Fatty Arbuckle

From Academic Kids

Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle (March 24, 1887June 29, 1933) was an American silent film comedian who gained the nickname "Fatty" (a name that he hated, and only used professionally) from his portly frame and who is best known for his involvement in the "Fatty Arbuckle scandal".

Born in the small town of Smith Center, Kansas, he began his career with the Selig Polyscope Company in 1908 and soon after that he was a star in the Keystone Kops comedies, eventually leaving and starring in a series of short films that won him acclaim and fortune around the world; at the height of his popularity, he was outshone only by Charlie Chaplin. He also played together with Chester Conklin.

Despite his girth, Arbuckle was physically adept and surpisingly agile. His comedies are known for being rollicking, fast-paced, full of chase scenes and having many sight gags. Arbuckle was particularly fond of the famous "pie in the face," a cliche that has come to signify silent film comedy in general.

He discovered Buster Keaton and made him a star; the duo became fast friends off the set. The close friendship between Arbuckle and Keaton never wavered, even when Arbuckle was beset by tragedy at the zenith of his career, and through the period of depression and downfall that followed. In his autobiography, Keaton described Arbuckle's playful nature and his love of practical jokes, including several elaborately constructed schemes the duo successfully pulled off, having fun with various Hollywood studio heads and stars.

At the height of his career, Arbuckle was under contract to Paramount Studios for $1 million a year, at the time an astronomical sum. On September 3, 1921, Arbuckle took a break from his hectic film schedule, driving to San Francisco with two friends, Lowell Sherman and Fred Fischbach. The three checked into the St. Francis Hotel. The three decided to have a party and invited several women to their suite. During the carousing, one of the women, a 26-year-old aspiring actress named Virginia Rappe, became seriously ill, and she was examined by the hotel doctor, who concluded she was merely intoxicated. Rappe died three days later of peritonitis. Matthew Brady, the San Francisco district attorney, quickly pursued charges against Arbuckle, releasing a statement to the press that essentially accused Arbuckle of raping or attempting to rape Rappe with a Coke bottle and crushing her with his weight. However, the doctor who conducted the autopsy on Rappe found no evidence that violence had played any role in her death, nor did he find any evidence that she had been assaulted. Brady proceeded to try Arbuckle anyway. During the trial, Arbuckle testified that he had found Rappe vomiting in the bathroom and screaming in pain, that he had helped her to a bed, and that he had been alone with her no longer than 10 minutes.

Roscoe Arbuckle's career is seen by many film historians as one of the great tragedies of Hollywood. Although Arbuckle was acquitted of the allegations involving Rappe, the case had to be tried three times before he was pronounced innocent. The resulting infamy destroyed his career and his personal life. During the trial, morality groups nationwide called for Arbuckle to be sentenced to death, and studio moguls ordered Arbuckle's friends in the industry not to come to his public defense. Buster Keaton did, however, and he testified in support of Arbuckle, calling Roscoe one of the kindest souls he had known.

Arbuckle's case has been examined by scholars and historians over the years, and it is believed by most serious historians that Arbuckle was indeed an innocent man.

The Arbuckle case was one of three major scandals (the other two being the murder of director William Desmond Taylor in 1922 and the drug-related death of actor/director Wallace Reid in 1923) that rocked Hollywood and led to calls for reform of the "indecency" being promoted by motion pictures. It resulted in the creation of the Production Code, which set standards for decency in Hollywood films. The Hays Office banned all of Arbuckle's films, although Will Hays later issued a statement that Arbuckle should be allowed to work in Hollywood.

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Arbuckle tried to return to moviemaking, but audiences shunned him and 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 letting him work on Keaton's feature films (he allegedly co-directed scenes in Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. but it is unclear whether any of this footage made it through to the final film), and the comic directed a number of comedy shorts featuring the lesser lights of the day under the pseudonym William B. Goodrich, but Arbuckle by this time had become irritable and difficult to control. Shortly before marrying for the third time, to Addie McPhail, Arbuckle signed a contract with Jack Warner to star in six two reel short comedies, using his own name. He finished the last of the two reelers on June 28, 1933, and was signed by Warner Brothers to make a feature length film, In the Dough.

Roscoe Arbuckle died from heart failure on June 29, 1933, in New York City, New York State. Buster Keaton stated repeatedly that Arbuckle died of a broken heart. Roscoe was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean by his third wife Addie McPhail, although it was erronously reported that he had been interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.

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