Who Was Virginia Rappe?

Virginia Rappe was a woman many would not know of today but in 1921 she was headline news: she had allegedly been killed by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. But who was Virginia to the public before her death made headlines? The Day the Laughter Stopped by David Yallop dedicated a little under a page to a biography on Virginia:

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Room 1912 pays Virginia the respect she deserves with an entire chapter dedicated to Virginia’s life, a debunking of the supposed venereal disease that Yallop alleged, as well as Andy Edmonds’ claims in Frame Up that Virginia was trying to blackmail Arbuckle for abortion money. The abortion story comes from Josephine (Roth) Rafferty, who testified that Virginia had come to her for four abortions, and a birth, starting in 1908 and ending in 1910. I personally cannot find anything that either proves or disproves Rafferty’s claims but it should be noted that Rafferty’s story changed midway through her testimony – Virginia went from having five pregnancies to four. What became of the child who was supposedly birthed is unclear.

Virginia Rappe was actually born Virginia Caroline Rapp on July 7th, 1891, to Mabel Rapp, who was 17 or 18, in Chicago. Her father is unknown. Mabel was a part time chorus girl and model (and theorized to have been a prostitute or escort) who made headlines at least three times in Chicago papers. The first time as on December 23, 1892 when Mabel was locked in the Veteran’s Protective Association and Ebert’s restaurant building by a janitor after she refused to walk through a saloon.

The second time Mabel made the papers was after she had been shot by Eva Bennett after attempting to speak to Joseph Culbertson in 1893. The full story follows:

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Finally, on March 8, 1898, Mabel was accused of whipping a dressmaker and owing her money along with an associate. Again, the story follows:

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To say that Virginia’s life would have been a whirlwind during her early years is an understatement. By 1902, Mabel had passed away and Virginia moved back to Chicago to live with a woman she assumed was her grandmother, named Caroline Rapp, but Merritt insists Caroline was of no relation in Room 1219. It’s possible that Caroline, who was aided in the rearing of the child by a former friend of Mabel’s named Kate Hardebeck, had been an employer of Mabel or simply someone who had adopted Mabel in everything but name. Regardless, Virginia began to earn her keep by 1907, when she changed the spelling of her last name from “Rapp” to “Rappe” (pronounced Rap-pay) and embarked on a modeling career. In 1908, Virginia, like her mother before her, made the pages of the Chicago Tribune albeit for reasons more positive than attempted kidnapping, being shot, and passing bad checks.

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Virginia would continue to model and penned a column in 1913, advising women to work outside of the jobs typically reserved for them, like becoming a stenographer. She also made news for the outfits she wore, with vivid descriptions such as the following, both from 1913:

In 1914, Virginia made headlines when she danced in her nightgown on a passenger ship:

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In 1915, Virginia became more of a household name when she started designing her own clothes. Virginia had a special affinity for millinery:

Virginia also announced her engagement to an Argentinian diplomat, Alberto M. D’Alakine, on July 28th, 1915, but the engagement was over by September of that year.

From 1916-1919, Virginia’s relationship with the public began to decline a bit. She would still model but her own designs weren’t featured like they had been before. In 1917, she made a picture with Metro entitled Paradise Garden. It was announced in 1918 that she had signed with Henry Lehrman, whom she would eventually embark on a romantic relationship with and who would be buried next to Virginia when he died nearly twenty years after her.

Contrary to what Yallop alleges, Virginia hadn’t been out of work for nearly two years. Her first movie with Lehrman, Twilight Baby had a gradual release between 1918 and 1920. Virginia took a tour of the US and Canada during this time starting in 1919. Whatever her reason for taking the trip is unclear but she was praised as being a fine comedian in Twilight Baby. In December of 1920, Lehrman released The Punch of the Irish which once again received praise from critics for Virginia’s performance. A popular photo run after her passing was this one, which was from the movie:

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Whatever happened to Rappe over the course of Labor Day weekend in 1921 is a mystery but her death shouldn’t be her legacy. She was a fashion innovator and gifted comedian who was sadly taken from us too soon.

 

Book Review: Barbara Payton – A Life in Pictures

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A few years ago my friend Heather got me onto the beauty that was Barbara Payton. For those who don’t know whom the blondeshell was, Payton was an up-and-coming actress in the late 40s and 50s who would pass away, destitute, in 1967. I have written an article about her before which you can find here.

Author John O’Dowd wrote the only biography on her called Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, The Barbara Payton Story. O’Dowd’s biography truly is the only one needed. It is sentimental and caring while being tactfully blunt about Payton’s poor life decisions. The book was obviously done with a huge amount of love and respect for Barbara without the burdensome undertones of “I could have saved her” that are common in fan-written biographies. Using some Facebook stalking skills that I have acquired over the years, I found O’Dowd and was happy to see that he planned to release a photo book on Payton. My eyes gleamed and I’m pretty sure I let out an audible squeak of happiness. That was over a year ago. Now, the book has been released by Bear Manor and I happily have it in my pudgy little clutches.

Let me start by saying that the book is huge and heavy. Coming in at seven pounds and 560 pages, you are going to need a large amount of bookshelf space to hold this beauty. O’Dowd begins his book by talking about his love for Barbara and giving a brief biography of the star. As far as introductions go, it’s not long (only encompassing 5 pages) and O’Dowd discusses his love for Barbara and how he views her.

O’Dowd then gets into the meat of the book relatively quickly (starting on page 18) and shows us the life of Barbara. We see her life laid out from her childhood to her tragic demise. You can’t help but cheer for Barbara, even when she is knowingly in the wrong (such as the Tone/Neal fiasco). We see a bright, beautiful woman, just on the cusp of super stardom, lose everything within a few months and O’Dowd provides the pictures to show this destruction.

O’Dowd’s captions are well thought out and include his own words, snipes, or quotes from others about Payton. The reader truly does get a full picture of Payton. An especially emotional part of the book is where O’Dowd included newspaper lines from her passing.

Now, what this book is not is a biography on Payton. It can most certainly appeal to those who want to learn about Payton but I think it is best purchased as a companion piece to Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. While O’Dowd lavishes the reader with over 1,000 pictures, it helps to read his biography on her as well to receive a more complete picture of Payton. This is not a slam against O’Dowd, if he had included the text of Kiss and this book, it would have been well over 1,000 pages.

I own over 700 books on Old Hollywood and the stars that participated in it. I buy a lot over the course of the year, both new releases and old. I can honestly say that this was my best purchase of the year. It’s beautiful, well researched, and introduces the world to one of Hollywood’s brightest (and most notorious) stars. You can purchase the book by clicking here.

A Nation in Grief: The Death of Carole Landis

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Before I begin, I’m not posting any of Carole’s death pictures. You can find them quite readily on different sites if you really want to see them but I have no interest in sharing them.

On July 6th, 1948, Carole Landis was on the front page of newspapers across the United States. Was it because of a new film? A reconciliation between her and her fourth husband, W. Horace Schmidlapp? Sadly, no. Carole had been found dead the day before in the bathroom of her Brentwood home, reportedly from suicide. The press was left in disbelief. Why had a beautiful, successful actress chosen to die by her own hand? The press, and public, wanted answers and from the 6-13th, Carole’s death and the immediate ripples from it were headline news. I haven’t put any of my own thoughts in this piece. The piece is filled with numerous links to newspaper stories from the time so that one can get a “feel” for what Americans were told about Carole’s death in 1948.

July 4th, 1948

Carole hosts a large party for the Fourth of July. The party began at noon and ended around 4 pm being Carole was expecting her married boyfriend, Rex Harrison, to join her for dinner. Harrison and Carole shared a dinner of chicken, salad, and a lemon chiffon pie that Carole had made herself. Harrison would say that he left at nine but there are unconfirmed reports that he left around midnight. The couple supposedly broke up and Carole proceeded to pack up all mementos of her relationship with Rex, drop them off at actor Roland Culver’s home. She also left a note saying that she was going to kill herself. Culver wouldn’t find this package until the following day and proceeded to burn the contents. You can read more on Carole’s last day here.

July 5th

Carole overdoses at roughly 3 am although the police initially believed it to be at 1 am. Carole’s body would not be discovered until 3 pm by her maid, Fanny Mae Bolden, and Harrison, who had been trying to talk to Carole throughout the day being they had lunch plans together at 11 am, in the bathroom. Carole was wearing a white lace shirt, a blue-and-white plaid skirt, and gold sandals. She was curled up in a fetal position, her head laying on a brown leather jewelry box. She was wearing a St. Christopher metal and held the Lord’s Prayer, inscribed on a ribbon, as well as an envelope (“Red – quick – two hours. Yellow – about five – can take two. Use for severe pain” was written on the front) containing a single, white pill in her left hand. She wore a wristwatch engraved with “C.L.” Bottles of Seconal were found on Carole’s bathroom counter. A note, addressed to her mother, was found on a table in her dressing room, next to a perfume bottle. Bolden would recall Harrion’s face twisting up while he asked Carole’s lifeless body, “Oh Honey, why did you do it?”

Here is where Harrison’s behavior becomes rather odd. Harrison and the maid both agree that Harrison discovered Carole and then came down to tell Bolden that Carole was dead. He then went up with Bolden and felt for a heartbeat, claiming that he felt a pulse. Harrison claims to have gone through her address book to find her doctor’s number but wasn’t successful. He then went home, called his doctor, discovered that his doctor was away, but agreed for the doctor who was temporarily overseeing Harrison’s doctors practice should come at once. Harrison then called his neighbors to find a doctor who was closer. One of them suggested calling St. John’s hospital which suggested calling the police. The police arrived at 4 pm. Carole’s mother, Clara Ridste, and sister, Dorothy Ross, arrived around 7 pm, with Carole’s mother asking, between sobs, why nobody called her before.

July 6th

The press actually learned about Carole’s death on the 5th, even before her mother did, but because it was too late to print in night-editions of the paper, it was reported nationwide on the 6th. The police made a statement saying that Carole’s death was “definitely a suicide.” Carole’s suicide note was hastily printed. You can see the note here. Harrison declared that he had discussed business with Carole the night before but insisted that they were not having an affair, even though Bolden claimed otherwise. The press wanted to know a motive. Carole’s attorney, Jerry Gieseler, insisted that the suicide wasn’t because of her upcoming divorce. Carole’s press agent, Ed Ettinger, spoke of Carole having financial woes but insisted her career hadn’t made her unhappy and that she had plans for the future. Carole’s fourth husband said he was “shocked.” Carole’s friend, Mary Kline, insisted that it must have been accidental. Columnist Dorothy Manners was depressed but not shocked, insisting that Carole died from poor finances and a broken heart. Carole’s father, Alfred Ridste, insisted it couldn’t be suicide.

July 7th

The press intensified their hunt for a motive for Carole’s death. Carole’s mother’s thoughts on Carole’s death were released. She thought that Carole’s death may have in fact been suicide because of financial issues. Giesler rebuked the claim, stating that Carole was financially “sound.” Harrison, facing scrutiny for his overly friendly relationship with Carole, agreed with her mother. A relative by marriage, Evelyn Ross, declared that Carole was despondent over her inability to hold a husband or have a family, and theorized that those two factors led to her suicide.

July 8th

Papers announced that Harrison was to make an official statement with the coroner at 2:30 pm that day. Carole’s brother, Lawrence Ridst, also released a statement that day, saying that the family knew nothing about a supposed second suicide note. Whispers of this note have come under fire over the years although it is now generally accepted that Carole had written a second note, addressed to Harrison, that was destroyed by a police officer who was bribed by Lili Palmer, Harrison’s wife. More of Carole’s autopsy report was released. It detailed that Carole was unable to have children, that her blood alcohol content was .12 (three points under “very drunk”), and that she had passed away from a “large amount” of Seconal. It was also announced that there was fight over who would be the executioner of Carole’s will, her mother or her former attorney. Carole’s family also demanded an inquest into Carole’s death while Geisler theorized that her death was a “sudden shock.

July 9th

Harrison’s inquest was partially released. Harrison claimed to have left Carole’s home at 9:30 pm on the fourth and Carole’s time of death was estimated to have occurred four hours later, at 1:30 am. It was also announced that Carole’s funeral had been planned for Forest Lawn.

July 10th and 11th

Carole’s funeral is held on the 10th. She wears a blue dress with sequin butterflies on the sleeves and shoulders – described as her favorite. While she was originally holding an orchid bouquet in her right hand, it was replaced by one made of roses. Hundreds of people attended the ceremony (for the best coverage click 1 and its continuation 2) and her pallbearers included friends Cesar Romano and Bill Nye (Carole’s makeup man). Harrison and his wife, Lili Palmer, attended as well although Harrison left before viewing Carole’s body.

July 12th

Carole’s will was scheduled to be read this day. Jerry Geisler was the decided upon executioner. He made a statement saying that Carole’s mother was the likely beneficiary of the entire estate but that her estate was likely worth less than $100,000.

July 13th

It is announced that Carole’s will reading will be held on this day instead of the 12th due to time conflicts within Carole’s family. Carole’s will is reported by family to be worth roughly $20,000. Geisler said in a statement that her estate was worth just south of $50,000 after Carole’s fourth husband agrees to pay out his divorce settlement to her, which was an additional $30,000. Everything went to Carole’s mother, who would get certain material things at the time of her death and everything else put in a trust.  A soldier writes to the Tampa Bay Times, declaring that the publication of Carole’s death pictures was unnecessary.

Today: Carole’s family maintains to this day that Carole was likely murdered by Rex Harrison or possibly found by him and left to die. You can read their thoughts here. Jessica P., from Comet Over Hollywood, disagrees with their theory. You can read her thoughts here. Whatever happened to Carole, her death was a tragedy and she deserves to be remembered for the sweet, bubbly person that she was.

 

Jayne Mansfield’s Death

I want to note that I am not including photos in this piece. If you want to see them, there are plenty of sites that offer them (Find A Death has them). There are a ton of misconceptions out there about Jayne’s death and I hope that this article sorts out any confusion that may have lingered for people over the years. I’ve done a quick Q&A style to make the article easy to navigate.

Was the road cloudy either by fog or a mosquito truck?

No. According to Richard M. Rambo, who was driving the truck that Ronnie Harrison (Jayne’s driver) ran into, the road was clear. There was still some fog from when the mosquito truck had sprayed earlier but it was in the marsh and drifting towards Lake Catherine, away from the highway. James McLelland, the man driving the fog truck, also states that there was no fog on the highway because the wind kept carrying it off. Finally, Mava Fountain, who pulled onto the scene shortly after the accident (and wound up taking Jayne’s children to the hospital with her boyfriend) testified that there was no fog on the road. Furthermore, the police department did testing and found that there was, you guessed it, no fog on the road.

What does this tell us?

Well, first off, there was no fog on the road. I would be willing to bet that Ronnie had drifted to sleep when he collided with the truck. The truck also was not stopped, it was moving. The report claims that the truck was moving at 20 mph while Ronnie was driving at 60. There were no marks on the road, indicating that Ronnie had not attempted to stop, further supporting that he may have been asleep.

When did the accident happen?

According to Major Edward Reuther, it was reported shortly after 2:15 am. This puts it around 2:00 am, not the commonly recited 2:30 am.

Was Jayne drunk? (This question always confuses me being she wasn’t driving)

Jayne likely hadn’t been drinking in the car but her blood alcohol content was a .08, which was not considered intoxicating at the time. Sam was found to have no traces of alcohol, nor did Ronnie. Hollywood Babylon claimed that Jayne was drinking in the car but the police report states that the two bottles of alcohol in the car had their seals intact. After Jayne was paid $1,250 for the night by Gus, she asked for a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of scotch, which she was given. Stevens claimed that Jayne and Sam Brody had two cocktails while he was paying them at 12:45 am (although it was likely earlier than this) and had been drinking before then but he didn’t know how much either party had consumed.

Why was Ronnie Harrison driving them and what time did they leave?

Jayne and Sam had earlier demanded a limo but Gus couldn’t get them one and they wouldn’t rent a car. Jayne offered Ronnie $20 to take them to New Orleans, which he accepted, although he hadn’t slept in roughly 24 hours. Ronnie agreed to drive the couple at roughly 8:40 pm, on June 28th. He went home to take a nap and arrived back at the club at 11:00 pm (although Gus would at first claim 12:40 am) to take Jayne to New Orleans. Ronnie, Sam, and Jayne then stopped at the Edgewater Gulf Hotel, where Jayne and co were staying, to pick up the kids, the chihuahuas, and the luggage. A hotel employee remembered this happening at exactly 12:45 am. Gus Stevens employees would claim that the chihuahuas, children, and luggage were already in the car. Whether or not Jayne stopped at the Edgewater is up for debate. The group likely left around 1:00 am. Ronnie was driving on a suspended license dating back to 1964, when he was involved in another accident.

How many chihuahuas were in the car?

There were four. Two died, most likely Precious Jewel and Emerald who were bred by Hilary Harmar of Surrey, England, and two lived, Dorothy and Cow. There is footage available showing Dorothy and Cow being put in the back of a police car as well as pictures showing the two that passed away. Momsicle and Popsicle are commonly claimed to have been the two dogs that perished in the accident but both were still in quarantine in the UK. It is unknown what happened to them but I like to think they found a new home that had as much love as Jayne’s did. As far as I know, both Dorothy and Cow were adopted out to people in Mississippi.

Was Jayne decapitated?

No, Jayne was not decapitated. Jayne suffered a crushed skull and was scalped. The death certificate and the over 65 page police report both support this.

 

 

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year

Hey guys!

First off, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from my family to yours. Without you guys, I wouldn’t have near the happiness that I do.

This year was big for me:

  • I attended the opening of #ClassicsMadeHere at Warner Brothers Studios (definitely recommend going)
  • I appeared on TCM introducing She Done Him Wrong
  • I released my second book, Puffblicity
  • I was featured in my local paper as an Old Hollywood historian

I couldn’t do what I do without you guys. Thank you so much. I have a few projects in the works right now and I can’t wait to show you guys. I am also debating on starting an Old Hollywood podcast or YouTube channel. I’ll talk more about that on my IG @AprilVeVea.

Thank you guys for your support. It means the world to me.

Here’s hoping everyone had a marvelous holiday season and that 2019 will be even better for us.

xx

April