Book of the Week 9/9/13


With many people fascinated by celebrity long as anyone can remember, there has also been equal curiosity with Hollywood scandals. Several “scandals” of decades past would raise few eyebrows these days, let alone lead to a certain career death, and one riveting story from Hollywood’s past is brilliantly outlined in Greg Merritt’s  Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood (Chicago Review Press, 2013).

Room 1219 probes deeper and unfolds a more vivid look beyond the speculation and rumors into the rise and tragic fall of comedic actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, accused of murder in the death of aspiring actress Virginia Rappe. Sex, true crime, Hollywood glamour, and the man who plunged from superstardom to industry pariah are told in an unbiased yet informed manner.

The story unfolds on Labor Day 1921 at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Arbuckle shared Room 1219 with cameraman Fred Fischbach, and rented Room 1220 as a party suite, where several women were invited. Rappe, 30, was later found seriously ill in Room 1219; however, she was not hospitalized until two days later. Rappe was known to indulge in large qualities of alcohol and had had several previous abortions, eventually compromising her reproductive health.

At the hospital, a friend of Rappe’s told the doctor that Arbuckle had sexually assaulted Rappe. While no evidence of rape was discovered during an examination, Virginia Rappe succumbed to peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder, the following day.

Subsequent media coverage of the sex scandal and Arbuckle’s murder trial (which was deemed “trial of the century”) are recaptured in concise detail in Room 1219, in addition to showing what could be details of what events actually took place on that fateful Labor Day, and changed Hollywood forever.