HAUNTED HOLLYWOOD: PART 2
The Haunted History of Hollywood and the Great Scandals of Yesterday
The Haunted History of Hollywood & the City of Angels
Almost from the founding of the city, Los Angeles had a bad reputation. The once sleepy Spanish mission had been stolen from the rightful Mexican owners during the American quest for Manifest Destiny and soon, immigrants from the east were pouring out to the west coast. The Eastern newspapers promised sunshine, warm weather, easy living and, of course, an elusive fortune which could be obtained in the California gold fields.
What many of the immigrants found instead was poverty and death. The majority of them returned home with nothing to show for their travels and hard work... and many of them never returned home at all.
By the middle part of the 1800’s, Los Angeles (dubbed the City of Angels by the original founders) was literally filled with murderers, thieves and prostitutes. The streets were nothing more than rutted dirt paths where animals roamed and where garbage was dumped. The city gained its first notoriety in 1871 when a massacre of Chinese immigrants was reported in newspapers all over the country. The massacre took place near the old city plaza on the Calle de los Negros, which was commonly mistranslated in those days and called “Nigger Alley”. The narrow street was a block of saloons, gambling parlors and dance halls. It was said that three or four men were murdered in the alley every weekend... in other words, not a good place to be if you wanted to live a long and happy life!
It was in 1871 that a huge crowd of white men went on a killing spree in the alley after a drunken Chinese immigrant began firing off his gun and accidentally hit a “white man”. Within minutes, an inebriated and enraged mob swarmed through along the street, lynching, burning, stabbing and beating any Chinese man they could get their hands on. Eventually, 19 of them were killed. The Grand Jury indicted 156 men in the affair, with only six of them actually going to jail. Several days later, those six were released on lack of evidence. This would be the first time that charges of corruption would be leveled at local government, but it would not be the last.
Shortly after the turn of the century, a new flock of immigrants arrived, to be welcomed by what would only be rivaled in Chicago as the most corrupt city government and police force in America. Fortunes began to be made in oil and land and graft and petty crime became commonplace. The population explosion brought not only the upright citizens but the scam artists, con men and nut cases who tried to take advantage of the rapid growth.
Like most other cities in the country, corruption and vice came with the territory but Los Angeles was different. It was new and fresh and geography of the area, the automobile and Hollywood all combined to create a unique combination. Other cities had grown up around horse-drawn carriages, railroad and trolley cars, but Los Angeles was born at the beginning of the automobile age and with over 450 square miles of roads, the city had plenty of room to grow. The car was the principal form of transportation and this created “boom-town” mentality for new arrivals.
Of all of the reasons for the rapid growth, Hollywood was undoubtedly the biggest one. The mere mention of the name guaranteed readers for any newspaper story in the nation. In just a few short years, thanks to huge stars like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and many others, Hollywood had managed to set itself apart from the rest of the world and everything here seemed larger than life.
The rapid growth of Los Angeles was already causing enough problems when Prohibition came about in 1920 and created all new ones. As with just about everywhere else in the country, the demand for illegal liquor was high in Los Angeles and there were dozens of hoods who were happy to bribe the cops to get the kegs and bottles in the right hands. Perhaps the most famous L.A. hotspot for booze was Culver City, known as the “Heart of Screenland”. This famous town played host to M.G.M, Hal Roach and a number of other studios and its main street, Washington Boulevard, played host to dozens of speakeasies, gambling parlors and gin joints. The town’s “open” reputation insured gambling and prostitution as well and soon it had added a race track, a boxing arena and a dog racing track to its list of accomplishments. All of them served as a magnet for local gangsters. In addition, the Culver City police department was well-known for looking the other way, losing evidence and bungling their investigations (as long as cash landed in the right pockets). Thanks to this, the life of crime here operated undisturbed.
Of course, Culver City was not the only place to find booze, gambling and “broads”... the rest of southern California had a thirst for illegal liquor and vice as well. And Hollywood could always be counted on for corruption and scandal too. The film industry, which was the largest business in the area by the 1920’s, provided more than enough money for both excess and debauchery. A series of scandals rocked the film colony in the early 20’s including the alleged rape and murder of Virginia Rappe by America’s beloved funny man, Fatty Arbuckle; the drug-related death of Wallace Reid; the murder of director William Desmond Taylor; and others.
All of this gave America a ringside seat to the scandals of the movie colony and its shining stars. There was no doubt about it... orgies, drugs, illegal hooch, scandals and sex.... Hollywood had it all!
Bathtub gin and prostitutes were not the only forms of vice to hit southern California and by the late 1920’s, several sensational crimes had been committed here as well. These would be the first of many to come.
In 1927, the case of Edward Hickman and the kidnapping and dismemberment of twelve-year-old Marion Parker would make big headlines as would the 1929 gun battle between Jack Hawkins and Zeke Hayes and the L.A. police within the courthouse elevator. The two men had long records, which included the alleged torture death of a San Francisco cop. When they were discovered in southern California, they found themselves set up for L.A. sheriff-style revenge.
The unsavory reputation of the region became a favorite topic for sermons across America. To those who came west into this “den of iniquity”, they found evangelists and preachers like Aimee Semple McPherson and “Fighting Bob” Shuler waiting to save their souls... as long as the collection plates were always full.
Los Angeles also began to earn its reputation as a landing spot for cults and the fringe element as well. According to novelist Nathaniel West, who used the dark side of L.A. for atmosphere in several of his books and stories, some of the local churches included the “Church Invisible” , where fortunes were told; the “Tabernacle of the Third Coming”, where a woman in male clothing preached the Crusade Against Salt; and the “Temple Moderne”, where ‘Brain-Breathing, the Secret of the Aztecs’ was taught. One of the most famous cult groups was founded in 1932 by Guy and Edna Ballard, who started the Church of I Am. The “religion” was based on the worship of the questionable deity, St. Germaine, who supposedly gave off a violet ray of supernatural power. The Ballards accepted “love offerings” at their temple near downtown L.A., which was topped by a glowing neon sign which read “I AM” . It was said that they gained tens of thousands of worshippers and they also sold products like “New Age Cold Cream”. Their son, Donald, claimed to have the ability to become invisible and said that he possessed a psychic power (derived from ascended spirits) that was so powerful that he sunk several Nazi submarines. The Ballards were eventually indicted for mail fraud although the charges were later overturned. By this time, however, the cult had collapsed and they vanished into obscurity.
Los Angeles continued to expand in the 1930’s. Newcomers arrived on an almost daily basis. There were “Okie’s” looking for work, scavengers looking for a quick buck and of course, dreamseekers who came to Hollywood looking for their big break.
Hollywood continued to serve as a beacon for would-be starlets and dreamers, but even the brightest aspects of Tinseltown were sometimes shadowed by death and scandal.
Lovely Thelma Todd, known as the "Hot Toddy" to friends and fans alike
In 1935, came the murder of celebrity Thelma Todd, which remains not only an unsolved case in Hollywood but a part of its supernatural history as well. The murder combined a number of intriguing and classic elements including gangsters, gambling, a fur-clad corpse found slumped over the wheel of a luxury car and tales of the supernatural and spirits who do not rest in peace.
The year 1938 was a turning point for Los Angeles crime. That same year, a private investigator named Harry Raymond was killed while looking into reports of police corruption. The ensuing investigation revealed proof of bribery and vice throughout the police department and among city officials. L.A.’s mayor Frank Shaw was implicated and he was eventually replaced by Fletcher Bowron.
After that, raids increased on night clubs and gambling spots and as many mobsters lost their political connections, they headed out of town to Las Vegas.
While the heat was undeniably turned up for awhile, it did not bring an end to crime and corruption in the city. As World War II loomed closer, reports of fighting began to replace newspaper headlines about sensational crime. But the war began to expose other problems in L.A., namely the situation with gangsters and the black market. Soon, readers were introduced to the king the Los Angeles underworld, Mickey Cohen.
He was the most recognizable of the city’s gangsters and he always dressed and acted the part, hanging out in all the right places and making enemies of all the right people. Connected to almost every type of vice in the city, he was constantly in the newspapers and was trailed by both the LAPD and the Sheriff’s department, who busted him for small infractions which inevitably revealed larger crimes. Several attempts were made on Cohen’s life by rival mobsters, but it would be the FBI who would get him in the end. They eventually put him in prison for 15 years on charges of tax evasion.
Los Angeles and Hollywood changed after the war. By this time the star system and the stranglehold the studios held on their star’s lives began to collapse. In L.A., the end of the war saw the collapse of the black market and a falling off of crime. However, the sex trade continued to operate uninhibited. In the late 1940’s, Brenda Allen, one of the city’s most notorious madams, faced a series of raids on her rented bordello. The case turned into a full-blown scandal when it was learned that a member of the vice squad was in Allen’s pocket and that a lot of money had changed hands to keep the house of ill repute open. In the end, Allen was jailed, the police chief resigned and a number of vice cops were demoted.
Several unsolved murders made headlines at the end of the 1940’s as well. In June of 1947, a rifle bullet to the head ended the life of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Hollywood’s most notorious gangster celebrity. He had been killed while visiting girlfriend Virginia Hill’s Beverly Hills home. There was much speculation as to who had “whacked” Siegel but it was considered to be a mob hit. Apparently, Bugsy had been skimming money from the construction of the Flamingo Hotel, the gambling mecca which would put Las Vegas on the map.
Even more mysterious, and much more gruesome, was the January 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short. Her severed and bloodless body was discovered in a vacant lot in L.A. and would go on to become one of the most famous murders in the city’s history. Dubbed the “Black Dahlia” by the local press, Short was the epitome of the girl who came to Hollywood to seek stardom. Her final months were traced back through the darker side of Hollywood and her mysterious life and death has inspired a number of fictional accounts. Today, the case still remains unsolved.
Also that same year came the murder of former aviatrix Jeanne French, whose battered nude body was found in a vacant lot in the Mar Vista section of L.A. The case was quickly coined the “Red Lipstick” murder when her torso was discovered to be inscribed with an obscene message and signed with the words “B.D. - Tex Andy”. Police guessed that the words may have been a mysterious reference to the Black Dahlia case which had taken place about a month before. The search for the killer ended with no solutions and remains unsolved.
By the 1950’s, the noir reputation which L.A. has earned thanks to books and films was starting to come to an end and by the 1960’s was gone altogether. Still, the darker element of society still rears its ugly head here on occasion, as witnessed by the brutal Manson family murders in the late 1960’s.
There is no doubt that the culture of Hollywood virtually created the climate of Los Angeles in the early part of the century, and thus has created the region’s large collection of ghostly tales and hauntings.
The First Hollywood Scandals
The Hollywood movie colony came into existence thanks to a group of eastern film makers and businessmen who saw a good thing in the nickelodeons which were springing up all over America. They were lured to the west coast by the promise of that fabled southern California sunshine (which was said to appear 355 days a year); low cost land; and by the opportunity to elude the process servers of Thomas Edison (who was filing lawsuits against anyone who copied his design of the early movie cameras). They settled into the city of Los Angeles and began building open-air stages and makeshift studios. It would be here where the early movie makers would begin cranking out primitive two-reelers, which would win over the hearts and minds of the American people.
Soon, word trickled back to Hollywood that audiences across the country were flocking to see their favorite performers and at this point, the actors (who prior to this were seen as little more than hired help) suddenly gained importance as the sure way to sell tickets. The rapidly becoming famous faces took on new names and soon earned salaries to match their new status. Almost overnight, the once obscure and disreputable performers suddenly found fame and fortune, becoming America’s royalty. Some of them managed to cope with this quite well... while others did not.
Throughout the 1910’s, Hollywood re-created itself almost daily as the new art form of movies began to emerge. Money began to roll into studio coffers and then into the pockets of the stars. Cocaine became the drug of choice, or “joy powder” as it was called in those days. It is reported that the manic silent film comedies actually came about thanks to the drug and became known as the Triangle-Keystone “cokey comedy”. In 1916, British drug expert and occultist Aleister Crowley journeyed to Hollywood and noted the locals as being the “cinema crowd of cocaine-crazed sexual lunatics”. And that’s quite a statement coming from Crowley!
In addition to drugs, sex was always plentiful in Hollywood and gossip mongers in the movie colony always had much to talk about. Was it true that famed director D.W. Griffith had an obsession, onscreen and off, with young girls? Could it be true that Lillian and Dorothy Gish, up and coming young sisters, were actually lovers? Were the tales of Mack Sennett’s “casting couch” actually true... and were some of Sennett’s Sunshine Girls, like Gloria Swanson and Carole Lombard, really part of his hand-picked harem? And what about Hollywood’s sex goddess, Theda Bara, who was allegedly a French-Arab demon of depravity born beneath the Sphinx... was it true that she was in truth Theodosia Goodman, a Jewish tailor’s daughter from Ohio?
Oh, and there was more... much more!
Within a few years of its founding, Hollywood would be the most maligned place to ever be spoken of from church pulpits across America. Preachers and evangelists would brand Hollywood as a place of legendary depravity and would call for boycotts of films and protests against theaters who would dare to show anything made in such a place.
But the general public all but ignored the outcry and they continued to spend their hard-earned money at the movies.
The 1920’s have been referred to as Hollywood’s Golden Age and they were, in terms of both the number of movies made and in the amount of cash these films raked in. Unfortunately though, sometimes the golden ones fall just like the rest of us and when they do fall... they fall very hard.
Olive Thomas... the first Hollywood Scandal
The shocking news was first heard on the radio, on the night of September 10, 1920 but it would later make newspaper headlines:
OLIVE THOMAS DEAD FROM POISON
Olive Thomas, sprightly Ziegfeld Follies queen,
Selznick Pictures Star and Mrs. Jack Pickford
The star was found dead in Paris, which makes her death an unlikely one for the first Hollywood scandal, but there was no denying the connections. On the morning of September 10, a Hotel Crillon valet used his passkey to enter the hotel’s Royal Suite with a breakfast trolley. There, on the floor, was a sable opera cape and on top of it was the body of a nude young woman. In one of her hands was a bottle of bichloride of mercury. The suite had been registered in the name of Mrs. Jack Pickford, known to millions of fans as Olive Thomas.
Olive was remembered as one of the most beautiful of the Ziegfeld girls and had become the darling of New York magazines like VOGUE and VANITY FAIR while only 16. She became the toast of the city and thanks to the assistance of Conde Nast, she appeared frequently in numerous fashion magazines. She also posed nude for the famous calendar artist, Alberto Vargas, and illustrator Harrison Fisher called her “the most beautiful woman in the world”. It came as no surprise to anyone when she decided to depart for Hollywood.
She caught on in the movie colony right away and was cast as a young girl in light comedies like BETTY TAKES A HAND, PRUDENCE ON BROADWAY and THE FOLLIES GIRL. In 1919, Myron Selznick began his own movie company and signed Olive to a lucrative contract. In 1920, she was huge hit in THE FLAPPER and that same year, she married Jack Pickford, another screen idol and the brother of star Mary Pickford. Her place among the royals of Hollywood was not assured.
The fact that Olive committed suicide just months later made headlines around the world and became the subject of much controversy. She was only 20 when she died, plus she had wealth, beauty, fame, and the adoration of not only millions of fans but that of her young husband as well. Newspapers and magazines had referred to them as the “perfect couple”. So, what went wrong?
The Selznick Studio was deluged with letters from around the world and both the American Embassy and the French police promised full investigations. Unfortunately, what the investigations revealed did not go along well at all with the public image of Olive Thomas....
Jack Pickford was supposed to join Olive in Paris as soon as he completed work on his film THE LITTLE SHEPHERD OF KINGDOM COME to make up for the honeymoon their busy schedules had prevented right after their wedding. Olive had gone on ahead to do some shopping, but as the investigators learned, it was not in the salons where her shopping was being done.
Rumors and sources soon reported that Olive had been spotted in a number of clubs, while in the company of some of the more notorious figures in the French underground. A story began to circulate that Olive was desperately trying to purchase a large quantity of heroin for her husband, Jack, who was a hopeless addict. When she failed, it was said that she committed suicide.
When this story appeared in the press, Jack was undergoing treatment for nervous collapse following Olive’s death and he was unable to refute the charges. However, his sister Mary issued a statement which denied the charges as “sickening aspersions” on her brother’s good name.
A short time later, a separate investigation, conducted by the U.S. Army into the activities of a Captain Spaulding, led to the arrest of a soldier who was dealing in large quantities of cocaine and heroin. On his list of steady customers was the name of Olive Thomas.
Now, Olive was no longer known as the “Ideal American Girl”, but as “Olive Thomas, Dope Fiend”, and watch societies began to speak out against this new menace to American maidenhood. In the 1920’s, the film colony lured young would-be stars from across the land and many warned these hopefuls against the dark allure of drugs and fast living. Olive’s death provided good newspaper copy for a year after her death, until finally, her suicide was crowded out of the headlines by the death of another Hollywood hopeful. This new girl was just a minor actress, but she was linked to a man who was known as “America’s Funnyman”... Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.
She would also go on to become one of Hollywood’s first lingering ghosts.
The Fall of Fatty Arbuckle
This will not be the last time that the Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery will be mentioned in our series on “Hollywood Hauntings”, but our first mention of it here is due to its connection to an actress named Virginia Rappe.... and the fact that her ghost is said to haunt the place. So, what tragic events have caused her spirit to linger behind? To answer that question, we have to look back to the doomed history of the man who was accused of her murder, Fatty Arbuckle.
Fatty Arbuckle... Funny Fat Man
Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was an overweight plumber in 1913 when he was discovered by Mack Sennett. He had come to unclog the film producers drain but Sennett had other plans for him. He took one look at his hefty frame and offered him a job. Arbuckle’s large appearance, but bouncing agility, made him the perfect target for Sennett’s brand of film comedy, which included mayhem, pratfalls, and pies in the face.
He was soon making dozens of two-reelers as a film buffoon and audiences loved him. He made one film after another, all of them wildly successful, and also made a rather substantial fortune, going from a $3-a-day job in 1913 to over $5000 by 1917, when he signed with Paramount.
Fatty’s first brush with scandal came in March 1916 at Mishawn Manor in Boston. The incident occurred at Brownie Kennedy’s Roadhouse, where the lavish entertainment in Fatty’s honor included twelve “party girls” who were paid just over $1000 for their contribution to the evening’s fun. Unfortunately for Fatty, things came to an end just before the party could get started. Someone spotted the girls, and Fatty, stripping on the table in the back room of the roadhouse and called the cops. Also in attendance that evening were movie magnates Adolph Zukor, Jesse Lasky and Joseph Schenck. They paid $100,000 in hush money to Boston’s District Attorney and Mayor James Curley to keep the incident quiet.
But it would be another of Fatty’s frolics that would get him into trouble and earn him his place in Hollywood infamy.
Virginia Rappe came to Hollywood around 1919. She was a lovely brunette model who caught the eye of Mack Sennett and he offered her a job with his company. She soon went to work on the studio lot, taking minor parts and apparently, sleeping around. This fact became so well-known that rumor had it Virginia passed along a rather sensitive infestation to so many of Sennett’s crew that he closed down the studio and had the place fumigated. Soon however, she earned a part in the film FANTASY and later met Fatty Arbuckle and appeared with him in JOEY LOSES A SWEETHEART. Soon, Virginia was noticed by William Fox, shortly after winning an award for “Best Dressed Girl in Pictures” and he took her under contract. There was talk of her starring in a new Fox feature called TWILIGHT BABY and Virginia certainly seemed to be on her way.
Starlet Virginia Rappe
Fatty had taken a shine to Virginia soon after meeting her and insisted that his friend, Bambina Maude Delmont bring her along to a party celebrating his new $3 million contract with Paramount. Fatty decided to hold the bash in San Francisco, which would give him a chance to try out his new custom-made Pierce-Arrow on the drive up the coast. On Labor Day weekend, two car loads of party-goers headed up the coast highway and included Fatty and his friends Lowell Sherman and Freddy Fishback, who were riding in the flashy Pierce Arrow. Bambina Maude Delmont, Virginia Rappe and other assorted starlets were piled in the other vehicle. They arrived in San Francisco late on Saturday night, checking into the luxurious Hotel St. Francis. Fatty took three adjoining suites on the 12th floor.
Shortly after arriving, Fatty made a call to his bootleg connection and the party was on, lasting all weekend. On Labor day afternoon, which was Monday, September 5, 1921, the party was still going strong. The crowd had grown to about 50 people, thanks to Fatty’s “open house” policy. Virginia and the other girls were downing gin-laced Orange Blossoms; some of the guests had shed their tops to do the “shimmy”; guests were vanishing into the back bedrooms for sweaty love sessions; and the empty bottles of booze were piling up.
Around three in the afternoon, Fatty who was wearing only pajamas and a bathrobe, grabbed Virginia and steered the intoxicated actress to the bedroom of suite 1221. Bambina Maude Delmont later testified that the festivities came to a halt when screams were heard in the bedroom. She also said that weird moans were heard from behind the door. A short time later, Fatty emerged with ripped pajamas and he told the girls to “go in and get her dressed...she makes too much noise”. When Virginia continued to scream, he yelled for her to shut up, or “I’ll throw you out the window”.
Bambina and another showgirl, Alice Blake, found Virginia nearly nude and lying on the unmade made. She was moaning and told them that she was dying. Bambina later reported that they tried to dress her, but found that all of her clothing, including her stockings and undergarments were so ripped and torn “that one could hardly recognize what garment s they were.”
A short time later, Virginia slipped into a coma at the Pine Street Hospital and on September 10, she died. The cause of her death almost went undiscovered. The San Francisco Deputy Coroner, Michael Brown, became suspicious after what he called a “fishy” phone call from the hospital, asking about a post-mortem. He went over personally to see what was going on and walked right into a hasty cover-up. He was just in time to see an orderly emerge from an elevator and head for the hospital’s incinerator with a glass jar containing Virginia’s female organs. He seized the organs for his own examination and discovered that Virginia’s bladder had been ruptured, causing her to die from peritonitis. Brown reported the matter to his boss and both agreed that a police investigation was called for.
The hospital staff was grilled as to what they knew and they reluctantly reported the strange incidents which brought Virginia to the hospital. Soon, the newspapers also carried the story and Fatty Arbuckle was charged with the rape and murder of Virginia Rappe. The authorities blamed her death on “external pressure” from Arbuckle’s weight being pressed down on her during sex.
Soon, the newspaper stories spun out of control. It was no longer just sex, they told a nation of stunned fans of the “happy fat man”, but “strange and unnatural sex”. According to reports, Arbuckle became enraged over the fact that his drunkenness had led to impotence, so he ravaged Virginia with a Coca-Cola Bottle... or was it a champagne bottle... or could it have been a piece of ice? Others claimed that Fatty was so well-endowed that he had injured the girl, while others stated that the injury had come when Fatty had landed on the slight actress during a sexual frolic.
Needless to say, a lot of guessing was being done and a lot of insinuations were being made about Fatty Arbuckle and Virginia’s tragic death.... and Fatty was beginning to feel the heat. In Hartford, Connecticut, a group of angry women ripped down a screen in a theater showing an Arbuckle comedy, while in Wyoming, a group of men opened fire in a movie house where another Arbuckle short was being shown. A “Lynch Fatty” mood was beginning to sweep the land and angry, and increasing boisterous, voices were calling for Hollywood to clean up its act. Finally, Arbuckle’s films were pulled from general release.
Held without bail, Fatty sweated it out in the San Francisco jail while his lawyers sought to have the charges reduced from murder to manslaughter. Film tycoon Adolph Zukor, who had millions at stake with Arbuckle, contacted San Francisco District Attorney Matt Brady in an effort to make the case go away. Brady was enraged and later claimed that Zukor offered him a bribe. Other friends of Fatty called the D.A.’s office and suggested that Arbuckle was being punished because some starlet drank too much and died. They assumed they were helping Fatty’s case, but the result was just the opposite... D.A. Brady grew angrier with each call on Fatty’s behalf and by the time the case went to trial, he was livid.
The trial began in November 1921 with Arbuckle taking the stand to deny any wrong-doing, although his attitude toward Virginia was one of indifference. He never bothered to express any remorse or sorrow for he death. His lawyers were even more to the point, making every effort to paint Virginia as “loose”, suggesting that she slept around in New York, South America, Paris and of course, in Hollywood. After much conflicting testimony, the jury favored acquitting Fatty by 10-2 after 43 hours of deliberating. The judge declared a mistrial.
A second trial was held and this time, the jury was hung at 10-2 for conviction. Fatty was now out on bail and was forced to sell his Los Angeles home and fleet of luxury cars to pay his lawyer fees.
Despite the hard work of Brady, who wanted to convict Arbuckle very badly, Fatty was finally acquitted in his third trial, which ended on April 22, 1922. Thanks to confusing testimony by 40 drunken witnesses and no physical evidence (like the infamous bottle), Fatty was finally a free men. In fact, the jury issued this statement: “Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel a grave injustice has been done him and there was not the slightest proof to connect him in any way with the commission of any crime.”
Fatty may have been free, but he was hardly forgiven. Paramount soon canceled his $3 million contract and his unreleased films were scrapped, costing the studio over $1 million. Fatty’s career was finished.
Arbuckle was banned from acting in Hollywood productions. The studios just couldn’t afford to have his name connected to their pictures. Only a few friends, like Buster Keaton, remained by his side. In fact, it was Keaton who suggested that Arbuckle change his name to “Will B. Good”. Actually, Arbuckle did adopt the name William Goodrich in later years and he was able to gain employment as a gag man and as a comedy director.
Arbuckle would never act in the movies again and the public would never allow him to forget his fall from grace either. People shouted “I’m Coming, Virginia” when they recognized him on the street and laughter often greeted him in restaurants and shops.
In his forced retirement, Fatty also took to drinking quite heavily and finally, he died in New York on June 28, 1933.
Innocent or guilty? We’ll never really know for sure, but in the state of mind called Hollywood, it didn’t really matter. Arbuckle had managed to change the image of Hollywood from one linked to dreams to that of one forever linked to scandal.
And now we return to Hollywood Memorial Park.... and the ghost of Virginia Rappe. I would imagine that there is little doubt in the mind of the reader as to why Virginia’s spirit may be a restless one. In addition to losing her life during the horrifying incidents of that fateful Labor Day, Virginia lost her reputation as well. The press was nearly as cruel to her as they were to Fatty Arbuckle.
Many have asked why that was, but the answer may lie with William Randolph Heart. It cannot be denied that the Hearst newspapers were instrumental in turning the affair into a nationwide scandal. As it happens, shortly before Fatty went to trial, Heart’s affair with a starlet name Marion Davies hit the news and Marion’s film career began to suffer. Rumor had it that Hearst gave the go-ahead to his papers to exploit every Hollywood scandal of the time, including Fatty’s, to take the focus off himself and Davies. Thanks to Hearst, Virginia Rappe was “raped” all over again in newspapers across the country.
So, it’s not surprising that her ghost still lingers behind. Visitors who come to Hollywood Memorial Park have reported hearing a ghostly voice which weeps and cries out near Virginia’s simple grave. It is believed by many to be her ghost, still attached to this world, and still in anguish over her promising career, which was cut short... just like her life.SOURCES
Sins of the City by Jim Heimann (1999)
Hot Toddy: True Story of Hollywood’s Most Sensational Murder by Andy Edmonds (1989)
Severed: The Real Story of the Black Dahlia by John Gilmore (1994)
Lamparski’s Hidden Hollywood by Richard Lamparski (1981)
Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles By Elizabeth Ward and Alain Silver (1987)
Magic and Myth of the Movies by Parker Tyler (1947)
Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger (1975)
More Haunted Houses by Joan Bingham and Dolores Riccio (1991)
Haunted Houses by Richard Winer and Nancy Osborn (1979)
Copyright 2001by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.