Roscoe Arbuckle

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This article is about the actor Roscoe Arbuckle. For Fatty Arbuckle's American Diners, see Fatty Arbuckle's.
Roscoe Arbuckle
RoscoeArbuckleRet.jpg
Arbuckle, c. 1920
Born Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle
(1887-03-24)March 24, 1887
Smith Center, Kansas, U.S.
Died June 29, 1933(1933-06-29) (aged 46)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Heart attack
Other names Fatty Arbuckle, William Goodrich
Occupation Actor, comedian, director, screenwriter
Years active 1904–1933
Spouse(s) Minta Durfee (m. 1908; div. 1925)
Doris Deane (m. 1925; div. 1929)
Addie Oakley Dukes McPhail (m. 1931–33)
Website Official website

Roscoe Conkling "Fatty" Arbuckle (March 24, 1887 – June 29, 1933) was an American silent film actor, comedian, director, and screenwriter. Starting at the Selig Polyscope Company he eventually moved to Keystone Studios where he worked with Mabel Normand and Harold Lloyd. He mentored Charlie Chaplin and discovered Buster Keaton and Bob Hope. Arbuckle was one of the most popular silent stars of the 1910s, and soon became one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, signing a contract in 1921 with Paramount Pictures for US$1 million (equivalent to approximately $13,222,015 in 2015 dollars[1]).

Between November 1921 and April 1922, Arbuckle was the defendant in three widely publicized trials for the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe. Rappe had fallen ill at a party hosted by Arbuckle at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco in September 1921; she died four days later. Arbuckle was accused by Rappe's acquaintance of raping and accidentally killing Rappe. After the first two trials, which resulted in hung juries, Arbuckle was acquitted in the third trial and received a formal written statement of apology from the jury.

Despite Arbuckle's acquittal, the scandal has mostly overshadowed his legacy as a pioneering comedian. Following the trials, his films were banned and he was publicly ostracized. Although the ban on his films was lifted within a year, Arbuckle only worked sparingly through the 1920s. He later worked as a film director under the alias William Goodrich. He was finally able to return to acting, making short two-reel comedies in 1932 for Warner Bros. He died in his sleep of a heart attack in 1933 at age 46, reportedly on the same day he signed a contract with Warner Brothers to make a feature film.[2]

Early life[edit]

Roscoe Arbuckle was born in Smith Center, Kansas, one of nine children of Mollie and William Goodrich Arbuckle. He weighed in excess of 13 lb (5.9 kg) at birth and, as both parents had slim builds, his father believed the child was not his. This disbelief led him to name the child after a politician (and notorious philanderer) whom he despised, Republican senator Roscoe Conkling of New York. The birth was traumatic for Mollie and resulted in chronic health problems that contributed to her death 12 years later.[3] When Arbuckle was nearly two his family moved to Santa Ana, California.[4]

Arbuckle had a "wonderful" singing voice and was extremely agile. At the age of eight, with his mother's encouragement, he first performed on stage with Frank Bacon's company during their stopover in Santa Ana.[4] Arbuckle enjoyed performing and continued on until his mother's death in 1899 when he was 12. His father, who had always treated him harshly,[5] now refused to support him and Arbuckle got work doing odd jobs in a hotel. Arbuckle was in the habit of singing while he worked and was overheard by a customer who was a professional singer. The customer invited him to perform in an amateur talent show. The show consisted of the audience judging acts by clapping or jeering with bad acts pulled off the stage by a shepherd's crook. Arbuckle sang, danced, and did some clowning around but did not impress the audience. He saw the crook emerge from the wings and to avoid it somersaulted into the orchestra pit in obvious panic. The audience went wild, and he not only won the competition but began a career in vaudeville.[3]

Career[edit]

Frequent co-star Mabel Normand.

In 1904, Sid Grauman invited Arbuckle to sing in his new Unique Theater in San Francisco, beginning a long friendship between the two.[6][7] He then joined the Pantages Theatre Group touring the West Coast of the United States and in 1906 played the Orpheum Theater in Portland, Oregon in a vaudeville troupe organized by Leon Errol. Arbuckle became the main act and the group took their show on tour.[8]

August 6, 1908, Arbuckle married Minta Durfee (1889–1975), the daughter of Charles Warren Durfee and Flora Adkins. Durfee starred in many early comedy films, often with Arbuckle.[9][10] They reportedly made a strange couple as Minta was short and petite while Arbuckle was tall and very obese.[3] Arbuckle then joined the Morosco Burbank Stock vaudeville company and went on a tour of China and Japan returning in early 1909.[11]

Arbuckle began his film career with the Selig Polyscope Company in July 1909 when he appeared in Ben's Kid. Arbuckle appeared sporadically in Selig one-reelers until 1913, moved briefly to Universal Pictures and became a star in producer-director Mack Sennett's Keystone Cops comedies. (However, according to the Motion Picture Studio Directory for 1919 and 1921, Arbuckle began his screen career with Keystone in 1913 as an extra for $3 a day (equivalent to approximately $72 in 2015 dollars[1]), working his way up through the acting ranks to become a lead player and director.) Although his large size was undoubtedly part of his comedic appeal Arbuckle was self-conscious about his weight and refused to use it to get "cheap" laughs. For example, he would not allow himself to be stuck in a doorway or chair.[citation needed]

Arbuckle was a talented singer. After Enrico Caruso heard him sing he urged the comedian to: "...give up this nonsense you do for a living, with training you could become the second greatest singer in the world."[12]

Screen comedian[edit]

Arbuckle's nephew Al St. John (right) with Buster Keaton and Arbuckle in Out West (1918).
Ad with Fatty Arbuckle in The Hayseed (1919).
Arbuckle's photo on the cover of the UK based Pictures motion picture magazine of the July 23, 1921 issue.

Despite his massive physical size, Arbuckle was remarkably agile and acrobatic. Director Mack Sennett, when recounting his first meeting with Arbuckle, noted that he "skipped up the stairs as lightly as Fred Astaire"; and, "without warning went into a feather light step, clapped his hands and did a backward somersault as graceful as a girl tumbler". His comedies are noted as rollicking and fast-paced, have many chase scenes, and feature sight gags. Arbuckle was fond of the "pie in the face", a comedy cliché that has come to symbolize silent-film-era comedy itself. The earliest known use of this gag was in the June 1913 Keystone one-reeler A Noise from the Deep, starring Arbuckle and frequent screen partner Mabel Normand. The first known "pie in the face" on-screen is in Ben Turpin's Mr. Flip in 1909. However, the oldest known thrown "pie in the face" is Normand's.[citation needed]

In 1914, Paramount Pictures made the then-unheard of offer of US$1,000-a-day plus 25% of all profits and complete artistic control to make movies with Arbuckle and Normand. The movies were so lucrative and popular that in 1918 they offered Arbuckle a three-year, $3 million contract (equivalent to about $47,037,611 in 2015 dollars[1]).[13]

By 1916, Arbuckle's weight and heavy drinking were causing serious health problems. An infection that developed on his leg became a carbuncle so severe that doctors considered amputation. Although Arbuckle kept his leg and lost 80 lb (36 kg), managing to get his weight down to 266 lb (121 kg), he became addicted to the pain killer morphine.

Following his recovery, Arbuckle started his own film company, Comique, in partnership with Joseph Schenck. Although Comique produced some of the best short pictures of the silent era, in 1918 Arbuckle transferred his controlling interest in the company to Buster Keaton and accepted Paramount's $3 million offer to make up to 18 feature films over three years.[3]

Arbuckle disliked his screen nickname, which he had been given because of his substantial girth. "Fatty" had also been Arbuckle's nickname since school; "It was inevitable", he said. He weighed 185 lb (84 kg) when he was 12. Fans also called Roscoe "The Prince of Whales" and "The Balloonatic." However, the name Fatty identifies the character that Arbuckle portrayed on-screen (usually a naive hayseed)—not Arbuckle himself. When Arbuckle portrayed a female, the character was named "Miss Fatty", as in the film Miss Fatty's Seaside Lovers. Arbuckle discouraged anyone from addressing him as "Fatty" off-screen, and when they did so his usual response was, "I've got a name, you know."[14]

The scandal[edit]

Jackie Coogan "Nazimova" (actress) Gloria Swanson Hollywood Boulevard Picture taken in 1907 of this junction Harold Lloyd Will Rogers Elinor Glyn (Writer) "Buster" Keaton William S. Hart (Two-Gun Bill) Rupert Hughes (Novelist) Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle Wallace Reid Douglas Fairbanks Bebe Daniels "Bull" Montana Rex Ingram Peter the hermit Charlie Chaplin Alice Terry (Actress) Mary Pickford William C. DeMille Cecil Blount DeMille Use button to enlarge or cursor to investigate
This 1921 Vanity Fair caricature by Ralph Barton[15] shows the famous people who, he imagined, left work each day in Hollywood; use cursor to identify individual figures.
Suite 1221 of St. Francis Hotel shortly after Arbuckle's party

September 5, 1921, Arbuckle took a break from his hectic film schedule and, despite suffering from second degree burns to both buttocks from an accident on set, drove to San Francisco with two friends, Lowell Sherman (an actor/director) and cameraman Fred Fischbach. The three checked into three rooms: 1219 (Arbuckle and Fischbach), 1220 (empty), and 1221 (Sherman) at the St. Francis Hotel. They had rented 1220 as a party room and invited several women to the suite.

During the carousing, a 30-year-old aspiring actress named Virginia Rappe was found seriously ill in room 1219 and was examined by the hotel doctor, who concluded her symptoms were mostly caused by intoxication and gave her morphine to calm her. Rappe was not hospitalized until two days after the incident.[2]

Virginia Rappe suffered from chronic cystitis,[16] a condition that liquor irritated dramatically. Her heavy drinking habits and the poor quality of the era's bootleg alcohol could leave her in severe physical distress. She developed a reputation for over-imbibing at parties, then drunkenly tearing at her clothes from the resulting physical pain. But by the time of the St. Francis Hotel party, her reproductive health was a greater concern. She had undergone several abortions in the space of a few years, the quality of care she received for such procedures was probably substandard, and she was preparing to undergo another (or, more likely, had recently done so) as a result of being impregnated by her boyfriend, director Henry Lehrman.[2][17]

At the hospital, Rappe's companion at the party, Bambina Maude Delmont, told Rappe's doctor that Arbuckle had raped her friend. The doctor examined Rappe but found no evidence of rape. Rappe died one day after her hospitalization of peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder. Delmont then told police that Arbuckle raped Rappe, and the police concluded that the impact Arbuckle's overweight body had on Rappe eventually caused her bladder to rupture.[2] Rappe's manager Al Semnacker (at a later press conference) accused Arbuckle of using a piece of ice to simulate sex with her, which led to the injuries.[18] By the time the story was reported in newspapers, the object had evolved into being a Coca-Cola or champagne bottle, instead of a piece of ice. In fact, witnesses testified that Arbuckle rubbed the ice on Rappe's stomach to ease her abdominal pain. Arbuckle denied any wrongdoing. Delmont later made a statement incriminating Arbuckle to the police in an attempt to extort money from Arbuckle's attorneys.[19]

Fatty Arbuckle
Silent comedy film Fatty's Chance Acquaintance (1915) with intertitles in Dutch, 14:39 minutes

Arbuckle's trial was a major media event; exaggerated and sensationalized stories ran in William Randolph Hearst's nationwide newspaper chain. The story was fueled by yellow journalism, with the newspapers portraying him as a gross lecher who used his weight to overpower innocent girls. In reality, Arbuckle was a good-natured man who was so shy with women that he was regarded by those who knew him as: "the most chaste man in pictures".[3] Hearst was gratified by the Arbuckle scandal, and later said that it had "sold more newspapers than any event since the sinking of the RMS Lusitania."[20] The resulting scandal destroyed Arbuckle's career and his personal life. Morality groups called for Arbuckle to be sentenced to death, and studio executives ordered Arbuckle's industry friends and fellow actors (whose careers they controlled) not to publicly speak up for him. Charles Chaplin was in England at the time, but in London he commented that he could not believe Roscoe Arbuckle had anything to do with Virginia Rappe's death. Buster Keaton did make one public statement in support of Arbuckle's innocence which earned him a mild reprimand from the studio where he worked. Film actor William S. Hart, who had never met or worked with Arbuckle, made a number of damaging public statements in which he presumed that Arbuckle was guilty. Arbuckle later wrote a premise for a film parodying Hart as a thief, bully and wife beater which Keaton purchased from him. Keaton both directed and starred in The Frozen North, the resulting film, and Hart refused to speak to him for many years.[21][22]

The prosecutor, San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady, an intensely ambitious man who planned to run for governor, made public pronouncements of Arbuckle’s guilt and pressured witnesses to make false statements. Brady at first used Delmont as his star witness during the indictment hearing.[2] Although the judge threatened Brady with dismissal of the case, Brady refused to allow Delmont, the only witness accusing Arbuckle, to take the stand and testify. Delmont had a long criminal record with multiple convictions for racketeering, bigamy, fraud, and extortion, and allegedly was making a living by luring men into compromising positions and capturing them in photographs, to be used as evidence in divorce proceedings.[23] The defense had also obtained a letter from Delmont admitting to a plan to extort payment from Arbuckle. In view of Delmont’s constantly changing story, her testimony would have ended any chance of going to trial. Ultimately, the judge found no evidence of rape. After hearing testimony from one of the party guests, Zey Prevon, that Rappe told her "Roscoe hurt me" on her deathbed, the judge decided that Arbuckle could be charged with first-degree murder. Brady had originally planned to seek the death penalty. The charge was later reduced to manslaughter.[2]

The first trial[edit]

On September 17, 1921, Arbuckle was arrested and arraigned on the charges of manslaughter, but arranged bail after nearly three weeks in jail. The trial began November 14, 1921, in the city courthouse in San Francisco.[2] Arbuckle's defense lawyer was Gavin McNab. The principal witness was Ms. Zey Prevon, a guest at the party.[24] At the beginning of the trial Arbuckle told his already-estranged wife, Minta Durfee, that he did not harm Rappe; she believed him and appeared regularly in the courtroom to support him. Public feeling was so negative that she was later shot at while entering the courthouse.[20]

Brady's first witnesses during the trial included Betty Campbell, a model, who attended the September 5 party and testified that she saw Arbuckle with a smile on his face hours after the alleged rape occurred; Grace Hultson, a local nurse who testified it was very likely that Arbuckle did rape Rappe and bruise her body in the process; and Dr. Edward Heinrich, a local criminologist who claimed he found Arbuckle's fingerprints smeared with Rappe's blood on room 1219's bathroom door. Dr. Arthur Beardslee, the hotel doctor, testified that an external force seemed to have damaged the bladder. During cross-examination, Betty Campbell, however, revealed that Brady threatened to charge her with perjury if she did not testify against Arbuckle. Dr. Heinrich's claim to have found fingerprints was cast into doubt after McNab produced the St. Francis hotel maid, who testified that she had cleaned the room before the investigation even took place and did not find any blood on the bathroom door. Dr. Beardslee admitted that Rappe had never mentioned being assaulted while he was treating her. McNab was furthermore able to get Nurse Hultson to admit that the rupture of Rappe's bladder could very well have been a result of cancer, and that the bruises on her body could also have been a result of the heavy jewelry she was wearing that evening.[2] During the defense stage of the trial, McNab called various pathology experts who testified that while Rappe's bladder had ruptured, there was evidence of chronic inflammation and no evidence of any pathological changes preceding the rupture; in other words, there was no external cause for the rupture.[citation needed]

On November 28, Arbuckle testified as the defense's final witness. Arbuckle was simple, direct, and unflustered in both direct and cross examination. In his testimony, Arbuckle claimed that Rappe (whom he testified that he had known for five or six years) came into the party room (1220) around noon that day, and that some time afterward Mae Taub (daughter-in-law of Billy Sunday) asked him for a ride into town, so he went to his room (1219) to change his clothes and discovered Rappe in the bathroom and vomiting in the toilet. Arbuckle then claimed Rappe told him she felt ill and asked to lie down, and that he carried her into the bedroom and asked a few of the party guests to help treat her. When Arbuckle and a few of the guests re-entered the room, they found Rappe on the floor near the bed tearing at her clothing and going into violent convulsions. To calm Rappe down, they placed her in a bathtub of cool water. Arbuckle and Fischbach then took her to room 1227 and called the hotel manager and doctor. After the doctor declared that Rappe was just drunk, Arbuckle then drove Taub to town.

During the whole trial, the prosecution presented medical descriptions of Rappe's bladder as evidence that she had an illness. In his testimony, Arbuckle denied he had any knowledge of Rappe's illness. During cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Leo Friedman aggressively grilled Arbuckle that he refused to call a doctor when he found Rappe sick, and argued that he refused to do so because he knew of Rappe's illness and saw a perfect opportunity to rape and kill her. Arbuckle calmly maintained that he never physically hurt or sexually assaulted Rappe in any way during the September 5 party, and he also claimed that he never made any inappropriate sexual advances against any woman in his life. After over two weeks of testimony with 60 prosecution and defense witnesses, including 18 doctors who testified about Rappe's illness, the defense rested. On December 4, 1921, the jury returned five days later deadlocked after nearly 44 hours of deliberation with a 10–2 not guilty verdict, and a mistrial was declared.[2]

Arbuckle's attorneys later concentrated their attention on one woman named Helen Hubbard who had told jurors that she would vote guilty "until hell freezes over". She refused to look at the exhibits or read the trial transcripts, having made up her mind in the courtroom. Hubbard's husband was a lawyer who did business with the D.A.'s office,[25] and expressed surprise that she was not challenged when selected for the jury pool. While much attention was paid to Hubbard after the trial, some other jury members felt Arbuckle guilty but not beyond a reasonable doubt, and various jurors joined Hubbard in voting to convict, including - repeatedly at the end - Thomas Kilkenny. Arbuckle researcher Joan Myers describes the political climate and the media attention to the presence of women on juries (which had only been legal for four years at the time), and how Arbuckle's defense immediately singled out Hubbard as a villain; Myers also records Hubbard's account of the jury foreman August Fritze's attempts to bully her into changing her vote. While Hubbard offered explanations on her vote whenever challenged, Kilkenny remained silent and quickly faded from the media spotlight after the trial ended.[26]

The second trial[edit]

The second trial began January 11, 1922, with a new jury, but with the same legal defense and prosecution as well as the same presiding judge. The same evidence was presented, but this time one of the witnesses, Zey Prevon, testified that Brady had forced her to lie. Another witness who testified during the first trial, a former security guard named Jesse Norgard, who worked at Culver Studios where Arbuckle worked, testified that Arbuckle had once shown up at the studio and offered him a cash bribe in exchange for the key to Rappe's dressing room. The comedian supposedly said he wanted it to play a joke on the actress. Norgard said he refused to give him the key. During cross-examination, Norgard's testimony was called into question when he was revealed to be an ex-convict who was currently charged with sexually assaulting an eight-year-old girl, and who was also looking for a sentence reduction from Brady in exchange for his testimony. Further, in contrast to the first trial, Rappe's history of promiscuity and heavy drinking was detailed. The second trial also discredited some major evidence such as the identification of Arbuckle's fingerprints on the hotel bedroom door: Heinrich took back his earlier testimony from the first trial and testified that the fingerprint evidence was likely faked. The defense was so convinced of an acquittal that Arbuckle was not called to testify. Arbuckle's lawyer, McNab, made no closing argument to the jury. However, some jurors interpreted the refusal to let Arbuckle testify as a sign of guilt. After over 40 hours of deliberation, the jury returned February 3, deadlocked with a 10–2 guilty verdict, resulting in another mistrial.[2]

The third trial[edit]

By the time of the third trial, Arbuckle's films had been banned, and newspapers had been filled for the past seven months with stories of alleged Hollywood orgies, murder, and sexual perversion. Delmont was touring the country giving one-woman shows as "The woman who signed the murder charge against Arbuckle", and lecturing on the evils of Hollywood.

News story of the six-minute not guilty verdict, 1922.

The third trial began March 13, 1922, and this time the defense took no chances. McNab took an aggressive defense, completely tearing apart the prosecution's case with long and aggressive examination and cross-examination of each witness. McNab also managed to get in still more evidence about Virginia Rappe's lurid past and medical history. Another hole in the prosecution's case was opened because Zey Prevon, a key witness, was out of the country after fleeing police custody and unable to testify.[2] As with the first trial, Arbuckle testified as the final witness and again maintained his denials in his heartfelt testimony about his version of the events at the hotel party. During closing statements, McNab reviewed how flawed the case was against Arbuckle from the very start and how District Attorney Brady fell for the outlandish charges of Maude Delmont, whom McNab described as "the complaining witness who never witnessed". The jury began deliberations April 12, and it took only six minutes to return with a unanimous not guilty verdict—five of those minutes were spent writing a formal statement of apology to Arbuckle for putting him through the ordeal; a dramatic move in American justice. The jury statement as read by the jury foreman stated:

Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story on the witness stand, which we all believed. The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgment of fourteen men and woman who have sat listening for thirty-one days to evidence, that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.

After the reading of the apology statement, the jury foreman personally handed the statement to Arbuckle who kept it as a treasured memento for the rest of his life. Then, one by one, the entire 12-person jury plus the two jury alternates walked up to Arbuckle's defense table where they shook his hand and/or embraced and personally apologized to him. The entire jury even proudly posed in a photo op with Arbuckle for photographers after the verdict and apology.

Some experts later concluded that Rappe's bladder might also have ruptured as a result of an abortion she might have had a short time before the September 5 party. Rappe's organs had been destroyed and it was now impossible to test for pregnancy. Because alcohol was consumed at the party, Arbuckle was forced to plead guilty to one count of violating the Volstead Act, and had to pay a $500 fine. At the time of his acquittal, Arbuckle owed over $700,000 (equivalent to approximately $9,862,624 in 2015 dollars[1]) in legal fees to his attorneys for the three criminal trials, and he was forced to sell his house and all of his cars to pay some of the debt.[2]

Although he had been cleared of all criminal charges, the scandal and trials had greatly damaged his popularity among the general public, and Will H. Hays, who served as the head of the newly formed Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) Hollywood censor board, cited Arbuckle as an example of the poor morals in Hollywood. On April 18, 1922, six days after Arbuckle's acquittal, Hays banned Roscoe Arbuckle from ever working in U.S. movies again. He had also requested that all showings and bookings of Arbuckle films be canceled, and exhibitors complied. In December of the same year, under public pressure, Hays elected to lift the ban, but Arbuckle was still unable to secure work as an actor.[2] Most exhibitors still declined to show Arbuckle's films, several of which now have no copies known to have survived intact. One of Arbuckle's feature-length films known to survive is Leap Year, which Paramount declined to release in the United States due to the scandal.[27] It was eventually released in Europe.[28] With Arbuckle's films now banned, in March 1922, Buster Keaton signed an agreement to give Arbuckle 35 percent of all future profits from his company, Buster Keaton Productions, to ease his financial situation.[22]

Similar concurrent scandals[edit]

Although it was regarded as Hollywood's first major scandal,[2] the Arbuckle case was one of five major Paramount-related scandals of the period. In 1920, silent film actress Olive Thomas died after drinking a large quantity of mercury bichloride intended as a topical treatment for her husband (matinee idol Jack Pickford's) syphilis.[29] In February 1922, the murder of director William Desmond Taylor effectively ended the careers of actresses Mary Miles Minter and former Arbuckle screen partner Mabel Normand. In 1923, actor/director Wallace Reid's dependency on painkillers resulted in his death.[30] In 1924, actor/writer/director Thomas H. Ince died mysteriously, aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht.[31]

Aftermath[edit]

The principal effect of the trial was an immediate shunning by Hollywood and a cessation of all acting roles. A secondary effect, for archive history, was the purposeful destruction of copies of films starring Arbuckle.[32] In November 1923, Minta Durfee filed for divorce, charging grounds of desertion.[33] The divorce was granted the following January.[34] They had been separated since 1921, though Durfee always claimed he was the nicest man in the world and that they were still friends.[35] After a brief reconciliation, Durfee again filed for divorce, this time while in Paris, in December 1924.[36] Arbuckle married Doris Deane on May 16, 1925.[37]

Arbuckle tried returning to filmmaking, but industry resistance to distributing his pictures continued to linger after his acquittal. He retreated into alcoholism. In the words of his first wife, "Roscoe only seemed to find solace and comfort in a bottle". Buster Keaton attempted to help Arbuckle by giving him work on his films. Arbuckle wrote the story for a Keaton short called Daydreams (1922). Arbuckle allegedly co-directed scenes in Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. (1924), but it is unclear how much of this footage remained in the film's final cut. In 1925, Carter Dehaven made the short Character Studies. Arbuckle appeared alongside Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and Jackie Coogan.[38] The same year, in Photoplay's August issue, James R. Quirk wrote "I would like to see Roscoe Arbuckle make a comeback to the screen." He also said "The American nation prides itself upon its spirit of fair play. We like the whole world to look upon America as the place where every man gets a square deal. Are you sure Roscoe Arbuckle is getting one today? I'm not."[39]

William Goodrich pseudonym[edit]

Eventually, Arbuckle was given work as a film director under the alias William Goodrich. According to author David Yallop in The Day the Laughter Stopped (a biography of Arbuckle with special attention to the scandal and its aftermath), Arbuckle's father's full name was William Goodrich Arbuckle. A persistent but unsupported legend credited Keaton, an inveterate punster, with suggesting that Arbuckle become a director under the alias "Will B. Good". The pun being too obvious, Arbuckle adopted the more formal pseudonym "William Goodrich".[40] Keaton told this story during a recorded interview with Kevin Brownlow in the 60s so we have it in his own words.

Between 1924 and 1932, Arbuckle directed a number of comedy shorts under the pseudonym for Educational Pictures, which featured lesser-known comics of the day. Louise Brooks, who played the ingenue in Windy Riley Goes Hollywood (1931), told Kevin Brownlow of her experiences in working with Arbuckle:

He made no attempt to direct this picture. He just sat in his director's chair like a dead man. He had been very nice and sweetly dead ever since the scandal that ruined his career. But it was such an amazing thing for me to come in to make this broken-down picture, and to find my director was the great Roscoe Arbuckle. Oh, I thought he was magnificent in films. He was a wonderful dancer—a wonderful ballroom dancer, in his heyday. It was like floating in the arms of a huge doughnut—really delightful.[20]

Among the more visible directorial projects under the Goodrich pseudonym was the Eddie Cantor feature Special Delivery (1927), which was released by Paramount and co-starred William Powell and Jobyna Ralston. His highest-profile project was arguably The Red Mill, also released in 1927, a Marion Davies vehicle.

Second divorce and third marriage[edit]

In 1929, Doris Deane sued for divorce in Los Angeles, charging desertion and cruelty.[41] On June 21, 1931, Roscoe married Addie Oakley Dukes McPhail (later Addie Oakley Sheldon, 1905–2003) in Erie, Pennsylvania.[42]

Brief comeback and death[edit]

In 1932, Arbuckle signed a contract with Warner Bros. to star under his own name in a series of six, two-reel comedies, to be filmed at the Vitaphone studios in Brooklyn. These six short films constitute the only recordings of his voice. Silent-film comedian Al St. John (Arbuckle's nephew) and actors Lionel Stander and Shemp Howard appeared with Arbuckle. The films were very successful in America,[42] although when Warner Bros. attempted to release the first one (Hey, Pop!) in the United Kingdom, the British Board of Film Censors cited the 10-year-old scandal and refused to grant an exhibition certificate.[43]

Arbuckle had finished filming the last of the two-reelers on June 28, 1933. The next day he was signed by Warner Bros. to make a feature-length film.[44] That night he went out with friends to celebrate his first wedding anniversary where he reportedly said: "This is the best day of my life." He suffered a heart attack later that night and died in his sleep.[8] He was 46. His widow Addie requested that his body be cremated as that was Arbuckle's wish.[45]

Legacy[edit]

Many of Arbuckle's films, including the feature Life of the Party (1920), survive only as worn prints with foreign-language inter-titles. Little or no effort was made to preserve original negatives and prints during Hollywood's first two decades. By the early 21st century, some of Arbuckle's short subjects (particularly those co-starring Chaplin or Keaton) had been restored, released on DVD, and even screened theatrically. Arbuckle's early influence on American slapstick comedy is widely recognised.[46]

For his contribution to the film industry, Roscoe Arbuckle has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6701 Hollywood Blvd.[47]

In popular culture[edit]

Arbuckle's nephew and frequent co-star Al St. John

The James Ivory film The Wild Party (1975) has been repeatedly but incorrectly cited as a film dramatization of the Arbuckle/Rappe scandal. In fact it is loosely based on the 1926 poem by Joseph Moncure March.[48] In this film, James Coco portrays a heavy-set silent-film comedian named Jolly Grimm whose career is on the skids, but who is desperately planning a comeback. Raquel Welch portrays his mistress, who ultimately goads him into shooting her. This film was loosely based on the misconceptions surrounding the Arbuckle scandal, yet it bears almost no resemblance to the documented facts of the case.[49]

In Ken Russell's 1977 biopic Valentino, Rudolph Nureyev as a pre-movie star Rudolph Valentino dances in a nightclub before a grossly overweight, obnoxious and hedonistic celebrity called "Mr. Fatty" (played by William Hootkins), a caricature of Arbuckle rooted in the public view of him created in popular press coverage of the Rappe rape trial. In the scene, Valentino picks up starlet (Jean Acker played by Carol Kane) off of a table in which she is sitting in front of Fatty and dances with her, enraging the spoiled star, who becomes apoplectic.[50] The caricature of Arbuckle as a boor continued to be promulgated in the seventies by film writers such as Kenneth Anger in his seminal work Hollywood Babylon.

Before his death in 1997, comedian Chris Farley expressed interest in starring as Arbuckle in a biography film. According to the 2008 biography The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts, Farley and screenwriter David Mamet agreed to work together on what would have been Farley's first dramatic role.[51] In 2007, director Kevin Connor planned a film, The Life of the Party, based on Arbuckle's life. It was to star Chris Kattan and Preston Lacy.[52] However the project was shelved.[53] Along with Farley, comedians John Belushi and John Candy have also considered playing Arbuckle but each of them had died before a biopic would be made.[54]

In April and May 2006, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City mounted a 56-film, month-long retrospective of all of Arbuckle's known surviving work, running the entire series twice.[55]

Arbuckle is the subject of a 2004 novel entitled I, Fatty by author Jerry Stahl. The Day the Laughter Stopped by David Yallop and Frame-Up! The Untold Story of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle by Andy Edmonds are other books on Arbuckle's life.[56] The 1963 novel, Scandal in Eden by Garet Rogers,[57] is a fictionalized version of the Arbuckle scandal.

Fatty Arbuckle's is an American-themed restaurant chain in the UK prominent during the 1980s and named after Arbuckle.

Stoneface, a 2012 play by Vanessa Claire Stewart about Buster Keaton, depicts Keaton's and Arbuckle's friendship and professional relationship.

Arbuckle is played by actor Brett Ashy in the motion picture Return to Babylon (2013).

Filmography[edit]

Director[edit]

Vitaphone shorts[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Noe, Denise. "Fatty Arbuckle and the Death of Virginia Rappe". Crime Library at truTV. Archived from the original on September 17, 2008. Retrieved July 3, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Ellis, Chris & Julie (April 10, 2005). The Mammoth Book of Celebrity Murder: Murder played out in the spotlight of maximum publicity. Constable & Robertson. ISBN 978-0786715688. Retrieved 2015-01-30. (subscription required (help)). 
  4. ^ a b Lowrey, Carolyn (1920). The First One Hundred Noted Men and Women of the Screen. New York: Moffat, Yard & Co. p. 6. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Roscoe Always Jolly But Weak: Stepmother". San Jose: The Evening News. September 12, 1921. pp. 1–2. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  6. ^ Saperstein, Susan. "Grauman's Theaters". San Jose, California Guides. Retrieved June 5, 2011. 
  7. ^ "She Must Use 7 Mirrors". The Evening News. January 31, 1905. p. 3. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  8. ^ a b "Dies in His Sleep. Film Comedian, Central Figure in Coast Tragedy in 1921, Long Barred From Screen. On Eve of his Comeback. Succumbs at 46 After He and Wife Had Celebrated Their First Wedding Anniversary.". The New York Times. June 30, 1933. Retrieved January 30, 2015. (subscription required (help)). Roscoe C. (Fatty) Arbuckle, film comedian, died of a heart attack at 3 o'clock ... Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle was born at Smith Centre, Kansas, on March 24, 1887. 
  9. ^ "Minta Durfee, Actress, 85, Dies; Former Wife of Fatty Arbuckle". The New York Times. September 12, 1975. Retrieved January 30, 2015. (subscription required (help)). Minta Durfee, the actress who was married to Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle and became Charlie Chaplin's first motionpicture leading lady, died Tuesday in Woodland Hills, a Los Angeles suburb. 
  10. ^ Del Olmo, Frank (1975-09-12). "Fatty Arbuckle's First Wife Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 3, 2008. 
  11. ^ Long, Bruce (April 1995). "Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle". Taylorology. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  12. ^ Nichols, Peter M. (April 13, 2001). "HOME VIDEO; Arbuckle Shorts, Fresh and Frisky". The New York Times. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  13. ^ Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Fatty Arbuckle Scandal". About.com. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Interesting facts about Roscoe Arbuckle". Arbucklemania. Retrieved January 30, 2015. Alice Lake called him Arbie. To Mabel Normand he was Big Otto, after an elephant in the Selig Studio Zoo near Keystone. Buster Keaton called him Chief. Fred Mace called him Crab. And for some unexplained reason fellow comic Charlie Murray referred to him as My Child the Fat. His three wives always called him Roscoe 
  15. ^ Vanity Fair magazine September 1921, accessed 2009[dead link]
  16. ^ "Testify Regarding Early Life Of Virginia Rappe". The Lewiston Daily Sun. October 31, 1921. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Virginia Blamed Lover, Says Nurse". Ludington Daily News. September 14, 1921. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  18. ^ Hopkins, Ernest J. (September 25, 1921). "Miss Rappe's Manager Tells Worst He Knows Of Arbuckle". The Pittsburgh Press. p. 3. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  19. ^ Sheerin, Jude (September 4, 2011). "'Fatty' Arbuckle and Hollywood's first scandal". BBC News. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  20. ^ a b c Felix, Wanda (Fall 1995). "Fatty". The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities (4). Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  21. ^ Neibaur, James (2013). Buster Keaton's Silent Shorts: 1920-1923. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 185–186. ISBN 978-0810887411. (subscription required (help)). 
  22. ^ a b Meade, Marion (August 22, 1997). Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase. Chapter 12 "Cops": DaCapo Press. ISBN 978-0306808029. (subscription required (help)). 
  23. ^ Noe, Denise (August 12, 2008). "Leo Frank, Roscoe Arbuckle, and the dangers of a rush to judgment". antimisandry.com. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  24. ^ Daily Mirror headlines, October 1, 1921
  25. ^ Fine, Gary Allen (April 1, 2001). Difficult Reputations: Collective Memories of the Evil, Inept, and Controversial. University of Chicago Press. p. 151. ISBN 978-0226249414. 
  26. ^ Myers, Joan (March 18, 2009). "The Case of the Vanishing Juror". Feminism 3.0. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  27. ^ Oderman, Stuart (July 25, 2005). Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle: A Biography of the Silent Film Comedian, 1887-1933. McFarland. p. 199. ISBN 978-0786422777. 
  28. ^ Edmonds, Andy (January 1991). Frame-Up!: The Untold Story of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. William Morrow & Co. p. 302. ISBN 978-0688091293. (subscription required (help)). 
  29. ^ Whitfield, Eileen (August 31, 2007). Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood. University Press of Kentucky. p. 224. ISBN 978-0813191799. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  30. ^ Braudy, Leo (March 15, 2011). The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon. Yale University Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0300156607. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  31. ^ Mikkelson, Barbara (August 18, 2007). "Give Louella An Ince; She'll Take A Column". Snopes.com. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  32. ^ Humphreys, Sally; Humphreys, Geraint (February 1, 2011). Century of Scandal. Haynes Publishing. ISBN 978-1-844259-50-2. 
  33. ^ "Milestones: November 12, 1923". Time. November 12, 1923. Retrieved January 30, 2015. (subscription required (help)). 
  34. ^ "Milestones: January 7, 1924". Time. January 7, 1924. Retrieved January 30, 2015. (subscription required (help)). 
  35. ^ "Excerpts of Interview with Minta Durfee Arbuckle by Don Schneider and Stephen Normand". The Movie Museum. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  36. ^ "Milestones: December 8, 1924". Time. June 29, 1931. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  37. ^ Donnelley, Paul (2003). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Music Sales Group. p. 37. ISBN 978-1849382465. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  38. ^ Leider, Emily W. (May 6, 2003). Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 198. ISBN 978-0374282394. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  39. ^ Quirk, James R. (August 1925). "Speaking of Pictures". Photoplay (New York: Photoplay Publishing Company). Retrieved August 20, 2015. 
  40. ^ Oderman 2005, p. 201.
  41. ^ "Milestones September 8, 1929". Time. September 30, 1929. Retrieved January 30, 2015. Sued for Divorce. By Mrs. Doris Deane Arbuckle minor cinemactress, Roscoe Conkling ("Fatty") Arbuckle, onetime cinema funnyman; at Los Angeles; for the second time. Grounds: desertion, cruelty. 
  42. ^ a b Oderman 2005 p.212
  43. ^ Liebman, Roy (1998). From Silents To Sound: A Biographical Encyclopedia Of Performers Who Made the Transition To Talking Pictures. McFarland. p. 5. ISBN 978-0786403820. (subscription required (help)). 
  44. ^ "Arbuckle, Star Film Comedian, Dies In Sleep". St. Petersburg Times. Associated Press. July 1, 1933. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  45. ^ Chermak, Steven M.; Bailey, Frankie Y., eds. (October 30, 2007). Crimes and Trials of the Century: From the Black Sox scandal to the Attica prison riots, Volume 1. Glenwood. p. 69. ISBN 978-0313341106. 
  46. ^ Eagan, Daniel (November 26, 2011). "More on Fatty Arbuckle: His Films and His Legacy". Smithsonian. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  47. ^ King, Susan; Welkos, Robert (April 12, 2001). "Hollywood Star Walk: Roscoe Arbuckle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  48. ^ Long, Robert Emmet (December 11, 2006). James Ivory in Conversation: How Merchant Ivory Makes Its Movies. University of California Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-0520249998. 
  49. ^ Mayo, Mike (February 1, 2008). American Murder: Criminals, Crimes and the Media. Visible Ink Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-1578591916. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  50. ^ "Valentino . 1977. Rudolph Nureyev Dances". YouTube. Retrieved December 24, 2014. 
  51. ^ Farley, Tom; Colby, Tanner (May 6, 2008). The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts. Penguin. p. 262. ISBN 978-1616804589. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  52. ^ King, Susan (November 15, 2007). "Screening Room". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  53. ^ Schanie, Andrew (2010). Movie Confidential: Sex, Scandal, Murder and Mayhem in the Film Industry. Clerisy Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-1578603541. 
  54. ^ Bovsun, Mara (1 September 2012). "Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, acquitted for murder of Virginia Rappe in 1922, never recovered from all the bad press". Daily News. Retrieved 12 August 2015. 
  55. ^ "Rediscovering Roscoe: The Careers of "Fatty" Arbuckle". moma.org. 
  56. ^ Paulus, Tom; King, Rob, eds. (April 21, 2010). Slapstick Comedy. Routledge. p. 86. ISBN 978-0415801799. 
  57. ^ Rogers, Garet (1963). Scandal in Eden. Dial Press. Retrieved May 15, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • "Devil's Garden" Ace Atkins Publisher G.P.Putnam's Sons New York 2009
  • Edmonds, Andy (January 1991). Frame-Up!: The Untold Story of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. New York, NY: William Morrow & Company. ISBN 0-688-09129-6. 
  • Yallop, David (August 1991). The Day the Laughter Stopped. London: Transworld Publishers. ISBN 0-552-13452-X. 
  • Oderman, Stuart (July 2005). Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle: A Biography Of The Silent Film Comedian, 1887-1933. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-2277-7. 
  • Neibaur, James L. (December 2006). Arbuckle and Keaton: Their 14 Film Collaborations. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-2831-7. 
  • The New York Times; September 12, 1921; pg. 1. "San Francisco, California; September 11, 1921. "Roscoe ("Fatty") Arbuckle was arrested late last night on a charge of murder as a result of the death of Virginia Rappe, film actress, after a party in Arbuckle's rooms at the Hotel St. Francis. Arbuckle is still in jail tonight despite efforts by his lawyers to find some way to obtain his liberty."
  • The New York Times; September 13, 1921; pg. 1. "San Francisco, California; September 12, 1921. "The Grand Jury met tonight at 7:30 o'clock to hear the testimony of witnesses rounded up by Matthew Brady (District Attorney) of San Francisco to support his demand for the indictment of Roscoe ("Fatty") Arbuckle for the murder of Miss Virginia Rappe."
  • Ki Longfellow, China Blues, Eio Books 2012, ISBN 0-9759255-7-1 Includes historical discussion of the merits of the Arbuckle case.

External links[edit]