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: Maria Durfee and her sister, Minta Durfee, 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.


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.

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.

Brady answers charge of witness intimidation, January 21, 1922

The following is Matthew Brady’s response to Edgar Gleeson of the San Francisco Call. Here he refutes the notion that he or his subordinates coerced Alice Blake and Zey Prevost. He also explains his rationale for “protecting” them from bad influences, namely Arbuckle’s lawyers and their agents. He cites precedent here: two rape victims who were reticent about testifying against the men who brutally raped them out of fear of retribution.

In the case of Blake and Prevost, two showgirls whose lifestyles and friends weren’t exactly considered wholesome, Brady thought he was doing the same thing save that “protecting” these two was more from themselves and following their best interests, which dictated that they shouldn’t have said as much as they did in first twenty-four hours after Rappe’s death on September 9, 1921.

Matthew Brady also provides his reasons for not putting Maude Delmont on the stand. If what he says is true, her usefulness ended with her willingness to sign a murder complaint against Arbuckle in lieu of anyone else. After that she was superfluous and no longer trusted or competent to take the stand. Nevertheless, he kept her subpoenaed and in San Francisco for the first two Arbuckle trials and knew where to find her during the last.


BRADY ANSWERS CHARGE OF WITNESS INTIMIDATION[1]

By MATTHEW BRADY

District Attorney Matthew Brady today replied to the charges that his office was seeking to intimidate Miss Zey Prevon and Miss Alice Blake in relation to the testimony they gave and are giving in the Arbuckle trial. The statement follows:

The article charging that Alice Blake and Zey Prevost were coerced into testifying falsely is erroneous in its statement of fact.

By chance the extraordinary and untimely death of Virginia Rappe was brought to the attention of the authorities. The circumstances were so suspicious that they demanded an immediate and thorough Investigation. This, in my absence, Duncan Matheson, captain of detectives, and Milton T. U’Ren, one of my assistants, proceeded to do, as was their duty. Every person available who either was concerned in or had knowledge of the death of this unfortunate girl was brought in for the purpose of being questioned.

The statements of Dr. Ophuls, Al Semnacher, Miss Prevost, Miss Blake, the nurses and others pointed directly to the guilt of Mr. Arbuckle. The statements of the two girls, Alice Blake and Zey Prevost, in particular, implicated Mr. Arbuckle and directly charged him with guilt. These statements were made by these girls in response to the usual questions that are put to witnesses who are called upon to give their version of any transaction. which the authorities are called upon to investigate. It must be remembered that the authorities, of course, knew nothing of the facts and were therefore compelled to rely altogether upon what the witnesses who did know had to say, and especially upon what Alice Blake and Zey Prevost, the only participants then available, had to say upon the subject. Their statements and answers were made voluntarily, without motive, without suggestion, without desire on the part of the district attorney or the police department other than to learn what the true facts were. It must also be remembered that up to this time no outside influence of sinister nature or undue pressure had been brought to bear upon the girls, and they were unquestionably at that time telling the truth.

TELLS OF BLAKE GIRL

Alice Blake accused Arbuckle by saying that the defendant and the Rappe girl were in the room together behind locked doors and that she heard cries emanating from that room and that the locked door was opened only after repeated pounding and kicking thereon by Mrs. Delmont. Alice Blake has never repudiated these statements and has repeated them on the witness stand in the trial now in progress, except that now, after opportunity has been afforded to work upon her by some Influence unknown to us, she “doesn’t remember” the fact and the very important fact that she heard cries of agony or distress coming from the room while the defendant was locked in the room with Virginia Rappe. We can fathom the cause of her lapse of memory? And which statement is true?

Matthew Brady and Alice Blake, September 1921 (Calisphere)

Which statement is the district attorney to rely upon when he is confronted with the heavy responsibility of seeing to it that the law shall be vindicated in the case of the rich and the poor alike?

The Prevost girl, too, made her statements at the very beginning of the inquiry, and they, likewise, directly implicated Arbuckle. Her statements, likewise, were made voluntarily, without coercion or any influence, in the presence of Captain Matheson, Mr. U’Ren, Howard Vernon, the official stenographer, and various others. In her statements, freely given as originally made, when her recollection was necessarily clearest, she stated among other things this most significant fact: That Miss Rappe, in the presence of Arbuckle, in a loud tone of voice, cried out, “I am dying! I am dying! He killed me, he killed me, he killed me!’’

WHY CRIME WAS CHARGED

She also stated that Virginia Rappe and Arbuckle were locked in that room for a long time together and that Arbuckle opened the door only after she and Mrs. Delmont had continuously and persistently knocked and hammered at the door, and Mrs. Delmont had called to Arbuckle to open the door. “That she just wanted to talk to Virginia.”

It was upon these statements that the chief of police. Captain Matheson and Mr. U’Ren directed that the defendant Arbuckle be charged with [a] crime.

Up to the time of the arrest of the defendant Maude Delmont had not appeared upon the scene and no statement from her was had. Hence, the fact is that the action of the authorities in ordering the arrest of Mr. Arbuckle was in no way based upon anything that Mrs. Delmont had to say. Later on, Mrs. Delmont gave testimony of a most damaging nature against the defendant, which, if believed and true, would demonstrate that he was guilty of murder of a most serious and aggravated nature.

And then it was, and not until then, with the defendant already in custody, that she voluntarily swore to a complaint charging him with murder. The next step was the investigation before the grand jury in the usual fashion for the purpose of getting the witnesses under their oaths.

GIRL IS FORGETFUL

Zey Prevost was called to the witness stand, and much to the surprise of the district attorney, she claimed not to remember what she previously and definitely and clearly remembered, namely, that the dead girl had said in the presence of Arbuckle, “He killed me; he killed me.”

What happened during the time that intervened between her first statement and her appearance before the grand jury, we, of course, have no means of knowing, except that it was a circumstance and a most potent circumstance, gravely suspicious and clearly indicating that outside influence and undue pressure had been brought to bear upon this witness. That was my conviction then. It is my conviction now, and I acted accordingly. In fact. Captain Matheson had asked Miss Prevost In the very beginning where she lived, and the girl at first declined to tell him, and he thereupon warned her that the reason he wanted to know was that undoubtedly in a case of this importance many persons would come to her for the purpose of causing her to change her statement. This has proved to be the fact. Because of my conviction that dark and sinister influences were operating, I thereupon followed, in this case, precisely the same course that I pursued in the case of the gangsters. In the case of the gangsters, fearing that, which has happened in this case, I had the girls put in the custody of the police department, where they would be free from influences of this sort That is exactly what I did in this case, save that instead of having policewomen in charge of the girls, they lived in the home of Mrs. Duffy, who is herself a mother.

FOLLOWED USUAL COURSE

No one criticised me for protecting Jean Stanley and Jessie Montgomery in the Howard street cases. No one said anything about “private lessons.”[2] Why should any one criticise me for following a course that has been followed by district attorneys all over the union.

It must always be remembered that no witness has ever been asked to change his or her testimony. No witness in this case has ever been asked to say anything save and except that which he or she originally told us. Over and over again the district attorney and his assistants cautioned the girls that all that was expected of them was the truth, and nothing but the truth, and that the district attorney had no motive in the case except to vindicate the law and to see that justice was done.

When it came to the testimony of Mrs. Delmont she repeated her story before the grand jury. That story was extremely damaging to the defendant. Her story went further than that of any other witness. She even went so far as to testify under oath that Virginia Rappe had told her that when Arbuckle locked the door and went inside that he (Arbuckle) had said to her (Virginia Rappe). “I have been waiting for you five years and now I have got you,” and that “Arbuckle grabbed me by the arm, and I thereupon lost consciousness and knew nothing until you came into the room.”

We also have in our possession signed and sworn statements of nurses to the effect that Virginia Rappe told them that Arbuckle was responsible for her condition: that she. blamed Arbuckle for everything that happened to her.

AS TO MRS. DELMONT

Now then, why didn’t we call Mrs. Delmont? The answer is simple. Investigation of Mrs. Delmont, her activities in the case and an analysis of her story convinced us that in some particulars at least she was not telling the truth. In other word», she was an unreliable witness and we were unwilling that anyone, whether it was Mr. Arbuckle or any other man or woman charged with [a] crime, should be convicted upon any testimony coming from a witness in whom we had no confidence. If there was any desire on the part of the district attorney to secure a conviction, no matter how, this was indeed a splendid opportunity.

It is my intention if the court will permit it, to establish under oath all the circumstances connected with the original statements made by Miss Prevost and Miss Blake and all the circumstances surrounding the same.


[1] San Francisco Chronicle, 21 January 1922, 2.

[2] private lessons, slang for witness coaching.

The San Francisco Call goes all-in for Roscoe Arbuckle, January 20, 1922

The day before the second Arbuckle trial began with jury selection, two young women waited outside the offices of San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady. Alice Blake and Zey Prevost, two unemployed “showgirls”—a term that doesn’t do them justice—wanted to be paid “witness fees” for their testimony at the first Arbuckle trial. A trial that ended in a hung jury in early December 1921. Rather than meet with these women, who were expected to testify again at the second trial, Brady and his chief assistant on the Arbuckle case, Milton U’Ren, avoided them. The matter went unresolved.[1]

A week later, Blake and Prevost took the stand and both seemed to have forgotten much of their previous testimony, forcing Assistant District Attorney Leo Friedman to read portions. In their cross-examinations, Arbuckle’s lead counsel Gavin McNab questioned them in such a way that ensured the jury understood that their initial statements and testimony, following Virginia Rappe’s death on September 9, 1921, had been coerced by overzealous prosecutors and that both women had been sequestered by the District Attorney against their will.

In an editorial that followed the testimony of Blake and Prevost at the second trial, written by Edgar T. Gleeson, who covered the Arbuckle trials for the San Francisco Call, the reporter took the side of the defense and condemned Matthew Brady. Our commentary appears at the end. Brady’s response will appear in our next posting.


SHOW GIRLS EXPOSE ARBUCKLE EVIDENCE AS A FABRICATION[2]

The sensational developments in the Arbuckle case—the changed testimony of Zey Prevost—the girl’s insinuations that the district attorney’s office had dictated her testimony in the first trial of the film comedian, and District Attorney Brady’s last vainly despairing attempt to have her, one of his two principal witnesses, declared a hostile witness and subjected to cross examination—all these developments have thrown a new and astounding light on a trial that has held the public attention for more than three months. They indicated to The Call yesterday that the trial of Roscoe Arbuckle was merely another miscarriage of justice.

Today The Call is able to give to its readers detailed and convincing testimony on how the district attorney of San Francisco worked up his case against Roscoe Arbuckle. Edgar T. Gleeson has secured the facts from Miss Zey Prevost of how she and Miss Alice Blake were persuaded, threatened and almost compelled to take the stand and give perjured testimony against Roscoe Arbuckle.

FACTS ARE BARED

Here are the facts: It is in some respects another Mooney case—and the only reason Roscoe Arbuckle is not over in San Quentin at this moment, convicted of the death of Miss Rappe. is that another Oxman[3] did not happen to stroll on the scene at the proper moment. That, and that alone, saved Arbuckle.

The Call has no purpose in this exposure than to show how easy it is for men to make grave mistakes in the judgment of other men and how difficult it is for them to stand firm in the face of an inflamed and belligerent public opinion. It is not The Call’s intention to convince its readers that District Attorney Brady and his associates were prejudiced beforehand against Roscoe Arbuckle or that they are exceptionally weak or ruthless. It is the intention, however, to show that men who are very kindly and tolerant in their private lives can and do become both brutal and merciless under the pressure of public office.

BRADY SINCERE

Remember that Matthew Brady opened the case of Roscoe Arbuckle with a firmly sincere declaration that he would do his duty. The Howard street gangster cases were still in the public mind, and men remembered how punctual the district attorney had been in the prosecution of those men of little wealth and little influence.[4]

Matthew Brady announced that the power, the wealth and the popularity of Roscoe Arbuckle would not keep him from receiving as stern a trial as a “Spud” Murphy had received.[5]

So far, so good. But the district attorney did not stop there. Having pledged himself to try Arbuckle he came to believe that he had pledged himself to secure a conviction. Hence the invention of false testimony, the seclusion of witnesses and the stimulation of perjury on the part of a public official who is sworn to enforce and to protect the dignity of the law.

It is an astounding story and at the same time a very natural story—the story of how sincere and kindly men, living under pressure, can become involved in a situation that forces them to accomplish great injustices.

By EDGAR T. GLEESON

The story of how the prosecution in the Arbuckle case, driven to desperate lengths by the threatened collapse of Mrs. Bambina Maude Delmont, its capital witness, deliberately set about the business of manufacturing evidence to the end that the moving picture actor might be convicted on a charge of murder, has now been bared for the first time. Miss Zey Prevost. former moving picture girl and a guest at the Arbuckle party, finally admitted, although reluctantly, that the part of her testimony in which Miss Virginia Rappe was represented as having accused Arbuckle of hurting her, was fabricated.

Miss Prevost is one of the two witnesses whom the district attorney seized upon when his case began to teeter and after investigation had failed to yield any corroboration of Mrs. Delmont’s story.

CREATES SENSATION

The facts as revealed on the stand yesterday (January 19, 1922), and as hinted at on the preceding day by Miss Alice Blake, show that the two girls consented to testify that Miss Rappe had said “I’m dying. I’m dying; he hurt me,” only after efforts had been made by the district attorney to force them into testifying that the girl had accused Arbuckle in the stronger words, “I’m dying, I’m dying; he KILLED me.”

The extraordinary declaration of Zey Prevost that she had testified falsely in the first Arbuckle trial under fear of the district attorney’s office has, of course, created a sensation. Everywhere men ask, how can such things be? Surely a district attorney does not deliberately set out to violate justice!

A review of the immediate events following the death of Miss Rappe will help one to understand something of how such an amazing situation can come about. And this review will show the district attorney’s office, first misled by the now thoroughly discredited story of Mrs. Delmont, and then persisting in a theory of the case built up on the exploded story of Mrs. Delmont who, herself, was so impossible that she was never called as a witness in the case.[6]

When the authorities first learned of the circumstances surrounding the death of Miss Rappe on September 9, of last year, four days after the party in Arbuckle’s rooms at the Hotel St. Francis, an effort was made to secure statements from all of the participants.

One of the first persons visited was Mrs. Delmont, who was then in a state bordering on collapse at the Hotel St. Francis. The Rappe girl, her friend of a week, and companion on the trip from Los Angeles, had died suddenly and under conditions that were as terrifying as they were mysterious. Mrs. Delmont had come to one conclusion about the whole affair. She was not in Miss Rappe’s company when the girl left room 1219, nor did she see Arbuckle accompany her into that ill-fated chamber.

IN OTHER ROOM

The facts are that Mrs. Delmont had partaken of some of the liquor and was in room 1221 with another member of the party.[7] The door was locked between 1221 and 1220. Mrs. Delmont couldn’t possibly nave seen what transpired in or near the door of 1219.

Yet, in her grief and hysteria, following the tragedy she insisted on describing a struggle at the entrance to room 1219. She told of Arbuckle clutching Virginia Rappe by the arm and saying “I’ve waited five years to get you.”

Thereupon, she said, Arbuckle pulled the girl back into 1219 and locked the door behind them. Mrs. Delmont depicted a struggle between the girl and the actor. She said that in this struggle Miss Rappe cried out, again and again for help, and that she, Mrs. Delmont, rushed to the locked door, to beat upon it and cry out that Arbuckle open the door and release Virginia.

When the door, after remaining locked an hour, was finally opened, Arbuckle was alleged to have rushed out, a terrified object. He was said to be perspiring as though from a long struggle while Miss Rappe lay dying upon the bed, naked and in a state of unconsciousness. Mrs. Delmont said that Miss Rappe had fought off Arbuckle’s advances as long as her strength and senses remained and that then she was criminally assaulted.

TOLD OF SCREAMS

She said further that Arbuckle had stripped the clothes from Miss Rappe during the fight and that they were scattered about the floor in ribbons; that when she and other members of the party came upon the girl, Miss Rappe was crying out. “I’m dying, I’m dying, Roscoe killed me.”

Mrs. Delmont took charge of Miss Rappe when the girl was removed to another room that afternoon. She was lying alongside the bed, intoxicated, when Dr. Olaf Kaarboe called to attend Miss Rappe.[8] The doctor detected the odor of liquor upon Miss Rappe’s breath and concluded that there was nothing serious the matter with her.[9]

When Dr. Arthur Beardslee, house physician of the St. Francis, visited Miss Rappe later in the evening, he found her conscious and complaining of a pain in her abdomen. He made an examination and endeavored to get at a history of the case.

DENIED STATEMENT

Mrs. Delmont started to tell the doctor of the Arbuckle party and mentioned that Arbuckle hurt her. Miss Rappe, who overheard the statement, denied this to Dr. Beardslee. This evidence is known to the prosecution, but it will not be admitted as part of the present case because it comes under the heading of hearsay.[10]

To Detective George Glennon, the St. Francis Hotel detective, Miss Rappe likewise denied the accusation against Arbuckle. She said she did not know what happened to her.[11]

Both District Attorney Matthew Brady and his assistant, I. M. Golden, were in Mendocino County investigating some features of the Woodcock case when Arbuckle drove up from Los Angeles to give his story of what happened at the party.[12] Arbuckle was accompanied by his attorney, Frank Dominguez, and some of the other men who were present in his rooms on Labor Day. He went to the office of Captain of Detectives Duncan Matheson, where Milton U’Ren, representing the district attorney, joined the actor and the detective chief.

QUIZZED BY MATHESON

After some brief discussion Captain Matheson began to interrogate Arbuckle along the lines of Mrs. Delmont’s statement. Arbuckle denied some of the accusations. Third degree methods were then attempted, according to Dominguez, and he gave Arbuckle instructions not to answer some of the interrogations unless by the consent of his counsel.

This, according to both Dominguez and Arbuckle, angered the captain of detectives and Milton U’Ren. The attorney said afterward that the threat was then made to lock Arbuckle up on a charge of murder unless he gave kind of a statement the officials wanted. Dominguez told Arbuckle not to answer, and that Matheson and U’Ren carried out the threat.

CHARGED WITH MURDER

The charge on which Arbuckle was booked was murder, sworn to by the police. Later a formal charge was placed against him in Police Judge Daniel O’Brien’s court, when Mrs. Delmont appeared as the complaining witness.

Although discrepancies were found in Mrs. Delmont’s story, the district attorney’s office set about trying to verify her statements through others who were present at the party.

Brady and Golden returned to San Francisco to find the prosecution of Arbuckle for murder well under way. When Golden saw and talked with Mrs. Delmont and had a chance to study her testimony, he began to have misgivings. The same with Al Semnacher’s testimony.

PRESSURE USED

The feeling began to grow that if the prosecution was to uphold its charge it had better go about getting other props for the structure. That is when the pressure began to be exerted upon Miss Alice Blake, former entertainer at Tait’s, and Miss Prevost.

At the time the coroner’s inquest was held, an effort was made to subpoena Miss Blake and Miss Prevost, but the district attorney’s office refused to surrender the witnesses. It didn’t know at that time just how it was going to have them testify, and for that reason wasn’t  prepared to have them give contradictory testimony.

Alice Blake was seen at Tait’s immediately after the death of Miss Rappe. She told what she knew of the facts to Detective Griffith Kennedy and in the presence of George Hyde and Les Gillen, two reporters on a morning newspaper.[13] Miss Blake knew nothing of a struggle or criminal assault in Arbuckle’s room. She said she thought Miss Rappe was intoxicated at the time and that there was nothing of a fatal nature in her illness. She said she didn’t hear Miss Rappe say Arbuckle killed or hurt her. She said all the girl cried was, “I’m dying. I’m dying; I know I’m going to die.”

Mrs. Delmont said Arbuckle and Miss Rappe were in room 1219 an hour. Alice Blake said, and has since been supported by other testimony, that she went from the Arbuckle rooms to Tait’s for a rehearsal at 2 o’clock on the day of the party; that she returned at 2:30 or 2:45, and that the party was still in progress, with all persons present.

IN ROOM TEN MINUTES

It was about 3 o’clock, ten or fifteen minutes later, that the Rappe girl was stricken. She did not leave room 1220 until after Miss Blake’s return. The best recollection of Fred Fishback who helped Miss Blake carry Miss Rappe to the cold bath, is that he returned to the hotel at 3 o’clock. The testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses allows Arbuckle only ten minutes alone in the room with the girl.

When the grand jury investigation was launched the district attorney sought to get new statements from Miss Blake and Miss Prevost. The latter had been dragged down to police headquarters by George Duffy of the district attorney’s office and an attempt was made to get a statement supporting Mrs. Delmont from her. It failed and the next day Miss Prevost was asked by Milton U’Ren to sign a new statement, prepared by U’Ren, in which Miss Rappe was alleged to have cried out In Miss Prevost’s hearing, “I’m dying; I’m dying; he killed me.”

Although Miss Rappe was conscious for three days of her illness she made no accusation, no dying statement against Arbuckle.

Having first charged Arbuckle with murder, without determining whether it had a case, the district attorney’s office now sought to make a dying statement out of what Mrs. Delmont reported, namely that Miss Rappe had charged Arbuckle with killing her. The rules of evidence demand that this statement must be made in the hearing of the defendant; so Mrs. Delmont conveniently placed Arbuckle in the room when Miss Rappe was alleged to have made the accusation and had him reply: “You’re crazy; shut up, or I’ll throw you out the window.”[14]

GIRL REFUSES

Miss Prevost was asked to swear to the same set of circumstances.

“I will not,” she replied to U’Ren. “I never heard Miss Rappe say that anybody hurt her.”

When the district attorney’s office failed to get the information it sought to elicit from Miss Prevost, it had her hauled before the grand jury. It was thought that she could be broken under the continuous fire of suggestion and cross-examination. But she would not swear to the statement that Virginia Rappe had said Arbuckle killed her.

When the girl was brought back, as she now relates to the district attorney’s office, she was ready to collapse. The prosecution had harried her by asking over and over again the same question as to the Rappe girl’s accusations.

“Did you tell me, downstairs in the district attorney’s office,” U’Ren had asked “that Miss Rappe had said Arbuckle killed her? “No, I did not,“ said Miss Prevost. “I never said that Miss Rappe had made any such statement.”

Source: San Francisco Call, January 20, p. 13 (California Digital Newspaper Collection)

MOTHER THREATENED

Outside Brady’s office at 4 o’clock in the morning Miss Prevost found her mother and brother waiting for her. They had been threatened with prosecution for subornation of perjury because they warned Miss Prevost against signing any statements that she did not agree with.

“Wait until they subpoena you into court, if you don’t want to swear to those things,” the brother had advised.

Brady’s patience was exhausted by the efforts to secure the testimony of Miss Prevost and he ordered Detective Leo Bunner to take her upstairs and lock her in the city prison. Later he relented and said that if she would be at his office at 10 o’clock the next morning he would let her go home with her mother and brother.

That night Miss Prevost’s home was watched.[15] In the morning a representative of Brady’s office called and brought her to the Hall of Justice. Then ensued another long third degree with U’Ren doing the questioning. He was determined to wring from her a statement that Miss Rappe had charged Arbuckle with killing her. He had a new one prepared.

While reporters cooled their heels in the hall outside U’Ren quizzed Miss Prevost for hours without result. She would go no further than the statement that Miss Rappe had said she was dying, a fact that she, Miss Prevost, qualified with the remark, “We attached no importance to it, because we thought she was suffering from gas pains. That is why Alice Blake gave the bicarbonate of soda.”

U’REN EXASPERATED

U’Ren after a morning’s work, in an attempt to support the murder charge placed against Arbuckle, at his insistence. came out of the room exasperated. He said that he would give Miss Prevost one more chance and that if she didn’t testify to what the people wanted he would have her placed in custody.

Then Alice Blake was brought from Oakland, to which city she had fled after the first days of the tragedy She was taken to Brady’s office and the same means were employed to get the dying statement into her testimony. Miss Blake would not stand for it.

The district attorney played one girl against the other. Word was carried to Miss Prevost that Miss Blake had testified that Miss Rappe had said Arbuckle killed her. “I never heard her say it,” said Miss Prevost. “If Alice says that, then her ears hear differently than mine.”

The district attorney’s office threatened Miss Blake, it told her that it had an abundance of proof, that it knew positively that Arbuckle was guilty. Finally, Golden appealed to the heart of the woman in Miss Blake. The show girl had a tragic face and a deep emotion.

Golden pictured to her that girls like Miss Rappe were nothing but dirt under the feet of men like Arbuckle. He asked if she could question the sincerity of the district attorney’s office.

GIRL BREAKS DOWN

“Don’t you know,’’ pleaded Golden, “that we would be down here making this same kind of a fight if you were the victim?’’

Nervous and distracted, Alice Blake easily crumbled. She broke into tears. The strong appeal of Golden persuaded her. She agreed to stand for the statement that Miss Rappe had said. “I’m dying; I’m dying (she couldn’t go the full route, but she compromised); he hurt me.”

The fact was carried to Miss Prevost that Alice had “come through’’ to that extent. “I never heard Miss Rappe say it.” said Miss Provost, frightened and overcome with weariness after the third degree ordeal, “but if you want me to say it I will.”

The statement was handed her. the words “he killed me” crossed out. and Miss Prevost wrote in the words “he hurt me.”

That night the grand jury indicted Arbuckle for manslaughter. Later the police court held Arbuckle for manslaughter.

Mrs. Delmont was not called because, as Judge Brady and Isadore Golden both told me, “we cannot believe a word she says.”

The prosecution dropped Mrs. Delmont. but it saved her story for the purpose of convicting Arbuckle. Miss Prevost and Miss Blake were to take up the evidence where Mrs. Delmont left off. The two girls were then placed in Mrs. Duffy’s custody. Mrs. Duffy is the mother of George Duffy, an attaché of the district attorney s office.

Miss Blake escaped from the district attorney’s care when her mother visited Calistoga and took her away from her jailer. Miss Prevost was not delivered up until the last trial. Yesterday afternoon Miss Prevost said she would tell the whole story when she returned to the stand. And she did.


The Call was a newspaper in the Hearst chain. We have mentioned in earlier blog entries that William Randolph Hearst’s animus for Arbuckle is a myth. As a publisher, he tended not to interfere with his editors and reporters or issue memoranda on how they should cover a story. This is true of the Arbuckle case and one needs only look at the reportage in September 1921. The sensational aspect of the case—which sold Hearst newspapers—quickly evaporated. The Arbuckle case became more of a sporting event, in which the prosecution was one team and defense the other. The press sided with the perceived winner.

Gleeson, representing his newspaper, bought into the story that Blake and Prevost had been coerced due to the failure of Maude Delmont to perform as a reliable prosecution witness. This, however, was an oversimplification of what happened. All three women were being groomed as state witnesses at the same time with differing results. All three, too, had exhibited trepidation at having to relive what happened on September 5. They would bear the responsibility of violating a kind of show business omertà that extended from movie stars paid millions (Arbuckle) to a Sennett Bathing Beauty (Prevost) or a San Francisco nightclub dancer (Blake) to a film colony society girl (Rappe) to a former extra practically living in the streets of Los Angeles (Delmont). They risked losing access to the club so to speak, the demimonde-democracy in which they had status. They also risked losing access to the employment and benefits that membership entailed, even if that meant being little more than being an escort and dance partner at a Hollywood party held in San Francisco for one day without pay. They took a great risk, perhaps even to their persons, if they were complicit in sending Arbuckle, a fellow entertainer, to the gallows or a ten-year prison sentence in San Quentin. Regarding his work with the Labor Day party guests, Assistant District Attorney Isadore M. Golden said it best when he was faced with their reluctance and reservations about talking to him. “We have made out a case [. . .] through witnesses who had to have the truth dynamited out of them, witnesses who would give anything to say, ‘I was not there.’”[16] This certainly applied to Alice Blake and Zey Prevost—and Maude Delmont as well.

In the case of Prevost, she might have been too outspoken about the party, at least in the first days after Rappe’s death. She likely learned this when she was approached by one of Arbuckle’s lawyers before any charges were filed. From that point on, she began to resist the District Attorney and his assistants. But they likely did doctor her statement. District attorneys have been and still are often more tactical than criminal defense lawyers, especially when the ends justified the means. One method used by Brady’s assistants was to exploit the power of sisterhood by shaming the female witnesses into believing they would be protecting Rappe’s honor.

Blake, the rebellious daughter of a wealthy Oakland family, returned home and was likely coached in some way not to be so voluble for the DA. A former boyfriend, who played a part in keeping her on the other side of the Bay, employed Prevost’s brother—who aspired to be a motion picture cameraman and director—as an electrician in Oakland. Ultimately, it was Brady’s fear of witness tampering and the flight risk that forced him to isolate Blake and Prevost for as long as he could. But they were both free by the time of the first trial in November 1921 and their tilt toward favoring Arbuckle’s defense can be seen in their testimony given then.

Nothing they said on the stand explains their own presence at Arbuckle’s Labor Day party. They certainly weren’t total strangers. The news that “Fatty was in town” seemed to be a familiar call to action, in keeping with previous visits by Arbuckle and/or his traveling companions, director Fred Fishback and actor Lowell Sherman. They were likely of a sort in keeping with escorts, groupies, or “girls in port.” Whether they were compensated for their attentions and attendance at the Labor Day party of 1921 is unknown. But whatever they did at the party before Rappe’s crisis in room 1219 went unreported. If it came up in trial testimony, that was censored and entirely kept out of the newspapers. Reporters do mention that aspects of their testimony couldn’t be repeated. This was certainly true of Maude Delmont’s story of Arbuckle wearing Rappe’s Panama hat like a trophy, his wanting to “get” Rappe in bed for five years, and so on.

No other guest would corroborate Delmont’s story—but no one corroborated Arbuckle’s either. It was simply seen as the most probable by jurors in the first and third trials. But two words stand out as it concerns Delmont. She stated the Labor Day party was “rough” and the word “censored” was used early on in describing her initial statements. For that reason, we believe that she wasn’t allowed to testify. For one, there was probably a concern she wouldn’t self-censor herself about any sexual activities at the party, an aspect the prosecution would have been eager to suppress. Also, we think she was reluctant to testify.

Maude Delmont may not have been the one who gave a statement first. Alice Blake’s initial statement is the that got the attention of Arbuckle and his lawyers while still in Los Angeles on the night after Rappe’s death. Allegedly, Zey Prevost made her statement next followed by Delmont. This still seems counterintuitive to us. But it is possible that someone else tipped them off about the possible criminal nature of Rappe’s death. An anonymous telephone call was how the Coroner’s office learned of the first and unsanctioned autopsy performed on her body. In any event, Delmont surely stirred up things for Arbuckle.

That said, Delmont nevertheless exhibited a palpable fear of having to sign a murder complaint or face Arbuckle and his lawyers in court. In our work-in-progress we ask if this was her defense mechanism against having to testify any further? Where Blake, Prevost, and other party guests couldn’t remember or didn’t see what happened to Virginia Rappe vis-à-vis Roscoe Arbuckle, Delmont didn’t have that option. She had blurted out a story that detectives and an overworked assistant district attorney wanted to believe and she had been convinced or forced to sign the murder complaint, which Blake and Prevost would have refused to do.

Delmont, too, said things out of resentment. She said things that might also be correct but perhaps only enough to lend credence to other statements. But we must not lose sight of the fact that Delmont, despite her humble status, was chummy enough with Arbuckle to call him “Roscoe,” just like most of the women who attended the Labor Day party. If there was a kind of freemasonry to the gathering of entertainers ranging from two movie stars, a director, an actress, as well as local showgirls, Delmont belonged at the end of the line.

Before Arbuckle lawyers demonized her, Delmont felt she was doing the comedian’s bidding by taking care of the fatally injured Rappe and interacting with hotel physicians. Delmont was the intermediary between Arbuckle and the party’s inner circle until he left San Francisco. Then she, like Rappe, was cast aside. Such rejection and the consequent resentment, penury, and that Rappe was such a “good fellow” was likely used to extract her version of events—at the other end of the spectrum from Arbuckle’s (see Arbuckle’s Testimony of November 28, 1921). We think the truth lies in between.

We think—at this writing anyway—that Delmont’s loyalty to the “party” ended with Rappe’s life. Whether consciously or unconsciously, however, she became impossible to work with as a credible witness. Thus, Matthew Brady and his assistants could go with Alice Blake and Zey Prevost who, over the weekend of September 10 and 11, no longer wanted to stick to their original stories of what happened to Virginia Rappe.


[1] “Witnesses in Arbuckle Case Denied Fees,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11 September 1922, 9.

[2] San Francisco Call, 20 January 1921, 1, 12.

[3] Frank C. Oxman, the state’s star witness at the 1917 Preparedness Day Bombing trial who said he saw labor activist Tom Mooney and an accomplice near the site where the bomb was placed on July 22, 1916.

[4] The Howard Street Gang trial took place in early 1921.

[5] Edmund “Spud” Murphy, leader of the Howard Street Gang.

[6] Maude Delmont did, indeed, testify at the Coroner’s Court in September 1921, which was an early venue in the Arbuckle case.

[7] Gleeson fails to tell his readers that this was undoubtedly Ira Fortlouis and that both were likely in the bathroom of 1221.

[8] An internist and surgeon covering for St. Francis Hotel’s regular physician, Dr. Arthur Beardslee, during the afternoon of September 5, 1921.

[9] In Arbuckle’s testimony, she had been vomiting profusely and was given water by him. Alice Blake also tried to get Rappe to drink a glass or warm water and bicarbonate of soda. That she had no more than three gin and orange juice cocktails (“Brooklyns”) if at all suggests Dr. Kaarboe either had the olfactory senses of a canine or made his testimony up.

[10] Technically it is, hearsay, but Dr. Beardslee wasn’t allowed to discuss it at the preliminary hearing because Arbuckle’s lead counsel, Frank Dominguez, objected.

[11] Glennon’s testimony was deemed hearsay as well.

[12] In September 1921, Alice Woodcock, a school teacher, was on trial for perjury relating to the 1919 murder trial of her husband Edward Woodock.

[13] San Francisco Chronicle.

[14] This wasn’t in any statement made by Delmont; but it was made by Prevost.

[15] Gleeson fails to tell his readers that Arbuckle’s lawyer, Charles Brennan, had approached Zey Prevost on Market Street and asked her if she needed an attorney. Was that all the said? The district attorneys were utterly paranoid about witness tampering.

[16] Edward J. Doherty, “State Springs Coup on Fatty; Defense Wild,” Chicago Tribune, 28 September 1921, 3.

Arbuckle’s Housekeeper, Secretary and Escort: Catherine Fitzgerald

When Roscoe Arbuckle made his ill-fated journey from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the first days of September 1921, he left his mansion at 649 West Adams Boulevard in the care of Catherine Fitzgerald. She had her own room in Arbuckle’s home and her job title was secretary and housekeeper. Arbuckle, however, at least according to the 1920 census, also employed two Japanese servants, “Jack” Kakuchi and a young woman, Shino Shizaishi. Housekeeping duties would have usually fallen on them given their status. Another member of the comedian’s household staff was a Word War I veteran who Arbuckle had hired as his gardener in late August 1921, just days before his departure for San Francisco. Since many former soldiers suffered during the postwar recession, providing a man who had served his country with work was considered a noble deed.

During the Arbuckle case in September, October, and November, Miss Fitzgerald’s name appeared from time to time.

In the days following the Labor Day weekend, federal prohibition officials in Los Angeles questioned her about Arbuckle’s personal liquor supply in 649’s wine cellar. She had allegedly had the key to the basement door and was asked to relinquish it. But, as it turned out, Arbuckle had stocked his cellar before passage of the Volstead Act, the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution, better known as Prohibition. So the agents had to look elsewhere for the source of the liquor consumed during the Labor Day party, at which the actress Virginia Rappe was fatally injured in Arbuckle’s bedroom in the St. Francis Hotel.

One thing Rappe had in common with Catherine Fitzgerald was that they were the same age, born a month apart in 1891. Fitzgerald, too, with her dark hair light-colored eyes, would not have looked out of place with the other brunettes at Arbuckle’s Labor Day party. Like Rappe, she too had come from humble beginnings.

In Fitzgerald’s case, life began on Louisville’s West Side, a largely African American enclave then as now. Her father worked in a plow factory and, according to the 1910 census, his eldest daughter still lived at home. But she was remembered in Louisville for working the cigar stands in the better hotels before she relocated to Los Angeles after the war. By 1919–’20 she was an extra in the comedies Arbuckle made with Buster Keaton—and befriended Arbuckle’s leading in his 1921 comedies, Lila Lee.

Catherine Fitzgerald (also Katherine) interests us because she was more than housekeeper and secretary. She may have been Arbuckle’s occasional escort to Hollywood events, such as “Photoplay Magazine Night,” where she was a standout at Arbuckle’s table. She was even rumored to be engaged to him—even though he was still married to the actress Minta Durfee.

That Minta Durfee objected Fitzgerald’s presence in Arbuckle’s home surfaced after the former returned to Los Angeles following the preliminary investigation during the last two weeks of September. Fitzgerald was either dismissed or she moved out of Arbuckle’s house on her own to avoid Durfee or make for the wrong impression. She stayed with Lila Lee for a few days and then returned to Louisville only to resurface in Los Angeles in November.

Catherine Fitzgerald at the wheel

Newspaper photograph of Catherine Fitzgerald at the wheel of one of Arbuckle’s
automobiles, September 1921. Note wedding band. (Newspapers.com)

Over the weekend, just before November 28, 1921, when Arbuckle took the stand in his own defense (see Arbuckle’s Testimony), District Attorney Matthew Brady released a list of rebuttal witnesses to the press. Included among them was Catherine Fitzgerald. Rumor had it that she would testify in regard to the nature of Arbuckle’s parties—or bacchanales, debauches, orgies, and the like, to use the period expressions. Rumor also had it that she had been subpoenaed in order to intimidate Arbuckle from taking the stand. But he did anyway and she was, in the end, not called. Our research thus far reveals that she was newsworthy once more in 1922—for income tax evasion.[1]

Would she have made an effective witness against Arbuckle. Likely not given what she said before she disappeared from Los Angeles so as not to be “home” when Minta Durfee arrived to take up her role as Arbuckle’s wife—this despite the innocence of her position as purely “staff.”

Katherine Fitzgerald, long-time friend and beautiful young housekeeper for “Fatty” Arbuckle, is not engaged to marry him. She made it extremely plain today that she was an employee, “just the same as the maids or the cook.” But she does not hesitate to declare that she admires him, and will do everything she can to “help him out of this mess.” As to any deep affection between them: “Why, it’s too ridiculous for words,” said the pretty girl at the Arbuckle mansion on West Adams Street.[2]

Of Arbuckle and Durfee, Fitzgerald said they were the best of friends and that he saw her when he was in New York City last. When asked about the parties at West Adams, she said that they were, without exception, moderate and reserved. “Roscoe is just a big, good-natured boy,” she said, with a slight catch in her voice. “Really, you know, he’s never grown up and I don’t think he ever will.”

[1] Arbuckle’s Housekeeper Charged in Income Tax,” Louisville Courier-Journal, 25 November 1922, 2.

[2] “’Just a Big Boy,’ Housekeeper Says,” Oakland Tribune, 13 September 1921, 3.

Art Spiegelman’s Cartoon Contribution to the Arbuckle Case and a Review of Literature

An outlier among these cultural artifacts—for they aren’t really scholarly endeavors—is Art Spiegelman’s contribution to Sleazy Scandals of the Silver Screen #1, published by the San Francisco: Cartoonists Co-op Press in 1974. Best known for his graphic nonfiction novel Maus and its sequels, Spiegelman is intuitive in his rendering of the Arbuckle case, titled “Fatty’s Fatal Fling,” with just a few pages and panels. Much as he enacts a certain poetic justice on Nazi Germany for the Holocaust by depicting persecuted Jews and their survivors as mice and the Germans as cats, Spiegelman does so on Roscoe Arbuckle as karma.

Cover for 1989 reprint (Copyright 1989 Art Spiegelman)

Spiegelman would almost seem to be a proto-revisionist, anticipating some of the pathos of this book, “drawing” not only on Kenneth Anger but likely on some original archival research as well. Ultimately, Spiegelman sees Arbuckle in Hell, strapped to a table, having Coke bottles shoved up his rectum by an eternity of demons with an uncanny resemblance to Virginia Rappe. Indeed, Spiegelman could be seen as taking her side in toto when no one else did in the early 1970s, three years before David Yallop published The Day the Laughter Stopped.

Original art for p. 8 of Sleazy Scandals of the Silver Screen, #1 (Copyright 1973 Art Spiegelman)

The contents of the casting director’s wallet, October 1921

The mysterious death of Al Stein in the early hours of October 9, 1921, raised eyebrows a century ago in the weeks leading up to the first Roscoe Arbuckle trial. The following passage is another from our work-in-progress that highlights several “sideshows.” This one, we feel, deserves a sidelong look, so to speak, for the way it calls attention to two Labor Day partygoers: Fred Fishback and Ira Fortlouis.

Their conduct in the Arbuckle case deserves more scrutiny. Hence the detail below that might make the final edit in this or another form.


The day before the Paramount and Famous Players–Lasky brass met to discuss their Arbuckle problem, Universal Pictures and Hollywood’s film colony suffered another casualty attributed to alcohol and a dissolute lifestyle. The dead body of Fred Fishback’s personal assistant, Albert F. Stein, was found in Los Angeles during the early hours of Sunday, October 9, one month after the death of Virginia Rappe. Propped up by two pillows on the floor of his bedroom, his face had turned blue from having choked to death. The only mark on his body was a two-inch scratch on his face. Newspapers described the scene at the Golden Apartments on 1130 West 7th Street as a “liquor orgy,” which began when Stein returned home with three men just before midnight on Saturday, October 8.

Stein, the son of a Jewish bookkeeper and his Mexican American wife, was twenty-seven when he died. During his short life, he had married, fathered a son, and once played professional baseball in the California leagues for a minor league team owned by the Santa Fe Railroad. Although he was good enough to be a prospect for the St. Louis Nationals and the Chicago Cubs, Stein decided against the life of a minor leaguer and instead sought work in motion pictures.

Stein’s real talent wasn’t in front of the camera but behind it. He quickly rose in the ranks at Sunshine Comedies, where he came under the wing of Henry Lehrman and undoubtedly was in almost daily contact with Virginia Rappe between 1919 and 1920 at the Culver City plant—where Stein, too, experienced the frisson of having Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton working in the neighboring studio.

When Lehrman started his own company in 1920, Stein was promoted to casting director. When his mentor went bankrupt at the end of that year, Stein was quickly picked up by Fred Fishback for Century Film Corporation, where Stein continued to work as an assistant and casting director. Naturally ambitious, Stein served Fishback well and was expected to take charge of one of Century’s units in November.

In a series of articles in September, the New York Daily News tried to make sense of what happened to Arbuckle and Rappe at the St. Francis Hotel by investigating the culture and mores of the film colony. Men in Al Stein’s position were known to take advantage of the opportunities that culture created. “There is a lascivious maxim concerning the gateway to success in the pictures,” that screen tests were a stock joke. “Strict vigilance does not always prevent refractions,” opined the Daily News given the anecdotal evidence. “[N]ot long ago a casting director was discharged after rumors of questionable affairs with women seeking parts in pictures.”

Although Stein wasn’t the man in question, he was no exception and the rigors and pleasures of his motion picture work took a toll on his marriage, more so than the away games of his brief baseball career. When he died, Stein was already divorced and cohabitating with two “studio girls,” a term used for aspiring young actresses who had yet to make a screen debut or still worked as extras and showgirls. The threesome began shortly after he moved into his apartment in September. A blonde, whom he registered as his sister, Mildred Bellwin was followed by her friend, a redhead, Jean Monroe. Both were members of the Pantages Broadway Follies. They were his first responders on the October 9.

According to their statements to the police, they kept to their rooms and did not see Stein and his friends. Their story, told in an “airy” manner, suggested that the gathering was a stag party. When it ended around midnight, however, both young women joined Stein in his bedroom and just “talked” for about an hour. Then the women retired to their shared bedroom and left Stein alone in his.

Another hour passed and Monroe was awakened by a “terrible gaspy, creepy noise of some kind,” as she described it, “a ghastly thing to hear at 2:30.” She woke her roommate. When they found Stein, he was lying half out of bed with his head on the floor and his feet still under his bedclothes. They splashed his face with cold water. But his breathing became more labored, he began to turn blue.

Monroe and Bellwin then called Stein’s older brother Carl, who soon arrived and summoned a doctor—and the police. But it was too late. His brother had already passed.

According to the police, wine and whiskey bottles littered his room and the kitchen. A bottle of “moonshine” was also found—and a pronounced scratch on one of Stein’s heavy cheeks. Asked to explain the scratch, Stein’s roommates said it was self-inflicted two days earlier. He had picked up a nail file in their presence and said, “It’s funny how people hurt themselves with things like this.” Then he proceeded to draw the blade across his cheek. But that wasn’t the only thing that was strange about the scene in Stein’s bedroom.

When police searched his billfold, they found a list of names and telephone numbers that, according to the Los Angeles Times, “indicated that he had a wide field of women acquaintances.” Also found was a telegram addressed to Ira Fortlouis at the Century Film Corporation from District Attorney Matthew Brady dated September 19 that read: “Please report to district attorney’s office, San Francisco, immediately.” On the back in pencil, was a note, presumably the text of wired response to Brady’s request. But it wasn’t from Fortlouis: “Will be at your office tomorrow noon—Fred Fishback. Leaving for San Francisco today.”

Stein’s billfold contained one more mystery. There was a check for $25, made out to Fishback by the director Frank Beal and endorsed by Fishback. On the surface, it seemed as though Fishback delegated some personal business to Stein and used Brady’s telegram like a scrap of paper.

Bellwin and Monroe were subsequently jailed on suspicion of having poisoned Stein—and Fred Fishback again found himself associated with a scandal involving alcohol, showgirls, and death—at least until a better explanation was found for the Brady telegram in Stein’s wallet.

Two Los Angeles police detectives spoke to Fishback. They had a theory that Stein had been summoned to San Francisco as a potential witness for the prosecution. They believed that he could have been murdered since none of his drinking companions had suffered the same ill effects. But what the detectives learned from Fishback provided no further clues and was likely little different from what the director told the Los Angeles Times. “I have known Al Stein for several months,” Fishback said,

and in all my dealings with him he had been sober and industrious. I did not know that he was a drinking man. I was greatly shocked to hear of his death and immediately offered to do what I could. Who the two girls are I do not know. The only time I saw them was last Friday, when I stopped for a moment at Al’s apartment on business. I asked him then if both the girls were living there in the same apartment and he explained that he merely occupied the front room while they occupied the rest.

When no poison was found in Stein’s stomach, the coroner determined that he had died of acute alcoholism. There was no foul play. Stein’s brother Carl, for his part, knew nothing of an alleged drinking problem. He said his brother Al was subject to heart attacks and suffered choking fits.

In the end, Stein’s roommates were only charged with “vagrancy” and released. Fishback made the funeral arrangements and the case quickly faded before Matthew Brady arrived to conduct his “open house” in Los Angeles. There was no curiosity on his part. His deputy, Milton U’Ren, only said that Stein didn’t “figure in any important connection in the case against Roscoe Arbuckle”—nor could he address why Stein had in his possession a telegram intended for Ira Fortlouis.

 

Al Stein (Newspaper Enterprise Agency, private collection)

Reverse.

Gestational cystitis and Rappe’s Baby Girl: Nurse Roth speaks out, October 28, 1921

The work-in-progress features a chapter on October 1921. During this time, Roscoe Arbuckle’s defense team and strategy changed. Frank Dominguez, the comedian’s lead counsel in September, allegedly resigned to pursue the interests he had in Los Angeles. But his departure had more to do with his strategy of insinuating that Maude Delmont and Al Semnacher had tried to blackmail Arbuckle with Rappe’s torn undergarments, which they had secreted away to Los Angeles.

Dominguez probably didn’t believe in such a scheme. It only served to further undermine the credibility of Maude Delmont. Once she testified at the preliminary hearing or trial, a masterful cross-examination could destroy the prosecution’s case. No jury would convict Arbuckle after this alleged extortionist, alcoholic, and drug addict was deconstructed in the witness chair.

But this strategy presupposed a crime, that Arbuckle had done something wrong, like raping Virginia Rappe or failing to report a tragic accident that might have happened in an act of consensual intercourse. Such a defense only made the problem worse for Joseph Schenk, Adolph Zukor, Jesse Lasky, and other stakeholders in Arbuckle’s career. They knew that their star comedian had to be completely innocent of any wrongdoing, “squeaky clean,” as his career and reputation were based on a wholesome (though often raffish) screen image. Thus, there had to be a kind of legal, ethical, and situational “estrangement” from the parttime actress and society girl who, until she suffered her fatal injury, was Arbuckle’s friend, “one of the gang.”

Dominguez’s partner and Arbuckle’s personal lawyer, Milton Cohen, was also part of the comedian’s defense team. Cohen authored the strategy of “deconstructing” Virginia Rappe. He had also once been her personal attorney and knew more about her than any of his colleagues. He knew that of the many performers who remade their personas, with their different names and confected backstories, Rappe’s was a nearly blank slate. If she didn’t have any skeletons in her closet, he could put them there.

Dominguez’s successor, Gavin McNab, was on board to develop this strategy with Cohen’s counterpart in Chicago, the lawyer Albert Sabath, a close friend of Rappe’s first boyfriend, Harry Barker. The strategy was simple enough: to blame the victim before Arbuckle’s manslaughter trial in November and get it into the press before jury selection.

Arbuckle’s defense team spent much of October locating witnesses who could tell tales of Rappe’s private life. They had an immense war chest and weren’t shy about intimidating the District Attorney of San Francisco with how much money they had as the postscript below the following news item makes clear.

The news item reprinted below is the capstone to a wave of such articles that DA Matthew Brady dismissed as “propaganda.” These appeared in various forms published by the Hearst syndicate’s International News Service (in contrast to the oft-mentioned animus William Randolph Hearst and his papers allegedly had toward Arbuckle and Hollywood, a meme that has been recycled in many narratives and biographies).

We devote an earlier blog entry to this topic because of the centrality of the cystitis–pregnancy strategy in finally getting Arbuckle acquitted in April 1922. Although we can’t fault the law of diminishing returns after three trials, the money spent on his defense wasn’t enough to convince the public that Arbuckle was the upright person they once had imagined.

Here, we return to the “propaganda” campaign because of the unusual features of this version from the Los Angeles Evening Herald of October 28, 1921. It gives a description of Rappe’s “daughter,” as though she were a tiny clone of the mother. This article, too, was the first to give a name to Rappe’s bladder disease.

Readers should note that premature infants were sometimes used as sideshow oddities in the early twentieth century. Nurse Roth, a self-proclaimed friend and confidante of Rappe, showed no hesitation in mentioning that her dear friend’s alleged child was used in such an exhibit.


NURSE REVEALS RAPPE GIRL’S PAST
TELLS LIFE OF WOMAN IN ARBUCKLE TRAGEDY
Attorneys in Chicago Hear Story of Acquaintance of Actress

By International News Service

CHICAGO, Oct. 28.—Shadowed secrets from the hidden past of Virginia Rappe, dead movie actress, were drawn to light today in an effort to clear Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle from responsibility for her death. The dead actress’ early life was revealed with many sordid details by Mrs. Josephine Roth, her lifelong friend.

The revelations included the fact that Virginia had been a mother, her child dying when 5 years old. The most startling statement made by Mrs. Roth was that the actress was in constant danger of a sudden shock.

DRAMATIC STATEMENT

“If I could tell my story to a jury of physicians, ‘Fatty’’ Arbuckle would be freed in 10 minutes,” was her dramatic statement. “Virginia could have died at any time from a sharp fall or even a sudden misstep.”

Her story was told to Assistant State’s Attorney Frank Peska, who represented District Attorney Brady of San Francisco. It was to be repeated later to Attorney Brennan of Arbuckle’s defense counsel, who arrived this afternoon.

Mrs. Roth told her story with tears, in her eyes.

“Virginia’s memory is still so tender,” she said.

CHRONIC AILMENT

She declared that Miss Rappe was a constant sufferer from systitus [sic], a chronic disease of a vital organ. Mrs. Roth, who had acted frequently as nurse to the former model, then described in detail the medical attention given the ailing woman. This treatment had been continued until 1913, when Virginia left Chicago, said Mrs. Roth.

“A baby was born here to Virginia. It was so small and frail, it was placed in an incubator and exhibited at a local amusement place,” said the former nurse.

BEAUTIFUL CHILD

“The child was very beautiful. She had Virginia’s black hair and big black eyes. She died when 5 years of age.”

Other depositions were taken during the day from Miss Virginia Warren, also a nurse; Jay Abrams and a prominent theatrical producer, whose name was withheld.

REPORT UNLMITED FUND AT DISPOSAL OF FATTY ARBUCKLE

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 28—The fight to save Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle from prison today assumed a wider scope with the circulation of the rumor that unlimited money for defense purposes has been placed at the comedian’s command. Lawyers, picked not for price but for the success they have achieved in San Francisco courts, have been engaged to conduct the defense. A nation-wide search for evidence, admittedly costing heavily, was underway today.

Gavin McNab, recently named chief counsel for Arbuckle, has frankly stated a group o{ men with investments in motion pictures have employed him. It was generally believed here that McNab’s fee went high into five figures and perhaps six.

Charles Brennan, another of Arbuckle’s lawyers, expected to reach Chicago tomorrow, in his search for evidence. Later, Brennan is expected to go to New York and Washington, where other witnesses are believed located.

Among those he will see in the east will be Lowell Sherman, Broadway favorite and picture star, who was a guest at Arbuckle’s party preceding Virginia Rappe’s death. The entire story of Virginia Rappe’s life Is being pieced together by the defense as a foundation for a theory that she died from unavoidable causes for which Arbuckle had no responsibility.

Source: Los Angeles Evening Herald, 28 October 1921, A3.

Nurse Josephine Rafferty Roth, infant, and onlooker, ca. 1910s (Private collection)

“I heard a man’s voice say, ‘Shut up.’”

The following passage is from 1 Judges, that part of our book dealing with the preliminary investigation of Judge Sylvain Lazarus in late September 1921. Lazarus, A police court judge, had been tasked with determining if Roscoe Arbuckle should be tried in the Superior Court of San Francisco on a charge of murder in the first degree or manslaughter.

The testimony of Josephine Keza, the last witness, convinced him to decide on the lesser charge. Otherwise, the judge could have decided against charging Arbuckle for any crime given his grim view of the other witnesses and the failure of putting Maude Delmont on the stand (see 100 Years Ago Today: Arbuckle to be tried for manslaughter instead of murder, September 28, 1921).

Mrs. Keza would testify in all three Arbuckle trials.

Josephine Keza in her St. Francis Hotel maid uniform, Oct. 1921 (Newspaper Enterprise Association, private collection)

After the clinical charts pertaining to Virginia Rappe had been handed over to the defense and entered into the court record, the next witness appeared. She wasn’t Maude Delmont. Although Josephine Keza had been deposed by Milton U’Ren among other St. Francis Hotel employees ten days earlier, her appearance caught Arbuckle’s defense team off-guard.

Freda Blum, who covered the Arbuckle trials for Hearst’s San Francisco Call and International News Service, noted the contrast between the twenty-two-year-old Polish immigrant and the fashionable young women who testified before her. “Unlike the one who ‘models’ for her bread and the other whose ability to entertain earns for her a living,” Blum observed,

the third witness revealed herself in a far different status—one engaged in menial labor. Josephine Keza is a chambermaid at the St. Francis and assigned to the section of the hostelry where the party took place. She wore the unmistakable “beat silk” of the servant class, with long gloves and a last winter’s hat.

Josephine Keza is a foreigner and the English language is difficult for her. She was alternately confused and enthralled by the orations of the defense and prosecution, and when the court released her from the stand, she quietly left the room and went back to her housecleaning.

Milton U’Ren hurriedly questioned his new witness. “Do you remember that Mr. Arbuckle—Roscoe Arbuckle—the gentleman sitting here and some other gentlemen occupied some rooms is the St. Francis Hotel on Labor Day?”

Keza did and U’Ren continued. She described for him that, while cleaning vacant rooms on the twelfth floor, she had heard a woman scream from the direction of Arbuckle’s party. Keza was uncertain about the time. She estimated it to be between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m., which, unlike prior testimony, provided an actual window for Rappe and Arbuckle to be inside room 1219. This pushed the time of Rappe’s injury taking place earlier than previous timeframes, which thus far could only be inferred between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m.

Keza recalled that she hurried down the hall and stood outside room 1219, having heard a woman pleading, crying, “Oh, no, no! Oh, my God! Oh, no!”

“And did you hear a man’s voice in the room?” U’ren asked.

Keza responded, “I heard a man’s voice say, ‘Shut up.’”

With that U’Ren turned his witness over for cross-examination, knowing that Dominguez wasn’t prepared. Although furious and incredulous for the introduction of such a witness, he comported himself and calmly, firmly asked who had deposed her. He was, in effect, ferreting out whether she had been coached by the prosecution. “Who told you to come here and tell this outrageous story?” Dominguez asked with an incredulous tone.

The witness explained that she had given a statement more than a week before to Assistant District Attorney U’Ren.

“Are you in the habit of listening at the doors of the rooms?” asked Dominguez.

Keza understood enough English to know that the lawyer was insulting her. She denied that she eavesdropped for diversion. “When we hear shrieks like those, of course,” she said, “We run to see what is the matter.”

Given the noise, shouting, laughter, and music emanating from the Arbuckle suite on Labor Day afternoon, it was hard not to pay attention. Then, Keza, according to Oscar Fernbach of the Examiner, “positively, unswervingly, and with even added force” repeated to Dominguez what she had heard through the door of the room 1219.

Arbuckle, whose reactions to Zey Prevost and Alice Blake were more of boredom than interest, had come to life when he saw the hotel maid. According to Edward J. Doherty of the Chicago Tribune, the comedian began

rubbing his red chin. Streaks of white showed on them from the pressure of his fingers. Frank Dominguez, his chief counsel appeared utterly bewildered. The spectators were leaning forward, drinking in every word.

Miss Keza, a large woman in a blue dress splashed with white, her string of pearl beads, her gray elbow gloves, gay stockings, and sandals, and her wide black sailor hat, was a little conscious of the crowd, a bit amused and perhaps a bit delighted, at the bomb shell she had exploded.

Dominguez took the witness; he questioned her at length, but only made her testimony stand out the plainer. Every question brought more dynamite for the defense. He dropped her suddenly and finally after she had stated she did not always listen at doors and explained—

“But when there’s music and dancing and loud talking you sometimes want to listen.”

Now, leaning forward in his chair as well, Arbuckle whispered to his lawyers. He surely recognized Keza, who had been in an out of his suite throughout the day before and after Rappe’s crisis. This came up as Dominguez pressed Keza to tell him who had been the first person to hear her story, even before she shared it with the other maids.

“I don’t know who it was first—everybody,” Keza answered and then remembered an exception. “I said to a lady in the hotel by the table I heard the girl scream.”

This overlooked statement stands out. It means that Keza had been in room 1220 and after Rappe had been moved to room 1227 as the party went on without her, as the frolicking continued with the arrival of Betty Campbell and Dolly Clark.

As damning as Keza’s testimony sounded, she couldn’t see through the walls of 1219 and Dominguez knew this.

“I heard all afternoon screaming,” she answered as he continued to query her about the level and kinds of noise coming out Arbuckle’s suite—and so revealed that the “screaming” could have been just the ambience from any of the rooms or all three.

“And in 1221,” Keza continued. “And 1220 was all music and dancing and all kinds of noise—and doors slamming and everything—and by the time there was a girl[’s] scream I saw one gentleman came out and after him one lady, but I could never say which one it could be—because I didn’t see her very good, and she was undressed.”

Without being asked, Keza divulged that the hallway door to room 1220 was open. She made it plain to the court that she was alert to the sounds from Arbuckle’s suite for much of the afternoon.

Dominguez’s next line of questions addressed Keza’s opportune hovering right outside room 1220.

Q: The fact of the matter is, you never heard this language at all; isn’t that true—isn’t that the fact—you never heard this language at all, did you?”

A: What I don’t hear?

Q: I mean these voices—you didn’t hear them at all in 1219?

A: I didn’t hear them say “Oh my God?”

Q: Yes.

A: I did hear it, plain, too—and I heard a lot of slamming the doors just the same at that time.

Q: What is that?

A: I heard the door slamming at that time.

Q: Did anybody tell you to tell this story here in court?

A: When?

Q: That you heard these voices in that room—did anybody tell you to tell it here?

A: Well, I had nobody to tell me.

When Dominguez asked Keza if she had reported the “conversation,” his euphemism for the voices she heard, meaning to the hotel management, Keza said no. “You are sure it ever occurred?” he asked.

Before Keza could be browbeaten any further and give the defense an advantage, Isadore Golden objected. Dominguez had already asked that several times. Judge Lazarus agreed. Flustered, Dominguez responded that he hadn’t repeated this question and that the record would show it.

Golden: Three times.

Dominguez: I beg your pardon; not in this form. It is a peculiar witness, Mr. Golden.

Golden: There is nothing peculiar about the witness, she is a very hard-working woman.

Dominguez: That is all.