It was the crime of the century, and three quarters of a century later, the mere mention of it would continue to incite indignation, outrage, even revulsion. It would be Hollywood's first real scandal, and the newspapermen would blur the line between lurid fact and salacious fantasy.
You want true crime?
It's all here, pal.
And it all happened.
The tale of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, his Labor Day party, and his infamous guest Virginia Rappe has become the stuff of legend. Today, the myths and lies are far more well-known than the facts. It is a sad tale of a very funny fellow.
Here's a little background . . .
Roscoe arrived in Hollywood at the perfect moment in time; "the movies" had just re- located to the West Coast, and a fellow named Mack Sennett had the vision to offer Roscoe, a 6' 2", 280 lb.baby-faced buffo, a contract as one of the Keystone comedians. Roscoe served as a bit player initially, even working as one of the famed "Keystone Kops", until Sennett's mistress (Mabel Normand) recognized the flair that Roscoe showed for writing, directing and what would later be called cinematography, (in addition to being a wonderfully amusing young man.) Mabel pushed for Mack to give Roscoe his own production unit at the Keystone lot, and the rest is history. Roscoe not only cranked out dozens of hilarious two-reelers, but pioneered camera angles, cinematic tricks, tracking shots and "pans" that are still used today.
He had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time. But Sennett was a demanding overlord, and Roscoe soon had other offers. Adolph Zukor set Roscoe up with his own production company, "Comique", under the auspices of Paramount Pictures. And as his creative con- trol grew, so did the box office revenues. In 1921, Roscoe signed a $3 Million contract, making him the second-highest paid comedian in the world after his close friend Charlie Chaplin. It seemed the world was Roscoe's oyster.
To celebrate his new contract, Roscoe decided to throw a party at the St. Francis Hotel in San
William Randolph Hearst, then the publisher of The San Francisco Examiner, (as well as a dozen other newspapers around the country,) recognized a story that would sell newspapers when he saw it. Hearst's reporters began telling sensational tales about the case that bore strikingly little resemblance to the facts. These Hearst stories prompted Matthew Brady, San Francisco's ambitious District Attorney, to prosecute Arbuckle for murder. A sensational murder trial, he thought, would help him in his bid for the Governor's Mansion in Sacramento. But the case was so weak, that it was almost immediately reduced to manslaughter, and the presiding judge had trepidations about even that.
"Roscoe," a new American musical (with music by Seth Evans and lyrics and libretto by Don Stitt,) tells the story of the case of The People of San Francisco vs. Roscoe C. Arbuckle. It's a story of media hype, of greed and ambition, of the power of love and friendship, and of what would eventually be called The Court of Public Opinion.
In every sense of the phrase, the tale is a comic tragedy. Hollywood owes a great debt of gratitude to this kind, generous, imaginitive giant. "Roscoe", the musical, aims to tell the true story of a creative giant undone by corruption, ambition, politics and innuendo. It's creators believe it is high time this icon of the film world was restored to his rightful place in the pantheon of Artistic Greatness.