Old Movie Star Scandals That Shook Hollywoodland


Fatty Arbuckle's Rape and Murder Trail

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Fatty Arbuckle's mugshot, wikimedia.org

He was born Roscoe Arbuckle in 1887. His talent for comedy and singing sparked a successful vaudeville career. By 1913, he began starring onscreen and eventually earned himself a $3 million deal with Paramount Pictures. Fame went to Arbuckle's head, though, and he started having difficulty coping. By 1916, the comedian had developed an alcohol addiction and gained a ton of weight. Despite his addictive nature, he managed to have a successful film career and even started his own film company. His success was short lived as a scandal involving Arbuckle rocked Hollywood to its core.

Arbuckle and two of his friends went to San Francisco for some rest and relaxation. They checked into the St. Francis Hotel in rooms 1219, 1220, 1221. The trio held a party one night in their rooms and invited eligible women and friends. Aspiring actress, Virginia Rappe, was found in room 1219 intoxicated and ill stricken. Rappe was diagnosed with cystitis, which was aggravated by drinking alcohol. She told her doctor that Arbuckle has raped her, but no signs of assault were found during the examination. The actress died one day after visiting the doctor. The cause of death was peritonitis which was brought on by a ruptured spleen. 

Rappe's friend pressed the issue that Arbuckle raped Rappe, despite the fact that there was no evidence to prove that the act had occurred. Rappe's manager also accused the comedian, but it is believed that he was trying to get money from Arbuckle's attorneys to shut him up. Police ultimately came to the conclusion that the comedian's weight on top of Rappe caused her injuries, which led to her death. Arbuckle maintained his innocence and said that he discovered an ill Rappe at the party and carried her to his room so that she could rest.  

The Arbuckle case was tried three times in court. Maude Delmont, Rappe's friend, was the star witness. Arbuckle was accused of manslaughter in the first trial, which was declared a mistrial due to the mishandling of the case by the prosecution. The second began in January of 1922 and the case was thrown out once again. The third trial was in March of 1922 and by this point Arbuckle's career was destroyed by the scandal. The media had been calling him a rapist and accusing him of preying on young girls, so his career suffered as a result. The scandal was all over the news and his movies were even being banned. A verdict of not guilty was delivered following the third trial, but the damage was done. 

Arbuckle was blacklisted in Hollywood and left for broke. The debt he accumulated during the three trials was simply too much. 

    William Desmond Taylor and His Mysterious Death (1922)

Taylor, who was born in 1872, began as an actor, but directing seemed to come naturally for him. He directed over 50 films and was deemed a huge success. His first film was The Awakening

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Taylor himself, classichollywoodbios.com

On the night in question, the director had enjoyed drinks with actress, Mabel Normand, at his apartment in L.A. He was seen leaving his apartment with Normand at 7:45 PM. He returned home at 8:00 PM and neighbors reported hearing the sound of a car backfiring or something like it. They also stated that they saw a man with his face covered and a long coat leaving the scene. 

The following day at 7:30 AM, Taylor was found dead in his apartment. A mysterious doctor came out from the crowd and declared that he died of natural causes after supposedly examining him. The doctor was never seen or heard from again. Someone even said that Paramount executives, the studio Taylor worked for, were called to the scene before police. The studio instructed Taylor's house staff to clean up the scene and turn over documents and letters to them. When police arrived, they reported that the director died from a gunshot wound to the chest. It was ruled a homicide with several suspects. 

The focus was on Mabel Normand, who had been the last person to see him alive. Apparently, Taylor had been helping her with her cocaine addiction. He grew frustrated though with her inability to get clean and began helping police track down her suppliers. It was believed that her suppliers may have found out that Taylor was on to them and put out a hit on him. Normand was eventually ruled out as a suspect. Henry Peavey was also accused because he was the one who found Taylor's body and he had a criminal record, but police ruled him out. 

Taylor's former houseman named Edward Sands was accused, especially because of the fact that he disappeared after the murder. He also had been fired by Taylor for wrecking his car and vandalizing his home. Peavey had taken over his position. Charlotte Shelby was also accused. She was the mother of an underage girl who Taylor had relations with. She was found with the same type of gun that killed Taylor. She even fled the country to avoid police. Her daughter, Mary Miles Minter, who was a burgeoning actress, was a person of note as well in that she had a huge obsessive crush on Taylor. Margaret Gibson, an actress, confessed to the crime on her deathbed in 1964. Ultimately, all of the suspects led to a dead end.

    The Death of the Ice Cream Blonde (1935)

Todd started her film career during the silent era and even was able to transition smoothly to the talkies. By the 1930s, she was starring alongside famous names of the day. In 1931, she accepted the chance to have her own slapstick comedy series and she was labeled the "Ice Cream Blonde." She starred in over 119 films and even opened her own café in California called Sidewalk Café. The café attracted big names, wannabe stars, and tourists from all over. 

Todd had attended a party the night before her death at the Café Trocadero. A verbal fight broke out between Todd and her ex-husband, but she seemed to be in a good mood, according to sources. The morning of December 15, 1935, her chauffeur drove her home from the party. She was later discovered slumped over in the driver's seat of her Lincoln Phaeton. This car had been parked in her garage. The coroner ruled her death as an accident at first. Carbon monoxide poison was said to be the culprit. Police even suspected that Todd may have been trying to warm the car before leaving the house. 

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A mystery still, pinterest.com

During the investigation, it was revealed that the actress had been found with cracked ribs, a broken nose and marks on her neck. Blood was also found around her mouth and in her car. Foul play was suspected considering she had been seen arguing with her ex, a mobster by the name of Pat DiCicco. He was also the right hand man of the well-known mobster Lucky Luciano. It was reported that DiCicco had been abusive to Todd and she had carried on an affair with Luciano. Luciano was said to have beat Todd and supplied her with drugs. All eyes were on the two mobsters after Todd's death. 

Todd also was involved with her partner in the café, Roland West. West's wife, Carmen, knew of the affair but did not care until the café started losing money. She blamed Todd for this. Carmen and even Todd's own mother were suspects. 

The final ruling was that the star died by accident. Despite clues that showed she may have been murdered, there was not enough evidence to prove this. The case was closed and remains a mystery even today. 

    The Mysterious Death of Thomas Ince (1924)

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Ince began as an actor and made his way into directing. For $100 a week in 1911, he moved to California to direct films for New York Motion Picture Company. He revamped shooting scripts and scene plots to help make shooting schedules more efficient. In 1912, he built his first movie studio "” Inceville. Ince was known as the one who defined a producer's role and their involvement in a movie's production from beginning to end. 

The night in question, Ince came aboard the yacht of newspaper magnet William Randolph Hearst. He was coming to a birthday dinner in his honor. Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies (the lover of the very married Hearst) and many others were aboard as well. Davies was believed to have been fooling around with Chaplin despite her involvement with Hearst at the time.

Later that night, Ince suffered from chest pains. The onboard doctor speculated that it was due to acute indigestion. He got worse and was taken off the ship by a water taxi and taken to a hotel where a physician treated him. Ince told the doctor that he had drank a lot during the celebration and later started feeling ill. He was taken home and died three days later. Acute indigestion was said to be the cause. The media called foul play and released stories blaming Ince's death on a gunshot wound. 

Speculation was that Hearst accidentally shot Ince when trying to hit Chaplin instead. Chaplin, after all, was supposedly having an affair with Hearst's lover, Marion Davies. Hearst was implicated and the DA was forced to launch an investigation due to the media frenzy. The issue was that police had previously failed to question many of the witnesses that were said to be onboard that night. Also, many of the supposed guests of that night claimed that they were not there that night, even though others had reported seeing them there. Davies and Chaplin were two who kept changing their stories and claimed to have not been there that night despite reports to the contrary. 

Marion Davies' secretary, Abigail Loving King, claimed that Ince raped her on that mysterious night, so she was also a suspect. She died years later in a freak car accident, which many deemed a suicide, but ironically the accident occurred near Hearst's home and the suicide note did not match her handwriting. She was also found by Hearst's bodyguards. Ince's wife also came under the radar when she had his body cremated before an autopsy could be conducted. Later, she fled to Europe, and it was soon after discovered that she had received a payout from none other than William Randolph Hearst. 

Ince's case was closed, but never fully resolved. 

    Paul Bern: Suicide or Murder? (1932)

Bern hit Hollywood in 1920 and started as an editor. He worked his way up to becoming a film writer and director. He was known as a gentle man with an open heart. He met actress and bombshell Jean Harlow in 1931 and they married in 1932. He worked for United Artists and Paramount Pictures and then earned a spot with MGM as a producer. He was on the rise and becoming a major success.

Something went terribly wrong though somewhere along the line. Bern confided in a friend, months before his death that he was considering leaving Harlow and joining a monastery. He also seemed to be making travel plans, out of the country plans. Apparently, despite his success, he was also facing financial difficulty. He was known to borrow money from Harlow frequently as well as other Hollywood figures. 

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Bern and friends, wikimedia.org

The night he died, he was found naked with a gunshot wound to the head. A suicide note was found, but something did not add up. The press, Hollywood execs and police wanted answers and Harlow was their target. She remained tight-lipped though. An autopsy did reveal that the Bern marriage, which lasted two months before his death, had never been consummated. Bern had been earlier linked to Barbara LaMarr, who claimed that she would not marry Bern because he only wanted a mental and spiritual relationship, not physical. Bern did not tell Harlow that he wished the same for them until three days into their marriage. 

Irving Thalberg, who was Bern's co-producer on a film, was considered a suspect in that he was seen tampering with evidence the night of Bern's mysterious death prior to police involvement. MGM pressed for the case to be ruled a suicide all in the name of avoiding a scandal. A woman named Dorothy Millette was also a suspect. Millette had been Bern's common law wife and supposedly Harlow knew nothing of her. Two days after Bern's death, Millette jumped off of a paddle boat to her death. 

Ultimately, Bern's death was ruled a suicide, but the consensus is that Bern was having an affair with an unnamed woman and she murdered him. MGM did not want a scandal or to tarnish Harlow's appeal, so they covered up his death. 

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