On September 11, 1921, Fatty Arbuckle, a silent-film era performer at the height of his fame, is arrested in San Francisco for the rape and murder of Virginia Rappe. The scandal essentially put an end to his career.
Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle was born on March 24, 1887, in Smith Center, Kansas. He worked as a vaudeville performer and in 1917 formed his own company. In 1919, the heavy-set actor signed a $1 million per year deal with Paramount Pictures, an extraordinary sum for the time.
In early September 1921, Arbuckle went to San Francisco with two male friends for a short vacation. The men hosted a party in their suite, during which a guest named Virginia Rappe, who had been drinking, became ill. Rappe, who was in her twenties, died several days later from peritonitis caused by a ruptured bladder. Maude Delmont, another guest at the party, claimed Arbuckle had raped Rappe and injured her bladder.
Arbuckle’s arrest by the SFPD soon generated a massive scandal. Arbuckle maintained his innocence, but was lambasted in the press and the public boycotted his films. Delmont turned out to be a questionable witness, with a criminal record and several other witnesses would later claim the prosecution had intimidated them into giving false testimony. After two mistrials, the jury in Arbuckle’s third trial found him not guilty and even issued him an apology.
Despite this favorable outcome, the film industry nevertheless temporarily banned him. He subsequently attempted a comeback directing several films under the pseudonym William B. Goodrich, but his career never fully recovered and he struggled with alcoholism and died of heart failure at age 46 on June 29, 1933.