100 Years Ago, the Nation Got Its First Celebrity Scandal – Newser


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Almost exactly a century ago, a 26-year-old actress/model/designer named Virginia Rappe attended a wild party in a San Francisco hotel and at one point ended up in a bedroom with comedic film star Fatty Arbuckle. What followed led to what is widely considered to be the nation's first celebrity scandal, writes Michael Schulman in the New Yorker. Rappe fell ill at the party and died days later of a ruptured bladder; one autopsy suggested an "external force" caused the rupture. Arbuckle, 34, was charged with her murder, though he was eventually exonerated after three sensational trials (the first two ended with deadlocked juries). Schulman digs into the lurid details of the case and the major players, though he finds that the truth remains elusive to this day. "The closer you look, the more you become entangled in the minutiae of medical confusion and the wavering recollections of this or that hotel maid."

Equally interesting was the fallout. Hollywood was just coming into its own as a powerful force, and it decided to police itself in the wake of the scandal. Thus came the studio-funded "Hays Office," run by Will H. Hays, to enforce morality on the screen and in the public personas of movie stars—even if sexual abuse went on behind closed doors. In this self-policing, Schulman draws a parallel to modern times, not in Hollywood but in Silicon Valley. "Social media is roughly as old as the film industry was then, and is also on the receiving end of a public backlash." As Hollywood did then, titans such as Facebook and Twitter are trying to self-police to ward off lawmakers. The story explores these parallels, though the focus is mostly on the Arbuckle case, including the actor's (mostly unsuccessful) comeback attempts before a fatal heart attack at 46. (Read it in full here.)

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