The Fatty Arbuckle Trial was momentous for the 1920s and the American Film Industry. During the time, the trial and scandal that he was associated with rocked the world, much like how scandals of celebrities today circulate as “big news”. But not only did the trial and scandal effect Arbuckle’s personal life, it also affected his career in a big way, causing its end and a change in the American Film Industry.
Originally born as Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle, “Fatty” was known as an American silent film actor. According to David Goldman, author of Fatty Arbuckle: The Fall of a Comic Giant, Arbuckle’s stardom surpassed Charlie Chaplin’s, and in 1916, Arbuckle was the “highest-paid movie star in the world” (Goldman).
On Labor Day weekend of 1921, Arbuckle was celebrating his new $1 million deal with Paramount, and decided to have a party at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, which was where the scandal set. Amongst the party goes, the aspiring actress, Virginia Rappe was present, but things took a turn for the worst during and after the party. The morning after one of the party during the holiday weekend, Rappe was feeling ill, and according to Marty Jones, author of HOLLYWOOD Scapegoat, “Rappe was dismissed as a victim of too much bathtub gin” and Rappe was moved to another room to sleep off the pain that she was feeling. Comes to Arbuckle’s surprise that Rappe was pronounced dead and he was under arrest for the murder of Virginia Rappe.
Arbuckle had three different trials for the rape and murder of Virginia Rappe. However the conclusive results of Rappe’s death did not involve rape at all. According to Marty Jones, author of Death of a Starlet, the evidence showed that Rapped was a victim of an illegal abortion, which showed that there was a tear in her bladder. Jones also says that when taken to a maternity hospital, Rappe’s organs, which could have potentially proved that she had an abortion, were removed and destroyed. The trial resulted in Arbuckle being not guilty and he was free of all charges. However, Arbuckle’s career was in jeopardy of this scandal.
Because of his scandal, according to Jones in HOLLYWOOD Scapegoat, the MPPDA needed to show that they were a strong force that wasn’t to be tested. They needed to sacrifice his career for all the scandals that were set in the film industry, i.e. the murder of William Desmond Taylor (Jones, HOLLYWOOD Scapegoat), and to show that they were a legitimate body that would set rules. As of April 18th, 1922, the MPPDA announced, “Arbuckle was banned from working in motion pictures” (Jones, HOLLYWOOD Scapegoat). But merely a year late, Arbuckle was working behind the scenes under a pseudonym of William Goodrich (Jones, HOLLYWOOD Scapegoat), and after 10 years later, Arbuckle was able to return back to the big screen. Arbuckle’s lack of presence in film for 10 years proved that the MPPDA, as Jones puts it in HOLLYWOOD Scapegoat, was “seen as an effective watchdog” and that “the motion picture industry had in its own hip pocket the ability to control public perception”.
In the end, Arbuckle faced a serious heart attack in 1933, causing his death. In one way, Arbuckle’s death signifies the end of an era involving scandals, who to believe, and the extreme consequences one must face.
1.) Arbuckle, Roscoe “Fatty”. Cinema Image Gallery. Web. 2 Oct. 2011.
2.) Goldman. “Fatty Arbuckle: The fall of a comic giant.” Biography 3.11 (1999): 24. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 28 Sept. 2011.
3.) Jones, Marty. “HOLLYWOOD Scapegoat.” American History 39.6 (2005): 40-47. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 29 Sept. 2011.
4.) Jones, Marty. “The Death of a Starlet.” American History 39.6 (2005): 45. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 29 Sept. 2011.