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"Fatty" Arbuckle Trials: 1921-22

Arbuckle Tried Again … And Yet Again

Trial number two brought even more defense testimony on Virginia Rappe's habit of stripping when she drank. It also discredited some major evidence: the identification of "Fatty" Arbuckle's fingerprints on the hotel bedroom door. But the defense decided not to put Arbuckle through the ordeal of testifying again, and so deprived the second jury of seeing his strongly effective manner on the witness stand. This jury came in deadlocked nine to three for conviction.

The third time around, Gavin McNab put Arbuckle on the stand and left no doubt about his version of the hotel party. He also managed to get in still more detail of Virginia Rappe's lurid past. He reviewed how the district attorney fell for the outlandish charges of Maude Delmont, "the complaining witness who never witnessed."

The jury was out and back in five minutes with its verdict: "We the jury find Roscoe Arbuckle not guilty of manslaughter." The foreman then read a statement that the jurors had spent the five minutes composing:

Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime.

He was manly throughout the case, and told a straightforward story on the witness stand, which we all believed.

The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible.

We wish him success.…Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.

Six days later, Will Hays banned Roscoe Arbuckle from the screen. The decision, however, was not his. The heads of Paramount, Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky, knew that Arbuckle had become poison at the box office. If his own company banned him, Hollywood would never forgive them. So they got Hays to ban him. Based on average Arbuckle box-office draw before the trials, Paramount's projected loss was more than $100 million.

Hays lifted the ban eight months later, and "Fatty" Arbuckle started work in January 1923 on a two-reeler, Handy Andy. Under constant pressure from reporters, he soon quit and, under an assumed name, turned to directing. Over the next 11 years, he directed, made stage appearances, ran a popular Hollywood nightclub, and paid off debts amounting to nearly $1 million. At last, in 1932, Jack Warner invited Arbuckle to perform in a "talkie." The Hays Office permitted just one, a two-reeler, to see if the public accepted him. It did, and Arbuckle signed for six more. In June 1933, he finished the film, celebrated at dinner, and went to bed. Within minutes, his 46-year-old heart stopped beating.

Bernard Ryan, Jr.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Olson, James S. Historical Dictionary of the 1920s. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Sifakis, Carl. The Encyclopedia of American Crime. New York: Facts On File, 1982.

Yallop, David A. The Day the Laughter Stopped: The True Story of Fatty Arbuckle. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1976.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940"Fatty" Arbuckle Trials: 1921-22 - Tabloids Conjure Up Lurid Details, "a General Lowering Of The Moral Standards", "until Hell Freezes Over"