The AP Got It Wrong: Roscoe Arbuckle Needs Your Help

Here we go again. Every time there is a scandal in Hollywood, some smartypants decides that it’s time to dust off the innuendos and myths surrounding the death of Virginia Rappe. This time, the AP is the culprit and it’s up to us to let them know.

So now we come to the passage in question. Be sure to read this away from throwable objects. Yep, it’s more of the “Hur hur, Fatty Arbuckle was a murderer” stuff.

Are we buckled in? Here it is:

“In the first scandal to shake Hollywood, the comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle attended a wild party in San Francisco in 1921 that ended in the death of actress Virginia Rappe. Rappe, writhing in pain from a ruptured bladder, accused Arbuckle of raping her. When she died days later, he was charged with murder, which was downgraded to manslaughter. Arbuckle was acquitted after three trials.”

Several folks have brought the AP’s snafu to my attention and I thank them. Here’s a link to the offending article. Typical stuff with Arbuckle and Rappe as the header image. (If you want better info, read this Smithsonian article.)

Here’s what you can do:

You can contact the AP and ask for a correction. You will find their contact form at the bottom of this page. Remember to be polite but to lay out the facts and be sure to link to the article when writing in with your concerns.

Here is their Twitter handle. And their Facebook page.

Again, be polite and professional but also be firm and have your facts lined out. This nonsense flourishes when it isn’t nipped in the bud.

P.S. Obviously, sexual harassment IS a pervasive problem in Hollywood– always has been– and recent revelations are sickening but can we NOT drag Arbuckle through the mud? Is that too much to ask?

Also, please don’t use Arbuckle as a shield to protect modern predators who have literally been caught on tape. Seriously. Sheesh. Also, please do not defend Arbuckle by shaming Virginia Rappe. It’s unnecessary and cruel.


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40 Replies to “The AP Got It Wrong: Roscoe Arbuckle Needs Your Help”

  1. Partner and I have been all over this since I spotted the reference to it on your MS twitter feed. Facts firmly in hand, and plenty of them!!!

    Have posted on AMIA members message board as well.

  2. A Confession: I read certain Twitter feeds, but am not actually on any social media platforms. In other words, I hereby admit to being a fossil 😉

    Love reading the MS feed, and really enjoyed your live tweeting on Cleopatra 1934 this past weekend, by the way.

  3. Can’t forget the evening long ago when I discovered David Yallop’s The Day The Laughter Stopped way back in the stacks of the local Carnegie Library. As I read on and on through it, my outrage at the wretched injustice done to one of my favorite silent stars grew exponentially…a feeling very much like what feeling today…

    If enough write in to correct the AP story, will AP bother correcting themselves on a 95 year old case they gave a cursory glance at, then framed to fit their narrative? Let’s see.

    1. Yes, I am not incredibly optimistic but comedy fans are definitely coming forward to help. If nothing else, we can spread the word about the real story. I hope it’s enough…

  4. Your information on Fatty Arbuckle was just repeating false information. Do just a little research and you’ll see this isn’t true.

  5. How timely! I am currently reading a book about the case called Room 1219. Excellent book! I sent them off a letter of correction.

  6. How can they still print this stuff when all the evidence shows otherwise plus that brilliant documentary, “Hollywood”, done in the 1970s, 5alked to the people who were there at the time and pretty much dispelled the belief that Arbuckle did nothing but have a bad party.

  7. hardly the first time i’ve wanted to wring the neck of the writers at ap. i think in a case like this they are trying to appeal to that lowest common denominator by using a history most people don’t know about to backdrop a current story (except that only works if they themselves knew something about that history)

    1. Yes, it’s especially ridiculous since women like Madge Bellamy, Colleen Moore, Mary Philbin and Gloria Swanson all had squicky, unpleasant, nightmarish or just plain horrific experiences in their time and that’s just naming a few. There’s no need to dredge up this case.

  8. With Arbuckle it’s a case of “He Did and He Didn’t”. Some attendees at this party pointed the finger at him, but everyone was drunk. Others were (’tis said) quickly spirited away by their producers. As with the Dines shooting, the fact that everyone present was drunk, or high on hop, meant the judgments were inevitably subjective in nature. Because of this, doubts in both cases remain today. In Roscoe’s case, some people still tally up the verdicts – two guiltys minus one innocent equals a definite Guilty! A sad state of affairs, but stand by for many more of these flawed articles.

    1. The AP article was specifically covering sexual assault and the linked Smithsonian article points out that both the doctor who attended Rappe and the coroner who performed her autopsy both stated that she had not been raped or assaulted in any way, the only damage to her body was her bladder, which was not caused by external trauma. It is ridiculous to trot out Arbuckle as a silent era parallel to Weinstein when Rupert Julian is present.

    2. It was not two guiltys against one innocent! In the first trial, the jury was 10-2 for acquittal. The second trial ended 8-4 for conviction. And the second set of jurors set they might have switched to acquittal if Arbuckle had taken the stand. Overall I read the testimony of the trial and was certain he was innocent. It was a trial by media. Sound Familiar.

  9. PLEASE get the fact straight AP! Roscoe was framed in a set up by Adolph Zukor initially to renegotiate his contract until it blew up in his face. Roscoe was innocent and ALL of Hollywood came to his defense and allowed him to write and direct under an alias. Harvey Weinstein was NOT framed nor is he innocent nor should anyone in Hollywood allow him to do anything again. Please read the book FRAME-UP for the correct information in this. AP usually gets it facts straight– as a former TV news producer this is especially disheartening to see a solid news organization veer away from professionalism. These two cases have NOTHING in common.

    1. How they managed to shoehorn in the Arbuckle case for this article is beyond me, other than it sounded sensational.

      I’ve read your book and others and some primary research on the Arbuckle case. The Weinstein case is nothing like that. Comparing the two situations is ludicrous.

      Arbuckle did not have a reputation of exploiting actresses and by all accounts did nothing of the kind. Unlike some producers, directors and actors of the period he did not have a reputation for exploiting and harassing women. Mayer, Zanuck, Cohn, are better subjects for the article.

      Men who behave this way are known for it. They are not the almost “instant monsters” as they seem to be trying to cast Arbuckle. Harassing behaviour is a pattern and it goes on for years. I am in the industry and was warned about Weinstein in 1993. It’s been a non-secret for decades and he isn’t the only one.

  10. Well, I see after seven days of emails and social media (and many other) posts from disgusted Arbuckle fans, AP has yet to update or amend a blanking thing.

    Color me amazed 🙁

    1. Sigh. I figured this would be the case but we had to try. On the plus side, I have had several people tell me that they never knew the true Arbuckle story before, so the information campaign has been successful in that respect.

    2. I wouldn’t expect much. In the scale of journalistic importance this is a “fluff piece” related to the Weinstein story.

      1. Before anyone jumps on me for the last comment, I meant “fluff piece” from a news outlet point of view, not mine.

  11. Argh! My friend, Alicia Mayer, is the great great niece of the great Louis B. Mayer, and with the torrent of Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment charges coming out, so have all of the urban legends regarding her famous great uncle. None of which have ever been substantiated. She has been trying so hard to stand up for her (very late) relative, but it is exhausting. 😞

  12. I sympathize with the sentiment here, but have any of you actually read the paragraph from the AP story? Name one assertion made in the paragraph that is not true. Nowhere does it say that Arbuckle was guilty. He was accused, he was charged, he was acquitted–all true. And yes, it was a major scandal, even though he was very likely innocent of all charges. Granted, I do think the author of the piece could have made more of an effort to say that, despite the big stink over this scandal, Arbuckle probably wasn’t guilty of anything. But this hysteria you’re fomenting over “misinformation” seems a little unjustified in this case.

    1. Yes, I have “actually read” the story. The problem is not just the paragraph itself but the context, as well as what is OMITTED. I will recommend reading the linked Smithsonian article and getting an attitude adjustment, if you don’t mind taking a suggestion from a “hysterical” woman.

      1. P.S. I take a very dim view of comments that insult other readers (“have any of you actually read the paragraph from the AP story”) and have engaged the ban hammer.

        Yes, they clearly have read the paragraph (and the linked story) and have been intelligently discussing it in detail.

    2. The Arbuckle case isn’t relevant to the subject, which is sexual harassment. That case was about the unfortunate death of a woman at a party given by Arbuckle, who was put on trial for her death. The Arbuckle case was not about the systematic abuse of women and misuse of power. The question is why is it even there?

      1. Quite so. To quote an article on a bad celebrity bio, “it’s like someone wrote a biography of Michael Jordan in which all the stats and scores are correct, but you come away with the impression that Michael Jordan wasn’t very good at playing basketball.”

        Yes, Arbuckle was tried three times but leaving out the malicious DA, blackmailer and the fact that the doctor and coroner found that Rappe had not been raped is pretty deceptive. And, as you say, Arbuckle was not like Weinstein in any discernible way. Labeling our irritation with the AP as “hysteria” is pretty strange, I must say.

  13. The title of the AP post is “Hollywood’s long ugly history with sexual harassment,” not “Famous Hollywood Sex Scandals” or the equivalent. From the post title alone it’s pretty plain that the Arbuckle/Rappe business simply doesn’t fit into the type of article AP was attempting. A fact check of the available transcripts of the trials proves that true, as well as the D.A’s charging documents (I’d recommend many open sources here including David Yallop’s Arbuckle biography). So “why even include Arbuckle?” was, in fact, my initial question, not “did they bungle the facts on Arbuckle/Rappe yet again?

    Smithsonian article is succinct and clarifying in this regard as well.

    1. I should have read all the upthread comments! It’s clear that a good many of us are in agreement that the inclusion of the Arbuckle/Rappe case was off topic, a case of sloppy and/or hurried journalism.

      [Side Note: use of the word “hysteria” in this sort of context always strikes me as “a tell,” by the way.]

  14. I wrote a detailed blog post elsewhere about the definition and impact of the terms “sexual predator” vs “sex scandal.”

    The term sex scandal is an outdated tabloid term used to describe anything remotely to do with sex to gin up interest and titillate the reader.

    Using that term with Weinstein’s story minimizes his actions and makes them sound like a naughty romp.

    It also minimized what happened to Arbuckle, making it sound like he killed a girl during a naughty romp at an out of control booze party.

    In 2017 the term “sex scandal” should be confined to The National Enquirer, News of the World, and The Sun if used at all.

    1. While I understand the sentiment, I think that it is needlessly removing a useful word from our vocabulary. A “scandal” is defined as “an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage” and that covers what is going on. “Predator” neither fills this role, nor is grammatically correct in this context. While you are certainly welcome to your opinion in this matter, I will continue to use the English language as I see fit.

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