“Such Friends”:  100 years ago, December 4, 1921, City Courthouse, San Francisco, California

Roscoe Arbuckle, 34, is awaiting the jury’s verdict in his trial for manslaughter in the death of 26-year-old actress Virginia Rappe, after a drunken party in a hotel on Labor Day this year.

Arbuckle has protested his innocence since the day he was arrested. His attorney is optimistic about an acquittal.

Roscoe Arbuckle mug shot

The prosecutor, Matthew A. Brady, 46, has made this a show trial which will help his planned run for governor. He has used this as an opportunity to paint Roscoe, known to his fans as “Fatty,” as a sexually depraved lecher. Just like all those other scum down in Hollywood.

However, Brady is not able to put his star prosecution witness, a friend of the victim who was at the party, on the stand because there is evidence she has been trying to extort money from Arbuckle. Such as a telegram she sent to lawyers in San Diego: 

WE HAVE ROSCOE ARBUCKLE IN A HOLE HERE CHANCE TO MAKE SOME MONEY OUT OF HIM.”

Of course, the whole story has been splashed over the front pages since the day it broke. Publisher William Randolph Hearst, 58, claims that this is selling more newspapers for him than the sinking of the Lusitania six years ago.

But even Roscoe’s estranged wife, Minta Durfee, 32, has stood by him, showing up in court for support. Someone actually shot at her one day when she was coming to the courthouse!

Roscoe’s co-workers have publicly stated that he could never have raped or murdered anyone. Charlie Chaplin, 32, whom he’s known since their days at Keystone Pictures over seven years ago, told the papers that he “knew Roscoe to be a genial, easy-going type who would not harm a fly.” Buster Keaton, 26, issued a supportive statement also—and was promptly reprimanded by his studio.

But Arbuckle’s films have been pulled from theatres and his reputation is shot.

And William S. Hart, about to turn 57, whom Arbuckle has never worked with or even met, said he thought “Fatty” was guilty. Why can’t they call him Roscoe?!

Virginia Rappe

At the hospital, after examining Virginia, the doctor found no evidence of rape. At the hearing, the judge found no evidence of rape. The autopsy found there were no signs of violence on her body. The woman had a history of urinary infections, as well as getting quite drunk at parties, and curling up in pain.

Arbuckle’s attorney had witnesses ready to testify to Virginia’s sordid past. But Roscoe refused to let them. The poor woman is dead, for Chrissake.

At the end of the trial, last week, Arbuckle testified in his own defense. He remained surprisingly calm, and answered each question put to him.

Now the jury is back.

Deadlock. 10 to 2 not guilty. They could not reach a unanimous decision.

The judge declares a mistrial.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and in print and e-book formats on Amazon. If they can’t get it to you in time for gift giving, I can. Email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

In January and February I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses at the Osher Lifelong Learning programs at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”:  Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

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