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 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 curiosity. Hence the detail below that might make the final edit in this or another form.


The day before 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. Fred Fishback’s personal assistant, Albert F. Stein, body was found dead 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 young 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 vicissitudes of a minor league baseball team and found 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 following her death by investigating the culture and mores of the film colony. Men in Al Stein’s position were known to take advantage of it. “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 young, pretty “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 Jean 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 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 found himself in the middle of another scandal that mixed alcohol and showgirls—as well as the Arbuckle case until a better explanation was found for the District Attorney of San Francisco’s telegram in a dead man’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 comedy 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 Stein had died of acute alcoholism. There was no crime. Stein’s brother Carl, for his part, saw no 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 the 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.

April Fool’s Day 1922: Fred Fishback testifies for the defense

The comedy director Fred Fishback[1] was one of Roscoe Arbuckle’s two traveling companions who arrived at the St. Francis Hotel on the evening of September 3, 1921. The other was one of the first Hollywood actors who specialized in “heavy” male roles, Lowell Sherman. But unlike Sherman, Fishback had testified at the previous two trials and had made himself available for Arbuckle’s defense. The resulting notoriety temporarily interrupted his work as a director and forced him to work under the name of Fred Hibbard.

A tall and athletic man—Fishback was a swimmer—who neither smoked nor drank made an unusual participant in Arbuckle’s revels as well as Arbuckle’s roommate in room 1219. He made for an even stranger roommate for Virginia Rappe’s manager, Al Semnacher, when he moved from the Palace Hotel to the St. Francis during the late afternoon–evening of September 5. Fishback and Semnacher slept on another floor.

Fishback, naturally, didn’t want to return to 1219 given what had happened there in the mid-afternoon, when Rappe was found going in and out of shock given the true nature of her injury. He was, like the women at the party, a first responder. He had handled Rappe’s body twice. The first time was corroborated by prosecution witnesses: Fishback had lifted Rappe up on one side, while Maude Delmont and Zey Prevost had taken the other arm and leg, and carried Rappe into the bathroom and placed her in a bathtub filled with cold water. The object of this treatment was to bring Rappe back to her senses so that she could explain what was wrong with her.

The second time as Fishback testified was when he took Rappe by the ankles and held her upside down vertically. To do this, he claimed to have stood on the bed so as to allow blood to flow back into her brain and thus bring her back to consciousness.

That he could hold a woman up like this wasn’t questioned. Fishback appeared to be physically capable of doing so. The more curious feat was the act of standing and balancing on a mattress that was supported only by bedsprings rather than a modern box spring mattress. Thus, we can imagine Fishback’s act of first aid akin to a trampoline gag worthy of a comedy director. Fishback, too, stated that his big hands had likely caused the bruises on Rappe’s arms, which the prosecution had to Arbuckle.

What seemed like an act of mercy, however, worked well for the defense. The jury would have to consider that Fishback might have accidentally caused her ultimately fatal bladder rupture. That and Fishback’s dogged loyalty to his friend, Arbuckle, made him an effective prosecution witness. He was unshakable on the stand. His loyalty to Arbuckle began early, when he refused to sign a statement that, ironically, quoted him accusing Lowell Sherman of trying to “upstage” when Sherman and Arbuckle conspired to to rid themselves of his company after Rappe’s crisis.

Still, the whole exercise with Rappe’s limp body seemed too opportune. And no one else witnessed such a robust display despite the other accounts of what was done to help Rappe.

Fishback also served to deflect the direction of the accusations that Rappe was said to have uttered—“I am dying” and “He hurt me”—which the prosecution contended were aimed at Arbuckle. Gavin McNab, Arbuckle’s chief counsel, said if Rappe had said anything like this, it was directed at Fishback.

Fishback previously stated and restated that he never heard Rappe say anything. But on April 1, 1922, he recalled that he only heard her say one word, “Don’t”—but who was the recipient of this simple, human request goes unmentioned in the reportage.[2]

There was also a light moment as the Saturday session came to an end, which suggests that the two prosecutors didn’t believe that Fishback had stood on the bed and held Rappe up. McNab, undoubtedly reflecting the upbeat mood at the defense table, asked Assistant District Attorney Milton U’Ren if he would like to subject himself to a demonstration. But U’Ren declined being held upside down by his ankles, saying that he did not care to be “manhandled.“

A rare photograph of the man behind the camera: Fred Fishback (l) serving Edith Roberts (c) sparkling grape juice on the set of A Baby Doll Bandit (Exhibitor’s Herald, August 2, 1919)

[1] Fishback is the conventional Americanized spelling but newspapers in 1921 and ’22 also spelled his name in keeping with his Romanian Jewish ethnicity (e.g., Fischbach or Fischback).

[2] Associated Press, “Fischbach on Stand in Arbuckle Trial,” Los Angeles Times, 2 April 1922, I:4.

100 Years Ago Today: Arbuckle calls Rappe a bum

For most of Saturday, September 10, Roscoe Arbuckle and his pals Fred Fishback and Lowell Sherman once again drove north on Highway 4, which is now California 99 and Interstate 5, to San Francisco. Only this time in a much less joyful mood and with company. Arbuckle rode in his Pierce-Arrow which was driven by his chauffeur, and also carried his manager Lou Anger, and Frank Dominguez, his newly appointed attorney. Fishback followed in his car, accompanied by Sherman and Al Semnacher, the late Virginia Rappe’s manager/booking agent.

They had left Los Angeles at 3: 00 a.m., stopped for breakfast in Bakersfield, and reached Fresno at about 11:00 a.m., making good time.

As the two cars were being serviced and refueled at the A.B.C. Garage, an employee heard one of Arbuckle’s companions speaking to Arbuckle. “Say, a motor cop had been following you for a long while.”[1]

“Well,” the comedian retorted, “he’s been following you too.” Then he strolled over to the Hotel Fresno to purchase cigars and the latest papers to see what was being reported about him and Rappe, who was very much on his mind now if she hadn’t been over the past five days.

A desk clerk, Joe Davis, recognized Arbuckle standing by the cigar stand in the hotel lobby. Davis approached the film star and asked, “Well, who was the girl?”

Although outwardly jolly and carefree—like “Fatty” in the movies—Arbuckle took the opportunity to vent about his troubles, as one does with a stranger who one imagines is offering a sympathetic ear. He revealed a little of the man behind the celebrity who, on screen, seemed no more than a fat but lovable simpleton.

After giving the question some thought, Arbuckle lied about Rappe and disparaged her in the same breath. “I don’t know who she was,” he said, “some bum, I guess. They brought her in and we ‘bought a drink,’ and the first thing I knew she was drunk, and we got a room for her and called the manager in order to get a doctor.”

 “We’re going up to find out about this now,” Arbuckle continued, adding that he and his party were due at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. But they wouldn’t arrive at the Oakland Ferry for another five hours.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, September 11, 1921 (Newspapers.com)

[1] The following is adapted and quoted from “I Don’t Know Who She Was—Some Bum, I Guess,” Arbuckle Says; Sacramento Bee, 10 September 1921, 1; and “Arbuckle to Be Held Pending Probe of Death,” Fresno Morning Republican, 11 September 1921, 1, 6.

100 Years Ago Today: “Fatty” leaves L.A. for S.F., September 2, 1921

Roscoe Arbuckle and his companions set out from Los Angeles on Friday, September 2, the day before Al Semnacher left with his party of Virginia Rappe and Maude Delmont. Arbuckle, his chauffeur, and, perhaps, the director Fred Fishback took turns driving. The actor Lowell Sherman enjoyed the view from the backseat.

Greg Merritt, in Room 1219, was the first to posit this route, which began on Highway 2 North, the future U.S. Route 101, built atop the old Spanish royal road known as the Camino Real. But this route is conjectural. Arbuckle could have taken the more picturesque coastal route or the quicker inland route to the east that Semnacher took (present-day I-5). The Camino Real, however, would have allowed him to spend the night in Paso Robles, the approximate halfway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco, as he had done in June when he drove his custom purple Pierce-Arrow for display in the new San Francisco showroom of its builder, Don Lee.

Such a layover was quite different from the humble Selma ranch where Semnacher’s entourage stayed. Paso Robles boasted a beautiful hotel and curative hot springs. Arbuckle and Sherman could also sample some of the booze they’d packed for the trip. (Fred Fishback didn’t drink. He was, however, a kind of “cheerleader” to paraphrase Malcolm Lowry’s Consul in Under the Volcano.)

Roscoe Arbuckle using a grease gun on his Pierce-Arrow, ca. late 1920 (Newspapers.com)

Bit Player #3: Ira Fortlouis, the gown salesman

Ira Gustav Fortlouis saw Virginia Rappe for the first time in the Palace Hotel on Labor Day morning, September 5, 1921. According to the accepted story, he later mentioned this sighting in the presence of Roscoe Arbuckle and his companions, film director Fred Fishback and actor Lowell Sherman. Thereupon, a telephone call was placed to Rappe and she was invited to Arbuckle’s suite. Her afternoon in San Francisco, for which she had made no other known plans, was set

Fortlouis’s sighting of her has long been regarded as a “meaningful coincidence,” to use Carl Jung’s phrase. The first of a sequence of coincidences that suggest a pattern but may have been nothing more than chance. The first is that Fortlouis happened to cross paths with Rappe at the Palace Hotel; the second is that he happened to know the director Fred Fishback personally and knew he was in town; the third is that he got to know Rappe’s manager Al Semnacher well enough to accompany him on some business on Bush Street during the course of the party; and finally that on the day Rappe died, he, until that week unknown to Maude Delmont, was beckoned by her for an evening tête-à-tête.

This last coincidence is the most curious. Fortlouis would seem an unlikely choice to be comforting Delmont. But though they had only recently become acquainted, Delmont had been with Fortlouis at the party at the time of the incident (perhaps, locked in the bathroom of room 1221 when Rappe wanted to use it and was denied entry by Delmont—one of those details an editor would have censored at the time). So rather than a conversation with a friend, the late night meeting might have been an effort by either Delmont or Fortlouis to discuss what they remembered of the event in case they were subpoenaedThis sounds speculative until one learns that Fortlouis later made a statement to District Attorney Brady claiming Delmont couldn’t have heard Rappe screaming because he was with her in Room 1221 at the time and heard nothing. It was a statement that would jeopardize Delmont’s credibility and the foundations of the charges.

Save for an appearance before a grand jury and a coroner’s inquest, Fortlouis never took the stand—no doubt a relief to him as this wasn’t the first sex scandal in which he was associated. (In a January 1914 trial in Portland, Oregon, Fortlouis had to admit to having intimate relations with a married woman in shared staterooms aboard steamships plying up and down the Pacific Northwest coast.) Instead, he was left alone to watch the Arbuckle trials as a spectator, Zelig-like, the silent witness who innocently set the tragic event in motion. He was even interviewed at one point and said that his motivation for getting Rappe to Arbuckle’s suite was that he could see she needed work, that she was down on her luck.]

Guest Tells Police Party Was ‘Noisy’

Ira G. Fortlouis, Traveling Salesman, “Heard No Screaming” and “Knew of No Injuries”

Here is the statement of Ira G. Fortlouis, traveling salesman, as made to Detective Sergeant John Dolan and Detective Thomas F. Reagan at the Hall of Justice yesterday [September 10, 1921]:

I got in town Sunday, September 4, 1921. Somebody told me that Fischbach was in town. I called him up at the St. Francis and left word for him to call me. He did not call me up and I called him up Monday at 8:30 a.m. He told me to come and say “Hello.”

I was walking out of the Palace Hotel about 11 a.m. and saw a very stylish girl. I asked somebody who was standing there who she was. He said she was Miss Rappe, the moving picture actress.

I went up to the St. Francis and called up Freddy Fishbach [sic] and he introduced me to Arbuckle and Sherman.

We sat there and talked for a long time and in the course of the conversation I mentioned the fact that I had just seen Miss Rappe and asked the boys if they knew her. Someone of the party said he knew her and asked when I had seen her. I told them I had seen her in the lobby of the Palace Hotel.

Someone in the party phoned to Miss Rappe.

Miss Rappe phoned a little later and asked for the room number. She thought they were stopped at the Palace Hotel [my italics]. Miss Rappe came up to the room some time in the afternoon. I think this was about 12:30 p.m. This was Monday, September 5, 1921.

I was introduced to her and Sherman was introduced. There were four of us in the room at the time—Fischbach, Arbuckle, Sherman and myself.

Shortly afterward Mrs. Delmont came in the room. Miss Rappe introduced her to everybody. We had lunch and drinks were served. I had Scotch highballs. Miss Rappe had nothing to drink at that time that I remember of. Mrs. Delmont had a drink at the same time. The women ate none of the lunch.

I know of no injury that occurred to Miss Rappe while I was in the room and the first I heard of her injuries was the following day.

I could not say that Miss Rappe and Arbuckle were in the room all the time I was present.

Fischbach left about 2:30 p.m. I asked him if I would see him again and he said he would be back in about an hour.

They all had drinks and someone telephoned downstairs to send up a phonograph. the phonograph came up. I went into the bathroom in Sherman’s room and Sherman came in the bathroom and pounded on the door and told me to hurry up and get out of the room, as reporters were coming up to interview Arbuckle.

I wanted to go into the other room. They told me to go through the hallway, and in going through the hallway I asked where Fred Fischbach was. He came to the door and I told him I was going down to the club and would meet him down there. I didn’t understand the object in rushing me out that way. I judge the time I left the room between 2:30 and 4 p.m.

While I was in the room, Arbuckle and Miss Rappe were sitting near each other and kidding one another. Miss Rappe was drinking gin and orange juice. The party was drinking considerable liquor. There was considerable noise, but I heard no screaming.

I phoned from my room to Miss Rappe, having heard that the party ended disastrously and she was ill in her room at the Palace Hotel and was informed that she had left the hotel. This was the next day. Then I phoned the St. Francis and got Mrs. Delmont on the phone and she told me that Miss Rappe was injured internally and was very sick.

Last night [September 9] I was in the St. Francis Hotel. Somebody said the girl had died. I heard that there was something wrong as regards her death. Mrs. Delmont said that.

During the time I was in the room Arbuckle was dressing. He was wearing pyjamas, and when the girls came in he put on a dressing robe.

When I got back to the Palace Hotel last night there was a phone call from room 1227, St. Francis Hotel, and I called up and Mrs. Delmont answered. She asked me what I thought of the affair, what a terrible thing it was, and I asked her if there was anything I could do for her. She said a couple of the young ladies were with her. She asked me to come up and see her, as she could not sleep. She wanted me to sit up with her until they came back. I said I would not come up alone, but if allowed to bring a friend I would come. I brought a friend and went there and sat there waiting for her friends to come back. I advised her to get a nurse. I made arrangements at the hotel office for a nurse and when she arrived, I left.

I make this statement freely and voluntarily; no threats or promises were made to induce me to give and sign this statement.

(signed) IRA G. FORTLOUIS

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 11 September 1921, p. 3.

“Jeff,” Virginia Rappe’s brindle bull terrier pup, and Rappe wearing an outfit similar to the one she wore on September 5, 1921 (Library of Congress)

The voyage out

[There are few points during the Arbuckle case that could serve as a set piece. The backstories, sideshows, and the Labor Day party and everything that flowed from it undulated in the press, in the American conscience, and the San Francisco courts for months. Aside from the brief time when Arbuckle and Rappe were alone in Room 1219 where what transpired remains a mystery, there are few logical places in the story where, say, a filmmaker might find a poignant event that encapsulates the whole. If there was such an episode in the case, it might be one that centered on Arbuckle after he left the St. Francis and left Virginia Rappe, alone and dying in room 1227. That event was Arbuckle’s night voyage back to Los Angeles on September 6, 1921. The following text is taken from our manuscript with only minor emendations for clarity.]

Roscoe Arbuckle, when he took the stand at his first trial in November 1921, claimed that he had booked passage aboard the SS Harvard in advance. The assertion was likely made to dissuade anyone from thinking that he had left San Francisco with a less than clear conscience about his Labor Day party and Virginia Rappe. He kept to this story and only diverged once, toward the end of his third trial in April 1922, when he explained that he came to San Francisco two days before the party for pleasure according to an AP wire story. “I had a new car to try,” he said, even though he had had his 1919 purple Pierce-Arrow for over a year. “Later I was going to the golf tournament at Del Monte.”[1] The coincidence that Al Semnacher had wanted to take Virginia Rappe to Del Monte the day before seems to have gone unnoticed until now.

Arbuckle and his entourage were indeed expected aboard the Harvard and delaying his travel during Paramount Week, an important publicity event, would have risked disappointing and insulting those who could cause trouble, among them Paramount chief Adolph Zukor.

The SS Harvard (r) and the SS Yale (l), San Pedro Harbor (Calisphere)

The Harvard, along with its sister ship, the Yale, provided daily passenger service between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and was scheduled to depart for Los Angeles at 4:00 p.m. For this particular voyage, Los Angeles restaurateur, Al Levy, owner of the famed Oyster Bar and Levy’s Cafe, was personally in charge of catering the trip—and Arbuckle, a regular at Levy’s, surely availed himself of what promised to be a sumptuous spread. There were also a number of important film people sailing to Los Angeles for Paramount Week, among them Sanford L. Walter, the San Francisco manager of the Paramount Film Exchange, and, perhaps, other familiar faces who happened to be in San Francisco for the holiday.

There was little chance that Arbuckle could leave town without being noticed. He had to be at pier 7 in time to have his Pierce-Arrow lifted by crane and lowered onto the rear deck of the Harvard, where it attracted attention throughout the voyage. A brief article in the San Francisco Chronicle poked fun at his person, calling him “considerable cargo.”[2]

“Elaborate arrangements,” it was reported, had been “made by Al Levy to provide a mirthful voyage, with “Fatty” as jester”—which suggests Arbuckle was expected along with his entourage. If the arrangements were as much business as travel, perhaps the comedian’s presence aboard the Harvard was the real purpose behind his brief stay in San Francisco, to position him for his on-board appearance.

This is the kind of information that Al Semnacher could have taken note of weeks beforehand and might have shared with Rappe. By this point though, Semnacher himself, was well on his way back to Los Angeles, driving his Stutz and without his two female passengers. Unlike Arbuckle or his companions, Fred Fishback and Lowell Sherman, Semnacher took the time to visit Rappe in Room 1227 on Tuesday morning. He spoke to Maude Delmont—but made no mention of Dr. Rumwell—and departed unworried for the time being. Delmont asked him to tell Rappe’s people—meaning the Hardebecks—that their adopted niece wasn’t coming home any time soon.

Semnacher had also gone to her room to retrieve her damaged garments and cheap jewelry to bring home. His explanation for doing so would become one of the mysteries of the Arbuckle case. Semnacher, also didn’t leave any money for the two women or, at least, not enough worth mentioning.

Doris Deane and Roscoe Arbuckle and their marriage license, May 1925 (Calisphere)

The sailing time from San Francisco to Los Angeles was eighteen hours with no ports of call in between. A troopship during the war, the Harvard had been fully restored into a luxury liner with luxurious staterooms and a new army of stewards, stewardesses, pages, and bellboys to serve her passengers. The brilliantly lit Veranda-Café Ballroom featured an orchestra and all-night dancing. On the port side of the ship, passengers could watch the California coast slip by and, if Arbuckle cared to notice the beautiful scenery lit by the setting sun followed by the twinkling lights on shore, it surely helped him to leave what happened on Labor Day behind. Another thing that helped him to forget was meeting a young woman to whom Fred Fishback had arranged an introduction, another striking dark-haired actress, Doris Deane. Fishback had some advance knowledge that she would be aboard the Harvard in the company of her mother.[3]

If Fishback was informally acting as Arbuckle’s wingman, arranging for him to meet eligible and attractive women, he had come through—perhaps for the second time in twenty-four hours. Arbuckle had a chance to see Deane on boarding and was immediately smitten. He invited both her and her mother to his stateroom after the Harvard unberthed. Later Deane sat with Arbuckle at the captain’s table. When he wasn’t playing “Fatty” for the other guests, he spoke with her with the same enthusiasm that he did with Rappe the day before.

Barely twenty years old, Deane had made her debut as representing the city of Los Angeles at the Pershing Victory Ball in January 1920. She was a skilled dancer and had already appeared in a few films, including Mabel Normand’s forthcoming Head over Heels (1922). Hired by Universal, she starred in the new South Seas romance, The Shark Master (1921), which had opened the first week of September. But she had left Universal and was looking for new prospects. Arbuckle, who was always on the lookout for new leading ladies, could hardly resist the opportunity to woo Miss Deane over to comedy. That evening, according to her, he was charming. He purchased her a box of Melachrino cigarettes—which featured cork or straw tips so as not to stain one’s fingers—and they talked of music, theatre, and books.

Melachrino cigarettes (Etsy)

Uninhibited by the thought of his estranged wife Minta Durfee thousands of miles away in New York City, Arbuckle asked Deane out for Saturday performance of a new stage comedy, The Ruined Lady (for which the young Humphrey Bogart was road manager) at the Majestic Theater. But Arbuckle and Deane didn’t go on their date. Instead, he made an unscheduled appearance at the Grauman’s Million Dollar Theater, which was showing his film Gasoline Gus for Paramount Week. From that day on, Deane would have to wait before she could safely appear in Arbuckle’s company again.


[1] Associated Press, “Arbuckle, Denying Evil Intent, Lays His Troubles to an Act of Mercy,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, 6 April 1922, 18.

[2] “Arbuckle on Harvard,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7 September 1921, 18.

[3] Deane herself is the source for her first encounter with Arbuckle. See Yallop.