Virginia Rappe (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 Arbuckle, who was accused of complicity in her death though ultimately exonerated.
Virginia Rappe was born in Chicago to an unwed mother, Mabel Rapp, who died when Virginia was 11. Virginia was then raised by her grandmother in Chicago. At age 14 she began working as a commercial and art model in Chicago.
In 1916 she 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. Shortly after the engagement Moscovitz was killed in a streetcar accident, whereupon she moved to Los Angeles. In early 1917 she was hired by director Fred Balshofer and given a prominent role in his Paradise Garden opposite popular screen star Harold Lockwood. In 1918 she gave birth to a child, which was put into foster care. 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".
This film was not released until 1920 when Balshofer recut it and released it under the title An Adventuress and later in 1922 as The Isle of Love.
In 1919, she began a relationship with director/producer Henry Lehrman; the two eventually became engaged. She appeared in at least four films for Lehrman: His Musical Sneeze, A Twilight Baby, Punch of the Irish and A Game Lady.
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.
The exact events of that party are still unclear, with witnesses relating numerous versions of what happened. It was alleged that she died as a result of a violent sexual assault by Arbuckle. Arbuckle's accuser, Maude Delmont, had accompanied Rappe to the party; she had first met Rappe only a few days earlier. Delmont was apparently not present at any of the events she described and was not called to testify at any of Arbuckle's three trials because of her own extensive criminal background that included extortion.
Subsequent witnesses testified that Rappe had for some time suffered from cystitis, and that consuming alcohol could aggravate that condition. 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.
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."
Arbuckle's 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.
Never-the-less, the scandal ended Fatty Arbuckle's career. Despite Arbuckle's acquittal, the scandal has mostly overshadowed his legacy as a pioneering comedian. Following the trials, his films were banned and he was publicly ostracized. Although the ban on his films was lifted within a year, Arbuckle only worked sparingly through the 1920s. He later worked as a film director under the alias William Goodrich. He was finally able to return to acting, making short two-reel comedies in 1932 for Warner Bros. He died in his sleep of a heart attack in 1933 at age 46.
Virginia Rappe is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.