On Labor Day 1921, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle decided to celebrate signing a million dollar contract with Paramount by driving up to San Francisco to throw a party.
The party raged over the three day weekend, with various Hollywood hangers on drifting in and out as everybody got more wasted and wild. At some point, Roscoe and actress Virginia Rappé were alone in his hotel room – for how long and how they got there is disputed, but they were alone, for some reason, at some point. Shortly afterwards (or possibly during), Virginia began screaming in pain.
Three days later she was dead.
That’s pretty much all we know for certain.
Fatty Arbuckle was accused of rape or sexual assault which resulted in Virginia’s death.
After two hung juries, a third trial saw him acquitted for manslaughter – but the court of public opinion had its say and Arbuckle never really worked again.
I know Arbuckle was acquitted, and I know Al Capone’s only crime was tax evasion.
– Gloria Swanson
Was Fatty Arbuckle the innocent victim of a malicious blackmailing scheme gone wrong? Was he a rapist and murderer? Did he assault a woman whose pre-existing medical condition meant that he inadvertently caused her death – or was it his tragic misfortune that she was attending his party when her condition happened to become fatal?
Did the women who accused him lie outright – or say what they believed to be the truth which wasn’t provable in court? Did the media act in outrage over a young woman’s death – or the cynical knowledge that sex scandals sell? And is it positive or negative progress that public reaction to sex or violence allegations has shifted from “no smoke without fire” to “innocent until proven guilty/even then still probably innocent because reasons“?
This podcast will do its best to explore these questions. We’ll never know exactly what happened or who was lying, but we can try to understand the different narratives and versions – and who believed what and why. The title, by the way, is taken from a 1916 short starring Fatty Arbuckle.