9 Vintage Hollywood Scandals That Reveal Tinseltown’s Ugly Side

Published May 11, 2021
Updated May 21, 2024

The Mysterious Death Of Virginia Rappe

One of Hollywood’s biggest scandals — ever — erupted in 1921. Then, a young aspiring model named Virginia Rappe died after allegedly being raped by comedian Fatty Arbuckle.

Virginia Rappe Hollywood Scandals

Library of CongressVirginia Rappe died of a ruptured bladder and peritonitis after attending a party with Fatty Arbuckle.

On Sept. 5, 1921, Virginia Rappe and Fatty Arbuckle attended the same party at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. At that point, Arbuckle’s star was on the rise. The 266-pound comedian had just signed a $1 million (about $13 million today) deal with Paramount Pictures.

According to witnesses, Arbuckle pressured the 26-year-old — and extremely intoxicated — Rappe into going to bed with him. “I’ve waited for you five years, and now I’ve got you,” a witness named Maude Delmont remembered Arbuckle saying to Rappe.

But when Delmont heard screaming from inside the bedroom, she started to pound on the door. Finally, Arbuckle opened it and flashed his “foolish screen smile.” Behind him, Delmont could see Rappe naked in bed and writhing in pain.

Fatty Arbuckle

Wikimedia CommonsFatty Arbuckle’s film career faltered following Rappe’s mysterious death.

Arbuckle claimed that he’d simply walked into the room and found Rappe vomiting. He said that he’d put her into bed to try and help her. And the whole story might have ended there except that a few days later on Sept. 9, Rappe died of a ruptured bladder and peritonitis.

Delmont then told the police that Arbuckle had raped Rappe — and the comedian was promptly arrested.

But although newspapers ran wild with the story — many claimed that Arbuckle had crushed Rappe in bed — this Hollywood scandal became a Hollywood mystery. Arbuckle denied doing anything wrong and was later acquitted of manslaughter. Indeed, Rappe may have had a preexisting condition that led to her death.

In the end, though, the only two people who know for sure what happened were Fatty Arbuckle and Virginia Rappe themselves. Both came to Hollywood with big dreams that ended in tragedy.

Laura Martisiute
Laura Martisiute is a freelance writer based in Tramore, Ireland. In her spare time, she likes to explore secret beaches, pet cats, and read.
Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
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Martisiute, Laura. "9 Vintage Hollywood Scandals That Reveal Tinseltown’s Ugly Side." AllThatsInteresting.com, May 11, 2021, https://allthatsinteresting.com/vintage-hollywood-scandals. Accessed June 22, 2024.