Hollywood Tragedies…


Virginia Rappe



A modeling photo of Virginia Rappe (courtesy Joan Myers) 


Today is the 117th birthday of Virginia Rappe, who is best known for her tragic and controversial death in 1921. Film researcher Joan Myers is presently working on a detailed account of the Arbuckle trial.


By Joan Myers 


Virginia Rappe was born in Chicago on July 7, 1891. In 1907 she began working as a artist’s model; she quickly segued into the new field of commercial fashion modeling. For the next few years she traveled throughout the northwest and eastern seaboard doing live modeling for fashion shows and posing for advertising and fashion photography. In 1914 she began designing and marketing her own line of clothing; later that year she moved to San Francisco to market her designs at the Pan Pacific International Exhibition. In the spring of 1916 she decided to try for a career in films and again relocated, this time to Hollywood. 



She continued her modeling career in Hollywood. In early 1917 she was hired by producer Fred Balshofer and given a prominent co-starring role in Balshofer’s Paradise Garden opposite screen idol Harold Lockwood. Balshofer hired her again the next year to co-star with popular cross-dresser Julian Eltinge and newcomer Rudolph Valentino in Over the Rhine. This film was not released until 1920 when Balshofer recut it and released it under the title An Adventuress.



In 1917, Rappe began a relationship with comedy actor/director/producer Henry Lehrman. She appeared in at least four films for Lehrman: His Musical Sneeze and A Twilight Baby (1920) with Lloyd Hamilton, Punch of the Irish (1921) with Frank Coleman and Lige Conley, and A Game Lady (1921) with Hamilton and Coleman. All but two of these films (A Twilight Baby and Punch of the Irish) are lost. It is possible Rappe may have had additional roles with Lehrman, but none have so far been identified.



On September 9, 1921, four days after attending a party thrown by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, actor Lowell Sherman, and director Fred Fischbach at the St. Francis Hotel, Rappe died of a ruptured bladder in San Francisco. Arbuckle was arrested for her murder the next day. The murder charge was eventually reduced to manslaughter, for which Arbuckle was tried three times. The first two trials ended in hung juries; Arbuckle was acquitted of the charge at the end of the third trial, but his career was ruined. 



Virginia Rappe’s grave at Hollywood Forever Cemetery





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10 Responses to “Hollywood Tragedies…”

  1. w.k. mccauley says:

    I would love to know more about V.R.s early career as a designer. She has always been depicted as a failed starlet. Please let all your many readers know about her early career and how that may have affected the outcome. She was not just a clueless starlet? This is so interesting, much like Barbara Lamar who was only known as an actress, when she did so much more. N’est ce que pas? I am so interested. Also, can you elucidate us on how her last name is pronounced?

  2. w.k. mccauley says:

    And also, may we expect to hear about Florence Lawrence and, most especially, Flora Finch in future posts? We are looking for the first movie star and the first billed female comedienne (Finch?) Would love to hear your story of Florence Lawrence and her headstone. and, as always Flora Finch. Is her last credited app. in “The Women?” Does anyone recocnize her in such?

  3. Joan Myers says:


    As nearly as I can tell, Rappe began designing fashions around the early part of 1914. She may well have had an interest in clothing design previously, stemming from her involvement in the early fashion industry, but 1914 is when her first publicity articles start appearing. These articles appear throughout the country and continue until she went to Hollywood. It is always possible that the move to Hollywood was in connection with her design career rather than in the hopes of an acting career; most actresses, at least in dramatic roles, wore their own clothing in films. Of course, then–as now–the step from modeling to acting is a standard career arc, a person who photographs well as a model is likely to photograph well in a movie. The source material on Rappe is not vast, but what is available points to intelligence and ambition, rather than cluelessness.

    Her name is Swedish/Germanic and is pronounced “Rap-pay.”

  4. Nance says:

    Kevin-Virginia added the e to the end of her name to sound more glamourus. She pronounced it Rapp (a). Also, if you would like more info. on Ms. Rappe, you can go to Goldensilents.com or a number of sites to find out more.

  5. Lisa Cousins says:

    Hmmm – hadn’t noticed this the first time around with this article, but I see that her birth year is listed as 1891 in the text, but appears to be 1895 on the gravemarker. Any light to shed on the discrepancy?
    Hi Lisa, It’s the norm for an actress to lie about her age to stay younger for parts. The 1891 is from her birth certificate. — Allan

  6. Martin Evans says:

    Has anybody ever considered the idea that Virginia Rappe might’ve been purposefully murdered by Maude Delmont to frame Roscoe Arbuckle?

  7. d haffner says:

    any inside info regarding Virgie will be appreciated…….thanx zeke

  8. Emma Psyche says:

    I just started a complete work as a concept album around the story of Virginia rappe. It’s in french and ther’s as well an english version. Everything is on my website and the album is available to listen to and download. The story covers Virginia’s life and death, mentionning things haven’t changed since, regarding fame and the danger you risk to get it.

  9. Noreen says:

    My grandmother who was born 1891 and had been in the USA during 1917 to 1922 told me a lot of Virginia Rappe. She said that she had been a lovely and honest young woman blessed with so many spiritual gifts and loving art so much. My grandmother always said that Virginia had been a victim of Arbuckle.
    I look forward to a biography of her.
    Blessed be

  10. randle land says:

    Are any of the original police or court documents still around? If so, where are they archived? I am interested in researching a particular witness, one of the party guests (my grandmother). Thank you.

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