100 Years Ago Today: “Fatty” Arbuckle pleads “not guilty”, October 13, 1921

On the day the United States outlawed the home brewing of beer and the New York Giants won the 1921 World Series over the New York Yankees, the Arbuckle case saw another milestone.

In the company of his lawyers, Milton Cohen and Charles Brennan, Roscoe Arbuckle entered San Francisco’s Hall of Justice and appeared before Superior Court Judge Harold Louderback.[1] There he was formally arraigned for manslaughter in the death of Virginia Rappe. When asked how he intended to plea, Arbuckle, in a loud voice, shouted “My plea is not guilty.”

Despite insisting on a trial date of October 31, District Attorney Matthew Brady allowed the defense time to prepare for trial and a new date of November 7 was set—despite that date falling in the same week as Election Day and Armistice Day.

Still from a Keystone travelogue featuring Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand touring the Panama–Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, April 1915. A good portion of the footage is devoted to the Australian convict transport Success. This rather morbid and ironic exhibit, given what was to come, provided the couple with many opportunities for sight gags they performed with the ship’s flogging rack, shackles, irons, and the like. Here an officer introduces Arbuckle and Normand to an Iron Maiden. Arbuckle later gives the Iron Maiden a kiss. (Library of Congress)

[1] Gavin McNab had not yet been announced as Arbuckle’s new chief counsel.

Composing a Nota Bene (N.b.) and filling the pornographic void of the Arbuckle case

We welcome other acknowledgements of the centenary of the Arbuckle scandal, especially the piece at Silentology and its sequel and the credit extended to the pioneering work of Joan Myers. Silentology’s new entries remind us of another centenary being observed, the hundredth anniversary of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicuss (1921) and its limitation, that “what can be said at all can be said clearly” and “what cannot be said must be passed over in silence.” This problem very much exists for the Arbuckle case, for it is hard to be silent about it and hard to know when to shut up.

What is he doing in this blog? Ludwig Wittgenstein and his chalkboard, early 1930s

This thought may appear as a nota bene (regard well in Latin) or headnote for a chapter provisionally titled “The Life of the Party.” Here we reimagine Arbuckle’s Labor Day party as it evolves and devolves following Virginia Rappe’s crisis in room 1219. We believe that witness descriptions of events were self-censored so often the number of voids and circumlocutions left the prosecution few stable details with which to piece together a consistent narrative for the jury.

There are clues, indeed, one specific word that gives a hint at what was being covered up in the testimony. That word was “rough” and it was the term chosen by the state’s chief witness, the so-called “Avenger,” Maude Delmont to describe the party. It was used again by a minor witness, Betty Campbell, who was dismissed early but was rather loquacious about the latter half of the party. In the parlance of the early twentieth century, this wasn’t just sexual harassment, that women tolerated. It was aggressive touching, disrobing, grabbing breasts and crotches, giving in to dancing topless or even nude, and relenting to being pulled into side bedrooms for foreplay and sex.

Women were expected to go along with this and not be “party poopers,” so to speak. If a woman didn’t want to be dragged into a room, she shouldn’t be at the party. The testimonies about the Arbuckle party make it sound less licentious than this but at least two woman, Mae Taube and Joyce Clarke, were uncomfortable enough to get out of there.

One need only look at the blue movies and photographs from this era to know what Delmont and Campbell meant: coitus with men still wearing their garters, stockings, and shoes. (This is almost de rigueur in Roaring Twenties pornography). The testimony of every eyewitness tiptoes around this. It is the story that Maude Delmont might have been willing to tell but couldn’t. Graphic details were censored from her published statement.

District Attorney Matthew Brady’s surprise witness at the preliminary investigation in September (the Police or Women’s Court session), was the hotel maid Josephine Keza. She could see into room 1220 and watch men and women in a state of undress. This is what a “rough” party looks like, a sex party.

So, what do we say before one delves into “The Life of the Party”? Given what we have to work with, Occam’s Razor must be tossed out or used in a different way. Three of the principal attendees had excuses for not being there at the crucial moments. Were these excuses scripted and practiced? Was Semnacher indeed elsewhere at the opportune times such that he saw, heard, and said nothing. (He was compared to an evil little monkey by a S.F. clergyman writing for the Examiner.) Did Fishback really go off looking for seals to include in a future movie? He was on hand for most of the party up till then. Lowell Sherman’s testimony that he was too busy on the phone discussing a theater engagement to pay attention to what was happening around him, was proven false when it surfaced that he was with Delmont in a bathroom during the period Arbuckle and Rappe were alone together. Even Ira Fortlouis who was allegedly kicked out of the party earlier made a statement that he was with Delmont at the time that Rappe was allegedly screaming for help.

What we have seen in some of Arbuckle’s offhanded and callous remarks, made before his lawyers silenced him, was this disappointment in Rappe, that she had spoiled his party, that she wasn’t fun anymore, like some broken toy. Therein lies part of the mystery of what happened between these two.

Here, of course, there are several ways to speculate what happened including some that haven’t been raised yet. For example, during his first trial, Arbuckle took the stand and explained that he found Rappe on the floor of room 1219’s bathroom and proceeded to help her to his bed. Is it possible her bladder ruptured when she fell from the toilet or rolled off of his bed, etc.?

Reading the medical journals of the early twentieth century on cystitis and bladder rupture, there are rare instances when, if one cannot urinate readily and tries to force him- or herself to do so, bears down, his or her bladder can burst from the effort, go into shock, be unable to walk.

Imagine Arbuckle waiting on his bed, his potency on the wane, his sweaty back leaching into the sheets, and calling out, “Virginia, please hurry!”

Don’t laugh. This may seem in keeping with the feverish mind of Kenneth Anger, who tried to stick a Coke bottle where it didn’t belong, but it can’t be ruled out that this began as a consensual encounter and was interrupted by a medical emergency unrelated to Arbuckle altogether. Had Rappe’s crisis come purely from excessive fluid retention, it might explain why Arbuckle didn’t express remorse or accept blame for what happened to her.

So, we must have a headnote that tells the reader that the party that Zey Prevost, Alice Blake, Al Semnacher et al. describe reads as too innocent, as if sex wasn’t on the minds of any of these unchaperoned, lubricated attendees. Was the party little more than an afternoon open house or was it something more uninhibited? The possibility of the latter is the first of many “thought experiments,” a term we liberally borrow as well from Dr. Wittgenstein.

100 Years Ago Today: Henry Lehrman’s 1,000 tiger lilies for Virginia Rappe (and a fur for his Follies girl), September 17, 1921

On Saturday morning, September 17, 1921, Arbuckle woke once more inside cell no. 12 of San Francisco’s Hall of Justice, having been denied bail the day before. A murder charge still hung over his head as he sat on the edge of his cot. It would be determined over the coming days at a preliminary investigation in a special Police Court session the known as the “Women’s Court,” which limited the intimidating number and often rude behavior of male spectators.

Meanwhile, on that same morning, in Los Angeles’ Central Station, a reporter witnessed the lid removed from the crate in which Rappe’s silver coffin had been shipped. But what he saw first was the striking orange blanket of a thousand tiger lilies.

The casket of Virginia Rappe and the tiger lily blanket (American Florist)

The flowers had been ordered by Rappe’s putative fiancé, Henry Lehrman, from San Francisco’s master florist, Albert O. Stein at the cost of $150 (over $2,200 adjusted for inflation).[1] The choice of such flowers had been deliberate—and, perhaps, at the suggestion of Mr. Stein whose work in floral arrangements for funerals, public events, table decorations, altar pieces, chuppahs for Jewish weddings, and the like made him the go-to for making the best impression.

As Lehrman said to the press more than once already, Virginia Rappe had fought off Arbuckle “like a tiger.”

Two weeks later, in early October, Lehrman still neglected to pay the $150 invoice. But his checkbook was open for a mink coat, which he gave to his new girlfriend, a Ziegfeld Follies girl and aspiring actress, Jocelyn Leigh, who, like Rappe, was another Chicago native.

The check for $75 bounced, as Miss Leigh learned when she returned to the furrier to buy some accessories on credit.

Albert O. Stein was still trying to collect his fee on the day Arbuckle was acquitted in April 1922.

Jocelyn Leigh (Tattler, May 1922)

[1] See “Arbuckle Fate Up to Jury, Belief,” San Francisco Chronicle, 12 April 1922, 3.

100 Years Ago Today: A Coroner’s Jury holds Arbuckle guilty of manslaughter, September 14, 1921

After three days of testimony, including the only time that Maude Delmont took the stand, San Francisco Coroner T. B. W. Leland instructed eight jurors to render a verdict. Doctors who treated Rappe or conducted the autopsy performed on her body testified as did eyewitnesses who attended Roscoe Arbuckle’s Labor Day party.

On the afternoon of September 14, 1921, the jury deliberated for hours and issued the following verdict.

We find that the said Virginia Rappe, female, white, aged about 25 years, single, residence Los Angeles, Cal., nativity unknown, occupation unknown, came to her death on September 9, 1921, at the Wakefield Sanatorium, from rupture of the bladder, contributory cause, acute peritonitis.

And we further find that said Virginia Rappe came to her death from peritonitis caused by a rupture of the urinary bladder. Said rupture was caused by the application of some force which, from the evidence submitted, we believe was applied by one Roscoe Arbuckle. We, the undersigned jurors, therefore charge said Roscoe Arbuckle with the crime of manslaughter.

We, the jury, recommend that the district attorney of San Francisco in conjunction with the grand jury, the chief of police, and the federal probation officials, take steps to prevent the recurrence of affairs similar to the one in which this young woman lost her life, so that San Francisco shall not be made the rendezvous of the debauchee and gangster.

Colbert Coldwell

A. T. Hunter

Eugene Simmons

R. J. Goff

W. Garner Smith

James Ging

W. E. MacPherson

Roscoe Arbuckle sharing some make-up with Lila Lee, 1921 (Library of Congress)

An eighth juror, Ben Boas, a bond broker, provided a minority verdict that agreed with his fellow jurors on all points save that “from the evidence submitted I am unable to determine who was responsible for the application of said force.” Eventually, his minority opinion would become the majority in subsequent venues of the Arbuckle case.

Source: “Manslaughter Charged against Arbuckle by Coroner’s Jury,” San Francisco Examiner, 15 September 1921, 1.

100 Year’s Ago Today: Bambina Maude Delmont takes the stand for the first and last time, September 13, 1921

[The following is taken from or work-in-progress, in which we describe the testimony at the second session of the Coroner’s Court, conducted by San Francisco County Coroner T. B. W. Leland before an all-male jury. Following her appearance, her importance to the prosecution of Arbuckle quickly faded. Nevertheless, District Attorney Matthew Brady kept open the possibility that she might appear in court again as late as March 1922, during the third Arbuckle trial.

We have various theories about why Delmont wasn’t put on the stand again at any subsequent venue related to the Arbuckle case. One of these is that much of what she stated behind closed doors and even in the Coroner’s Court was “unprintable.” It is usually assumed that her account of events differed so greatly from others’ statements that it was deemed unreliable and too much of a risk to the prosecution.

When the defense had an opportunity to call her to the stand, they refused. Of course, her describing the real nature of Arbuckle’s party may have been the cause. By having his Labor Day party in a hotel suite, Arbuckle may have thought he’d found a loophole in a Hollywood maxim cited in Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, to wit, “never do before the camera what you would not do at home and never do at home what you would not do before the camera.”] 

Still dressed in black, Maude Delmont was again aided by a policewoman who, beside her, made Delmont appear taller. Delmont looked tense, fragile, ten years older than her real age (late thirties), and hardly what one would imagine of a flinty, hard-drinking daughter of a frontier dentist. The corners of her mouth drooped, her dark hair showed strands of gray. Kinder reporters saw her crow’s feet as “lines of sorrow” that suggested an “intimacy of years” spent with Rappe. The intimacy was quickly revealed to be less than a week. “But friendship,” Delmont said, “cannot be reckoned by the clock. The moment I met Virginia I felt there was a real bond between us. We were together every minute almost after we met, and it seems to us now as though I’d always known and loved her.”[1]

Delmont faced a packed courtroom, including Arbuckle sitting between two policemen and wearing a new blue Norfolk jacket with a pair of knickerbocker trousers. His bloodshot eyes were fixed on Delmont while he squeezed and twisted his green golf cap in his fists and leaned forward in his chair just behind the railing that separated him from the defense counsel’s table. At times he yawned, either tired or bored, and said nothing to his lawyers

After identifying herself and where she lived, Delmont drank deeply from a glass of cold water. She put the glass down, asked for warm water, and the inquest was held up while a coffee cupful was brought to her. As though by rote, with lines almost certainly rehearsed beforehand, Delmont repeated much of the same story she had told in her original statement, as it appeared in the press albeit with changes that were hardly negligible, which got the attention of everyone at the defense table.

With trembling hands, Delmont took sip after sip of warm water so as not to lose her voice or composure. She described everything in “minutest detail” from the trip to Selma to the Palace Hotel breakfast, where a bellhop handed Rappe a note inviting her to Arbuckle’s suite at the St. Francis Hotel. Delmont said the note read, “Come on up and say hello.” It bore Arbuckle’s signature.

Delmont made no mention of Fred Fishback or Ira Fortlouis playing any role in the invitation. Instead, she went on to the Labor Day party and once more reporters were forced to censor themselves rather and give only the gist. Instead of being forced into room 1219, Delmont no longer would say that Arbuckle had dragged Rappe by the wrist. Nor did she repeat that he had always wanted Rappe since 1916. Delmont made it seem as though Rappe entered that room of her own free will to use its bathroom. Then Arbuckle immediately followed Rappe. When she came out of the bathroom, Delmont saw them talk for a moment in the middle of the bedroom. “I can’t say if he went into the bathroom with her,” she said at one point. I guess he dragged her in.” But this last statement was not allowed to stand. Delmont, however, said she saw Arbuckle walk past Miss Rappe and close the connecting doors between 1220, the parlour room, and his bedroom. When a juror asked Delmont if she had verbally objected to when Arbuckle locked the door on himself and Rappe, Delmont said no.

Fifteen minutes passed before Delmont began to worry about Rappe. “I didn’t see why Virginia would not come out,” Delmont said. “I didn’t think it was nice for her to be in there with Mr. Arbuckle.”

Other accounts of the same testimony suggested that Delmont was alerted to something wrong not by Rappe’s silence but by her scream at one point.

“What was the nature of the scream,” Leland asked.

“As a woman in agony,” replied Delmont.

There was no response from inside room 1219 as Delmont tried to get Rappe’s attention. “Then I became angry,” Delmont said, “and I kicked ten or twelve times on the door of the room, but there wasn’t a sound.” After more time passed, Delmont called the desk. Harry Boyle took the call and came up at once and his presence in room 1220 prompted Arbuckle to open the door of 1219.

Touched-up and discarded photograph of Maude Delmont, September 13, 1921 (Calisphere)

Delmont continued, describing what happened after she, Zey Prevost, and Alice Blake entered Arbuckle’s bedroom up until Rappe was carried out. Throughout her testimony, however, Dr. Leland could hear that Delmont had changed her original story. Perhaps getting looks from Arbuckle’s lawyers, Dr. Leland interrupted Delmont and lectured her on the significance of her testimony as a complaining witness.

“I am here to tell just the truth,” she protested. Nevertheless, Leland warned the witness to “consider her statements well.”

“Maybe I am leading you,” he continued, attempting to tease additional details from Delmont, whom he presumed to be fatigued from a night of Grand Jury testimony.

“Sometimes people go to sleep and just say yes,” Leland said.

“I’m not asleep,” Delmont replied and candidly added, “for I had a little hypodermic before I came here, and I am all right.”

Observers took her to mean an injection of morphine, of which dry mouth is a tell-tale side effect. Her drinking, too, raised eyebrows and made for the logical impression that she was an alcoholic—morphine being a temporary palliative for the side effects of alcohol abuse, including delirium tremens. Delmont admitted to drinking on the way up from Los Angeles to San Francisco—six whiskies while in Selma alone.

Dr. Leland asked about her prodigious capacity on Labor Day afternoon. Delmont admitted to drinking “eight or ten drinks of Scotch whisky.”

“Were you beginning to feel the effect of the drinks?” Leland asked.

“Undoubtedly,” Delmont answered. She had been dancing, as well, and getting very hot in her black dress. “So I asked Mr. Sherman if he would mind if I slipped on some pajamas and he said, ‘No, certainly not’ and he took me into his room, got a suit of his pajamas from a dresser drawer and went out while I put them on.”

Dr. Leland asked Delmont about what Rappe and Arbuckle had to drink. Rappe may have had two or three drinks, both gin and orange juice. Rappe, said Delmont, was more interested in dancing and having a good time. Leland pressed on, asking if it were possible that Rappe had been drinking before Delmont had been allowed to join the Labor Day party.

“She was there only five minutes,” Delmont said in disbelief, “and common sense will tell you that she couldn’t have had many.”


[1] The following passage is adapted from “Woman Witness Tells Why She Is Actor’s Nemesis,” Oakland Tribune, 13 September 1921, 2; United Press, “Arbuckle Sees Ray of Hope,” [Long Beach] Daily Telegram, 13 September 1921, 1; “Sensational Details of Party Told at Virginia Rappe Inquest,” San Francisco Chronicle, 14 September 1921, 7; and Robert H. Willson, “Stories Told Coroner Jury Conflicting,” San Francisco Examiner, 14 September 1921, 4; and A.P. Night Wire, “Proceedings of the Day,” Los Angeles Times, 14 September 1921, 1, 2.

100 Years Ago Today: The Grand Jury meets to hear witnesses, September 12, 1921

Given that Arbuckle was the highest paid actor in 1921 and made millions more for hundreds of theater owners and others, District Attorney Matthew Brady grasped the magnitude of the case and his greatest fear was witness tampering. He knew that, as Roscoe Arbuckle waited for the Oakland Ferry for the last stretch of their trip, his lawyer Frank Dominguez had made a telephone call to the police, assuring that Arbuckle would turn himself in. But he suspected another call was made, to Arbuckle’s new lawyer in San Francisco, Charles Brennan, to learn of any developments that they would need to get ahead of.

What has gone under-appreciated in the early days of the Arbuckle case, indeed, in the hours after Rappe died on September 9, is how quickly Arbuckle responded to the possibility of his arrest and the accusation of murder against him. By midnight, a strategy meeting convened in the office of Sid Grauman’s Million Dollar Theater, attended by two lawyers, a friendly journalist from the Los Angeles Times as well as three men who attended the ill-fated party.

In the annals of crisis communications, what was accomplished for Arbuckle could be the first modern example.

One aspect of this was to neutralize the witnesses who might inflict the most damage to the defense by making them aware of the risk–reward of doing so.

For an aspiring entertainer, Zey Prevost was just such a person. She had made a statement to police on Saturday, September 10, the day Arbuckle and his team spent driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Two days later, on the day the Grand Jury was to meet, she asked to change her story and remove any testimony that could be used to make Arbuckle responsible for the injury that led to Virginia Rappe’s death. Later, she testified in another venue that she had been approached by another of Arbuckle’s lawyers, Charles Brennan, on Market Street in San Francisco.

Q: What did Mr. Brennan say to you?

A: Just asked me if I had a lawyer—if I needed a lawyer, to tell him. I said “Sure.”

Q: Did he ask you anything further about remaining in town, or going out?

A: He asked me about staying in town. I said “I may stay in town a few days until this thing is over.”[1]

This was all she said of her conversation with Brennan. But she went away from it committed to undermining Brady’s case against Arbuckle before it even got off the ground. Only a threat of perjury and jail time convinced her to keep to her original statement. In any event, the defense, over time, was able to convince jury members to vote for acquittal in part because Brady allegedly coerced his witnesses to say what he wanted to hear.

If Prevost was somehow rewarded for her loyalty, it didn’t amount to much. She was signed as a vaudeville act a few weeks after the third trial. But that was short-lived and her career as a comedienne was soon over.

Alice Blake, a friend of Zey Prevost, was also seen as a “coerced” witness (Calisphere)

[1] See People vs. Arbuckle, 316–317.

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.

Bit Player #7: Albert Martin, Arbuckle’s cellmate (if he had only written a book)

Soon after he was arraigned in San Francisco’s Hall of Justice, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle didn’t return to the room that he had taken at the Palace Hotel, where the rest of his entourage were staying. Instead, he spent that first night in cell number 12 of the San Francisco County Jail.

During the night before and into the early morning, the comedian suffered the indignity of being under arrest. Nevertheless, Arbuckle had no trouble falling asleep after his long day, which included a long drive from Los Angeles that began around three that morning.

When the comedian woke, he surely noticed what the Morris DeHaven Tracy (M. D. in his bylines), West Coast correspondent for the United Press, described as “cabalistic marks” on the cell walls made by previous occupants. One composition in yellow chalk featured a figure labeled “Gloom” shaking hands with “Joy.” Under another drawing, which was left to readers’ imaginations, the artist had written “Little Mary and her lamb.”[1]

Arbuckle summoned the warden and complained about the darkness of his new accommodations—and the loneliness. He asked for a cellmate and was given the privilege of selecting one from among eighty inmates. Arbuckle chose Albert Martin, a handsome young man with dark hair and brown eyes and the photogenic looks of an actor. Martin also looked clean, tailored, normal, like someone else who shouldn’t be in jail.[2]

The Los Angeles Record published one of the few photographs taken of Albert Martin in cell 12 (Newspapers.com)

Martin was a traveling salesman. He had recently been arrested for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” under Section 268 of the Penal Code. Whether Arbuckle knew or found out later, he probably deduced that Martin was a pedophile. But that likely made little difference to the comedian. Arbuckle knew gay actors, extras, and crew in the movie business and he was tolerant and even protective toward them. He may have been protecting Martin, who was surely grateful for being moved from the general population who knew the real nature of his crime—he had allegedly raped a boy.

Soon Martin found himself the recipient of Arbuckle’s good will, eating catered meals, getting shaved by a visiting barber, and listening to the comedian’s jokes, high talk, and troubles. Martin, in kind, attended to Arbuckle as his jailhouse valet. In October, Albert’s case went to trial and he was convicted of sodomy. In November, he was sentenced to serve an “indeterminant term” in San Quentin Prison.[3] He was still there, in the prison’s asylum, as late as 1926.

Imagine the book Martin could have written about his two weeks with “Fatty” Arbuckle.

Albert Martin, San Quentin mugshot, November 1921 (Ancestry.com)

[1] United Press, “Prosecutor to Ask Murder Indictment in Arbuckle Case,” St. Louis Star, 12 September 1921, 1.

[2] Erroneously identified as “Fred Martin” in some newspapers.

[3] “Fatty’s Cellmate Is Sent to Prison,” San Francisco Examiner, 8 November 1921, 10.

100 Years Ago Today: Dismissing Dr. Beardslee, September 6, 1921

Perhaps the worst decision made by Roscoe Arbuckle and whoever had his ear was to let Maude Delmont stay with Virginia Rappe in room 1227 of the St. Francis Hotel.

Although she didn’t pretend to be a real nurse, she assumed the authority of one. (Delmont’s  younger sister, with whom she lived from time to time, was indeed a registered nurse.)

When the second hotel physician, Dr. Arthur Beardslee, came to see Rappe, he realized that this wasn’t the usual patient with a stomach ache from overindulging on rich food from the hotel kitchen or alcoholic beverages—as Delmont said. What he saw was a young woman he believed needed to be taken to a hospital for immediate surgery. But Dr. Beardslee erred on the side of hospitality, being a hotel doctor, and gave Rappe morphine injections to keep her quiet.

Meanwhile, Delmont had been going back and forth between room 1227 and the reception room of Arbuckle’s suite, room 1220.

The people in that room decided against sending Rappe to the nearby St. Francis Hospital, where Dr. Beardslee was a resident. That risked “notoriety.”

Dr. Arthur Beardslee (FamilySearch.com)

Delmont never disputed this decision. She returned to room 1227 and was satisfied with the effects of the morphine. She also convinced Dr. Beardslee that the only thing wrong with Rappe was gas. She suggested having an enema bag and Dr. Beardslee ordered one.

When he was gone, Delmont gave Rappe the enema, apparently with expertise and little mess. But undoubtedly the experience for Rappe was no less excruciating than her ruptured bladder.

Only Dr. Beardslee suspected the true nature of the injury. On his last visit, in the wee hours of Tuesday, September 6, he catheterized Rappe and extracted a little urine and clotted blood. The results alarmed him but he suppressed any expression of urgency given, perhaps, the inconvenient hour.

Still deferential to Delmont, Dr. Beardslee could only advise that his patient—whose name he incredibly failed to learn—be taken by ambulance to the hospital. Delmont, exercising a kind of medical power-of-attorney before there was ever such a thing, elected not to do so. Rappe would be treated in her hotel room.

Later that Tuesday morning, Dr. Beardslee was informed by Maude Delmont that her personal friend, a famous San Francisco surgeon who had performed an operation on her in the past, Dr. Melville Rumwell, would take over the case.

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)