Hollywood Superstar’s Orgies With Prostitutes Killed His Career
Fatty Arbuckle (1887 – 1933) was an early superstar comic actor of the silent film era. Weighing about 300 pounds, he made a movie career out of tumbling, throwing pies, and being an all around lovable and jolly fat guy. He was also a Hollywood mover and shaker. He discovered and launched the careers of stars such as Bob Hope and Buster Keaton, and mentored Charlie Chaplain, who became his close friend.
Fatty Arbuckle also liked partying with prostitutes and loose women, and that ended up destroying his career and reputation. Disaster began with a wild party at a San Francisco hotel in September of 1921. Arbuckle and friends rented adjacent luxury suites, and invited several women, including prostitutes and aspiring actresses. At some point, one of the female invitees, Virginia Rappe, was found acting strangely in one of the suites. She was examined by the hotel’s doctor, who determined that she was extremely drunk, and gave her a shot of morphine to calm her.
A couple days later, she was rushed to a hospital, and a friend told doctors that Rappe had been raped by Fatty Arbuckle at the party. Rappe died the next day of peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder. Although medical examinations found no evidence of rape, newspapers had a field day, and printed increasingly salacious stories. Some articles claimed that Fatty Arbuckle had crushed Rappe with his excessive bulk while raping her. Others alleged that Arbuckle had penetrated Rappe with a piece of ice. That grew into accusations that he had ruptured Rappe by raping her with a bottle of Coca Cola or champagne.
Eventually, police went with the theory that the weight of the obese Arbuckle atop Virginia Rappe during an act had caused her bladder to rupture. Arbuckle denied any wrongdoing, but he was arrested and charged with essentially having raped the unfortunate Rappe to death. It was a major media event – the OJ Simpson criminal scandal of the day.
However, the prosecution’s case fizzled when it emerged that San Francisco’s District Attorney, who planned to run for California governor, had pressured witnesses into lying. The defense also obtained a letter from the state’s star witness, Rappe’s friend who had had first leveled accusations of rape, admitting that she had planned to extort money from Arbuckle.
Prosecutors produced little credible evidence at the trial, and medical experts demonstrated that Rappe’s bladder had been ruptured by an internal inflammation, not by an external force. The jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquittal, and a mistrial was declared. A second trial again ended in a 10-2 deadlock in favor of a not guilty verdict. A third trial was launched, and at its conclusion, the jury took just six minutes to return a unanimous verdict of not guilty. Although Arbuckle was exonerated, his reputation never recovered, and his career was effectively over.