27 September 2016

Fatty Arbuckle's three murder trials - 1921 and twice in 1922.

According to the SmithsonianRoscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1887-1933) was always a chubby young man who weighed about 118kg, suffered many infections, and had addictions to morphine and alcohol. Yet Arbuckle was one of the most popular and highest paid silent stars of the 1910s. By mid 1921, Paramount Pictures had paid him an unprecedented $3 million over three years to star in 18 silent films, and he’d just signed another million-dollar contract with the studio. The portly comedian’s latest film, Crazy to Marry, was playing in theatres across the country. 

To celebrate, his friend Fred Fischbach planned a three-day Labour Day bash at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, but the days leading up to the party were not happy ones. Arbuckle was in Los Angeles having his car serviced when he sat down on an acid-soaked rag at the garage and burned his buttocks. He was tempted to cancel the trip northward, but Fischbach disagreed. Fischbach arranged had everything from the rooms to the guests to the liquor, so Arbuckle reluctantly agreed to participate in the party.

On Labour Day 1921, Arbuckle was walking around in his pajamas when he saw Maud Delmont and 25-year-old actress Virginia Rappe. He was concerned that their naughty reputations might alert police to the gin party. But the food and booze were flowing by then, and the music was playing.

By the end of that week, Fatty Arbuckle was arrested for murder sitting in Cell No. 12 on felony row at the San Francisco Hall of Justice, held without bail in the slaying of Virg­inia Rappe. Crazy to Marry was quickly pulled from theat­res. Delmont was a witness for the prosecution who would never be called to testify because police and prosecutors knew her story was nonsense. Yet she still ruined Arbuckle’s career.

A newspaper front page, Sept 1921.
How could the details be revealed before the first trial started in Nov 1921?

On the front pages of William Randolph Hearst’s national chain of newspapers, the lurid story was published before Arbuckle had a chance to tell his side of the story. The very attractive Virginia Rappe was 25 years old when she arrived at the St. Francis Hotel. Maude Delmont painted a sinister portrait of Arbuckle. Delmont said that after Arbuckle and Rappe had had a few drinks together, he pulled her into an adjoining room. After a half-hour, Delmont heard Rappe screaming, so she burst through the locked door. Arbuckle came to the door in his pajamas, smiling his foolish screen smile. Behind him, Rappe was sprawled on the bed, moaning. Arbuckle did it, Delmont told the police.

The Hearst papers sold more papers about the Fatty Arbuckle scandal than the sinking of the Lusitania. While raping Virginia Rappe, the papers surmised, the heavy star had ruptured her bladder; sexual depravities were rampant.

Arbuckle turned himself in and was held for three weeks in gaol. Police released a mug shot of the dejected actor, photographed in a suit and bow tie. Arbuckle’s lawyers requested that the public make no judgment until all the facts were established. But they quickly realised Arbuckle would have to make a statement, and the comedian told a very different story from Maude Delmont’s.

HE said that after having a few drinks with Rappe, the actress became hysterical, and started to tear off her clothes. At no time was he alone with her, and had witnesses to corroborate the point. He found Rappe in his bathroom, vomiting, and he and several other guests tried to revive her from what they believed was intoxication. Event­ually, they got her a room of her own where she could be treated by a doctor and recover. But she died.

Arbuckle was charged with rape and manslaughter and scheduled for trial that November. San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady saw the case as the perfect opportunity to jump-start his career in politics, but his star witness, Maude Delmont, was problematic. Was she a lifelong friend of Rappe’s; or did they meet just days before the party. She also had a criminal history of fraud and extortion, Brady discovered. Then there was the matter of the telegrams that Maude Delmont sent to attorneys in both San Diego and Los Angeles: “WE HAVE ROSCOE ARBUCKLE IN A HOLE HERE CHANCE TO MAKE SOME MONEY OUT OF HIM.”

Arbuckle’s lawyers introduced medical evidence from Rappe’s autopsy which concluded that there “were no marks of violence on the body, no signs that the girl had been attacked in any way.” The defence also had witnesses with damaging information about Rappe’s past. The doct­or who treated Rappe at the hotel testified that she had told him Arbuckle did not try to sexually assault her. Too late! Arbuckle’s reputation was in a shambles, even after his close film colleagues Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin vouched for his character.

In the first trial in Nov 1921, Arbuckle took the stand and the jurors voted 10-2 for acquittal. So the prosecution tried him a second time and the jury was deadlocked again. It wasn’t until the third trial, in March 1922, that Arbuckle allowed his attorneys to call the witnesses who had known Rappe to the stand. He had little choice; he had spent $700,000+ on his defence. The witnesses testified that Rappe had suffered previous abdominal attacks; drank heavily and often disrobed at parties after doing so; was promiscuous, and had an illegitimate daughter.

Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle
Virginia Rappe.

In April 1922, the third jury acquitted Arbuckle of manslaughter after deliberating for just five minutes. The jury wrote: Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done to him. He was manly throughout the case and told a straight­forward story which we all believe. We wish him success and hope that the American people will accept the judgement that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.

Nonetheless there was an immediate shunning by Hollywood and all of Arbuckle’s acting roles disappeared. The destruction of copies of films starring Arbuckle was completed. In November 1923, Mrs Arbuckle successfully applied for divorce. Arbuckle changed his name and worked behind the scenes, directing films for friends who remained loyal to him. A decade later, in June 1933, he had a heart attack and died in his hotel room. He was 46.


Let me add the following points to the Smithsonian article.

The USA became a nation that was outraged to discover a sordid side to the off-screen lives of Hollywood stars. Until that point, film stars were assumed to be more respectable than ordinary citizens. Yet Rappe had already made a something of a name for herself as a model, designer, actress and party girl. And in Los Angeles, Delmont was already known as Madam Black and a blackmailer; she procured young women for parties where wealthy male guests might find themselves accused of rape. Perhaps women filmstars' off-screen lives were viewed through a sexist and nasty screen :(

Maude Delmont, the one who spoke on Virginia’s "behalf" during the trials, seemed to escape all criminal charges. Delmont was 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 (eg extortion).

Maud Delmont

What was the impact of Prohibition (1920-33) on Hollywood life in the early 1920s? Liquor might have been associated with violence, the criminal underworld and police bribery, but it was readily available to anyone with a bit of money.

Sub judice contempt comes with publishing material which might interfere with the administration of justice while proceedings are under the judge. This is, to avoid a trial by media by prohibiting the publication of material which might prejudge issues during particular proceedings, or place pressure on those involved in the trial, including jurors, witnesses or potential witnesses. [In the USA, there are also First Amendment concerns about stifling the right of free speech which prevent such tight restrictions on comments sub judice]. 

So how did William Randolph Hearst’s national chain of newspapers get the story first and how were they allowed to blurt out the lurid details in public, before the first trial even started?  Any publication that prejudiced the course of justice eg details of the defendant's previous criminal convictions, should have been in contempt. Arbuckle's previous convictions should have only only to be considered by the court AFTER the verdict,  to help it to decide on an appropriate punishment.

In the USA, under the rules of double jeopardy, acquittal bars the retrial of the accused for the same offence, even if new evidence surfaces that further implicates the accused. Were the last two of Fatty Arbuckle's trials illegal?

Remember Will Hays, the very nasty censor hired by the motion picture industry to restore its image? He banned Fatty Arbuckle from appearing on screen. Had there been a different President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America in 1922, the damage to Arbuckle's career may not have occurred. Hays changed his mind eight months later, but the damage was done.

24 September 2016

"Anti-Jacobite" wine glasses, after the Battle of Culloden

Inga Walton wrote very well about the National Gallery of Victoria exhibition called Kings Over The Water (2013). Although religion played a significant role in the propaganda surrounding the overthrow of King James II, it was not necessarily an overriding factor in the Jacobite movement. A large proportion of Jacobite supporters were in fact Protestants and members of the Tory party. Others were partisans in the cause of Irish and Scottish nationalism. Both groups supported the claims of an indigenous (Stuart) dynasty over those of a foreign (German) house, as the Hanoverians were characterised. And they opposed the subordination of the monarchy to the will of a small group of powerful and self-interested, English land-owning aristocratic Whigs in parliament.

This momentous political and military struggle continued after the death of King James II with the Stuart supporters declaring James Francis Edward to be James III. I have written at length noting that to explicitly support the Stuart claim would have been treasonous. So popular songs and works of art bearing the likenesses, mottos and emblems of the exiled dynasty became a more subtle weapon in the battle to win the public over to The Cause.

Jacobite material culture, including medals, portraits, ceramics, prints and glassware had to use coded symbols to express loyalty and solidarity. By far the most common symbol was the six-petalled white heraldic rose, an ancient emblem of the Stuarts. And the thistle, representing the Stuarts’ claim to the Scottish throne; the thistle surmounted by a crown was an ancient badge of Scotland. The oak leaf and the acorn also held great significance, since the oak was an ancient Stuart badge and an emblem of the Stuart Restoration. Stuart supporters relied on the ambiguity of these fashionable motifs to obscure their real intent.

Pro-Jacobite glass with two handles, 1745,
in the Drawing Room at Trerice in Cornwall

120 small private clubs, gatherings of Stuart sympathisers, were the focal points of Jacobitism in the mid-C18th. A number of Masonic lodges were known to be Jacobite, as were many hunts, part­ic­ularly if they were maintained by an aristocratic patron sympathetic to The Cause.

Owing to the covert nature of Jacobite allegiance, it was initially assumed that these vessels were produced in secret in the provinces. However the vast majority of authentic Jacobite glasses were wheel-engraved! This was a relatively new decorative technique in England in the 1740s, a skill confined to the major London glass workshops. Only five engravers have been identified.

The Jacobite struggle reached its peak in 1745 when King James II’s grandson, Charles Edward Louis/The Young Pretender (1720-88) led an armed invasion, the last pitched battle fought on British soil. The buoyant mood of Stuart supporters and hopes for the restoration were soundly quashed at the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746. This earned Bonnie Prince Charlie’s opponent on the field, Prince William Augustus, the nickname "Butcher Cumberland".

After Bonnie Prince Charlie spent some months in 1746 wandering in the northwest Highlands and Islands of Scotland hiding from British forces, he finally sailed to permanent exile on the continent. In the battle’s punitive aftermath, active suppression of the Highland clans led to measures such as bans on the wearing of tartan and on other aspects of Gaelic culture. These events continued to arouse strong nationalist feelings, then and now.

Jacobitism, as a living political cause, ended. Nonetheless, the doomed political and military adventure that was the failed Stuart bid to recapture the English throne assumed a potent afterlife in romantic literature and art.

Prosperity to the Duke of Cumberland, c1746
anti-Jacobite glass, 16 cm high
Bonhams 2011

But here is something I had previously not heard of! The NGV exhibition concluded with an acknowledgement of the dynastic status quo: anti-Jacobite glasses with emblems expressing loyalty to the Hanoverian monarchs. Most common of these was the prancing white steed of Saxony, an emblem of the German House of Hanover, often accompanied by the motto ‘George and Liberty’, celebrating the new political settlement.

How extraordinary! The Jacobites had to be secretive because to support the Stuart claim would have been treasonous. But why did supporters of the royal family and of Parliament need symbols on their wine glasses? And why did the loyal wine glasses often include a portrait of the Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765)?

In presenting an engraved Duke of Cumberland plain stem wine glass c1740 for auction in London in 2011, Bonhams tells the story. Prince William Duke of Cumberland (1721-65), third son of King George II, was destined for a serious career in the army. As the leading British general of the day, he was chosen to put a decisive stop to the Stuart Pretender in the Jacobite rising of 1745. Cumberland’s appointment was popular, and caused morale to soar amongst the public and troops loyal to King George. As a result Cumberland is best known for his defeat of the Young Pretender at the Battle of Culloden, finally quash­ing the Jacobite Insurrection.

Prince William Duke of Cumberland might have been called "Butcher Cumberland" by Jacobite historians. But for everyone else, Cumberland was a hero. The drawn trumpet bowl glass was decorated with the bust portrait of the hero and inscribed beneath the rim Prosperity to the Duke of Cumberland, the plain stem with conical foot.

engraved Duke of Cumberland portrait wine glass, c1750
anti-Jacobite glass, 18 cm high
Bonhams 2013

Another engraved Duke of Cumberland portrait wine glass c1750 was similar in design. The drawn trumpet bowl engraved at the rim with the inscription 'Prosperity to the Duke of Cumberland', above an oval portrait medallion of the Duke in profile. But this later glass had a multiple-spiral air-twist stem and folded conical foot. In 2013 Bonhams noted this belonged to a rare group of Anti-Jacobite glasses depicting William, Duke of Cumberland who defeated the Jacobite uprising at the Battle of Culloden.

They did not suggest why anti-Jacobite wine glasses were rarer than Jacobite wine glasses. Nor did they explain why the Duke of Cumberland's name and portrait were used, rather than King George and Liberty as suggested at the National Gallery of Victoria exhibition.

20 September 2016

Tallis Foundation, architecture, gardens and music/theatre. Melbourne is beautiful!

Within two hours of his ship (SS William Nicol) landing in Australia in Feb 1842, James Butchart had seen enough of the recently planned City of Melbourne to be confident about his future. He quickly wrote an excited letter to his father, back on the family farm in Fifeshire, Scotland.

Butchart certainly did well and built Beleura (c1860-1864) on land he purchased in Mornington, then just outside the edge of Melbourne. It still looks like a classical Italianate villa, designed for a Scotsman in semi rural Australia. Further Italianate elements came later eg the Corinthian colonnade veranda and balustrade parapet.

Beleura veranda

Beleura gardens

Beleura dining room

After Butchart’s death in 1869, the home was called the finest mansion in the colony and sold to Charles Edward Bright, son in law of Sir John Manners-Sutton, Viscount Canterbury  Governor of Victoria 1866-1873. Beleura thus became the unofficial summer retreat for the Governor and his family. Later the house was owned by a succession of rich, powerful and successful families.

Theatrical entrepreneur George Tallis purchased the property in 1915 as a summer retreat, was knighted in 1922 and , on retirement, developed it as a stud. Sir George was the first owner to add land to Beleura, giving it an estate sufficient to support a fine house. Lady Tallis died in 1933 so a very sad Sir George decided to use Beleura only as a summer retreat. He died at Wagga Wagga in 1948. Within a year, the estate was taken over by John Tallis, George's son. He soon dedicated his life to the preserv­ation of the estate. John Tallis died in 1996 and bequeathed Beleura and its considerable contents to the State. The property is now managed as a house museum by the Tallis Foundation.

Sir George Tallis

To celebrate the Centenary of Tallis Ownership, special events were arranged for Aug and Sep 2016. Australia's best theatrical manager between 1874-1907 was JC Williamson when there was a strong connection between Williamson and Tallis. JC Williamson’s most successful ventures was the Royal Comic Opera Company. Its greatest star was Florence Young, who was Sir George Tallis’ sister-in-law, Lady Tallis’ sister. In very short time, Sir George Tallis was JC Williamson’s Victorian manager.

In August 2016, a concert was presented by the Beleura Tallis Foundation and Beleura House and Garden, Mornington. The musical show, 1916!, was set in Sir George Tallis’ office at Her Majesty’s theatre in August 1916, the opening night of The Girl in the Train. As the curtain went up, Sir George took a moment to reflect. With fine singers from the world of opera and music theatre, a pro­fessional string ensemble and strong period costumes, 1916! cele­brated the 100th anniversary AND the connection between the Tallis family and Beleura.

House and Garden Tours will be held throughout the last week in September. Visitors will be brought to Beleura by a courtesy bus from a nearby location in Mornington. Morning tea will be served on arrival, followed by a light lunch between the House & Garden Tours. From the time the bus picks up the visitors until the time of return to the car park, the tour will take approximately 4.5 hours.

Thank you to Heritage Listed Locations for the garden, architectural and entertainment histories of this estate.