The Arbuckle Case
Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle (1887 – 1933) was a silent film actor who, in 1918, was the highest paid actor in the world being the first to sign a contract for $1 million a year with Famous Players-Lasky (the studio that would later become Paramount). A talented comedian, he stared in some 162 films, was as popular as Charlie Chaplin in his day and gave Buster Keaton his start in film. However, his career was all but ruined in 1921 when he was accused of the manslaughter of 30 year old starlet Virginia Rappe.
Rappe, who had started her career as a model and fashion designer, attended a party that Arbuckle hosted at the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco on Monday 5th September 1921. Four days later she died in hospital of peritonitis caused by a ruptured bladder after having been found seriously ill in room 1219, the room that Arbuckle had checked into. Rappe’s companion at the party, Bambina Maude Delmont, initially claimed that Rappe had been raped but with doctors finding no evidence of such an attack police surmised that the impact of Arbuckle’s large body on Rappe had caused her bladder to rupture.
Arbuckle faced three trials. The first commenced on 14th November 1921 and ended with the jury failing to reach a decision with 10 – 2 in favour of a not guilty verdict. The second commenced on 11th January 1922 and again ended in indecision with a 9 - 3 guilty verdict. The third and final trial began on 13th March 1922 and ended with a unanimous not guilty verdict after the jury deliberated for just six minutes, five of which were spent penning an apology to Arbuckle. The apology read out by the foreman of the jury was as follows;
“Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was our only plain duty to give him this exoneration. There was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story on the witness stand, which we all believed. The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgment of fourteen men and women who have sat listening for thirty-one days to the evidence that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.”
Despite the jury’s hopes Arbuckle’s career never did fully recover, following the acquittal Will H. Hays, head of the newly formed Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) cited Arbuckle as an example of loose morals in Hollywood and banned him from ever working in the US film industry again. Following consultation with the studios he also cancelled all showings and bookings of Arbuckle films. This ban would eventually be lifted in December of 1922, but Arbuckle would not find work in front of the camera for another ten years.
When Dick states that “no power on Earth could keep the smear off Rosemary” he is likely referring to this long term effect.