Synopses & Reviews
In 1921, one of the biggest movie stars in the world was accused of killing a woman. What followed was an unprecedented avalanche of press coverage, the original “trial of the century,” and a wave of censorship that altered the course of Hollywood film-making.
It began on Labor Day, when comic actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, then at the pinnacle of his fame and fortune, hosted a party in San Franciscos best hotel. As the party raged, he was alone in room 1219 with Virginia Rappe, a minor actress. Four days later, she died, and he was charged with her murder.
Room 1219 tells the story of Arbuckles improbable rise and stunning fall—from Hollywoods first true superstar to its first pariah. Simultaneously, it presents the crime story from the day of the “orgy” through the three trials. Relying on a careful examination of documents, the book finally reveals, after almost a century of wild speculation, what most likely occurred in room 1219. In addition, Room 1219 covers the creation of the film industry—from the first silent experiments to a studio-based system capable of making and, ultimately, breaking a beloved superstar.
"'This is a mystery story,' states Hollywood historian Merritt in the introduction. And like an investigator on one of TV's acronymic crime shows, Merritt meticulously examines silent-film legend Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle's role in the 1921 death of model/actress Virginia Rappe, a tale distorted by time and innuendo. (The title is a nod to the scene of the crime, Room 1219 in the exclusive St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, where the star hosted Rappe and others in his liquor-stocked Prohibition-era suite.) Merritt follows Arbuckle from his impoverished origins and meteoric rise through his arrest; three trials for manslaughter; and banishment from Hollywood. The author-detective examines medical records, court proceedings, newspaper archives, and pop culture books to construct a fuller picture of the scandal responsible for the morality code that followed. What emerges is a multifaceted portrait of not only Arbuckle but the early days of a burgeoning industry and the players (Griffith, Sennett, Chaplin, Keaton, etc.) who helped shape it a century ago. Lovers of film history, media studies, and true crime will enjoy the parallels between the film boom of the early 20th century and the tech boom of today. Photos. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Part biography, part true-crime narrative, this painstakingly researched book chronicles the improbable rise and stunning fall of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle from his early big screen success to his involvement in actress Virginia Rappes death, and the resulting irreparable damage to his career. It describes how during the course of a rowdy party hosted by the comedian in a San Francisco hotel, Rappe became fatally ill, and Arbuckle was subsequently charged with manslaughter. Ultimately acquitted after three trials, neither his career nor his reputation ever recovered from this devastating incident. Relying on a careful examination of documents, the book finally reveals what most likely occurred that Labor Day weekend in 1921 in that fateful hotel room. In addition, it covers the evolution of the film industry—from the first silent experiments to the connection between Arbuckles scandal and the implementation of industry-wide censorship that altered the course of Hollywood filmmaking for five decades.
About the Author
Greg Merritt is the author of Film Production: The Complete Uncensored Guide to Independent Filmmaking and Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film. He is a senior writer for American Media, Inc. and has written hundreds of feature articles for numerous magazines. He has an MFA from the American Film Institute.