gossip and Film News,” Oregon Daily Journal, 18 September 1922, 8; “Mrs. Delmont Plays in 10-20-30s; Also in Return Engagement with Ex-Fiancé,” San Francisco Call, 13 February 1922, 3.

A magic lantern slide for A Twilight Baby, Virginia Rappe’s only star billing

As we have been writing and editing our work-in-progress on Virginia Rappe and Roscoe Arbuckle, our blog entries have been fewer in number but hardly pushed aside. We were recently alerted to the object depicted below, an artifact from a critical turning point in the life of Virginia Rappe.

Glass slide advertisement for A Twilight Baby (Authors’ collection)

Of course, many things we do and decisions we make can be regarded as turning points. It’s called the “butterfly effect.” What immediately comes to mind is Rappe’s decision, during a late breakfast in the Garden Room of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, to accept Roscoe Arbuckle’s invitation to join his Labor Day party at the St. Francis Hotel. A decision that began a chain of events that led to her death several days later. The artifact described here represents an earlier turning point but also one that put her on the path to the ill-fated Labor Day party.

The ”artifact” in question is a specially prepared glass slide by the Excelsior Illustrating Co. obtained from a film memorabilia dealer in Australia. Typically, before the current feature and the comedy short or newsreel, the projectionist used a patented slide projector or “magic lantern” to advertise the upcoming features. In this case, it was A Twilight Baby, which premiered during the Christmas 1919 holiday, and had its run during the winter and spring of 1920. The art is by the comic book artist R. M. Brinkerhoff.

A Twilight Baby is one of the only films Henry Lehrman made at his Culver City studio, which he shared with Roscoe Arbuckle during the spring, summer, and autumn of 1919. Arbuckle made The Hayseed (1919) and The Garage (1920) there. He also enjoyed the platonic company of Virginia Rappe, who was Lehrman’s mistress at the time.

Contrary to other Arbuckle case narratives, Rappe didn’t consider herself a full-time motion picture actress. She was regarded by others as a Hollywood “society woman” though a member of the film colony “in crowd”. She preferred to model clothes. But even this vocation had become a sideline. She was literally “kept” by Lehrman, and perhaps as a small quid pro quo she was willing to lend herself to his over-the-top physical comedies.

In 1919, Lehrman planned to make an ambitious, four-reel comedy (later cut to three to appease exhibitors), his first produced on his new Culver City lot which began operating that summer. He enlisted comic actor Lloyd “Ham” Hamilton for A Twilight Baby. Lehrman envisioned a masterpiece, that would raise his profile to that of protégés, such as Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin.

Hamilton was a popular but second-tier actor in a bowler hat who also aspired to the fame and wealth of Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin. He had appeared in a previous Lehrman comedy, His Musical Sneeze, made for Fox Film Corporation in late 1918. Virginia Rappe also appeared in that film though there wasn’t much onscreen interaction between the two. That changed with A Twilight Baby.

Rappe had acted in a handful of motion pictures before, including her first, Paradise Garden (1917), in which she played a vamp. She also appeared alongside Rudolph Valentino in a 1918 war propaganda film-turned-comedy retitled The Isle of Love. But she likely did these out of curiosity or even for a bit of fun rather than ambition. And during the making of both films, she was in a relationship with Lehrman.

Rappe had met Lehrman no later than the spring of 1916, upon her arrival in Los Angeles and when he was at his most productive churning out slapstick two-reelers. Had she wanted to be a comedienne, he could have done that for her early on. It wasn’t until he broke with Fox a few years later that Lehrman made an obvious effort to boost Rappe’s film career.

Color-tinted lobby card (IMDb)

We say that because Lehrman had so overextended himself in 1919 and 1920 that he may used Rappe to save money. That is, he was making good on his investment in her. And Lehrman was clearly cutting costs at that time. Before he went bankrupt in late 1920, he reincorporated his company and had his accountant and “office girl” doing double-duty as directors.

Now, back to the butterfly effect. A Twilight Baby was a strange film with a strange title. The term itself seems to be original and not a reference to slang or jargon of that era. We suspect Lehrman was alluding to newborns whose mothers had taken sedatives to ease their labor. “Ham” Hamilton is the titular baby whose birth, however, was from a saxophone played by a woebegone jazz musician at sunset. As to the plot, let’s just say Hamilton is an ex-con bootlegger who finds himself at odds with a variety of characters, from outlaws to federal agents to what look like nightriders. Hamilton’s love interest is Rappe, made to look like a healthy farmer’s daughter, a part for which she may have gained weight or exploited the pounds she had gained as a society girl-turned-actress, as she was billed in publicity literature.

Trade magazine advertisement with art by R. M. Brinkerhoff (Moving Picture World)

Given the number of animals used, the elaborate stunts undertaken, the use of expensive special effects, the publicity, the costs of running the Culver City plant, and the poor return on the few productions he eked out, Lehrman’s attempt to be an independent comedy filmmaker failed in late 1920. Unsurprisingly, in the wake of this, he and Rappe began to part ways for she was a luxury he could no longer afford.

By July 1921, Henry Lehrman left Los Angeles to work under contract for Lewis J. Selznick at Ft. Lee, New Jersey, and Rappe found her own manager. She now faced either the harsh reality of surviving as an actress or finding a suitable replacement for Lehrman. (More information and images can be found at IMDb.)

Artist’s sketches from the second Arbuckle Trial

To our knowledge, the Arbuckle trials saw no courtroom artists as we have come to know their work, which often captures some compelling moment in a jury trial of public interest. During the second Arbuckle trial, however, the San Francisco Call enlisted the well-known American engraver and Western artist Fred Grayson Sayre to draw Roscoe Arbuckle and others. The Chronicle followed with several vignettes by an in-house sketch artist.

The defendant Rosce Arbuckle surrounded (clockwise) by profiles of his attorney, Gavin McNab; the prosecutor, San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady; his sister-in-law, Marie Durfee; and his wife, the motion picture actress Minta Durfee, San Francisco Call, January 12, 1922, p. 2 (Newspapers.com)

From left to right beginning with the top row: Marie Durfee and her sister, Minta, Arbuckle’s wife; prospective jurors (only one woman sat on the second trial’s jury); an unidentified courtroom attaché, Assistant District Attorney Milton U’Ren, and Judge Harold Louderback, San Francisco Chronicle, January 14, 1922, p. 13 (Newspapers.com).

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.


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]


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.


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.

Minta Durfee takes the stand (or getting ahead of the court of public opinion)

We have been toying with incorporating certain contextualized documents in the book as interpolations or as parts of a conventional appendix. This piece, now in public domain, is inserted between the end of the first Arbuckle trial and the beginning of the second.

Intermezzo: The True Story About My Husband[*]

Mrs. Minta Durfee Arbuckle

In late December 1921, both Minta Durfee and Roscoe Arbuckle “penned” exculpatory pieces for Movie Weekly on December 24 and December 31, respectively. Both were couched as frank and open justifications of the Labor Day party and its aftermath for the moviegoing public—but still vetted by Arbuckle’s lawyers as well as his manager, Lou Anger, who answered to Joseph Schenck, Arbuckle’s producer and the deep pocket for his costly defense.

Arbuckle’s was a public recap of his testimony of November 28, when he took the stand at his first trial. He restated that he had been “morally acquitted” and that “organized propaganda” had made impossible for him to secure an impartial jury and a fair trial. But Movie Weekly was no less a propaganda organ to serve in Arbuckle’s defense in the weeks before the second trial began and before the jury was sequestered and their newspapers excised of any content related to the Arbuckle case. A similar propaganda campaign occurred in October, when news of Rappe’s adolescent past, promiscuity, and pregnancies appeared in the nation’s newspapers.

Minta Durfee, intriguingly, disowned any intentional defaming of Rappe’s character below in what was her confession for being Arbuckle’s estranged wife. After the first trial ended in a hung jury, she said that the humbling experience renewed her faith in God, that He works in mysterious ways and that the setback temporary. One of those mysteries was her marriage, that she had now been reunited with “Mr. Arbuckle” so as to stand by him against an unjust charge.

Durfee admitted that the couple lived separate lives for five years but in terms of something little more than a marital spat, “nerves,” rather than Arbuckle’s seeing her as sexually unfulfilling and a hindrance to the “movie star” lifestyle that his first contract with Paramount afforded.

Undoubtedly, even readers in 1921 and ’22, weren’t fooled, certainly not the jaded ones among the film colony. That Durfee implied that she saw her husband unclothed surely drew knowing smiles if not peals of laughter. She was practically saying her marriage was a sham from the beginning—or complicated or something else, something that did require her to pretend to be a saint—and a wife—to “service” her husband.

Nevertheless, to sound this naïve must have taken real nerve on her part. That Durfee was really disconcerted that some saw her presence in San Francisco as public relations, as no more than a theater engagement, an “added attraction” like her “Mrs Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle” comedies that had already come and gone before Arbuckle and Rappe films were pulled. But Durfee was self-aware enough to know how weird it looked for her to sit and practically spoon in court with a man who had kept her thousands of miles away in Manhattan, to say nothing about his five years of living an unmarried man’s life that ended with having to publicly admit that he was only in San Francisco to drive Mrs. Mae. (Notice that Durfee studiously avoids any mention of Mae Taube.)

Those who smiled and laughed, of course, also understood that Durfee was expected to do what she had to do and eat whatever peck of dirt was necessary to profess her love and faith in Arbuckle, to temporarily leave her doorman building on Riverside Drive, her chauffeur-driven motorcar, her golf clubs, and the like. She wasn’t just there for Arbuckle but for her own movies in which she was billed “Mrs. Roscoe Arbuckle. She was also in San Francisco and Los Angeles for powerful men already luring away Postmaster General Will Hays for a new office to oversee the motion picture industry.

The other thing she had to do for the industry rather than herself—although there is a hint of jealousy here—was the mischaracterize Virginia Rappe. Unlike the stand Durfee took in her dotage, that Rappe was a whore on the Keystone lot, she couldn’t make things up in Movie Weekly in 1921. Rappe was known in Hollywood and she had a coterie of friends who thought highly of her—even if she was the kind of woman, as opposed to the quiet, mousy, overdressed Minta Durfee, who made the party a party when things got boring.

But Durfee displays a certain magnanimity in exonerating Rappe from being part of “a conscious factor in any maneuver” against Arbuckle, suggesting that he had been entrapped in some kind of blackmail plot. But later in the piece, she only sees Rappe’s crisis as a purely accidental opportunity—a hypothesis that ended when Arbuckle’s first lead counsel, Frank Dominguez was threatened with a defamation suit and subsequently resigned from Arbuckle’s “million-dollar defense.”

Regarding the lawyer’s fees, Minta Durfee’s claim that Arbuckle would be paying them is the egregious falsehood, especially coming on the heels below of saying he was foolish with his money.

As surely as God is above me, and I believe in Him very sincerely, I know that Roscoe Arbuckle did not do the thing for which he has been made to face trial.

My reasons are as powerful as they are simple. He has told me what happened and what did not happen in that hotel room, and I believe him. And I know, after thirteen years of married life, that he is not that kind of a man. He simply could not do such a thing.

I first heard of his trouble when I walked into a hotel parlor and saw a newspaper with the name “Arbuckle” in great headlines. It was a terrible shock. My first thought was that he had been killed in some motion picture stunt. Then the fear came that perhaps there had been an automobile accident—perhaps he had killed someone with his car, but I knew that he is such a splendid driver that that could hardly have happened.

Then I learned what really was the matter, and my first thought was to get to him as quickly as I could. I knew that he could not be guilty, but I wanted to hear the from his own lips the true story of the affair, and I wanted to be with him in his trouble. It was for that reason and no other that I traveled three thousand miles to San Francisco, and it is because I believe implicitly and firmly that what he has told me is the absolute truth, confirming my own trust in him, that I have been with him ever since. The moment that I learned he was in trouble, I knew there was only one place in the world for me, and that was with my husband, for he is my husband, although differences of temperament—and nothing more, except perhaps a little stubborn pride on both sides—have kept us apart for five years. When this affair happened, the little things over which we had disagreed seemed utterly unimportant.

Perhaps I have old-fashioned beliefs about marriage, but it always seemed to me that a real wife must be as much sweetheart, friend, pal, and even mother, as wife. I’m not pretending to be a saint, and I like a good time as well as anybody, but being a wife has always appealed to me as a life’s work.

When we like anyone, we Durfees, we like them for a long long time. My faith in Roscoe Arbuckle is too great to be shaken by any attacks upon him, even if they were supported by real proof.

It hurt me when the rumor spread that I had come to him because I was looking for notoriety or because I had been paid to do it, as was intimated in some places. I am his wife, and my place was with him. I believe that even if we had been divorced I would have come, just the same. I could not have seen the man I know to be the victim of unjust accusations, face his trouble and not have me with him.

As for the party itself, knowing Roscoe Arbuckle as I do, I can very easily understand his share in it. Mr. Arbuckle is just a big, easy-going, good-natured boy. I can understand just how he found himself the host that afternoon, without ever intending to invite anybody there. As a matter of fact, he did not invite any of the guests. The party was not his suggestion. Other people got the crowd together, and simply used his rooms.

Mr. Arbuckle has told me that so far as the liquor that was there is concerned, he actually does not know where it came from or how it got there.

Perhaps the best proof of that is that with all the bills he has had to pay, he has never paid one cent for the liquor that was served—and in these days, no one gets liquor without paying for it.

I can picture him that afternoon as the involuntary host at a party not of his invitation or suggestions; perhaps enjoying it, for although he scarcely ever starts a party himself, he likes company and enjoys being with people. Certainly no one can blame him, if the party became noisy and too lively. As a matter of fact, he has told me that he did complain of the actions of certain members of the party and told them that they were going too far. Perhaps that very thing aroused a spirit of revenge that was responsible for the charges made against him.

As for Virginia Rappe, the minute I saw her name in connection with the case it made me more sure than ever that my husband was being made the victim of circumstances. I do not want to say anything against her; in fact, both Mr. Arbuckle and myself urged from the very beginning that nothing be brought into the case that would tend to besmirch her character if it could possibly be kept out. We were not responsible for published statements attacking her. That was done by other persons, evidently fearing that we would try such measures and wishing to forestall us. They were very much mistaken. Nothing has been farther from our thoughts.

I knew Virginia Rappe as long as Mr. Arbuckle did. Henry Lehrmann [sic], her manager, was also my director at one time. I knew the girl, not only from personal acquaintance but from acquaintance with many of her friends. I do not believe that Virginia Rappe was a conscious factor in any maneuver directed against Mr. Arbuckle. If there were a deliberate plot against him, I do not think that she knew anything about it. She was in Los Angeles, financially hard up, out of work and unable to get help from her friends. She came to San Francisco, I believe, merely on a pleasure trip. She went to that party, not because Mr. Arbuckle invited her, but because she was asked to meet Ira Fortlouis, a gown designer and salesman, who had seen her and thought she would make a good model. That we know from the words of Fred Fishback, who told us that Mr. Fortlouis had seen Miss Rappe, had admired her possibilities as a model, and finding that she was in San Francisco, asked to meet her.

If Miss Rappe had not died, I believe that nothing would ever have been heard of the affair, because there would have been nothing to talk about. There are hundreds and hundreds of just such impromptu parties all the time. People drink and dance and have a good time, and no one is the worse for it. I believe that the whole trouble started when someone who thought that Mr. Arbuckle would be an “easy mark” and perhaps was further moved by anger against him for some reason, seized on Miss Rappe’s death as the reason for wild statements and unfounded charges. It is difficult to discuss that point without making direct accusations, and that I prefer not to do, but it seems perfectly evident to me that this motive was back of the whole thing.

Ever since he was a boy—and he practically grew up with our family— Mr. Arbuckle has been careless with money. He never considered expense. Money simply meant the means of getting what he wanted, of enjoying himself, of helping other people. Incidentally, helping other people is the way a great deal of his money has gone. He has been most generous with me, even since our separation. He has supported relatives. He has always been ready to help anyone who needed it. He has half a dozen pensioners about whom nobody but his own people know. Even during his trial, when he knew that the tremendous expenses he was under and the loss of the salary he had always had were making him actually a poor man, I have known him to give $5 bills to beggars who stopped him on the street.

And speaking of expenses, I want to say that Mr. Arbuckle and no one else has been paying the costs of his trial and all the rest of it. It has been said that the motion picture interests were behind him. They were not. Every cent has come out of his own pocket or out of mine. As a matter of fact, so far from receiving support from the picture interests, Mr. Arbuckle has been out of a job since the day after he was arrested—out of work for the first time since he began his motion picture work. He did not know it until after I came to him. I learned it just before I left New York; learned that as soon as the news reached the East, he fter him for what they could get, to put it bluntly.

I know of many cases: men who have persuaded him to give them money, girls with whom he was friendly who have actually made him a joke because it was so easy to get money away from him. Everyone thought of him as an easy- going fellow, ready to accept people at their own valuation, and not at all difficult to manage. I can see just how a clever and unprincipled man or woman who was looking for an easy victim would select him.

Moreover, Mr. Arbuckle has been not only financially successful but prominent in his work. There is something about success and prominence, particularly in the theatrical world, that makes men and women targets for the malice of others. As soon as an actor becomes known in his profession, it seems to inspire lies and slander and scandal about him, started by those strange people who believe that the theatre and good morals cannot go together, and helped along by people who should know better, but who seem to take a delight in repeating unproved gossip, and the more scandalous gossip, the better.

I was not surprised, then, when the moment the news of his trouble became known, the newspapers were filled with the most malicious attacks on him. It hurt me terribly, of course, as it hurt him, but it is one of the penalties of being well-known; there is always someone waiting for the chance to do just that thing.

Mr. Arbuckle and I want just two things: first, of course, that he be cleared of these charges, and then that the public we love so much will take him back into favor, not because of any material interests, but because it will mean that the public recognizes that he is the innocent victim of a malicious attack rather than the terrible creature he has been painted. He wants, particularly, to have the women and children of the theatre- going public know his innocence and receive him again as they have always received him. He always has the children in mind when he makes a picture; he never does a scene that could offend or that would be harmful for a child to see. In all the many pictures he has made, he has never appeared in a scene that has been censored.

A great deal was said when the trial began about there being women on the jury. Some people expressed surprise that our attorneys did not try to get a jury entirely of men. They thought, I suppose, that women would be unwelcome because of the traditional stand of a woman in judging a case involving such charges as are brought in this case.

Absolutely the contrary was true. We did not try to keep women off the jury. We all hoped that women would be drawn, and Mr. Arbuckle and I were delighted when the final selection left five good sensible women in the jury box. Both of us have great faith in a woman’s intuition, and we were perfectly confident that the women would give us a fair deal.

And speaking of women, I do want the women of the country to know that in spite of all the insinuations and ugly stories that have been circulated since this thing began, Roscoe Arbuckle is the most modest of men. Certainly I should know. I have been his wife for thirteen years. For eight of those years we were hardly out of each other’s sight, and in all those eight years I never remember a single action or a single word that, by the farthest stretch of the imagination, could be called even immodest, to say nothing of vulgar or lewd. He is minutely careful about his dress. Even in our own home, he is as particular with the members of his own family as he is with strangers. It is an actual fact that in all the years I have been his wife, I have never seen him when he was not clothed.

A great deal has been made of the fact that on the afternoon of this party, Mr. Arbuckle was wearing pajamas and a dressing gown. On the face of it, without any explanation, it sounds odd—that a man should receive guests, including women and some women who were strangers to him, in such a costume. As a matter of fact, the explanation clears up everything. Not long before the trip to San Francisco, Mr. Arbuckle was accidentally burned with muriatic acid. It was a serious burn and very painful, and he had to wear a thick cotton dressing. He always had his clothing made rather tightly fitting in order to keep him from looking any fatter than he is, and tight clothing over the burn was anything but comfortable. Whenever he could, he wore loose clothing, and that was why he was dressed in pajamas on the day of the party. Remember, he did not suggest the party; it simply moved in on him, as they say, and the whole thing happened so unexpectedly that he let his costume go. And I wish the people who have criticised his attire could see the pajamas and the dressing gown. The pajamas were of the thickest silk he could buy, as heavy as the heaviest linen. The dressing gown was of thick brocade, lined with heavy silk, and it was long enough to reach to his ankles and double-brested. Actually, although his costume was informal, he was much more thoroughly covered than any man on the tennis court or the beach. In line with his modesty regarding dress, I want people to understand Mr. Arbuckle’s personal modesty, particularly with women. As a matter of fact, he prefers to be with men. He likes nothing better than to get a crowd of men together and sing and laugh and enjoy themselves like a crowd of college boys. All his life, Mr. Arbuckle has been embarrassed by his size. He has believed that women could not like a fat man, and for that reason he has hesitated even more than might be natural about developing friendships among women. He is not the type of man who caresses a woman. If he likes a girl, he will tease her or make her presents or generally be nice to her, but he will never think of putting his hands on her. In fact, he carries it so far that it is almost an obsession.

Knowing that trait of character, I cannot imagine him doing what it has been said he did. I have known all about his affairs, and I know that he never forced his acquaintance on a woman. If she were friendly, and he liked her, he could be good friends, but he has always been so conscious of that traditional “nobody loves a fat man” idea, that it has influenced him in his friendships.

For eight years I was constantly with Mr. Arbuckle, and in all that time I never heard him use vile language or tell disgusting stories or do anything of that sort. He likes a good time, but he likes a clean good time. He likes machinery, and loves to tinker with the cars. He is fond of dogs, and likes nothing better than to take a day off and wash our three dogs. He and the big St. Bernard have wonderful times. Mr. Arbuckle gets into his bathing suit, and puts a tub in the garage, and he and the dog are perfectly happy there for half a day.

In the eight years that followed our marriage, I came to know my husband in every particular. Few married couples are together as much as we were in those years. We met at Long Beach, where he was principal comedian in a musical comedy company and I was in the chorus. We were married in 1908, and for the next eight years we were hardly out of one another’s sight. Not very long after our marriage, we went to Los Angeles, where motion pictures were just beginning to become a great industry. We found work at the same studio, doing comedy pictures.

Every morning we rode to the studio together. All day long we worked in the same studio and the same picture. In a year and [a] half I played with Mr. Arbuckle in forty-seven pictures.[†]

If either of us went anywhere in the evening, the other always went along. I was brought up in the belief—they call it old-fashioned now—that a wife’s place was to suit herself to her husband’s wishes, and to go where he wanted to go. In fact, I so thoroughly fitted myself into Mr. Arbuckle’s life, that I almost lost my own interests. He does not care for reading, and I am very fond of it. I love books, and I love to find my own problems solved in them. However, he did not care particularly for reading, so I let my books go. It was the same with other things. His interests became mine, absolutely. Perhaps we made a mistake by being so much together. It is the safest thing for married couples to take an occasional vacation from each other.

I know that now, but you couldn’t make me believe it then. We had our careers. Roscoe was on the way to becoming a star, and I was doing well with my work. We were both busy, and busy people are often nervous and irritable. Two busy people in a family frequently clash, not because of any dislike, but simply because they get on each other’s nerves, and neither one, because of the continual strain of work, has the time to acquire sufficient calmness to meet the other’s needs.

Roscoe has no great faults; that I know. But he is human and like other men, he has his minor difficulties. He has always been inclined to be stubborn in spite of his easy-going nature. It sounds like an impossibility, but every wife will know that it can be true.

Well, if he can be stubborn, so can I. Probably our separation was as much my fault as it was his. We began to clash a little, probably over some very unimportant thing. He wouldn’t admit that he was wrong, and neither would I. He is like a boy; he wants to be coaxed; and as for myself, I cannot force myself on anyone, least of all a man, if I have the slightest feeling that I may not be welcome.

So, we simply got on one another’s nerves, and it never got properly straightened out, until this thing happened, and all our little disagreements were swept out of sight.

Even during the years that we were separated, we were friends. We corresponded frequently; Mr. Arbuckle often called me up over the long distance telephone when I was in New York and he was in Los Angeles; and whenever he was in New York, he came to see me. That doesn’t sound much like being enemies, does it?

All during the trial, I have sat in the courtroom and prayed over and over a little prayer that Mr. Arbuckle would be cleared and that the real truth would become known. I dislike to make direct charges concerning anyone, but I can simply say that the circumstantial evidence that was brought out against Mr. Arbuckle sounded to me very weak indeed, and as for direct accusations, I do not believe them. It seems perfectly clear to me that every circumstance developed in the case can be explained as effectively in Mr. Arbuckle’s favor as against him, and as for anything further, it must be remembered that Mrs. Delmont, who first made the charges and who was really the only one to accuse Mr. Arbuckle directly, was not put on the stand by the prosecution. Surely they would have insisted upon her testimony, unless they did not believe her story after all, or unless they feared that we could discredit her.

I know that Roscoe Arbuckle is innocent, and that he will be acquitted, but I hope that the case will go so that he is clearly acquitted on the facts and not simply by legal technicalities. As much as he wants his freedom from these charges, and as much as I want it, it will mean little if he is still under a cloud. He has been deeply hurt in many ways during this affair. He has seen fair-weather friends fall away from him, and he has learned the value of his true friends.

Roscoe Arbuckle looks on every man, woman and child who has ever enjoyed him in the films as his friend, and those friends he wants to keep.

Minta Durfee, Roscoe Arbuckle, and her sister Marie Durfee arriving for second trial,
San Francisco, January 1922 (Calisphere)

[*] pp. 000–000: Minta Durfee, “The True Story about My Husband,” Movie Weekly, December 24, 1921; Roscoe Arbuckle, “Roscoe Arbuckle Tells His Own Story,” 31 December 1921, https://www.silentera.com/taylorology/issues/Taylor28.txt.

[†] This number is likely honest since Durfee frequently performed in Keystone comedies as an uncredited extra.