Virginia Rappe

1894 - 1921

She is remembered, chiefly, for being the impetus behind the demise of one of the most storied careers in the silent film era. Her films hardly received any notice, but her influence was sure. She is better known for her death than for her life. Virginia Rappe, it would seem, grabbed controversy by the tail, and never looked back.

Born Virginia Caroline Rapp in New York, in 1894, her mother, a part-time showgirl named Mabel, died when she was 11 years old, and the young girl spent some time living in Chicago with relatives. By the age of 16, she was working as an artist’s model, and was a commercial model for a number of Chicago department stores; this led her to try her hand at Hollywood stardom. By the mid-1910s, she found work at the famed Keystone lot, where she worked for directors Fred Fischback and Henry “Pathe” Lehrman. She still modeled while she sought film fame: she was featured as the cover girl on the sheet music for the popular ballad, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

Virginia found work – leading towards the stardom she so desperately wanted – with the First National film company, releasing such films as The Punch of the Irish, Wet and Warmer, Kick in High Life, Twilight Baby, and Game Lady. All these films are lost, thus it is difficult to assess her worth as a cinematic leading lady. In 1918, Virginia won a “Best Dressed Girl in Pictures” award. It is possible that the company (at the time, First National was among the elite of film producers) was grooming her for big things – however, Virginia’s final trip, to San Francisco, ended all her dreams, and began one man’s nightmare.

On Labor Day, 1921, famed film funny man Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle hosted a party at the Bay City’s St. Francis Hotel, to celebrate the signing of his new three-year, $3 million dollar contract with Paramount Pictures. One of the invited guests, among many, was Virginia Rappe. Arbuckle secured a suite of three rooms (1219, 1220, and 1221) on the 12th floor of the hotel, and at one point during the festivities, Arbuckle and Rappe retreated to one of the bedrooms. What happened in that room will probably never be fully explained.

Virginia Rappe died, on September 9, 1921, at San Francisco’s Wakefield Sanitorium, due to rupture of the bladder, and acute peritonitis; she was found, bleeding and in intense pain, in Arbuckle’s room, on September 5, and died four days later. Instantly, rumors began to spread, and fingers pointed toward the last person seen alive with Virginia: Roscoe Arbuckle.

What was certainly not reported in the better newspapers of the day, was Virginia’s reputation for licentious behavior. Between the ages of 14 and 16, she is reported to have had between three and five abortions, and reports point towards her giving birth to a baby girl in 1910. Sadly, she was reported to have given half the men at the Keystone studios either syphilis or crab lice: Mack Sennett, head of the studio, banned her from the premises and had the area fumigated. Sadly, these facts were not widely known at the time of her death: ironically, many of the questions surrounding the controversy could have been answered by them.

Arbuckle was one of the screen’s major stars when he was charged with the rape and resulting death of Virginia. The details were shocking, the rumors more so. When all was said and done, however, Arbuckle was acquitted in his third trial, on April 12, 1922. He was free, but his career was over, and he died in 1933 never having approached his former popularity.

The sad circumstances surrounding the difficult life, and the early death, of Virginia Rappe, hearken this generation back to a simpler time, complete with difficult realities. The impetus for fame – the bases for remembrance – sometimes cannot be explained, and then, as now, sensationalism and exploitation make for grand headlines. Virginia Rappe was human, had faults, and is generally not remembered fondly by history: however, consider this … at the time of her death, she was engaged to one of her old directors at Keystone, Henry Lehrman. Though he married after her death, he was said to be hopelessly in love with Virginia, and was buried beside her in Section 8 of Hollywood Forever Cemetery upon his death in 1946. Perhaps there is underlying goodness in everyone, even if the consensus refuses to acknowledge it.


  1. give it a rest

    I am so bored with these comments ..Growing up here it was a small town ..This is a bloody bore ..Give it a rest and get a life…


  2. Beautiful Virginia

    Dearest Virginia, it has been 100 years today since you passed away suddenly at such a young age. You are still remembered today for your grace, beauty, talent and genuine fun. I wish I could be there to bring you some flowers and just visit with you again. Hopefully one day soon. In my heart always. I love you!


  3. It is sad to think that a year prior,, Olive Thomas Pickford would die tragically and her husband Jack Pickford ( Mary,s brother) admitted he contemplated suicide by jumping over the side of the ship which brought his wife,s body back to the U.S. from Paris, France, the same age as Virginia .
    One was established, Virginia on the rise.. Now some people may wonder what this has to do with a tribute to Virginia.. Today Olive Thomas Pickford.. lies alone. how sad.
    Henry, loved. Virginia, to ensure she had a tremendous journey with flowers, he later buried beside to keep her company for eternity.. I have a great love for Virg9nia, and hope that her resting spot is always adorned with flowers, don,t let the grass bury her name.. if possible add her name to the Roll Call of women who are Abused one way or another..
    As for Fatty, never did like him, never found him funny.
    Rest in Peace Darling Virginia
    Love from Canada

    Arthur Keen

  4. A Girl that had a Future.

    I want to add some positive comments I found pre scandal in magazines and paper’s regarding Virginia, when the wording went from “Watch Virginia Rappe” “Vaudeville fan since childhood” “Society Girl” “Wholesome” regarding her film “A Twilight Baby”” “So clever has she proven herself” to post Arbuckle party to “Notorius party girl” to “a destitute and friendless extra girl” in later publications. She was frequently used in theatre press stunts, was a Vaudeville fan since childhood, with a seat reserved for her every Monday at American Music Hall at the Palace in Chicago. She was a girl that loved designing clothes and made the papers in Chicago for it, and making 4,000$ a year as a model, she traveled the world. She hiked with her dog Jeff in LA. She was a smart girl that got involved with the wrong people. She said “Be Original-Every Girl Can Be That” Source: The San Francisco call. Jan 03, 1913, Page 7, Image 7. Rumors about disease and abortions written by people later without proof don’t belong on this memorial page. That’s not how victims of a crime, or even a crime not proven should be remembered, the dead can’t defend themselves. Would be good of you to remove that paragraph.

    Stacey Lynn

  5. Rest, dear girl

    I am disgusted by the account written in this “remembrance”. Instead of remembering Ms. Rappe for her career and life, she is maligned by unproven rumors of multiple abortions, STIs, and “hysterics”, as well as being blamed for her own death that was very likely the result of sexual assault.

    Ms Rappe – I am so sorry for the assault and character assassination you endured. We are continuing to attempt to make the world a safer place for women, but still have far to go. I hope you are resting in peace and justice.


  6. Rest in peace, Virginia

    Dearest Virginia,
    You didn’t deserve to suffer so.
    Although most of us who watch movies and study films only know you from the horrible events that surrounded your death, I would like to say a prayer on behalf of your soul, a beautiful girl who was only seeking love and happiness in a world of illusion.
    You had the misfortune of meeting the wrong men too early in your life.
    I pray that God and His angels are watching over you now as you rest in eternal peace.
    God bless and keep you,


  7. A rough life

    I learned of you as I am sure most have – through the controversy surrounding your death. You lived a short life and I am sure it was a rough one. How could have so many abortions in your teenage years have been anything but rough? I’m sorry that your brief life was a difficult one and I am happy that your rape and murder were the end of one sick man’s career. You are remembered.


  8. Virginia

    I think i’m the only one to live you a message. I read now about your life and i’m happy for Arbuckle’s end.
    You was very young i’m very sorry.

    Chiara - Italy

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