Virginia Rappe

Virginia Caroline Rappe (/rəˈp/; July 7, 1895 September 9, 1921) was an American model and silent film actress. She worked mostly in small bit parts and is best known for her death after attending a party with actor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, who was accused of complicity in her death, though ultimately exonerated.

Virginia Rappe
Virginia Rappe circa 1920
Virginia Caroline Rappe

(1895-07-07)July 7, 1895
DiedSeptember 9, 1921(1921-09-09) (aged 26)
Cause of deathRuptured bladder and secondary peritonitis
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery
Other namesVirginia Rappae
Years active1916–1921

Early life and career

Virginia Caroline Rappe was born in Chicago, Illinois to an unwed mother, Mabel Rappe, who died when Virginia was 11. Virginia was then raised by her grandmother.[1][2] At age 14, she began working as a commercial and art model.[3]

In 1916, Rappe relocated to San Francisco to pursue her career as an artist's model, where she met dress designer Robert Moscovitz, to whom she became engaged. However, shortly after the engagement, Moscovitz was killed in a streetcar accident, whereupon Rappe moved to Los Angeles. In early 1917, she was hired by director Fred Balshofer and given a prominent role in his film Paradise Garden, opposite popular screen star Harold Lockwood. Balshofer then hired her again to costar with early drag performer Julian Eltinge and newcomer Rudolph Valentino in Over the Rhine, for which she was awarded the title of "Best Dressed Girl in Pictures".[3] This film was not released until 1920, when Balshofer recut it and released it under the title An Adventuress, and later in 1922, after Rappe's death, as The Isle of Love.

In 1919, Rappe began a relationship with director/producer Henry Lehrman. The two eventually became engaged and lived together, although in the United States Census of 1920, the young actress is listed simply as a "Boarder" in Lehrman's home in Los Angeles.[4] Rappe appeared in at least four films for Lehrman: His Musical Sneeze, A Twilight Baby, Punch of the Irish and A Game Lady. However, since many of Lehrman's films are lost, the exact number of roles she performed for him cannot be determined.


The circumstances of Rappe's death in 1921 became a Hollywood scandal and were covered widely (and sensationalized) by the media of the time. During a party held on Labor Day, September 5, 1921, in Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's suite, number 1219, at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, Rappe allegedly suffered a trauma. She died on September 9 from a ruptured bladder and secondary peritonitis.[5] She was buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.[6]

Rumors arose, supposedly to besmirch her character, that Rappe had given birth to a child in Chicago in 1918, and that the child was given to foster care. These rumors were proven false by autopsy.[7]

The exact events of that party are still unclear, with witnesses relating numerous versions of what happened. It was alleged that Rappe had died as a result of a violent sexual assault by Arbuckle. Arbuckle's accuser, Bambina Maude Delmont, had accompanied Rappe to the party; she had first met Rappe only a few days earlier.[8] (Delmont had a police record for extortion, prostitution and blackmail.)[9] Subsequent witnesses testified that Rappe had for some time suffered from cystitis, and that consuming alcohol could aggravate that condition.[10] Witnesses also testified that she had previously suffered from venereal disease, so there were allegations that her death was brought on by her health rather than by an assault.[11]

After three manslaughter trials, Arbuckle was formally acquitted; his acquittal in the third trial was accompanied by an unprecedented statement of apology from the jury stating, in part, that, "Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime."[12] Nevertheless, Arbuckle's reputation and career were ruined because of the scandal.

The case has been examined by scholars and historians over the years and is still speculated about today, and a number of detailed books about the case have analyzed the incident and subsequent trials.


Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1916 The Foolish Virgin Salesgirl Bit part [13]
1917 Paradise Garden Marcia Van Wyck Lost film [13]
1918 Wild Women and Tame Lions Uncredited
1919 His Musical Sneeze
1920 A Twilight Baby
1920 An Adventuress Vanette Alternative title: The Isle of Love
1920 The Kick in High Life Uncredited
1920 Wet and Warmer Undetermined role Uncredited
1921 The Punch of the Irish Undetermined role
1921 A Game Lady Undetermined role

See also


  1. Miller, Blair (1995). American Silent Film Comedies: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Persons, Studios, and Terminology. McFarland & Co. p. 207. ISBN 0-89950-929-0.
  2. Ellis, Julie (2005). The Mammoth Book of Celebrity Murder: Murder Played Out In The Spotlight Of Maximum Publicity. Berghahn Books. p. 445. ISBN 1-57181-140-0.
  3. Ellis, Chris & Julie (2005). Celebrity Murder: Murder played out in the spotlight of maximum publicity. Constable & Robertson. ISBN 1-84529-154-9.
  4. "The Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920", City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, enumeration date January 10, 1920. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  5. Meade, Marion (1997). Buster Keaton: Cut To the Chase. Da Capo Press. p. 121. ISBN 0-306-80802-1.
  6. Lawson, Kristan; Rufus, Anneli (2000). California Babylon. Macmillan. p. 46. ISBN 0-312-26385-6.
  7. "Sausalito News 12 November 1921 — California Digital Newspaper Collection". Retrieved 2017-01-13.
  8. Hallett, Hilary (2013). Go West, Young Women!. University of California Press. p. 196.
  9. Noe, Denise. "Fatty Arbuckle and the Death of Virginia Rappe". Archived from the original on February 10, 2015. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  10. "Virginia Blamed Lover, says nurse". Ludington Daily News. San Francisco, Cal. September 13, 1921. p. 1.
  11. Noe, Denise. "Fatty Arbuckle and the Death of Virginia Rappe". Archived from the original on February 10, 2015. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  12. Chermak, Steven M.; Bailey, Frankie Y. (2007). Crimes and Trials of the Century. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 67. ISBN 0-313-34110-9.
  13. Hallett 2013, p. 182.


  • Hallett, Hilary (2013). Go West, Young Women!: The Rise of Early Hollywood. Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-27408-2.

Further reading

  • Merritt, Greg (2013). Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. ISBN 978-1-613-74792-6.
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