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1930s & Earlier / Fatty Arbuckle Scandal 1921
One of the most tragic figures in movie history was Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle. Arbuckle was among the most popular actors in silent comedies when his career abruptly ended in scandal. He was accused of sexually assaulting small-time actress Virginia Rappe at a party at a San Francisco hotel on Labor Day 1921. Rappe died shortly thereafter of a ruptured bladder, presumably caused by Arbuckle forcing himself on her. There was also an apocryphal story of Rappe being raped with a champagne or a cola bottle. A post-mortem on Rappe's body found no signs of sexual assault whatsoever. Rappe was hardly the virginal victim the popular press portrayed her to be. She had recently undergone one of her several illegal abortions. Rappe was also suffering from a chronic illness that was exacerbated by her taste for poor-quality Prohibition booze. Based solely on malicious gossip, Arbuckle was tried three times for manslaughter and spent nearly $700,000 on legal fees. The first two trials resulted in hung juries. (The first trial ended with the jury voting 10-2 in favor of acquittal. The second one, in which Arbuckle's lawyer advised him not to take the stand, was 9-3 in favor of conviction.) One juror from the first trial later noted that a fellow female juror, a radical feminist, announced that she had no intention of considering the evidence or looking at the transcipt of the testimoney because she had an unassailable preconceived notion of Arbuckle's guilt. At the third trial, the jury deliberated for just six minutes before returning with a unanimous not guilty verict. The jury also insisted that a formal apology to Arbuckle be read into the official transcript of the trial. Most film history buffs believe Arbuckle was innocent and was the victim of malicious prosecution. Nevertheless his acting career pretty much ended because of the adverse publicity. Despite the acquittal, film distributors refused to carry Arbuckle comedies. He directed films under an assumed name and was just beginning to make an acting comeback when died of heart failure in 1933 at age 46.