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The Mammoth Book of Hollywood Scandals
Edited by Michelle Morgan
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This book is dedicated to my dear friend, Claire Hollies
Slater, who has been in my life since we were both
eleven years old. She is one of the strongest women I
know and will always be an inspiration to me.
To my grandparents, Bill, Lily, Cosimo Pacitti and
Pearl, for teaching me all about “the olden days” and
inspiring my love for times gone by.
And to the memory of my dear friend Ross
McNaughton, who was really looking forward to this
I would like to thank my friends and readers who not only pointed me in the direction of various scandals, but also provided a lot of information, help and support along the way. In that regard I would particularly like to thank Eric Woodard, Richard Kirby and Hanna Nixon, who all sent items that they felt would inspire my work on this project.
To my agent, Robert Smith; all the staff at Constable & Robinson, and my wonderful editor Howard Watson.
Christina Rice from the Los Angeles Public Library helped me so much during the writing of this book; while it seems clichéd to say that it could not have been written without her, I honestly believe that to be true.
I would like to thank my wonderful husband Richard, who has supported and loved me for the past twenty-six years, and Mum, Dad, Paul, Wendy and Angelina for always being there for me.
And last but by no means least, my gorgeous daughter Daisy, for inspiring me every single day for the past nine years. I love you, baby; all my dreams came true because of you.
“There are three sides to every story . . . His, hers and the truth.” – Anon
Some people consider Hollywood a location; some an industry; others a state of mind. To me, and for the purpose of this book, Hollywood is a combination of all three. Some of the scandals in this book happened in California where Hollywood is located, of course, while others may have happened elsewhere but are included here because the people concerned were (or are) part of the Hollywood industry and legend.
Within these pages you will read about strange deaths, tragedies, suicides, sex scandals, robberies, murders and much, much more. These scandals run the gamut from the days of silent films right up to the present day, and show that while times may change, the extraordinary lives people live and the things they get up to are the same now as they were a hundred years ago. People are drawn to scandal; scandal is drawn to them. It all goes on no matter if the star is from the 1920s or the present day.
This book covers over sixty different scandals from the high-profile – Whitney Houston’s death, the Fatty Arbuckle court case and the fatal stabbing of Lana Turner’s boyfriend – to those scandals long since forgotten, such as the death of actor Albert Dekker or the colourful life of boxer/actor Norman Selby. Some scandals are small; others so large I wondered if they would ever come to a conclusion, but all are revealing, tragic, outrageous and at times – such as the case of Zsa Zsa Gabor clobbering a policeman – somewhat entertaining.
When I first began writing this book, it became clear very early on that there was a huge amount of information to get through, and many areas to cover. With that in mind I decided that, rather than zip through every scandal with just an ounce of information, I really wanted to delve into the archives to bring out many facts about each and every story I wrote. With that in mind, each chapter is a story in itself – an investigation into the lives of the stars and the underbelly of Hollywood society – and it is my belief that no other book has been written which covers not only almost a hundred years of Hollywood scandals, but also in such an in-depth manner.
It has been an absolute pleasure to write this book; I have been introduced to many extraordinary stars and situations, and have really learned a great deal. In that regard I very much hope that you enjoy reading the finished book as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
The Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle Scandal
Hollywood has seen hundreds – maybe thousands – of scandals during the course of the past hundred years, but the first and probably most memorable one was the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle scandal, which brought Hollywood to its knees in the early 1920s.
Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle was born on 24 March 1887, in Kansas, to Mollie and William Goodrich Arbuckle. The saying goes that he weighed somewhere between fourteen and sixteen pounds at birth and his brother was so traumatized by the sight of him that he actually fled from the room. This was not the most positive of entrances to the world, and was made worse when his father wondered if such a huge child could possibly be his own. The birth – not surprisingly – was so horrific that Roscoe’s mother never fully recovered and the health problems she encountered afterwards were said to be contributory factors when she passed away twelve short years later.
But long before death came to the Arbuckle family, they moved to Santa Ana, California, where Roscoe developed a strong interest in the theatre. His mother tried desperately to encourage her child to develop what seemed to be a very natural talent, but this did not sit well with his father, who took to telling the child that he would go nowhere in life; especially in “the show business”. The frustrated Mollie complained bitterly that her husband was being too hard on the boy, but showing a strength of character that would do him good in the years to come, Roscoe carried on with his dream regardless and gained a job with the Frank Bacon stock company when he was just eight years old.
Shortly afterwards the child’s embittered father decided to leave the family and move to Watsonville, California, saying he was going to look for gold. Devastation later hit when Mollie passed away and it was decided that Roscoe should go to live with his father, since by this time he was the only child who was still living at home. The child did not find much comfort in the thought of living with the man who had laughed at his dreams and abandoned him completely, but he went to Watsonville anyway, anxious to discover if his father had changed in any way since he had last seen him. Unfortunately for Roscoe, however, on hearing that the child would be moving to his new home town, the neglectful father fled once again. By the time the child arrived at the train station, he was well and truly on his own.
With no choice but to raise and support himself, it was not long before Roscoe found his way into show business once again, singing songs in local theatres and, by 1904, working for entrepreneur Sid Grauman, firstly as a ticket taker and then as an entertainer at the Unique Theater in San Francisco. Thus began a theatre career which saw Roscoe touring not only the United States but China and Japan too, where his funny routines, clowning and singing were a huge hit with the vaudeville audience and he loved the attention he received.
By August 1908 Arbuckle was in Long Beach where he met a seventeen-year-old woman called Minta Durfee. Short and petite, she told him she was not interested in men of his size, but he soon won her over with his personality and together they set up a comedy duo and married several months later. After that, both their careers began to take off and they often acted together in early Hollywood comedies, the first being Fatty’s Day Off in 1913. But while things were going well in his life at last, there was still part of Roscoe Arbuckle that never got over the early death of his mother and abandonment by his father, as witnessed by Minta on many occasions during their marriage.
“He always said he would never live to be 50,” she told reporters. “We were married when we were just kids and he used to drive me to distraction when he said this.”
Roscoe’s career went off like a bullet when producer Mack Sennett took a shine to him and decided to offer him a contract. The producer was especially pleased at how agile the actor was, particularly given his huge size, and was impressed by the amount of acrobatic moves he could make for comedy value: back flips, somersaults, tumbles . . . he could do them all. The joy went both ways, as given the opportunity of signing with a studio, Roscoe was able to meet and work with Hollywood star Mabel Normand, as well as later mentoring future stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Arbuckle’s status as a comedic genius was now set in stone, and his future looked bright.
It wasn’t long before other studios started to develop a keen interest in the actor and a bidding war began which saw Paramount sign Roscoe on an unheard-of-million dollar contract in 1914. Sadly, the marriage between Minta and Roscoe was beginning to break down and they became estranged around the time the Paramount contract was drawn up. Some say the breakdown in the marriage came as a result of a clause in Arbuckle’s contract which forbade him to be married, which seems a little extreme but could nonetheless be true. However, the cause was more likely the fact that the couple had been through various personal tragedies in the recent past, including miscarriage and an inability to have children, and this most certainly would have added to their marital problems.
Talking about the end of the marriage some years later, Minta told reporters:
When we were married I was 17 and my husband was 21. That was back in 1908. Five years ago we agreed to disagree and I received a separate maintenance. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately, as you please, there are no children. We were not bitter against each other. We simply decided that we would remain good friends. Mr Arbuckle has been very generous in his treatment of me financially – I have not had to work during these years and last February he made me a present of a fine automobile.
As his marriage was breaking down, so too was the state of Roscoe’s health. He began drinking heavily, and after suffering from an infection in his leg in 1916, he became addicted to morphine. He was also developing a big distaste for his nickname, “Fatty”, which he had endured since childhood and was quickly overtaking his real name in terms of popularity. The characters he played were often also called “Fatty” and this was certainly the name by which the media and fans knew him, but it was something he wanted to get away from. He began encouraging everyone to call him Roscoe, and anyone caught calling him Fatty to his face would be met by the stern reply, “I’ve got a name you know!”
After a brief stint running his own film company, “Comique”, the actor went on to sign another lucrative contract with Paramount, this time for $3 million to make up to eighteen feature films. To say this was a scoop for Roscoe would be an understatement; $1 million was a fortune, but three? He was on top of the world. Unfortunately, his new-found position as a top earner in Hollywood left him wide open for trouble and in September 1921 Roscoe Arbuckle found out that the higher you climb, the further you fall, when all hell broke loose at a party he hosted during Labor Day weekend.
On Saturday, 3 September, the actor drove to San Francisco with friends Lowell Sherman and Fred Fischbach (who Americanized his surname to Fishback). Once there the three men checked into the St Francis Hotel, where they occupied adjoining rooms 1219, 1220 and 1221; numbers 1219 and 1221 being used to sleep, and 1220 as a reception/living room located between the two. The weekend started slowly and quietly with the three men being joined by two male friends for dinner, and then the next day some relaxation on the beach, before they later enjoyed a spot of dancing.
Then on Monday, 5 September, Roscoe slept late and at around 1 p.m. was still dressed in his pyjamas, robe and slippers, about to have breakfast in room 1219. Another friend arrived at the suite of rooms and told Roscoe and Fischbach that he had just seen an actress in the hotel, who said she knew the men currently staying in the suite of rooms. On hearing the name of the woman, both Fischbach and Roscoe agreed that they were indeed acquainted and after telephoning downstairs, they invited her over. The woman in question was aspiring actress Virginia Rappe, who had been working on the fringes of Hollywood for some time, and who had known Roscoe for approximately six years. She was also accompanied by her agent Alfred Seminacher and friend Maude Delmont, a notorious, hard-faced troublemaker, known to the police for extortion, blackmail, bigamy and much, much more.
Delmont and Rappe were known to be a pretty wild pair, and Virginia had a reputation for an overindulgence with alcohol which caused her to embarrass herself at parties by tearing her clothes every time she became drunk. The reason for this would seem that she suffered greatly with cystitis and the alcohol brought about various stomach problems every time she partook. Added to that, shortly before the weekend of 5 September 1921 she had apparently undergone one of several recent backstreet abortions and was still very much recovering, though obviously not eager to advertise this fact to the other members of the party.
The men invited Rappe and her friends into the room, gave them breakfast and relaxed in their company. However, it was not long before somebody began serving bootleg alcohol and the quiet get-together was soon turning into an afternoon party, complete with Roscoe, his friends, Rappe and various other hangers-on. It is fair to say that Arbuckle had not planned the party and was not particularly keen to host it, and it would seem that he did not have that much to do with Rappe or her friends, other than being in the same room at the same time. He later made it clear to his attorney that he had not intended to invite either of the women into his rooms, and that the only people he did plan to ask over were a friend called Mrs Taube and one other, unnamed woman.
“They all kept stringing in,” he later said of the people who arrived that afternoon. “I didn’t know who they were then. I didn’t invite them.”
Virginia Rappe asked for there to be music in the room, and several of the party guests – including Arbuckle himself – danced for some time during the afternoon, though it has been said that the actress herself did not dance much and instead chose to watch from a nearby chair. However, while Roscoe was obviously enjoying the dancing to some degree, the party wasn’t enough to convince him to change his plans for sightseeing with Mrs Taube, and by 3 p.m. he decided to go next door and dress.
Several minutes earlier, Roscoe had seen Virginia Rappe heading next door into room 1221, but unfortunately for him, by the time he had arrived in his own room – 1219 – she had found her way into his bathroom where she was on the floor; sick, hysterical and somewhat blocking the entrance. He later told the court of his first sighting of the woman in his room:
I entered 1219 to dress, closed and locked the door. I went into the bathroom. Miss Rappe was sitting in there, holding her stomach and vomiting. I bumped her with the door when I entered. I picked her up and she vomited again. I was holding her head and wiped her face. She was still holding her stomach. I asked her if I could do anything. She asked for a drink of water and then for another drink of water.
It was at this point that some authors claim that Virginia confessed to the actor that she was having pains in her chest and had recently had an abortion. Having lost an unborn child with his wife, the actor was apparently upset to hear this revelation, but even so, he did not leave the woman to suffer alone. Instead, he placed her on the bed in order for her to rest, gave her a glass of water as requested, then went back into the bathroom in an effort to shave and change his clothes. While Roscoe was in the bathroom, however, Rappe managed to fall out of his bed and crash on to the floor, and on returning to the room, he began to get concerned.
“I found her rolling on the floor between the two beds, holding her stomach. I tried to pick her back up and couldn’t.”
Arbuckle eventually managed to help the woman back on to the bed, and headed into the next room to alert his party guests to the drama next door. Until this time, Maude Delmont had been with one of Roscoe’s friends in the bathroom of room 1221, but she soon appeared on the scene, drunk and – true to her reputation – seemingly looking for an opportunity for trouble. Roscoe told both her and another guest about the sick woman and together they went back into the room to find Miss Rappe sitting on the edge of the bed, tearing her clothes from her body and frothing at the mouth.
“I pulled her dress down and she tore her stockings and a black lace garter. She was tearing on the sleeve of her dress,” the actor later told the courtroom.
Roscoe left the room for a moment and at this point Delmont decided that she was going to take full charge of the situation. By the time he returned, she had completely undressed Virginia Rappe and was rubbing ice on her body. When Arbuckle tried to object, the bold woman ordered him out of the room, to which he replied that if she didn’t shut up he would “throw her out of the window”. Roscoe Arbuckle was no fan of Maude Delmont. She had already caused uproar earlier in the day by dressing up in a pair of pyjamas, drinking and partying so wildly that Arbuckle had demanded she leave the party. She had refused, but his disgust at her behaviour had left her fizzing, and she was not a woman to forgive and forget easily. In fact, the decision by Arbuckle to stand up to the woman was to have grave implications for the actor in the moments to come.
Virginia Rappe was still hysterical; rambling incoherently and sliding on to the floor, so Arbuckle picked her up and placed her back on to the bed. Delmont later lied to police that the actor had been violent towards the woman, and had thrown – not placed – her on to the bed. He denied this, and explained that he was merely trying to calm her down before the doctor arrived.
The hotel management was alerted to the fracas going on in the room and Delmont was first on the scene to greet the assistant manager, H. J. Boyle, with the words, “A woman is hysterical here and is tearing her clothes off. You had better do something about it.” The manager entered the room and found Rappe on the bed, almost nude except for a hastily placed bathrobe, and by this time going in and out of consciousness. The room was full of partygoers, and they all told the manager that the woman had become hysterical after having two or three drinks. “I took it for granted that there was nothing more serious than a drinking party,” he later told reporters.
Maude Delmont told the manager that she wanted to take Rappe to another room to recuperate and he then left room 1219 to organize it. Then guest Alice Blake and another, unnamed girl decided to place Virginia into a tub of cold water in a bid to relieve her hysterics. Not surprisingly, this did not help the situation one bit and so guest Fred Fischbach carried her back into the bedroom and placed her on the bed. Even being picked up was painful for Virginia at this point, and she complained that the man had hurt her in his attempts to get her from the tub back into bed. Unfortunately, this statement would be taken down and used in evidence against Roscoe, and twisted to make it look as though he had hurt her during an unprovoked attack, which was simply not the case.
Finally the nearby room was ready and Roscoe helped move the woman into it, and a doctor was called. Arriving a short time later, the physician could find no physical injuries on the girl and told Roscoe that it looked as though the problem was an overindulgence with alcohol.
“The doctor and I thought it was nothing more serious than a case of indigestion,” Arbuckle later told reporters. “He said a little bicarbonate of soda probably would straighten her out.”
Meanwhile, back in room 1219, Rappe’s agent, Al Seminacher took it upon himself to gather up the woman’s torn clothes and place all but two of the garments in a neat pile. The others he took down to his car in order, firstly to dust his vehicle, and secondly to tease Virginia about the state in which she had left her garments when she finally recovered from her episode.
Back upstairs, seeing that he had done as much as he could for the woman, and still presuming that the problem was not in any way serious, Arbuckle asked Lowell Sherman to clear the rooms of guests, before then leaving to go sightseeing around San Francisco with Mrs Taube. He later returned to the hotel, where he and his friends – including Seminacher – dined in his room, before he left to go dancing downstairs. The next morning he and his friends left the city and headed back to Los Angeles by boat. Later one of the party, Lowell Sherman, told the court: “I did not see Miss Rappe after that and never inquired about her because I did not take any of it seriously. I never asked Arbuckle what he thought was the matter with the girl. He seemed to have the same opinion as everyone else – that the girl had a bun on and was ill.” He then went on to express that Roscoe did not seem upset about the episode, any more than anybody else at the party, and concluded, “I never heard Miss Rappe express an opinion as to what was the matter with her.”
Unfortunately, while Roscoe and his friends were heading home, Virginia Rappe’s condition grew worse and after several days of suffering in the hotel, the doctor was called once again. He was sufficiently worried to order the woman to hospital where she was examined by a series of specialists, all citing her condition as acute abdominal pain with a fever. It was then decided that these symptoms were most likely caused by some kind of internal injury – perhaps an organ that had ruptured – which had caused peritonitis. They were right, as it was later announced that the actress’s bladder had burst, causing infection, deliriousness, acute pain and, ultimately, death.
The odd thing about Virginia’s trip to hospital was that instead of being taken to a general clinic where she could undergo emergency treatment, she was actually taken to a maternity unit instead. This strange occurrence would seem to go hand-in-hand with the fact that Delmont apparently brought her own doctor to look at Rappe – the same doctor who had performed the abortion just days before. Was Virginia taken to the maternity hospital as a result of complications from the abortion? It would seem possible. To add further fuel to this conjecture, when the actress passed away at the hospital on 9 September 1921, an unofficial autopsy was performed, allegedly by the doctor who had attended her, and all of her female internal organs – uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries – were apparently removed before her body was taken back to Los Angeles. It would seem highly likely that this move was a deliberate attempt to hide the fact that she had undergone an illegal and dangerous abortion in the days before her death.
Both before and after Virginia passed away, Maude Delmont took great delight in telling anyone who would listen her own sordid version of what had happened on the afternoon of the party. Still angry from Roscoe’s treatment of her, she placed the blame for her friend’s death squarely on his shoulders and made sure everybody knew about it. According to her, this huge man had crushed her petite friend when forcing her to have sex, thus rupturing her bladder in the process. Since then other stories have been put forward which claim that Roscoe violated Rappe with some kind of foreign object – usually a coke bottle – and her bladder had burst as a result.
These stories are not only ludicrous but also come without any evidence whatsoever. Just how heavy would a person have to be to cause a bladder to rupture by lying on them? It is true that Roscoe was a big man, but he would surely have to have been considerably larger to rupture an internal organ. What’s more, the bursting of Rappe’s bladder, if it had been caused by a heavy weight, would likely not have been an isolated injury; the crushing would have led to other organs being damaged and possibly even bones breaking in the process. As for the coke-bottle story, there was no coke being served at the party that day. As there is no evidence whatsoever that a bottle of this nature was anywhere near the suite of rooms at that time, it too can effectively be ruled out.
While Delmont had been in the bathroom of room 1221 and could not have possibly heard anything when Virginia first collapsed in room 1219, this did not stop the police from believing the woman when she described how she had heard screams coming from Roscoe’s bedroom. Perhaps the most outrageous thing about the Arbuckle scandal is that while Delmont had been known to police as a liar who had committed a variety of crimes, everyone suddenly sat up and took notice when she started spouting lies and innuendo about Arbuckle and Rappe.
It is interesting to note, however, that while her friends all stuck by her and agreed with her findings, the other guests denied that any of her stories and innuendo had the remotest bearing on the truth. Arbuckle himself later told police that she had made up the stories because “she is simply sore at me”, and then told the tale of her becoming so wild at the party that he had tried to throw her out of the suite of rooms.
The fact that everyone in any kind of authority seemed to believe Delmont was incredible given her history, and yet it was true; in spite of there being not a scrap of hard evidence against Roscoe Arbuckle and no witnesses to any crime, the police decided that he was indeed to blame for the death of Virginia Rappe, and charged the poor man with murder.
“No man, whether he be Fatty Arbuckle or anyone else, can come into this city and commit that kind of an offence,” Captain of Detectives Duncan Matheson told waiting reporters. “The evidence showed that there was an attack made on the girl.” Except, of course, that there was no real evidence to show any kind of attack at all; and in fact doctors treating the woman had believed she was ill as a result of “natural causes”. Had there been an injury, they surely would have seen it at that time.
- On Sale
- Dec 3, 2013
- Page Count
- 512 pages
- Running Press