The tragic death of Virginia Richdale Kerrigan

From left: W. W. Kerrigan, W. W. Kerrigan Jr., Nina Kerrigan, J. Warren Kerrigan and Virginia Richdale Kerrigan

Virginia Richdale Kerrigan was the daughter of Nina Richdale and William Wallace Kerrigan, the twin brother of silent film actor, J Warren Kerrigan. In 1915, Kerrigan was general manager of Universal Studios, and also managed his brother’s career.

Virginia was born on November 15, 1915 on the Universal Studios lot — the first of three children to be born there shortly after the studio opened. The others were: the son of Charles Oelze (assistant to Kerrigan), and Wallace Stith (named in honor of Kerrigan), the son of William Stith, who worked in Universal’s technical department. All three babies were used in several early Universal scenarios. In particular, baby Virginia appeared in Good and Evil (1916) and Her Soul’s Song (1916).

Over the years, Kerrigan directed the careers of such stars as William S. Hart, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino. Valentino first met Kerrigan while working on the set of Delicious Little Devil (1919) with Mae Murray. At the time, Kerrigan was managing his brother’s career and soon did the same for Valentino. Over the coming months, Rudy became attached to little Virginia, spending many hours at her Ivar Avenue home (2050 Ivar Avenue). Later, even after his success, Valentino continued to visit Virginia, taking her for rides in his car through the streets of the Hollywood Hills.

The death certificate of Virginia Richdale Kerrigan (click on image to enlarge)

On the day after Christmas 1924, Virginia and her family were attending a party at a neighbors house at 2006 Ivar Avenue. There was a nip in the air that day, and an open gas heater was lit to take off the chill. Virginia had received a new dress as a present the previous day, and was modeling it for the party goers. Shortly before noon, as she laughed and twirled around the room, the hem of her dress brushed over the heater and ignited. The flames spread rapidly to the upper part of her clothing and to her hair. Before the others could extinguish the flames, Virginia was badly burned about the arms, body, and head.

The Hollywood police rushed the injured girl to the Stadfield Hospital on Sunset Boulevard where she was treated before being transferred to the Hollywood Community Hospital at 1300 Vermont Avenue. Virginia lingered for nearly thirty-six hours before succumbing to her injuries at 10:30 p.m., Saturday night, December 27, 1924.

The home of actor J. Warren Kerrigan where the funeral for his niece Virginia was held.

The funeral was held at 2307 Cahuenga Blvd, the home of Virginia’s uncle, actor J. Warren Kerrigan. Afterward, Virginia was interred at Hollywood Cemetery in crypt 1399 of the Cathedral Mausoleum, across from her grandmother, Sarah McLean Kerrigan, who passed away two years earlier.

According to Virginia’s brother, Patrick O. Kerrigan (who was born a few years after Virginia’s death), Rudolph Valentino, who had a profound love of children, was devastated by her death and would often leave flowers at her crypt. In less than two years, Valentino would be interred in the same building, only two corridors away from Virginia.

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11 Responses to “The tragic death of Virginia Richdale Kerrigan”

  1. Melissa says:

    Just heartbreaking….

  2. Harry Martin says:

    Thanks Allan … wonderful post, and the house photos were extra, special cool!

  3. dawn says:

    Thanks much Allan! What a sweet and sad story. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Lisa Burks says:

    Poor little Virginia! What a poignant story, and so beautifully written, as always. Great job, Allan! Thanks so much for sharing this.

  5. Tim Kerrigan says:

    I am the grandson of William Wallace Kerrigan. My Dad (who passed away last years at the age of 90) often told my brother (William Wallace Kerrigan III) and I the story of his sister ‘s death. I thought some of the Valentino stuff he told me might have been an exaggeration, but your story seems to confirm it.

    Apparently, Nina Richdale, my Grandmother, came to blame her oldest son (my father) for Virginia’s death. I can confirm that she was a broken and difficult woman who was very critical of him, even though he supported her financially for years.

    It is said that William Wallace Kerrigan’s (my Grandfather) spirit was broken after Virginia died. I remember him as a lovely Irish spirit who drank a little too much, but who was very kind.

    I remember Uncle Jack (J. Warren Kerrigan) as a fun loving yet somewhat serious person. The fact that he was gay and lived with a partner had to be hidden in those days to save his career. Keeping up appearances became a difficult burden for him.

    Thank you for the story and such thorough research.
    ******

    A. — Hi Tim and thank you for sharing your family information. It is a sad story and I appreciate you taking the time.

  6. Harry Martin says:

    Wow! What great additional information on one of my favorite stories of the Cathedral Mausoleum.

  7. Sharon Seymour says:

    A tragedy. For Tim Kerrigan, we’re distant relatives. My great great grandfather was William McLean. His sister Sarah McLean Kerrigan was the mother of Jack and William (and 7 other kids!). I have a photo of Jack with my then-teen aged mother and two other aunts, from 1942. Do you have any photos of Sarah?

  8. William W. Kerrigan says:

    I’m Tim’s brother, and the grandson and namesake of Virginia’s father, William Wallace Kerrigan. As my father told the story of his sister’s death, his mother and father were NOT in attendance at the fatal party, and it was his responsibility to keep an eye on Virginia. Also, though some film historians assume that the gayness of J. Warren Kerrigan is a proven fact, I have yet to see the proof, and my father virgorously denied it to the very end of his life, as did my mother. So I remain uncertain on that particular point.

  9. William W. Kerrigan says:

    I want to add one more fact to this string. Virginia was, as a baby, a bit of a movie star. Her mother (my grandmother) kept a scrapbook of her various film appearances, and included mail from fans of little baby Virginia.

  10. Andrew Cameron says:

    Tragic story. Just awful.

    Concerning Kerrigan’s sexuality, I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that he was heterosexual.

    I’ve always been somewhat bemused that homosexuality must be irrefutably “proven”, while heterosexuality is unquestioningly presumed. Certainly, in Kerrigan’s case, there is far more evidence to support the former than the latter.

  11. David Peterzell says:

    Dear Kerrigan relatives:
    I was very sorry to read this heartbreaking story.

    I am with a group working in La Mesa, California documenting the history of the American Film Manufacturing Company (Flying A) in our town and region. As I’m sure you know, the Kerrigan brothers were active with Flying A in La Jolla, along with Alan Dwan and others who later played significant roles in silent films. Might you be willing to talk to us about the history of that era? Please write me (davidpeterzell@mac.com) or the leader of our group (Wade Douglas, Wade Douglas, justplainwade@gmail.com). Best wishes, Dave Peterzell, UC San Diego and Fielding Graduate University, Boulder, CO

    PS: We dedicated a plaque to Flying A this year. Here the story, along with video of our dedication ceremony.
    http://lamesa.patch.com/articles/radio-veteran-announces-his-dream-centennial-marker-for-movie-studio-home#video-7352121

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