Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fatty Arbuckle (1887-1933)

Silent film star Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle was born weighing 13 pounds, so much that his since both his parents were slim, his father refused to believe that he baby was his son and named him after notorious womanizer Senator Roscoe Conkling. When his mother died when he was 12, his father abandoned him and Arbuckle was forced to fend for himself. His road to stardom began with a talent show where he initially unimpressed the audience. About to be yanked offstage by the traditional shepherd's crook, he dodged it by somersaulting into the orchestra pit and the crowd was won over. Arbuckle was remarkably agile despite the size that gave him the nickname he hated and would display that agility in dozens of comedies, working alongside the likes of Mack Sennett and Buster Keaton. A great example is 1915's Fatty's Tintype Tangle, a physical comedy tour de force where he flips bowler hats and plates with ease, shoves a guy backwards onto a trolley, and dances on top of power lines. Were the movies not silent, he could have also displayed a singing voice that even Caruso praised. In 1918, he signed a three million dollar contract with Paramount.

His career was stopped cold one night in 1921. He was recovering from an on set accident where he suffered second degree burns to both ass cheeks. He and two friends checked into a hotel and invited some women. One of them was Virginia Rappe, whose frequent flings with cast and crew prompted Mack Sennett to blame her for an outbreak of pubic lice and have his studios fumigated. She suffered from chronic bladder inflammations and had had a series of back alley abortions which may have contributed to her poor health. Rappe became seriously ill during the party but the hotel doctor thought she was just drunk. Two days later, she went to the hospital and died. Her friend Bambina Delmont told the police Arbuckle raped her.

Arbuckle was put on trial for murdering Rappe three times in what became one of Hollywood's most notorious scandals. Rumors were flying wildly; a story of Arbuckle rubbing ice on Rappe's stomach to alleviate her pain became a story of him penetrating her with a Coca-cola bottle and replica bottles were hawked by unscrupulous souvenir dealers. Howard Hughes said that the scandal "sold more newspapers than any event since the sinking of the RMS Lusitania." Delmont was on a lecture tour, the DA was gunning for higher office. Everyone was profiting except for Arbuckle, who despite avoiding conviction for murder in three trials, had lost his fortune and his career.

He worked as a director on some films, but he "directed" by just sitting in his director's chair listless, like a broken man. Eventually he worked his way back to success, and in 1932 signed with Warner Brothers to make six short comedies, the only sound films he appeared in. He finished filming the final one and the next day, June 29, 1933, he signed a WB contract to star in a full-length feature film. He said "This is the best day of my life." That night, he had a heart attack and died in his sleep. He was 46.

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