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article imageOp-Ed: Fatty Arbuckle, an early victim of tabloid trash

By Alexander Baron     Nov 22, 2011 in Politics
As the Leveson Inquiry is in full swing at the Royal Courts of Justice, it is interesting to look back at the fate of an innocent man who was crucified by the tabloids in an earlier age.
The News Of The World phone hacking scandal and the ongoing Leveson Inquiry may have thrown up a lot of unsavoury allegations, but they will have to go some to challenge the treatment meted out to Roscoe Arbuckle.
For those who can receive it, Episode 2 of Paul Merton's Birth Of Hollywood is currently on BBC iplayer.
It was once claimed Arbuckle had met Pancho Villa in a slapstick cameo. This claim was totally untrue. At that time, any publicity was good publicity, for Roscoe as for the rest of Hollywood, but soon that was no longer to be the case. Roscoe left Los Angeles on September 3, 1921; after making 6 feature films in only 7 months, he had decided to take a break, heading to San Francisco where he checked into an hotel with his two male travelling companions.
On the Sunday morning, Arbuckle ordered a case of what might be termed alcoholic beverages; bear in mind that this was the Prohibition Era, but Prohibition didn't count for much in 1921 San Francisco.
Virginia Rappe described by Merton as a bit part player, turned up, and was quickly followed by Maud Delmont, and soon a party was in full swing. After drinking excessively, Rappe passed out in the bathroom. Arbuckle found her, and thinking she was simply drunk, placed her on the bed, but the 27 year old wanna be turned out to be seriously ill. Unfortunately, she wasn't taken to hospital for three days. Shortly after, she died. By this time, Arbuckle was back in Hollywood, completely oblivious to what had happened, and what was about to happen. At the time the girl was taken ill, Maude Delmont was doing with a fellow guest what women of her kind often do with strange men in hotel rooms, so she couldn't have known what if anything had transpired between Virginia Rappe and Arbuckle. That didn't prevent her from fabricating what this documentary described as a beauty and the beast scenario, of the 260lb Arbuckle violating the poor girl, something Virginia Rappe never claimed in the short time she had left on this Earth.
Arbuckle returned to San Francisco to face not only a murder charge but screaming crowds whipped up into a frenzy by the "tabloids" of the day. He was charged on the basis of no evidence at all, but story after story was churned out by the sensationalist Hearst press.
Although the murder charge was reduced to manslaughter, it took three trials before Arbuckle would be cleared. At the third trial, it was revealed that there was nothing virginal about Virginia, she had undergone a series of abortions, at that time illegal, and her "insides" were clearly not what they should have been.
Although Arbuckle's friends stood by him - including Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin - his career stalled for the next ten years. The new censor, who brought in the Hays Code, banned him from the silver screen. The ban was shortly rescinded, but the damage had been done.
Roscoe Arbuckle died in 1933 aged only 46.
Hugh Grant has already outlived Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle, but he, Steve Coogan, and a host of others are on the warpath, including the author JK Rowling. This time the boot is well and truly on the other foot, but the tabloids will surely survive. Until we stop reading the damn things!
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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