Wednesday, February 13

Fatty Got a Bum Rappe
By Grant Davies

On this day (-10) in 1922, a murder trial of a big Hollywood star was concluded. One of them anyway. In the final one, the jury found the defendant not guilty. In fact, they found him innocent. Some of you who watch "Court TV" know what a rare thing that is. The jury actually sent a statement along with the verdict. It read in part, "Acquittal is not enough.  We feel that a great injustice has been done to him . . . there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime.” 

When I describe the accused as a big star, I mean it literally. As in very, very big. His name was Roscoe, but you can just call him "Fatty", that's what everyone else called him. Roscoe was obese and had been since he was born. He weighed in at an unlucky 13 pounds. Unlucky for him, and definitely unlucky for his mother, (I can almost see you readers wincing right now) who only lived another dozen years. Some say she never quite recovered from the strain of delivery.

Roscoe's middle name was Conkling. Odd, you might think, to name your son after a pompous, philandering fool of a politician named Roscoe Conkling. (Thankfully we don't have any of those types now-a-days.) But his father had his reasons. You see, he was a skinny fellow and his wife was a small girl, so when he saw the size of the baby he immediately assumed she had been sleeping (okay, not actually sleeping) with someone other than him. To display his suspicions to the rest of the world he decided to name the child after a womanizer. And that is how Roscoe Conkling "Fatty" Arbuckle got his name.

Anyway, Fatty was charged with raping and murdering an actress named Virginia Rappe. The problem for the prosecution was simple in retrospect. The victim was never raped and she wasn't murdered. She died  from a ruptured bladder and secondary peritonitis. But that didn't keep them from saying that Fatty caused the rupture when he sat on her while he was raping her at a cocktail party in his hotel.

It took three trials before they got it all sorted out. The witnesses for the prosecution were all discredited in the end and the truth seems to be that this poor girl, who was a tad troubled by alcoholism, venereal diseases, and "sleepwitheveryoneitis", probably died as a result of an abortion gone bad. (One of many she had in her life, two by the time she was 16 years of age according to some reports.) To this day there is plenty of controversy about the facts of the case.

The newspapers all got rich covering the whole sordid affair while Fatty got poor defending himself. Even though proclaimed innocent, he was blackballed out of show business and his career was destroyed by the media. He took to the bottle and died of a heart attack in his sleep at the ripe old age of 46.

To sum it all up, it looks like Roscoe got screwed alright, but it was by the DA and the media, not Virginia. Thank goodness that kind of sensationalism finally faded away. Today's news media is much more interested in reporting the news than hyping juicy celebrity scandals for money.

Editor's disclaimer.. The "facts" of this story are disputed by many. There seems to be a cottage industry built on speculation about it and several books have been written on the subject.

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