We’re currently in the midst of a much needed crack down on harassment, assault, abuse and general BS against women. It’s women in Hollywood and entertainment who are the driving force behind this huge shift.
But movements like #MeToo and Times Up, wouldn’t have been possible without the brave women that came before. The women that took a stand, knowing their lives would be torn apart for doing so. And so, lets take a moment to recognise them:
The Mothers of Me Too:
Note: This article contains raw accounts of sexual assault and rape.
1. The demonised ne’er-do-well: Maude Delmont
In 1921, Maude’s’ best friend, Virginia Rappe, died. That alone is so many shades of horrific, but the reason for Virginia’s death made it all the worse.
3 days before Virginia died, both girls were at a Labour Day party held by Hollywood’s biggest star, Fatty Arbuckle.
Fatty was apparently a fan of Virginia. Maude later said that early on in the party Fatty had pulled Virginia into a side room, grinning:
‘I’ve waited for you five years, and now I’ve got you’
The party was soon stopped by the sound of a woman’s screams.
Maude ran to help and found a drunk Virginia writhing in pain on a bed, while Fatty Arbuckle tried desperately to get out the room.
Virginia cried out:
‘He did this to me’
Several days after the party, Virginia was still in extreme pain so Maude took her to hospital.
At the hospital Maude explained that from what Virginia had told her, she believed Fatty Arbuckle had at least seriously assaulted Virginia and more likely raped her.
Virginia died from her injuries; a ruptured a bladder.
The newspapers had a field day working out how Virginia had obtained her fatal injuries.
Had Fatty’s great weight crushed her during the assault? Had her ruptured bladder been caused by the violent use of a champagne bottle in the assult?
Within days, Fatty Arbuckle turned himself into the police.
Maude Delmont quickly emerged as potential star witness for the prosecution…but she never took the stand.
You see Maudes past was, shall we say, murky.
She had a history of blackmail and in the run up to the trial, rumours of bigamy and extortion also began to swirl around her (I will note- handily timed ‘rumours’ with some, but not much, evidence were common in cases around this time where large film studios were desperate to protect their brand)
It didn’t help that there was evidence to suggest Maude had approached Fatty Arbuckle after Virginia’s death.
See Maude appears to have thought that Fatty was set to get off scott free, so had tried to extort him in revenge.
Yeah… not exactly fantastic star witness behaviour
At the trial this was all bought up, along with Virginia’s past. Rumours of abortions, hidden pregnancies and her love of parties were all used in Fatty Arbuckle’s defence.
With both Virginia and Maude’s reputations successfully in tatters..
Fatty Arbuckle was found innocent.
The black mark on the two women hasn’t lifted with time. If you google Maude Delmont then you’ll find the vast majority of articles paint her as a lying bitch, who basically planned the whole thing.
Virginia’s death is now often cited as down to a bad case of cystitis. –For those wondering-your bladder can’t rupture from cystitis; only from something severely injuring it.-
We probably won’t know exactly how Virginia got her injuries. But we do know that the trial of Fatty Arbuckle and the public treatment of Virginia and Maude led to many women in Hollywood remaining quiet.
That is until….
2. The teens that fought Hollywood: Betty Hansen and Peggy Satterlee:
Betty Hansen was 17 and fresh off the bus; she dreamed of being an actress, hopping round the Hollywood parties looking for a break.
It was at one of these parties that she met Errol Flynn.
Errol Flynn was Hollywood’s golden boy, playing every dashing lead going, from Robin Hood to Don Juan.
So of course Betty was ridiculously excited to see such a huge star at the party; hey if her luck was in, this could be her big break!
But soon, Peggy realised that whatever she was drinking was making her feel really ill…
It was then, that Errol Flynn offered to take her to bed.
Of course, Errol wasn’t planning to tuck the sick teen in.
He took the now half conscious Betty to an isolated bedroom, undressed her and then had sex with her.
Betty wasn’t alone; See Errol Flynn was a serial predator.
Peggy Satterlee was 16 when she met Errol Flyn. He called her:
The acknowledgement of Peggy’s age didn’t make a difference.
Errol invited Peggy onto his yacht. There, as with Betty, Peggy was taken away from preying eyes and raped.
Stories like Betty and Peggy’s were rife in Hollywood during this time; but all were successfully buried by the Studios ‘fixers’.
Betty and Peggy sure as hell weren’t going to let that happen to them!
So they decided to take Errol to court; knowing that doing so would destroy any chance they had at film careers and leave their reputations in ruins.
The trial was a huge spectacle. Hoards of adoring fans came to support Errol, because what’s a little statuary rape if your famous!?
From the get go, it was clear the odds were stacked against the girls.
To say the defence teams methods were sketchy, is a huge understatement. Here’s just some of the evidence (I use that term very lightly!) They used.
- Peggy had once danced in a ‘low plunge’ dress
- With make up on, the girls looked older
- Neither girl shouted for help during the attacks
- Betty and Peggy didn’t cry on the witness stand
Errol Flynn was ultimately found innocent.
When the verdict was read, he reacted like any arsehat would – by leaping and dancing round the court.
He celebrated with a party with his fans where the trial was comedically re-enacted.
Then Errol jetted to Mexico, where he married a 17 year old he had met during his statuary rape trial.
Peggy later reflected:
‘ I knew those women would acquit him. They just sat and looked adoringly at him as if he was their son or something’
Though Betty and Peggy lost their battle, their actions did make a difference; shedding a much needed light on the sexual assault happy cess pool that Hollywood was.
Betty and Peggy had created a door that just needed opening, and one woman was happy to do that:
3. The Actress: Maureen O’Hara
While Betty and Peggy had to fight Hollywood from the outside, Maureen O’Hara was very much on the inside.
She was a bonafide superstar, staring in tons of smash hit adventure films and dramas.
Maureen’s success didn’t mean that she wasn’t open to Hollywood’s sexual harassment.
In 1945 she gave an explosive interview to the Daily Mirror, detailing the sexual harassment she experienced everyday, saying:
‘I am so upset with it that I am ready to quit Hollywood. It’s got so bad I hate to come to work in the morning’
Maureen also made it clear that her refusal to get on the casting couch meant she’d lost out in countless parts.
What Maureen did was monumental! Women didn’t speak out like this in 1945 And the fact that she did so, so publicly was unheard of.
Maureen’s words had successfully opened the door for countless women to come after.
This was interesting, how can I find out more? We have actually gone into this subject before, with an in depth long read into the story of Patricia Douglas, who risked everything to stand up to the studio system and take her rape case to court. You can check that out here.